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Unfortunately, we will all be the targets of insults, at one time or another. Even Jesus faced intense criticism, insults, and terrible persecution. And He was God! He was completely perfect. And yet, so many people hated Him.
It hurts deeply to feel misunderstood, wrongly accused, berated, or verbally attacked.
Our knee-jerk response when we feel insulted is to get defensive. Or to go on an all-out offensive attack at the person who insulted or criticized us.
This topic could easily fill many books. This post is not a comprehensive guide to exactly what to do in every possible situation. It is a general overview. We will need the Word and God’s Spirit to give us the wisdom we need in individual scenarios.
There are two primary ways we can respond to insults for believers in Christ. The flesh or the Spirit.
Fleshly reactions to insults:
- React in a spirit of offense, self-righteousness, and pride.
- Vigorously defend myself and try to control and change what the other person thinks about me.
- Attack the other person in sinful anger.
- Malice – try to hurt the other person in any way possible, including physically, financially, socially, emotionally, etc…
- Gossip about the other person.
- Slander the other person.
- Seek revenge.
- Complain to other people about the person.
- Passive-aggressively try to undermine and attack the person.
- Triangulate with another person – take my offense to another person instead of to the one who hurt me.
- Hold a grudge and bitterness against that person.
- Retreat and hide in fear.
- Try to avoid conflict at all costs.
- Freak out and worry.
Yes, it is very tempting to lash out and launch a swift “nuclear attack” when we feel insulted.
But what does it accomplish – other than to add to the emotional and spiritual carnage? And it separates us from fellowship with the Lord because it grieves the Holy Spirit.
What if there is a better way to respond? A way that honors the Lord and keeps from escalating the situation – as far as it depends on us? That is what I want to talk about together today.
What Is the Source?
I think it is important to remember what Jesus said about the source of what comes out of people’s mouths.
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matt. 12:33-37
It is super helpful to remember that what a person says reveals what is in that person’s heart. It really isn’t necessarily about me at all.
I need to avoid making the mistake of thinking that what people say must reflect me or be about me – or that what they say must be true automatically.
What people say is primarily about them. It is about their motives, hearts, and issues. It is about who is in control of their lives – the sinful nature or the Holy Spirit.
- Some people are walking around all filled up with the sinful nature. When they get pressured by relationships or trials, the nastiness that is inside them comes spewing out all over whoever is around them.
- Other people are walking around all filled up with the Holy Spirit. When they get pressured by relationships or trials, the fruit of the Spirit is what gushes out of them all over whoever is around them..
So I don’t have to take everything that other people say personally. This is so freeing!
I need to carefully weigh what people say vs. what God says. If the person’s words contain a godly rebuke, even if it wasn’t thoughtfully presented, then I can humbly receive that part and repent for any sin in my life or any wrong doing on my part. I can take anything constructive from what was said and invite God to use it to help me grow. But if the person’s words are not true, if they are not constructive, or if their words are from the enemy, I don’t need to absorb them.
Who is speaking?
I want to consider who is speaking the words. Is it a spiritually mature believer in Christ whom I trust and who loves me and wants God’s best for me? Is he/she attempting to give me a godly rebuke or constructive criticism that maybe I need to hear? Am I hearing this person accurately or am I misunderstanding something or assuming negative motives where there aren’t any? Do the person’s words align with the Bible?
Or is this person someone who is far from the Lord, as far as I know, and who has a lifestyle of insulting almost everyone? Is this someone Proverbs would classify as “a fool“? An unbeliever may speak some truth to me that I need to take to heart. But I want to be a lot more cautious about receiving words from someone acting in the flesh.
I also need to consider if the thing that I perceive to be an insult, actually isn’t one.
Responding to Insults with Wisdom
If I respond in the flesh to an insult by immediately vigorously defending myself to try to “make the other person understand” and make them change their minds about me, or if I respond by attacking the other person, I will often only pour gasoline on the fire. I can escalate the situation into a much worse situation with greater tension and greater wounds on both sides.
Godly responses to insults:
- Restraint and self control. (Gal. 5:22-23)
- Respect and honor for God, for the other person, and for self. (1 John 4:20)
- Righteous anger toward sin, never sinful anger at a person. (Eph. 4:26)
- Patience and understanding if the other person is deeply wounded or may have significant spiritual, emotional, physical or other kinds of problems, realizing the person is not okay and the insult is probably a symptom of their spiritual or physical condition. (Gal. 5:22-23)
- Attempt to clear up any misunderstanding if there was one.
- Diffuse the situation with appropriate humor – in certain situations.
- Avoid assuming the absolute worst about the other person’s intentions without clear evidence.
- Repent for any sin I have committed against the other person. (Matt. 5:23-24)
- Sometimes ignoring it is the wisest thing to do, especially if the person is someone who is foolish or a scoffer and clearly just looking for a fight or is so prideful he/she is not open to listening to anyone else’s perspective. (Prov. 12:16)
- Other times, addressing the underlying issue in the person’s heart, not the insult, itself, may be wise. (Prov. 26:5)
- Bless the person. (Luke 6:28)
- Recognize this may be an opportunity to witness, to share the gospel, and/or to shine for Christ. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)
- Realize the real enemy is not the person but a spiritual enemy. I need to fight the real enemy with spiritual weapons. (Eph. 6:12)
- Pray for God to work powerfully in the life of anyone who mistreats me, that they would come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord and that they would be regenerated and conformed to the image of Christ for God’s glory. (Luke 6:28)
- Without a spirit of fear but with a spirit of love, power, and a sound mind. (Deut. 31:6, 2 Tim. 1:7)
- Sometimes humbly, respectfully confronting the sin – after I have dealt with any sin in my own life) is the best approach, if the person is sinning against me – especially if the person is a believer. (Matt. 7:1-5, Matt. 18:15-17)
- Draw appropriate boundaries if someone continues on in unrepentant sin and is very toxic spiritually/emotionally. There are times when we warn someone once or twice and then need to have nothing to do with that person if they continue on sinning in certain sins (2 Tim. 3:1-5, Titus 3:10)
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, James 1:19
From a Reader:
When offended we must be calm and be slow to speak. And ask God to help us to not be offended. It’s our response to the insult that matters most. I really dealt hard with feeling like I was offended. Someone may joke or I may have taken what they said the wrong way. What God showed me is my response with gentleness and kindness, regardless of how I felt, is what matters most. I found out that when not responding negatively, the outcome has (often) been peace, and less arguments. Feeling offended led me to give mean, angry responses that were only damaging the person and myself. I was under conviction and now I feel so much better when I don’t react in the flesh.
What Does God Say about How I Should Respond to Insults?
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. Deut. 31:6
The one who corrects a mocker will bring abuse on himself; the one who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you; rebuke the wise, and he will love you. Prov. 9:7-8
A fool’s displeasure is known at once, but whoever ignores an insult is sensible. Prov. 12:16
Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly. Prov. 14:29
A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. Prov. 18:7
Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you. Prov. 20:22
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. Prov. 26:4-5 (Meaning – don’t stoop to a fool’s level and react in the flesh. But you may need to wisely answer to keep him from becoming more conceited.)
Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Luke 6:28
If I Am Insulted for My Faith in Christ
Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 1 Tim. 3:12
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 1 Pet. 4:12-14
I want to see us respond to insults without fear, without pride, without a spirit of offense, without bitterness or resentment, and without lashing out and hurting others. I want to see us respond in the power of the Spirit and with the mind and heart of Christ!
Those unbelievers who insult us may be future brothers and sisters in Christ! God may desire us to help pray them into His Kingdom. They are people Jesus loves and for whom He died.
In the next post, we will talk about avoiding insulting others.
What wisdom have you learned about responding well to insults? We’d love to hear about it. What are your thoughts on today’s post? And how is your 21 day fast from negative words going? It’s not too late to start if you would like!
What Is an Insult? (And just as importantly, what is not an insult?)
A Critical Spirit VS a Godly Rebuke
When Should You Answer a Fool? by www.lifehopeandtruth.com
How Should a Christian Respond to Bullying? – by www.gotquestions.org
What Does the Bible Say about Dealing with Difficult People? – by www.gotquestions.org
My Identity in Christ – the only source of my security, peace, joy, fulfillment, and purpose!
Responding to Insults, Criticisms, and Rebukes
Prayer for Wives with Critical, Harsh Husbands – by Radiant
Got an Angry Man? – by Nina Roesner
Quick Tip for Handling an Angry Husband – by Nina Roesner
Do I Have a Spirit of Offense?
Confronting Our Husbands about Their Sin
Taking Our Thoughts Captive for Christ – VIDEO
How Does the Bible Describe a Fool? by www.gotquestions.org
April, dear sister, this is so important. I find myself more and more reactive to insults recently, especially as they’re designed to wound. It’s so easy to get caught up in a cycle of feeling angry when the provocations are relentless but that’s not who I am. Thank you for being a light shining in the darkness!
I’m so thankful the Lord used this to bless you. <3
To add to your great message, April, I recently heard a teaching on turning the other cheek. It presented a perspective that I had never heard before. I think it fits well here. Jesus was not teaching that we are to just keep turning the cheek and letting the other person keep hitting us (although it certainly may take some of that, too), but rather turning the cheek means that when you get hit you turn your eyes/ face to see the person’s perspective of why they hit you. It’s a matter of trying to discern what is in their hearts that made them lash out at you. Until we try and see them the way that Jesus does, we will never be able to walk in peace and bring peace. This is certainly not the world’s ways, and one that is definitely impossible for us to do in our own flesh…but with God all things are possible.
That is interesting. Thank you for sharing! <3
Ugh…I SO needed this. I regularly get insulted by people closest to me who do not believe and it weighs heavy on my heart. Most of the time I am able to remain quiet or keep things light to deflect (without putting them down), but today I felt indignation in my heart and I was convicted. Ugh! So much to grow in! This walk is A LOT harder than people think. Cannot do this without the work of the Holy Spirit. Got to pray more for godly posture on the inside as well as intervention from the Spirit to guide my words and guard my lips on the outside, literally. Thank you for posting this!! <3
I think we all need this. It is such a painful part of life! And it is so easy to respond in the flesh when we feel attacked. Praying for God’s wisdom and the power of His Spirit to lead you, my precious sister.
This walk is impossible in our own strength! We all need the Spirit to be able to do any of it at all.
Such a good read. Every time I’m reminded that what come out of me is what’s already in there. 🙁
Yes! Isn’t that important information? I’m so glad Jesus gave us this wisdom. <3
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