Have you ever had someone be mean to you?
Maybe it was warranted, if meanness can ever be warranted, but maybe it was completely unsolicited and the person just needed to take out their sadness or madness or terribleness on someone and you happened to be the closest human.
In Part 3 of The Words Series, we’re talking about what to do when you hear “fightin’ words.” We talked about gracious words in Part 1 and about silencing ourselves when fewer words are called for in Part 2, but today we explore what God tells us to do when harsh words are leveled at us.
1. Recognize verbal attacks on you will inevitably happen.
People having been saying deceptive things for thousands of years. Leveling attacks against one another. Spreading untruths. God tells us not to put any stock in them. And He warns us not to start doing it ourselves (even in return).
Do not trust in deceptive words. – Jeremiah 7:8
If anyone teaches otherwise…they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth. I Timothy 6:4
Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you. – Ezekiel 13:8
These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. For they mouth empty, boastful words …they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves. II Peter 2:18
2. Acknowledge there is nothing you can do to control what someone else says.
3. Forgive them anyways.
In a conversation between Jesus and Peter, Peter thought he was being magnanimous by saying, How many times should I forgive my brother? Up to seven times? Because let’s face it, forgiving someone seven times IS pretty magnanimous by today’s standards – and I’m sure it was then too. But Jesus replied with, No, not seven times. But seventy times seven. (Matthew 18) We don’t have to continue to put ourselves in the path of someone who attacks us or tears down our character, but recognizing there isn’t anything we can do about it means that we keep forgiving them if they keep attacking – even from a distance.
If you forgive others, you will be forgiven. Matthew 6:14
Every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven. Matthew 12:31
4. Only respond with words that reflect your character. Do not allow someone else’s meanness to incite you to impugn your own character; that feeds into what they’re seeking (a reaction, inflicting pain) and it gives their statements credibility if you respond in anger.
There’s a scene in I Samuel 24 when King Saul and David, who was not yet king, were near one another in the desert at the height of Saul’s hatred for David. David had the opportunity to kill King Saul as his men encouraged him to do. But instead, David rebuked his men, and called out to King Saul, “This day you have seen with your own eyes how the Lord delivered you into my hands in the cave. Some urged me to kill you, but I spared you; I said, ‘I will not lay my hand on my lord, because he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, look at this piece of your robe in my hand! I cut off the corner of your robe but did not kill you. See that there is nothing in my hand to indicate that I am guilty of wrongdoing or rebellion. I have not wronged you, but you are hunting me down to take my life. May the Lord judge between you and me. And may the Lord avenge the wrongs you have done to me, but my hand will not touch you. As the old saying goes, ‘From evildoers come evil deeds,’ so my hand will not touch you.”
Saul, shocked, responds, “You are more righteous than I,” he said. “You have treated me well, but I have treated you badly. You have just now told me about the good you did to me; the Lord delivered me into your hands, but you did not kill me. When a man finds his enemy, does he let him get away unharmed? May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today. I know that you will surely be king and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hands.”
I don’t know what would have happened had David acted rashly, as he sometimes did, and killed King Saul. I don’t know if that would have prevented him from ascending to King. But I do know that he trusted the Lord to judge what happened, refused to be drawn into a terrible reaction by someone else’s bad words and actions, and he was rewarded by becoming King.
5. Then leave it to God to sort out.
A little later in this story, II Samuel 22 shares David’s joy and ultimate blessing because he left it in God’s hands:
David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said, The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation…He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord says the Lord. Isaiah 54:17