Other people too often push our buttons, hurt our feelings and treat us disrespectfully. Sometimes it is even unintentional. How should we respond?
Is there anyone who hasn’t been hurt at one time or another by the words of others? The offending party may have been insensitive or angry and was probably in the wrong, but is that the end of the story? Do unkind words have to lead to a broken relationship?
We can’t control others, so what can we do if they don’t recognize their offense? What if they don’t think it was a big deal and don’t see a need to apologize? When several people tell us we are too easily offended, we may need to ask ourselves, is it true? Could we be overly sensitive to what others say to or about us?
Marriages and family relationships are often harmed because of minor disrespectful comments and actions that escalate into angry arguments or icy silences. Offense can pile on top of offense until the original attack is forgotten.
If we are offended, is there anything we can do to save the relationship?
How we respond
In most cases, we cannot control what others do, but we can control how we react or respond to their words or actions. This is addressed in the Bible in the book of Ecclesiastes.
“Also do not take to heart everything people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you” (Ecclesiastes 7:21).
Wise King Solomon advises that we should not take seriously everything people say about us, and that is true whether it is good or bad. One can cause pride; the other, anger. But certainly it can be unpleasant to hear that someone has spoken critically of us.
Solomon goes on to say that all of us have said things we shouldn’t have about someone else sometime in our lives (verse 22). It is all too human to slip into the problem of gossiping or slandering someone behind his or her back. We should strive to overcome these human tendencies, but no one has ever gone through life and not succumbed to these weaknesses at some time. “For there is not a just man on earth who does good [all the time] and does not sin” (verse 20).
We might wish that everyone liked us and spoke highly of us all the time, but that is unrealistic. No one can go through life without having to face personal criticism of some type in some way. If we allow those things to upset us each time we hear of them, our lives will wind up being miserable.
Shimei curses King David
Consider this example from the Bible. One of King David’s sons, Absalom, plotted with a number of leading Israelites to seize the throne from his father. David, seeing that his life was in danger, had to flee Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel. Accompanied by a few loyal friends, he fled into the nearby plains to escape capture and almost certain death.
When David came to the little town of Bahurim, a man living there came out throwing rocks at him, cursing and saying that David was finally getting what he deserved (2 Samuel 16:5-8). One of David’s guards angrily requested permission to kill Shimei for slandering David, the true king.
But David reprimanded his guard and didn’t let him harm the offensive man. Essentially, David said, “Let him alone; maybe I deserve his slanderous words. Maybe God has sent him to curse me.” Being a man after God’s own heart, David knew that getting revenge on someone who might be doing you wrong is not the best way to take care of the problem. It is better to put it into God’s hands and let Him take care of it.
David added, “It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day” (verse 12).
Christians will suffer persecution
Because this world is unknowingly following Satan, the present ruler of this world, those who live differently by following the teachings of Christ will sometimes be looked down on, even despised. Christ warned His followers that as He had been hated, so would they.
“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me” (John 15:20-21).
Being spoken evil of is going to get worse in the future. The apostle Paul said the last days would be times of violence. Many people would be brutal in their conduct, without self-control and despisers of those who try to do what is right (see 2 Timothy 3:1-3). We must learn to handle slander, reviling and offenses as a Christian should, without anger or the desire for revenge. “These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should not be offended” (John 16:1, King James Version).
Jesus said that those who attempt to make peace instead of retaliating in anger would be blessed: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
In the long run, it will turn out for the good. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).
One day Christ will return to this earth as He promised, and He will bring that reward with Him to give to those who have learned to live godly lives (Revelation 22:12).
Christ left us an example
Jesus said that if we are patient and merciful to others, God will be patient and merciful to us. And it is the humble, or meek, who in time will be the rulers under Jesus Christ—who will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5, 7).Before His death Jesus was beaten, spit on and reviled. How did He respond? Peter wanted to use a sword on those who came to arrest Jesus. But Jesus said that if that were the way to go, He could call down thousands of powerful angels to strike His adversaries! But that wasn’t what His Father wanted. Jesus came to die for the sins of humankind, so He had to go through it all (see Matthew 26:51-54).
In time Peter learned a better way. In his first letter he wrote how people of God should respond to wrongs they might experience:
“For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God. For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:19-23).
In reality, it is our pride that makes it so difficult to overlook a critical or negative statement someone makes about us. In addition to making it difficult to forgive others who have done us wrong, pride can also hinder our Christian growth.
Look back at Jesus’ Sermon on Mount, in the beginning section referred to as the Beatitudes. Jesus said that if we are patient and merciful to others, God will be patient and merciful to us. And it is the humble, or meek, who in time will be the rulers under Jesus Christ—who will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5, 7).
A way of peace
The Bible reveals the elusive way of peace. “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:17-18).
We show God our love for Him by our submission to His law. Psalm 119 was written by a man who proclaimed his love for God’s law. Notice, if we come to see that His law expresses both His will and His character, then we will understand that there is a higher and eternal purpose for life. Then the earthly things that are only transitory will be of less importance than those that are spiritual and unending.
With this understanding, the psalmist wrote: “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165, KJV).
For related reading, see:
- Handling Criticism
- How to Forgive
- Sticks and Stones: 6 Ways to Improve Your Words
- How to Apologize
- The Way of Peace