I couldn’t believe how insensitive she was being. Anger boiled up inside me and the perfect words were forming on my tongue. She deserves it, I thought. I can’t believe she thinks it’s acceptable to be this rude! Before I could utter my words of frustration, she walked away, saving me from my own mistake.
It could be your little sister who provokes your anger or, if you’re in my stage of life, it could be your coworker. Regardless of how old you are, people will come into your life and step on your toes. We can’t control them—but we can control our response to them.
It’s human nature to be harder on others than we are on ourselves. In my own instance, I was about to react to rudeness with even more rudeness! This is certainly not the best way to defuse an argument. Jesus knew we would encounter people and situations to test our character.
You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (Matthew 5:38)
When we are offended, our initial reaction is to retaliate. We want to defend ourselves! This was the same attitude the people in Jesus’ day were embracing: “an eye for an eye.” But Jesus called them to a higher standard, one that showed grace even when they were offended. But Jesus also believed in healthy boundaries, teaching that we are to confront those who offend us with a heart of love and understanding:
But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. (Matthew 5:39)
Here Jesus teaches us to withstand rudeness without retaliation. We are to show grace to those who hurt us—and that takes a lot of strength! But Jesus was NOT saying that people who treat us poorly aren’t accountable for their actions. Later in the book of Matthew, Jesus is recorded teaching us how to confront someone who offends us:
If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15)
The point of confronting a brother (or sister) is so that you can remain in good fellowship with him or her. The point is not to retaliate, get angry or “give them what they deserve,” even though that would be a tempting response! Instead, we can ask ourselves some questions as we decide how to respond to the offenses of others. These questions will help us respond with love first, rather than react in anger:
- Was this a deliberate offense? Many times what we view as a deliberate offense was not intentional on the part of the offender. Sometimes people say rude things without thinking about the consequences. Ask yourself, “Did my friend really mean to hurt me when she said that?” or “Did my sister really mean to wear the shirt I was going to wear today?” Many times, the person was not trying to hurt us—we simply perceive it that way.
- How many times have I treated others in this same way? If the hurt was intentional, think about how many times you have hurt others. Have you ever said something rude or derogatory about another girl? Have you used your sister’s things without asking? There are many ways we hurt others, but we forget about them when we are offended! By thinking about the fact that we are all human and fail each other sometimes, you gain more perspective on your own situation.
- How has God shown me grace for similar actions? God is gracious toward us, showing mercy when we sin. He gives grace when we hurt Him and when we hurt others. Are we showing that same grace toward those who hurt us? The truth is that no one can offend us as much as we have offended God, and God forgives! Therefore, we are called to a high standard of forgiveness that reflects the love of God, even in the face of evil.
Choosing love first is not easy. When Jesus set an example for us by going to the cross, He did so by choosing love first. It was painful and very unfair. Jesus was innocent! But He took our penalty so we could, in turn, show that same love to those around us. It may be difficult to choose love, but He is there to strengthen us as we do so.