Insults, criticisms, and rebukes can be really painful! But – they often do help me to grow spiritually as God uses them to prune and refine me. I don’t have to be afraid of them – even if they are a bit unpleasant at first.
Let’s define the difference between these 3 concepts. All three of them can be challenging to handle properly:
- An insult is a hateful comment intended to hurt us just for the sake of causing pain.
- A criticism is a negative comment or observation that may or may not be helpful to us depending on the source and the content.
- A rebuke is intended to be a constructive criticism given by someone who loves us who perceives sin (or some kind of lack) in our lives and wants to help us to grow in spiritual maturity.
Our flesh has a very predictable way of wanting to rise up and respond to insults, criticism, and even loving rebukes:
- We want to defend ourselves.
- We want to feel highly offended.
- We want to fight back and retaliate.
- We want to insult the person who insulted us.
- We want to resent and hate the person who said something hateful to us – or at least withhold love from them.
To respond in a godly, wise way to a rebuke or criticism, Scripture says:
- Do not rebuke mockers or they will hate you; rebuke the wise and they will love you. Proverbs 9:8
- Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is the rebuke of a wise judge to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:12
- rebuke the discerning, and they will gain knowledge. Proverbs 19:25b
We can thank someone we love and trust for rebuking us, then take their words to God in prayer and seek His wisdom about whether their words are true or not. If the rebuke or criticism has merit in light of God’s Word, we can repent to God and to the people we have hurt. If the rebuke or criticism is not Scriptural, we may not need to do anything with it, but rather just quietly discard it. Sometimes another person’s hurtful words are from the enemy. It is important that we not receive accusations or insults from him – but only receive truth from God into our lives.
To respond in a godly way to an insult, Scripture says:
- Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
- Fools show their annoyance at once, but the prudent overlook an insult. Proverbs 12:6
- “Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. “Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets.” Luke 6:22-23
- Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:27b-28
- Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Romans 12:14
- Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Romans 12:17
- Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “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. Luke 6:19-21
It helps me to realize that someone who insults me is most likely dealing with spiritual issues in their own heart – what comes out of their mouth is about their character, primarily. Jesus said:
A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. Luke 6:45
I can recognize that for someone to speak hatefully to me, there is an issue between them and God and they are walking in the power of the flesh rather than in the power of the Spirit – at least at that moment. I can choose to pray for that person, to respond in the power of God’s love, and not absorb the hatred. I can see that this person may be speaking out of fear, hurt, or pain. I can see his/her need for Christ. I can ask God to help me bless that person if possible.
I do have to admit, if I am constantly getting negative feedback (rebukes and insults) from many sources in my life on a daily basis – I can be tempted to begin to doubt myself. It is more important than ever to stay in God’s Word and to hear His voice clearly. Ultimately, His voice is the only one that matters.
When Someone Is Sinning against Us:
Sometimes, it is best to simply overlook an insult. But if a person continues to insult us and it is someone we need to be around a good bit – there can be times when we may need to confront that person or say something.
Matthew 7:1-5 and Matthew 18:15-17 give us insights into how God may desire us to do this. I have a post about confronting our husbands here. A lot of this material would apply to confronting others, as well. (There are other resources at the bottom of this post, as well.)
There can be times, after we have dealt with any known sin in our lives, and we have respectful and privately confronted someone (with right motives in our own hearts), and then we brought someone else with us to address the issue with the person and they still won’t repent – that we may need to physically separate ourselves from a person if possible. (This will look different depending on our relationship to the person involved – whether it is an acquaintance, a co-worker, a friend, a church member, extended family, a spouse, or a child. The severity of the sin against us must also be taken into consideration in our prayerful response.)
Sometimes, I try to use a much softer voice when sharing a concern, a rebuke, or a correction (i.e.: with my children). I don’t want to be out of control if I must confront anyone – but I want to be gentle as much as possible and to have all of the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control of Christ. Then the conflict may be an opportunity to showcase the love, power, mercy, grace, and truth of Jesus. It may actually draw people closer to me and to God.
God can give us His wisdom about how exactly to approach someone who is sinning against us – when to remain quiet, when to speak up, when to offer a loving rebuke, how to speak (softly and gently, or more firmly) when to involve other mature believers, and when to create physical and emotional distance when someone continues not to repent. It is very key for us to remain sensitive to and filled with HIs Spirit so that we hear His still small voice and can quickly obey. Ultimately, He is the only one who knows exactly what we should do in every situation. For more on this issue, please check out Leslie Vernick’s post and John Piper’s messages below in “Resources.” (Always compare anything any human writer says to Scripture.)
How has God empowered you to respond in a beautiful way to an insult, criticism, or rebuke?
I would encourage EVERYONE to check out this free download of Andrew Murray’s book Absolute Surrender. You can also listen to it online, as well, for free. Murray explains how we can have God’s Spirit living full blast in our hearts as we completely yield all of ourselves to Christ.
Marriage – Is It Only Forgive and Forebear – or Also Confront? – John Piper (a message for wives)
Give the Blessing of Rebuke – John Piper
Sacred Influence by Gary Thomas has some amazing real-life examples of wives respectfully confronting/rebuking their husbands.
If you are experiencing emotional or physical abuse, this may be a helpful resource to prayerfully consider – Focus Ministries – This post about the difference between healthy vs. abusive relationships may be a good place to start. I have not read every post on this site – the ones I have read seem to be biblically based from what I can see. Remember, please check everything any person says against God’s Word. Don’t accept someone’s words unless you test to be sure it is in line with God’s truth. If you have serious issues in your marriage, please seek a godly, mature, trusted pastor or qualified Christian counselor to help you in person. If you are seriously not safe, please contact www.thehotline.org or the police or a women’s shelter near you to determine what steps you may need to take to get to safety.