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hurt v. harm

Updated: May 30

hurt is not the same as harm


So, yesterday, my wife “hurt” me by something she said. She said I wasn’t perfect. Can you imagine that?! (Don’t answer that.) Okay, that wasn’t so bad, but then she went on to elaborate on my imperfections. Okay, I can agree to her statement in principle, but then she started giving specifics!


Alright, alright, I’m being a bit facetious… But here’s the point: she hurt me, but did not harm me – and there’s a difference.


In fact, by “speaking the truth in love” to me (Ephesians 4:15) she made healing possible by hurting me. Just like a dentist does when he works on your teeth – he hurts you to heal you. And there is no harm in that.


In fact, today I’m much happier – because I was able to see a previous blind spot, bring it to God, and ask him to show me even more and help me to change it. And change is always refreshing. And guess who else is happy? Yep, my wife. So, everyone wins when relationships are full of grace and truth.


sometimes we need to "hurt" to "heal"


Many Christians hold back from drawing boundaries with people and speaking the truth in love to them because we don’t want to harm them. But hurt is not the same as harm. Sometimes we need to “hurt” to “heal”.


A great example of this in scripture is when Paul lovingly challenged his brothers and sisters in the Corinthian church on their sin, which led them to have godly sorrow, leading to repentance and a restored relationship with God. Paul describes in his next letter to them that he initially felt bad for “hurting” them with his rebuke, but then rejoiced when he saw that it helped them, and did not harm them.


“Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us.” (2 Corinthians 7:8-9)


Paul’s pastoral heart initially feared that he had hurt them with his correction, but once he saw their repentance it reassured him that indeed it had helped them, and not harmed them.

As Christian counselor and author of the book, “Boundaries”, John Townsend, says: “Growing Christians are supposed to hurt each other, but never harm each other.” (Dr. John Townsend, “Boundaries” YouTube video, 3/2/15)


So, why don’t we draw boundaries with each other and speak the truth in love when we should? Let’s explore three reasons Dr. Townsend gives, and then add one more…


1. fear of losing the relationship (or that the person will at least pull away)


We were made to live in close and intimate relationship with our family and close friends. When that closeness is threatened, we can tend to do anything rather than risk losing it.


Something I heard many years ago as a young Christian really helped me with this. Someone told me, “love the person more than the relationship." That really helped me because I realized I was being selfish to not say anything out of fear of losing the relationship (or at least, causing temporary distance in the relationship). I needed to love the person more than I loved the relationship with that person, and in the bigger cases, even be willing to “put the relationship on the line” so to speak.


Jesus put his relationships on the line regularly out of his love for them. Like when he taught his disciples about feeding on his body to have life in John 6. It was a hard teaching and many were struggling with it. But Jesus did not hold back from speaking the truth to them.


“Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.

66From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:61-63, 66-69)


Remember that true love is honest. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” (Proverbs 24:26). Jesus was honest with his disciples, even if it meant some turned away and no longer followed him, while those who continued to follow him loved him for it.


2. fear of an angry response


Many of us were shut down as children by the anger of our parents or an older sibling or an authority figure in our lives. It subtly taught us: “You better not make me angry, or else…” And now, it could be a spouse, friend, or even your child who expresses anger because they don’t get what they want.


The reality is that anger is not that scary. Let people get angry. They’ll get over it. If that’s what they need to process their feelings, so be it. But don’t let their anger (or the fear of their anger) frighten you and cause you to not love them with the truth that can heal them.


Obviously, don’t put yourself in a dangerous situation or provoke someone who is a threat to your safety. But in normal, healthy relationships, we should be able to draw boundaries and speak the truth in love to each other regardless of the response.


If someone gets angry with you for simply telling them the truth, then don’t fight fire with fire, but instead ask them why they are angry and try to help them see that their anger is a secondary emotion – probably coming from hurt, and that the hurt is not intended to harm them, but to heal them.


In other cases, we may just need to give them some space and let them work it out on their own.


Either way, don’t allow the fear of their angry response stop you from loving them with the truth (at the right time and in the right way, of course).

3. unwarranted guilt


Sometimes we’re afraid that by drawing boundaries or speaking the truth in love to someone we’re in relationship with will discourage or depress them, so we decide to never say “no” to them. But that doesn’t help them; it only enables them, makes them codependent on us, and stunts their growth.


So, that’s a false guilt that we feel. God’s love for us is never sentimental or coddling. He treats us as adults and expects us to process the feedback we receive in a mature and productive manner so that we can grow and change. And that’s the love we are to have for each other.


“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)


“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)


And what about with our children? Proper discipline will not harm your child.


“Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. 14Punish them with the rod and save them from death.” (Proverbs 23:13-14)


4. societal pressure


A final point to add is that these days people are increasingly being trained to hear all criticism as harm – even if it’s constructive criticism meant to help. Especially among the younger generations, there is a growing sentiment that any feedback that makes us angry is harmful, even violent.


But what about Jesus? Viewing our Lord through that secular lens would have us believe that the straight-shooting, truth-telling Jesus was a dangerous and violent man. But like looking through the wrong end of the binoculars, the issue is that we have it backwards: we are not to view the Bible through a secular lens; we are to view society through a biblical lens. Viewed properly, Jesus showed us that honest feedback given in love is not harmful or violent, but healing and life-giving.




No one likes uncomfortable conversations. But sometimes they are necessary in order to bring about growth and change, or simply to draw the healthy boundaries we need in relationships.


I sure am glad my wife and I, and my close friends and I, are willing to have those uncomfortable conversations with each other when necessary. It’s never easy to give or receive correction or set emotional boundaries with others. But it’s vital to our walk with God and each other.


Let’s never harm each other. But let’s always be willing to “hurt” each other with the truth – always spoken in love – in order to heal each other and our relationships.


Just remember: love sometimes hurts, but it never harms – and there’s a difference.

Jeff Chacon

Tampa, FL

Jeff Chacon served in the full-time ministry as an Evangelist for over 30 years before retiring in 2022, and now serves as an Elder on the leadership team of the Anchor Point Church in Tampa, Florida, as well as the leadership team of the Florida Region of Churches, as well as being one of our designated Florida Peacemakers to help with conflict resolution around the state.  Jeff wrote the book “Dare to Dream Again,” an excellent resource for helping Christians overcome disappointment and setbacks.  You can order it HERE.


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