I keep coming across Christian friends who echo the same problems I’m facing myself:
How do we love people that hurt us?
It’s one of these things that I think we have to put into balance. Jesus calls us to love everyone, even our enemies, but he also says something pretty important. He says, “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you” (Matthew 7:6).
At first, this statement is kind of shocking coming from the guy who hung out with prostitutes, dirty tax collectors, and other sinners. But the more I read the Bible, the more I see he didn’t just hang out with people that did bad stuff. He hung out with people that did bad stuff, knew it was bad, and wanted to change. Maybe not right away, but I think they very quickly understood that they were sinners and in need of help. Jesus even attests to this when the Pharisees question his choice of company. His reply is brilliant:
“Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do… For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Matthew 9:13).
I love this verse so much because it helps me put into perspective who I should focus my time on. God calls us to love others, but sometimes we have to realize some people won’t respond to that love. Perhaps they never will, it’s not for us to decide. But I like to think of it this way: imagine if Jesus spent all of his ministry time talking to just the Pharisees and trying to convince them of the Kingdom. First, it would be a very frustrating time, but more than the tireless arguments, I think it would be a big waste of time. Think of all the people Jesus would miss healing and loving! It’d be terrible.
But as we see, he loved those who were sick, and those that knew they were sinners. He didn’t come to call on people that thought they were righteous, but on those with humble, hungry hearts.
So perhaps you’re like me and have been hurt many times by people you try to love. Here’s my advice:
Keep loving them, but learn to set boundaries.
Jesus loved the Pharisees, there’s no doubt about it. God so loved the world, and they were in the world. But he definitely didn’t like them for what they did, and he sure didn’t spend a lot of time with them. Jesus set boundaries.
Focus on loving people who know they’re sick.
Jesus said the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matthew 9:37). This means there are people out there, right now, that are broken, sinful, and wanting to change. They understand they’re at war with themselves, but they need workers like you and me to call forth their true identity in Christ. They need us to pull them out of the ground, shake off the dirt, and show that they, too, can call forth others. When someone hurts us or rejects us, we need to move on and focus on what’s at hand.
Call out to everyone in love, but understand who hears and who doesn’t.
It’s rather simple. Speak life to everyone, but focus most of your time on those who listen.
Know that you’re loved and have been loved at your darkest moments.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel justified to quit reaching out to someone because they’ve hurt you, but we can never forget that Jesus loved us while we were still sinners and at our worst. He never gave up, and so should we.
So there you have it. All of Jesus’ teachings seem to ride on some narrow, balanced, and often paradoxical path, but it’s worth looking into. He calls us to love our enemies, but also not to waste what is holy on what is not holy. The only way to truly do this is to follow both commands in a balanced way. If we lean too far on either side, we’ll fall off the path and lose our focus.
Thankfully, though, Jesus is with us every step of the way, encouraging us to simply put one foot out in front of the other.
We can do this.