Hit By Friendly Fire: What To Do When Fellow Believers Hurt You by Michael Milton, is an expanded treatment of a sermon that the author preached making it a relatively short read. Although it is 84 pages (91 including the appendix), the length has more to do with the layout of the book than the actual content. It can easily be read in a little over an hour and can be found in our church library.
The premise of the book is that Christians will find themselves facing betrayal, disappointment, and hurt from other Christians. When such things come from those whom we know ought to love us unconditionally, ought to always assume the best, and ought to seek to honor Christ in our relationships, it carries a particularly strong sting. It hurts. So, what should our response be? How do we, as the offended party, honor Christ in our attitudes and actions? The author turns to the experiences of Joseph and Paul to find guidance.
After three chapters of setting up the premise, the author offers the following as a biblical course of action:
I will summarize very briefly the main points contained in these chapters but encourage you to read the book to get the full picture.
I’ll start where he ends. He closes the book with the charge “Don’t give up on the church,” and I found it to be one of the most important points in the book. We have all experienced pain, hurt and disappointment and many have been tempted to walk out the doors of the church and never come back. Some give in to that temptation. While it might be easy to say that no one should ever judge the importance and relevance of the church by the faulty people that compose it, sometimes it is easier said than done. In this closing chapter, we find a pastor’s daughter giving some important advice.
Even though the church is composed of those who are sinners and, therefore, hurt and betrayal sometimes happens within the body when we ought to all be unified as friends, God is sovereign and is in control and is moving his church forward. We must trust that this is true or we will be tempted to give up on the church when we face our own trials. The author relates a story in which he and his wife had joined a church that seemed to have everything together and they were so excited to be a part of God’s work there. At a fellowship meeting, however, he discovers that the members of the church were deeply divided and that there were some who had already sized him up as being on the “wrong side.” Upon discovering this, the author went into an emotional tailspin and grieved the state of the church and the fact that he had been fooled into believing that this was a place of real grace and forgiveness when it now appeared to be just talk.
The daughter of the pastor saw what was happening and spoke to him about what he had seen. This conversation proved for him to be “one of the most important moments in my life as a believer.” She told him,
Don’t give up on the church. As a pastor’s daughter, I have seen this sort of thing growing up. I have seen my father and mother hurt by people in the church. Sadly, I have seen them hurt each other too. And others have hurt me as well. But the church is “on its way.” We are not yet what we will be. I have come to see that I can never know forgiveness, or how to express it, without being in this place which Christ called us into called “the church.” There is no life, no growth, outside of it. It is as a family of believers that we learn to live and always cling to the foot of the cross of Christ (pg. 82).
Of the apostle Paul, the author writes, “Every sorrow, every act of treachery, every act of betrayal has become, for him, a point of identification with Christ” (pgs. 50-51).
The author is not encouraging believers to adopt a martyr’s complex whereby they frame the encounters as them, the righteous, encountering assailants who are doing the work of the devil, but simply to recognize that, just as Jesus was betrayed by those who ought to have loved him, so we can expect the same. Paul understood this and, like Jesus, Paul knew that the kingdom would be advanced through suffering and pain. As a result, Paul was able to say, “Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18). What Paul was doing was engaging in the work of taking up his cross and so must we.
How is our own experience of betrayal advancing the kingdom? The author doesn’t say, but we can consider some ways. By responding in humility rather than anger, we could diffuse situations bringing peace to disorder. By responding in love rather than bitterness, we imitate our Father in heaven which will serve as a proclamation of what living “in a manner worthy of the gospel” looks like. By responding in gentleness rather than a show of strength, we follow in the steps of our Savior who is “gentle and lowly in heart” and we invite others to take on his easy yoke as well. We could go on but the point is that the experience of hurt and betrayal is the experience of our Lord. We are no better than he is and so we should not be surprised when it comes to us.
Since God is sovereign over all things, we must be ready to confess that “the one who brought your cross is Christ himself” (pg. 59) and to recognize that God is “sovereignly ruling in all of life to bring you to the point of crucifixion” (pg. 60). This is both a refining work in us and the means by which God, like with Joseph, accomplishes good work in our lives. The author describes how he grew up an orphan and experienced abuse. It was when he heard a minister preach on how God will take experiences like that and turn them into gold, that he was set free. He recognized that, if it were not for the pain he endured, he would not have come to understand the gospel. In this way he found he could “’bless’ the circumstances of life, even the evil actions of others who have sought to hurt me” (pg. 63).
Recognizing God’s sovereignty over all things enables us to say to Him, “Thy will be done.” The author writes,
This Gethsemane- your Gethsemane, the moment when you respond to the pain you receive from others- is the turning point when you will either go forward as one of the walking wounded, destined to carry the burden for years, or you will accept the trial as coming from God and open your life to him. If you take up your cross and take off your crown, your response of faith will lead you to trust totally in the Lord and in his will for your life, which in turn means total forgiveness of others and release of them to the Lord for his will in their lives, and total freedom for you and his wonderful grace being unleashed as a powerful reality. (pg. 71).
I am appreciative of this little book as it calls us all to walk in the humility of Christ and to submission to the sovereignty of God. It is only by these means can we navigate through the difficult seasons we sometimes endure when the relationships we hold most dear fail us.
If you want to dig deeper into this subject, another book in the library called “The Peacemaker” is a full-length treatment of how we can respond to conflict in a way that promotes peace rather than division.