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Insulted: Crushing the Personal Offense
Copyright © 2001, 2002 - All rights retained by author
Written by: C. W. Booth

Introduction

Perhaps nothing causes more chaos in the Christian body than the devastating effects of giving and receiving personal insults. Oddly enough, insults should have little if any power within the church universal, and yet, it stands as one of the most powerful engines of destruction known to the community.

This article seeks to help the individual Christian understand the biblical perspective of insults so that such offenses may become impotent and ultimately meaningless.

Note: The following article is an extract from a larger work entitled: In Fear of Punishment.

The Standard for Measuring Conduct

We are each just one member of the church. Most of us are ordinary in the respect that we do not hold offices as pastors or elders. But the commands to rebuke and reprove are directed at the ordinary believer. We do not necessarily have special training. So by what standard do we determine who has sinned and must be rebuked, and who has not sinned and should not be rebuked?

There is but one standard. One standard of conduct for the entire church. From the beginning of the book of Genesis to the last pages of Revelation God defines a sin as "disobeying a command of God". The standard for when to rebuke someone is: when they break or disobey an actual command written in the pages of the Bible. In Genesis Chapter Three, the first two humans created by God had only one command from God, and they broke it. It was the first time that fear of punishment came upon mankind (Gen.3:10).

Throughout history, false prophets and false teachers have attempted to add false new laws to the Bible, ignore the genuine laws, or deny God’s sovereignty or the need to follow His Word. God’s response is constant: "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men." Matthew 15:9 Precepts of men are just man’s own traditions. Man’s traditions do not qualify as scriptures. Therefore, you cannot use man’s traditions as the criteria (standard) for deciding whether to rebuke someone. Breaking a man’s tradition is not a sin.

A sin is only a sin when a command of God is violated. A violation of a "precept of men" is not a sin. Matthew 18 commands us only to rebuke sins, genuine violations of God’s law.

When an offender sins (breaks a law of God), then he ought to be rebuked under the guidelines of Matthew 18. Be quite careful to rebuke the offender only for the specific law of God that was violated.

Is There Such a Thing as Sinning Against Man?

Sometimes a person will violate a law of God with regard to one or more people. Some sins are solely against God, such as blasphemy. Other sins violate the laws that God gave to protect men from the crimes of men, such as murder, theft, and adultery. For example, a man may steal a car from another person. The Bible says that the thief has broken the biblical prohibition against stealing from another man. The thief has not only sinned against God and His law, but also transgressed against another man (Romans 13:8-10).

When a man violates a biblical law and by doing so sins against another man, he must repent to God, but he must also repent (apologize and/or make restitution) to the man he sinned against (Numbers 5:6,7). As often as the man repents, the sinned against must accept his apology with forgiveness (Matthew 18:21,22).

 

What Can I Do About An Insult?

No one will be a Christian for very long before becoming "offended", the recipient of an insult. How should this be handled? Does it have equal standing with a sin against God’s word and can the offender be rebuked? Is causing an insult even a sin at all?

The American Heritage Dictionary lists the definition of the verb "to offend" as: "To create or excite anger, resentment, or annoyance in; hurt the feelings of…to insult". This means that someone has offended you; done something to you that causes feelings of anger, resentment, or hurt feelings. This is the very definition of "suffering an insult."

This can get complicated to sort out, but most of life is indeed complicated. If the individual who has offended you did so by violating a specific law of God (for example by telling a lie about you), he should be rebuked under the Matthew 18 guidelines, but only for telling the lie. The man should then repent to God and apologize to you for telling the lie.

But what about those hurt feelings of anger and resentment? Anger and resentment are the natural emotions associated with almost every affront that a man endures. No one else is ever responsible, biblically, for your emotions, or the actions you take as a result of your emotions. Your actions and your emotions cannot be blamed on others.

The anger, resentment, and feelings of hurt you experience when wronged or offended, are God’s gift to you as natural motivators to take action. No one can force you to feel an emotion. They cannot be pumped into you from the outside. All the stimuli must be filtered through your own eyes, ears, and brain. Emotions well up inside the person as a natural response to what is happening outside. God is shown in the Bible to have experienced the emotions of anger/wrath, peace, love, joy, sadness, sorrow, jealousy, rage, etc… We are made in His image, and our emotions are made in His image.

The emotion of fear jolts the body into absolute alertness in preparation to locate and identify the danger. The emotion of joy prepares the body to sing, laugh, and yell—to express the joy physically. The emotion of anger prepares the body for quick and often decisive physical action (such as overturning the tables of illicit moneychangers or engaging in combat). Emotions are personal and internal, ready to assist the body to take the appropriate godly actions.

As with almost every aspect of human life, God calls on us not just to use our emotions, but to control them as well. For example, we are not to be men with lifestyles of anger nor quick to become hot tempered, however we are permitted to "be angry without sinning". We are also not to become creatures who live in fear of men, but rather fearing God alone, although, short term fear such as that which Christ experienced when He sweated blood is acceptable. (Luke 22:44 uses the word "agony", agonia in the Greek, which literally means "great fear"; fear probably induced from anticipation of having to be punished for the sins of the world while the Father momentarily must "forsake" the Son.) Momentary fear, like momentary anger, is acceptable, so long as we do not continue in it and sin as a result of it. Experiencing a brief emotion is not a sin.

It will happen sooner or later that someone will insult you (most often unintentionally) by some off-hand word or some deed done in innocence that negatively impacts you. The result is a feeling of being insulted: hurt feelings, anger, resentment. The result of an insult is that you feel emotions which upset you; anger, resentment, hurt feelings, sorrow.

When insulted, the Bible gives us this remedy, "To sum up, let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kind hearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing." 1Peter 3:8,9 In other words, ignore the insult and the feelings of hurt and communicate back a blessing instead. A genuine blessing, not sarcasm.

We are also instructed to "turn the other cheek" when someone insults us with a slap across the face (Matthew 5:39). Insults are to be forgiven and forgotten without comment (Proverbs 10:12, 17:9, 1Peter 4:8), covered in love and put away. Even 1 Corinthians 13:5 says that a loving individual will not hold a grudge against someone who offends (inflicts a wrong) or insults them. Insults are to be ignored by the offended party and then the insulted party is to bless the offender.

Some may ask, "But what about my hurt feelings? Can I not ask the offender to repent or at least apologize under Matthew 18 guidelines?" No, there was no violation of any biblical law or command. Confrontation for sin is reserved for violations of God’s laws, not for violations of the "precepts of men". Unintentional insults and hurt feelings are easily forgiven under the law of love, and forgotten.

 

Can I Share My Hurt Feelings?

Is it a "sin" for me if I do tell someone else my feelings were "hurt" by their words or actions? Let us assume that your "hurt feelings" are not due to someone else committing a genuine sin, and that your reaction is just due to an innocent comment or decision the other person made. Should you tell that person that "they hurt you?" First keep in mind that they did not actually "hurt you". You feel emotionally bad, but they did not compel you to feel that way. Your response to them is how you decided to feel based on your past experiences, present emotional state, and current spiritual condition.

So, is it a "sin" for me if I tell someone else my feelings were "hurt" by their words or actions? This can only be answered by examining your own motives. Why do you want that person to know? What reason do you have for telling them? Ephesians 4:29 tells us only to use speech that brings edification to the hearer. Is it your intention to somehow encourage that person to excel in Christ? Or is your motivation to get rid of your unhappy emotions of "hurt", "anger", and "sorrow" by dumping on the other person so they feel bad too? Is this motivation "loving", "encouraging", "pure", or being "kind"? Just dumping your emotions on others to make yourself "feel better" is merely selfish and is itself insulting to the hearer.

The next question to ask yourself before you expose your "hurt feelings" to the one you perceive as having initiated the hurt is, "What do I want that person to do when they find out?" Do you want them to just feel bad? Do you want them to repent? Do you want a personal apology? Do you want them to feel indebted to you? Do you want them to fight back? Whatever response you are attempting to invoke, you must ensure it is the one that God endorses in His word: repentance of sin against God and encouragement to serve Him better.

An example may help: A woman gets her hair cut and styled. Filled with anticipation about the comments she will receive, she casually stops by her friend’s home. Her friend does not appear to notice and does not comment on the new hair style. The woman is insulted and finally blurts out, "Didn’t you notice my new hair cut?" The friend is caught in a trap. She does not like the new hair cut, but did not want to tell her friend because she knew it would be "insulting". But now, the friend is forced to either tell the truth and insult the woman all over again, or to lie and offend God.

The woman with the haircut was selfishly fishing for compliments. When she did not get any, she was "insulted". Next she asked, "Didn’t you notice my new hair cut?" Why did she ask? Because she wanted the other woman to know she was already insulted and to force her friend to respond (hopefully with an apology and a compliment, "Oh, I am sorry dear, I did not notice…it looks great!") By forcing the friend to respond, she was only furthering her own selfish goals and was not thinking about the implications and complications her friend was being forced into. In no way is this confrontation going to be edifying for the poor trapped friend.

If you are genuinely motivated by serving others and being encouraging to your brothers and sisters in Christ, you must most often respond to "hurt feelings" and "insults" in the only manner I have found that the scriptures command: "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39).

"A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression." (Proverbs 19:11)

"Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions." (Prov.10:12)

"He who covers a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends." (Prov.17:9)

"Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins." (1Peter 4:8)

"[Love] does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered," (1Cor.13:5)

"not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult" (1Peter 3:9a)

"A prudent man conceals knowledge" (Proverbs 12:23a)

Nowhere have I yet found in scripture even a single example or command where a man is required to apologize for insulting another; only when the "insult" is first an actual sin against God is an apology required. For example, Jesus is told that the Pharisees were insulted by His teaching (Matthew 15:12), but instead of apologizing He insults them again by calling them "blind guides of the blind". In Luke 11:45 Jesus is told by a lawyer, "Teacher…you insult us" and He responds not with an apology but with the words, "Woe to you lawyers as well."

To the one who feels inspired to compel someone else to apologize for an insult, first they must find the command of Christ that endorses such behavior. If they cannot find such a command, let them instead "cover the transgression in love". Compelling others to apologize for the "feelings" in our own hearts is a dangerous road to walk. Why do we feel these feelings? Are our own hearts not filled with wickedness already? Why do we feel the hurt has to be blamed on someone else…maybe the "hurt" is a result of our own wicked heart. "He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered." (Proverbs 28:26)

Could it be that you feel others will benefit from knowing how "hurt" you are, even though they are innocent of an actual sin? Have you considered how such a revelation may impact them? "A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind." (Proverbs 18:2) "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise." (Proverbs 10:19)

Is it lawful to tell the other person about your "feelings of hurt"? If your motives are pure and selfless; if you are not seeking an apology because you have already forgiven the affront; and if your goal is to build, encourage, and edify the other person, it may be "lawful". But is sharing your "feelings of hurt" a biblically suggested approach? Bear in mind, the scriptures advocate that the wise person will simply "cover the matter in love"—to place it safely out of sight.

You may well wonder how you can live with all this "hurt" and "anger" inside. The answer is, you do not and cannot live with the anger, you turn it away (Proverbs 29:8). Anger is just an emotion, it only endures if it is fed. You put it away by the process of love and forgiveness, "bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you." Cols. 3:13 Forgiveness, will remove the hurt and anger. Say to yourself, "I forgive that insult". Take the insult off your mental "book of accounting" (1Cor.13:5). That debt is now paid.

Confrontation for sin is reserved for violations of God’s laws, not for violations of the "precepts of men". Unintentional insults and hurt feelings are to be forgiven under the law of love, and forgotten. Proverbs 14:30 "A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones." "A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression." (Proverbs 19:11)

 

Why Are Insults Exempted from Matthew 18 Discipline?

The primary reason that insults are exempted from Matthew 18 discipline may be that insults are not always sins. The offender did not have to violate any law of God to cause an offense. Let us use a story as an example: I am throwing a formal party. I forget to invite a good friend who is also my neighbor. The friend becomes offended and insulted; she feels hurt, anger, sorrow, and resentment. The insulted friend chooses not to ignore the absent-minded insult, nor does she forgive, nor does she bless the offender, but rather decides on a hasty course of action. She runs across the lawn shouting and screaming about how I have hurt her and how awful must be my heart to have not invited her. This begins a long-lasting quarrel and a feud erupts, even splitting the neighborhood into competing factions.

Instead of the above outcome, what if the offended friend says to herself, "He did not invite me! Boy am I hurt! But, he is my friend. I don’t know why he would do something like that, but I will forgive him. In fact, I will go over and tell him how much his friendship means to me." Upon seeing the friend, I ask, "are you ready for the party?" My friend replies, "well, I never actually got an invitation." How embarrassed I am, how apologetic, how certain I am that she gets the best seat at the table!

The offense in the above example was a lapse of memory. An innocent mistake of a fallible human mind. There was no sin (nor any evil intent, not that anyone could ever know the true intent of another—intent can only be guessed at, which usually does more harm than good) and there can be no rebuke. This insult must be covered in love and forgotten.

Another reason that insults are to be suffered in silence and forgiven is that no sin against God’s law has been experienced. If I have certain rules of conduct that I live by, which are nowhere imposed by God onto other people as a requirement for them to live by, then it is my own personal tradition. In this example, let us say the tradition is hugging my family goodnight. Everyone hugs, sons, daughters, mothers, and fathers. A visiting house guest has an aversion to being touched, so he politely steps out of the room during the goodnight hug. This violation of a personal tradition could easily be taken as an insult. Whether intentional or not, the visitor has broken your traditions. However, breaking man-made (personal) traditions is not a sin. No rebuke may be made, and no apology may be forced. Forgive the offense in your heart, and let it go.

Imagine for a moment that not only did you hold everyone you met accountable to honor all your personal traditions, but all your friends held you and each other accountable to remember and abide by each of their traditions? Or worse, what if everyone you met, every stranger, expected you to know and honor their personal traditions, and if you did not honor their traditions because of lack of knowledge, mistake, or purposeful intent, the strangers were allowed to bring you up on charges of sin? The resulting chaos would either end in outright warfare; or, no one would ever communicate with anyone ever again, except under extreme necessity, and always grudgingly. The world would be in a perpetual state of insult.

It is true and certain that not all insults are done in innocence. However, no-one can read the heart or intentions of the one giving the insult. How do you know, really know, what the offender intended when he did what he did? You cannot know unless he tells you, "For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man, which is in him?" 1Cor.2:11. If he does not tell you why he did what he did, you cannot accuse and rebuke him of sinful intent on the basis of assumptions or hurt feelings. Only when you see an actual sin (such as lying) may you confront and rebuke under Matthew 18.

If it is not a sinful action (and speaking is an action) as defined in the Bible, but it insulted you, forgive it, make no account of it, and move on with serving God. Or, maybe you suspect this was a genuine intentional and malicious insult, and it hurt; then accept the resulting anger, control the amount and duration of your anger, do not sin, and forgive the offender if there is no obvious sin present. Do not seek revenge or vengeance. God does that in His own timing if it suits His plan.

 

How Long Can I Hold a Grudge?

Families and close friends often, if not inevitably, find themselves in a mutual conflict—warring with each other over some perceived wrong which could be major or minor. Sadly, the Bible tells us that brotherly quarreling and conflicts come not from Satan, but from our own self-centered minds: "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?" James 4:1

These quarrels if not resolved by day’s end will result in grudge matches. This leads to bitterness. If you ever find yourself in a grudge match, consider the words of Matthew 5:23,24: "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled with your brother, and then come and present your offering."

How to reconcile of course depends on the manner of the offense. If the brother has sinned, rebuke him. If you have sinned, repent and apologize. The goal in the end is forgiveness.

 

How Can I Apologize?

Assuming a man commits a biblical sin, let us say lying to his neighbor, he has committed two sins, breaking the ninth commandment and sinning against his brother (Lev.6:2-7). Without getting too excited about semantics, an apology is virtually the same as repentance which is also the same as "confess your sins". American Heritage defines an apology as: "A statement of acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense."

When you sin against God, the Bible requires you to repent and confess your sins to Him, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1John 1:10

If at the same time he sins against God a man also sins against some other man, he is obligated to apologize or repent to the man he has wronged, "And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent’, forgive him." Luke 17:4. Again, it should be noted that the sinner needs to apologize very specifically each time he returns for the given sin of the moment. Similarly, the sinned-against person should "forgive" the man verbally and specifically.

 

What Qualifies Someone to be Labeled as a Contentious Woman?

A contentious woman is identifiable by a very specific pattern: the contentions, whatever they are, are non-stop, coming one after the other, seemingly without end. Proverbs 27:16 indicates it is not generally simple or possible to stop her from her ceaseless "contentions" and 21:19 indicates it is better to live among the scorpions in the desert than to deal with her continuous "vexations".

So what are the steady stream of contentions and vexations?

A contentious woman is one who is constantly causing strife by starting quarrels with others whom she has judged, she is in a constant state of anger, bitterness, indignation, and sorrow, and is provoking others to anger and being provoked to anger. Since Proverbs 21:19 indicates no amount of rational discussion will forestall the onslaught, we can assume that all her complaints are without valid foundation and are of a spurious nature.

Earlier we commented that American Heritage Dictionary defines "to offend" as: "To create or excite anger, resentment, or annoyance in; hurt the feelings of…to insult". The contentious woman fits the very definition of someone who believes themselves to have been offended or insulted. It would appear then, that the contentious woman is one who is in a constant state of feeling insulted. As a result, she judges others guilty of insulting her, she becomes angry, bitter, and sorrowful, and is on the prowl to find opportunity to quarrel with others for no other reason than to vindicate her own feelings.

In short, everything that goes "wrong" in the life of the contentious woman and every bad feeling she develops is the fault of someone else. It is often surprising to see such blunt commentary on human behavior as those found in Proverbs.

As with the "angry man", it is of no use trying to rebuke this woman for a lifestyle of being contentious. Rather, on an episode-by-episode basis she must be confronted for leveling untrue accusations, falsely shifting blame to others, and for acting rashly on the basis of "feeling insulted" since insults must be "covered in love".

What Does "Speak the Truth in Love" Mean?

In other articles we examined how a person is permitted to be stirred to anger for a short time without sinning. We also saw that Jesus, John the Baptist, and Paul used very strong words (such as "you vipers") and strong actions (such as making a whip and running off the vendors’ livestock) and at times employed loud voices (shouting in the wilderness). In addition 2Timothy 1:7 says, "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline."

How can these words and behaviors not be considered "insulting" to the recipient and how can they also be reconciled with passages such as:

"As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ," Ephs.4:14,15

"But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s bondservant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth," 2Timothy 2:23-25

In truth, I do not believe there is a conflict between passages that requires resolution. I believe the true problem is in our human desire to impose our own private and personal interpretations on words such as "kind" and "gentle". For example, in Ephs.4:15 we are told to speak "the truth in love (agape)". The truth is God’s truth, which can be a harsh truth (even very harsh) at times. Even though it can be a very harsh truth, it is still kind (gentle).

The love we are to show is agape love, fellowship love in Christ. Vine’s states it this way in part, "Christian love has God for its primary object, and expresses itself first of all in implicit obedience to His commandments. … Self-will … self-pleasing is the negation of love to God. Christian love, whether exercised toward the brethren, or toward men generally, is not an impulse from the feelings, it does not always run with the natural inclinations, nor does it spend itself only upon those for whom some affinity is discovered. Love seeks the welfare of all…works no ill to any".

At no time does love become an excuse to stop obeying Christ’s commandments. Love IS obeying Christ. As Vine’s points out, love is not a feeling or emotion, it is a set of actions. Actions which sometimes violate our "natural inclinations". But ultimately, love seeks to bring all men to obedience in Christ through the scriptures. This may take on many approaches, methods, and individual styles.

In much the same way as love works, so does kindness (which also means gentle). Being kind is a relative term which has no specific criteria. When does speech become unkind? When is action not gentle? All our communications are to be used to encourage, rebuke, build-up, refute wrong doctrines, and in general to be employed to further the gospel. Withholding a rebuke from a sinner due to your own self-embarrassment is not a kindness, quite the opposite. But, to outside observers, some might call the decision not to issue a rebuke a kindness while others might find it appalling that a sinner was left uncorrected. But no one really knows if the act was out of genuine kindness, disobedience, or ignorance of God’s word because no one knows the heart and intent of a man.

It is literally impossible for someone to judge whether another’s actions or words are "unkind". This criteria is simply not defined in specific terms we can use to objectively measure another against. When a female wolf gives birth to pups, the pups experiment and test all their abilities—including their teeth. When they bite mom, she quickly turns around and bites the young pup in return; the pup yelps in pain and learns a lesson. Was the mother wolf being kind and gentle? If your criteria is that no mothers should ever inflict pain on their offspring then you feel this mother was unkind and not gentle. On the other hand, the mother knows how hard to bite to avoid inflicting life-threatening injury and she also knows that a pup that does not learn appropriate social behavior in a pack will soon die. The mother was being gentle and kind from this perspective: gentle—she could have killed the pup easily with one crushing move of her jaws, but she did not; kind—she taught the pup a lesson that will save his very life.

Should anyone ever pose the counter-argument that using harsh and painful methods (while also pursuing the truth in kindness, love, mercy and patience) is only the domain for God to impose on men (and only for wolves to impose on their pups) then some scriptural references and paraphrases may help establish what "kindness" and "gentleness" can mean:

How gentle is gentle? How kind is kind? Who is the judge of gentle and kind? It often comes down to motives. Is God gentle and kind? Does He discipline us; is it painful? Just because an action taken by someone else feels painful, that is not proof that it was unkind or not gentle.

With all such verses on love, kindness, tenderness, gentleness, one must constantly ask, "Who is the judge?" God certainly is because He can see the heart of man. A man can certainly judge his own actions because he knows his own motives and heart (though often even he can deceive himself). But no-one is able to judge the motives and heart of anyone else. What is harsh and unkind sounding to one man may be the sweet loving sound of salvation wrapped-up in the thunder of a hell-fire and brimstone message calling men to repentance.

 

Conclusion

As we attempt to prove obedient to communicating with each other in love, and confronting one another when we fall short of the truth, we will decidedly injure the feelings of others and suffer insults of our own. Insults are often not sins and over and over in the scriptures we are commanded to forgive the one who hurts our feelings and to forget the insult without implementing a Matthew 18 confrontation.

A Christian can only be offended (be insulted) by those he does not love: "Love is patient…is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,…bears all things…" 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 When we love, we do not consider ourselves to have been provoked and we simply forgive our beloved. Put insults aside and be at peace, if possible, at least as much as the peace depends on your actions (Romans 12:18).



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