Tough Love

This verse from Matthew 5 is one of the most challenging (yet clear) commands from Jesus. We forget sometimes that the Lord does not give us mere suggestions for us to contemplate, but instead provides us with specific instructions that we are to follow.

This command — to show love to those who have harmed us, and to intercede on behalf of those who intentionally make our lives miserable — is not an easy one to obey, but obey it we must. In this sense, I believe that “tough love” is required, as loving such prickly people is extremely tough (especially doing so on an ongoing basis).

To me, this verse speaks of forgiveness — not necessarily overlooking a wrong done to us, but instead acknowledging what happened and then choosing to look past it (even if the other person never apologizes or changes her behavior). We must love, but we are also called to be tough, so that if/when the upsetting behavior repeats itself, we remain resolute in our decision to acknowledge, heal from, and then eventually look past such a painful ordeal.

These are my ruminations on this passage. What are yours?

21 thoughts on “Tough Love

  1. I’ve read a blog that this verse is used to excuse people staying with their abusers. Note that Jesus doesn’t say “trust” your enemies. If a believer is in an abusive relationship, this verse doesn’t necessarily mean they have to stay in it…

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    1. Exactly! There is a difference between a general life principle and the wisdom needed in a specific situation. As in all matters, wisdom and prayerful discernment are needed, but we are never to endure abuse or put ourselves in harm’s way needlessly. Often, “tough love” means knowing when to walk away from an unhealthy situation and releasing the matter to the Lord while we focus on healing.

      Thank you for the insightful comment! 🙏🏾

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    1. So very true. It’s about having a good perspective on our circumstances (which themselves may not always be good), trusting that His way is always best — even if that means that He leads us away from the person He has asked us to love. Sometimes, loving someone from a safe distance is one of the wisest things we can do!

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  2. I had not thought about that kind of love being “tough,” but you speak truth (as always). Is it thick-skinned to accept the abuse ladled out by others, and forgive them? Maybe another way to look at it is having the shield of faith, the armor of God. Allow Him to deflect that which needs deflecting; and accessing His faith to assimilate what is outside of us and our response.

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    1. Good points, Kathy. No, I do not believe tbat we should endure abuse, but should handle ourselves wisely. The decision to forgive never means that we stay in an unhealthy situation, but instead reminds us of the importance of defining, setting, and maintaining healthy boundaries.

      I will share a personal example. Several years ago, I had to file a sexual harassment grievance against a (married!) colleague. I experienced great hurt in three key ways:

      1) The perpetrator denied all wrongdoing and refused to acknowledge what happened, let alone apologize for his predatory behavior.

      2) Well-intended (former) friends and colleagues essentially blamed me for what happened (think of Job and his “friends”), and then urged me to get over it. Blaming the victim is never a good strategy, and making comments like “you know how men are” is an insult to the vast majority of men out there who are good, principled people.

      3) I blamed myself, going over all that had happened and wondering if I had done something to unwittingly lead him on.

      I carried the burden of this for several months. In time, with the aid of professionals in HR and a good therapist, I came to understand three important things:

      1) No person ever deserves to be objectified — especially at work. It is dehumanizing and devalues the person. Also, such behavior reveals the character (or lack thereof) of the perpetrator.

      2) I was very likely not the first (or sadly, the last) woman he targeted. For this reason among others, I decided to file the grievance (I otherwise would not have). If my actions could save even one other person from such an experience, then it was worth it.

      3) This man likely fit the general definition of a narcissist, which meant there would NEVER be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing or an apology tendered. In fact, in the aftermath of the events, the perpetrator made a point of coming over to my office building even when he knew that he shouldn’t have.

      With God’s grace and the support of some wonderful friends, I made it to the other side of this experience, and I can now talk about it in a very detached way. I now understand that his actions had nothing to do with me, and that he has a sickness — both spiritual and psychological — for which there is no cure apart from a Damascus Road encounter with the Lord. So, from a distance, I was able to forgive the matter and eventually let it go.

      I will never forget it, and I have taken measures to ensure that this person can never contact me ever again. Why needlessly put myself in harm’s way? So I commended the matter over to the Lord, and really haven’t thought much about it since.

      I hope some of this made sense. As always, I appreciate your thoughtfulness, Kathy. 🙏🏾🧡✝️

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      1. Wow. I’m so sorry you went through that awful experience. I does not surprise me that you acted appropriately, bravely, and relied on the Lord.
        You said, “I made it to the other side of this experience, and I can now talk about it in a very detached way. I now understand that his actions had nothing to do with me.” I think that’s what I meant by donning the full “armor of God, and allowing Him to deflect that which needs deflecting; and accessing His faith to assimilate what is outside of us and our response.” The person who abused you didn’t even mean it personally, even though it was a very personal act. When we step aside and see things from God’s perspective, we can assimilate that and respond properly; however, we are not entirely spiritual beings, and must always filter through our own world view, personalities, and emotions.
        I believe that God does not want anyone to stay in an abusive situation. None of God’s Word is to be interpreted as being a doormat. I agree that proper steps must be taken to prevent further harm being perpetrated. You did that, at risk to your own reputation, and I applaud you. I’m glad to hear the Lord blessed your obedience.

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      2. Thank you, Kathy. Unsurprisingly, we are aligned in our thinking. 🧡

        The experience took place more than eight years ago. It was very difficult when it was going on. Accordingly, everything you said about the armor of God is spot on – after all, even when we have it on, it doesn’t save us from experiencing the impact of the attack; it simply spares us from it being a fatal one. Our job is to “stand firm” — the Lord is the one who fights for us.

        I also learned a great deal from the experience. The ability to extract learning from pain is the only way for me to make sense of the hard things that come to all of us in life. In a surprising turn of events, I now have a small degree of compassion for the perpetrator. Sometime after this event happened, he became a father to a little girl, and my prayer is that the experience would transform the way he engages with women. My hope is that fatherhood has made him a better man, and a more faithful one, too. It grieves my heart to see someone who treat ms his marriage vows so capriciously.

        Of course, I don’t need to know the answers to any of these inquiries – in fact, I’m better off not knowing. It just reminds me that the people who seem to have it all and are we holding power (the perpetrator held a very senior post) are often the ones who are the least satisfied on the inside.

        Thanks so much for your support and understanding. I appreciate you. ✝️

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      3. I’m sure the “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” has some roots in the Bible. He does use tribulation to hone us and make us more like Jesus.
        Brava to you, and thank you for your encouraging words. I appreciate you, too.

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      4. I am surprisingly tired! I’m very fortunate to be retired, and so am not rushed to accomplish household duties; however, I don’t want that to become an excuse for neglecting the work God gives me. I also have my volunteer activities, one of which today is my Sing Along – those are my energy-givers! 😊 Thank you for asking.

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      5. You did quite a lot on your vacation (even though you enjoyed yourself). It sounds like you are being gentle with yourself, and are still enjoying being of service to others — hardly a surprise! I imagine that such faithfulness brings great joy to the heart of the Lord. 🧡

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  3. Thank you. I was attracted to your post after hearing two sermons on this commandment from the gospel of Matthew and Luke in the past week. This is certainly a needed verse in the church today, for some of our enemies are there, too. If you are interested in either of these sermons, I would be glad to share the link. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. is a message by a young pastor in Northern Ireland as he is preaching through the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. is a message by our pastor here in Georgia preaching through the Sermon on the Mount from Luke 6. It has been a joy to hear two different pastors preaching on the same subject from two different gospels and to be blessed with both their insight. You can listen to audios or watch the videos. The one from Ireland includes the whole service, which you might find interesting or skip to the message. Hope you will be blessed. 🙂

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