There’s a famous saying: hurt people, hurt people. I think we live by this saying more than we realize. It’s easy to become recluse when you feel hurt; when your hand touches a scolding hot pan, you don’t hold onto it- you let it go. After awhile, it’s easy to become calloused because you’ve been hurt so many times. As the body of Christ, this is a reality we know all too well. If you ask a Christian if he or she has a problem at work, you will likely hear a few issues and then change the subject. But, if you ask about problems going on in church, chances are the conversation will steamroll into a long discussion of why the Church is so messed up. We are almost destined to hurt each other as Christians, to the point where emotional intimacy with another believer sounds like torture. After all, we already know their issues; bringing your own into the fold will make matters worse.
But, this is not how the Bible describes life in the body.
C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves,
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.
If we are called to love each other, it means we risk being vulnerable. It means that we have to sacrifice ourselves in ways we never imagined. It means it’s going to cost more than you wanted to pay; but, loving people never goes unrewarded (1 Cor. 3). Love is from God (1 Jn. 4), and He rewards everything done in secret or not (Consider Matt. 6).
Yes, we are destined to hurt each other at some point. If it were possible to go to a church where the people would never sin against you, then verses like these would be irrelevant:
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:12-13 ESV)
It’s when we take commands like this seriously that we discover the answer to how we can move past our fear of intimacy: By applying the gospel, not only to our own needs, but to the needs of other people. Even though we are saved and forgiven by God, we still need to forgive each other. We are called to extend that same forgiveness to others. As I heard it said once, forgiven people, forgive people. Even though we have a place in heaven, it doesn’t mean we have stopped growing. Often pain accompanies growth.
The requirements Paul lists are commands that are impossible to fulfill without the Holy Spirit. This is why we need to wrap our heads around this: The Christian life is a supernatural life. Nothing in nature has the power to change the human heart, and nothing in ourselves has the power to grow in true intimacy with other people. Unless we seek to see Christ in other people, we will never be able to love other Christians the way God does.
If that intimacy only brings us closer to our sin and not to the truth of Christ, then the relationships we have will only harden our hearts more, and tempt us to leave the church (Paul’s warning in 1 Cor. 5). Christians are an anomaly to the world because they are people who are indwelt by God, and are changed from the inside out. Like mirrors, we reflect what we behold. Therefore, the answer to how we can get past our fear of intimacy, and to heal from the wounds of the past, is to look at the wounds of Christ.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:4-5)
Consider how Paul treats the life of Christ as the prime example of the Christian life (Phil. 2:5-11):
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father
Jesus humbled Himself, and He wasn’t prideful. He took on a position that was far below what He deserved; after all, He is the Creator of the universe! For Him to humble Himself means He didn’t become a man to provide an advantage for Himself, He did it to serve us and return us to the Father (Jn. 14).
Jesus paid it all, and He didn’t have to. If He could surrender all to endure hunger, restlessness (Matt. 26), the impatience of man (Mark 11), the in-your-face temptations of the devil (Luke 4), and the pride of the human heart (Jn. 2), while showing love and washing the feet of the person who would later betray Him (Jn. 13), then certainly it’s possible for us to love other Christians if Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20).
According to Paul, it’s when we look at Christ: At the wounds covering His body, at the blood being poured out like an animal sacrifice, at the agony He experienced underneath the wrath of God, and everything He went through that we find that no suffering we experience could ever match what He experienced for us (Rom. 3). Until God showered us with grace, we were far off from Him (Eph. 2).
We were lost at sea; we didn’t want to be found. We were dead in our sin and numb to the gospel. But, He called us by name, and we awoke (Eph. 5). He wooed us; He found us; He changed us. When we look at the despised way the people looked at him, we must remember that He endured all that for us. Yet, even to this day we still sin, but God has sworn an oath of marriage to us (Eph. 5). If God will never revoke His pledge of love to us, and instead draws us closer in intimacy to Him, then certainly we, when we look at Christ, can find solace for our pain, and the hope of forgiving and moving forward.
Let Christ shape your view of love, and your love will never grow cold.