They’re a common complaint from both shepherds and fellow sheep: sheep bites. It’s one thing to be mistreated by a stranger, but to be treated badly by someone in your own church can be particularly hurtful. Unkind words, cold shoulders, gossip, criticism, undermining, rejection….the list would make anyone cringe. Still, all of these things happen within the walls of the average church sanctuary.
You can’t control how people treat us, but you can control how you respond to their unkindness.
Things may blow over quickly, or it may take time for God to work things out. In the meanwhile, I Peter 5:6 instructs us, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” To wait on God takes humility. Proverbs 3:34 says, “He mocks proud mockers but shows favor to the humble and oppressed.” God will give us grace as we wait on Him (see James 4:6).
2. Go to the Lord for comfort and give Him your hurt. Emotional pain is real. Ignoring and suppressing hurt feelings allows wounds to fester and may cause more trouble down the line. Ephesians 4:26-27 tells us, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Remember that God saw what happened and is sympathetic to you, as your protector. Psalm 34:18 tells us, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 145:14 says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”
When we are upset, God calms us down. Zephaniah 3:17 is a comforting verse because it illustrates God’s stance toward us. It says, “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” When we are hurting and feel attacked, it’s important to remember how loved we are.
3. Ask God to heal your wounds. Like all good shepherds, our Good Shepherd tends to His sheep and sees to all of our needs. When we are wounded, He cares. Psalm 147:3 says,“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” He is our Healer.
4. Forgive your offender, guarding against bitterness. The sooner you forgive your offender, the less time you give bitterness to begin its evil assignment against you. Hebrews 12:14-15 tells us, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”
When we ask Jesus to give us the grace to forgive, and are obedient to forgive, despite our emotions, we refuse to complicate and prolong the situation by adding offense to offense. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” End your part in the matter, even when you were innocently drawn into the situation, by forgiving and releasing the person, and yourself, from the negative spiritual effects of unforgiveness.
The trick is to turn every bad, resentful thought that pops into your head about this person into a prayer of blessing for them.
When we respond in the opposite, godly way to our urges to respond in a sinful way, we remain firmly planted in righteousness. Psalm 5:12 promises an amazing payoff for such behavior: “Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield.” In effect, your blessing is returned back to you! This is how our amazing God works!
6. Guard your words to and about your offender. It isn't necessary to tell every person every time they have hurt you. There are many reasons to let some things pass; the person may have been less guarded due to what they are going through, the offense was slight and unintentional (even if painful for you), or the person may need prayer for their lack of kindness, etc. It's important to follow the Holy Spirit's lead regarding talking to a person in a specific situation. Grace is sometimes necessary as we "Bear with one another" (see Colossians 3:13).
It's equally important to not neglect humbly approaching a person if you believe that the Holy Spirit if leading you to do so. It may be difficult, especially if you are non-confrontative, but talk kindly to the person who has offended you (see Matthew 18:15 further discussed below) if the matter weighs on your heart.
It's vital that all discussions be kept peaceful. Shouting matches rarely end well. The wisdom of Proverbs 15:1 de-escalates potential verbal showdowns. It says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath,but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” When we rush into verbal confrontations, gushing folly, we are officially declared to be fools by Scripture. Harsh, but true.
The good news is that the opposite is true. Proverbs 10:19 says, “When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, But he who restrains his lips is wise.” If you keep your mouth shut, you are declared wise!
James 1:26 sums up the calamity of emotional verbal outbursts: “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man's religion is worthless.”
Ephesians 4:29 makes it clear that gossip only worsens situations. It says, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.” Many times, matters are exaggerated in gossip, which feeds an evil fire that can devour. Again, we can’t afford to play the enemy’s costly games.
No one can win once we’ve agreed to play the game the devil’s way.
Luke 6:27,32-33 says, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,…. Do to others as you would have them do to you….If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.” It is loving those who are hard to love that sets us apart as Christians. This is what we are called to do, and God gives us the grace to do it when we ask for it.
Romans 12:20-21 gives us the strategy to keep us from being overwhelmed and discouraged by sheep bites. It tells us, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” It is powerful to truly grasp that good trumps evil, end of story. Respond with good, and in the end, evil is overcome!
8. Include another trusted brother or sister in the reconciliation process if the matter can’t be peacefully be settled between the two of you. God blesses our best efforts to respond Biblically to offense. Because matters sometimes involve sin without repentance, Jesus gives us a Plan B to employ, if needed. Matthew 18:15-17 says,
“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.”
This system, as outlined by Jesus, protects all of His other sheep in your flock from being bitten by a rogue sheep. It’s that simple. Unchecked sin can proliferate quickly. There are times when humility means involving another party. Prayerful, loving confrontation shows concern for the whole body. When reconciliation results, you have been used of God to do a great thing.
When you tend to your personal wounds with integrity, forgiveness and love, God will bless you. Doing the hard thing is oftentimes the best thing. It may seem to cost the world to us at the time, but Galatians 6:9 encourages us to persevere: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” There will be a huge payoff.
When we submit to God and His perfect ways, He will completely heal our sheep bites. Jesus tells us in John 10:14, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me-- .” We are truly safe and blessed in our attentive and loving Good Shepherd’s flock. Praise Him for His goodness to us!