• Mark Ledbetter

Responding to Insults and Abuses...what would Jesus Say?




Jesus Christ’s teachings and example are timeless, as pertinent to the Church today as they were in the days of His flesh. Transcending time and tradition, cultural and societal values, ethnic, racial, and gender issues, as well as socio-economic standards, Jesus’ thoughts are applicable. Regardless of national or ethnic origin, we share the same concerns as well as moral and ethical responsibilities.


Responding to Insults and Abuses

If we live, we will experience insults and abuses. People will not always like what we say and do, and they will insult us and abuse us in an attempt to discredit and intimidate. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, how we respond to insults and abuses will reveal just how close we pay attention to His views on the subject, and how willing we are to accept His teaching and allow it to impact our character and actions.


Jesus addresses how we are to respond to insults and abuses in Matthew 5:38-48. He opens this section by citing an oft-cited justification for revenge, “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” The full context of this commandment is found in three passages from the Law of Moses: Exodus 21:18-36; Leviticus 2:17-23; and Deuteronomy 19:14-21. In each case they address equitable justice for personal injury or death, whether accidental or intentional.

The measure was given not to the individual but to those commissioned to adjudicate the issue, generally the Elders, and the city gates became the courtroom. The Law was given to prevent “taking the law into their own hands, and to prevent blood libels and excessive violent retribution.


If an eye, tooth, limb, or body part is injured, the judges were to determine a monetary value to be placed not only for the lost body part, but for lost wages due to injury, as well as compensation for recovery, pain, and suffering. This approach underscores the concept of workman’s compensation and provides a lucrative fee for personal injury lawyers today.


Jesus takes this concept, however, in an unexpected direction. While Jesus says we have heard the commandment, He adds this thought: “But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.” In other words, Jesus’ emphasis is upon our response to those who intentionally seek to harm or abuse us. Where our natural reaction might be to respond in like kind, i.e., to physically strike back, an action that generally leads to an escalation in the confrontation, Jesus teaches us to “turn the other cheek.”


Responding to Insults

More than physical abuse is involved in His illustration. In a predominantly right-handed world, anyone facing you and striking you on the right cheek, the individual would have to backhand you. To backhand another in that setting was regarded as a supreme insult. Your value and respect is publically challenged and called into question. How you respond reveals a quality of character unmatched by those who insult you.


Jesus not only expects physical restraint but verbal as well. While enduring physical pain and insults on the Cross, Jesus’ own response is telling: “…and while being reviled, He [Jesus] did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…” (1 Peter 2:23). In other words, Jesus left the final disposition in His Father’s hands.


The Apostle Paul picks up on the theme when writing to the Romans: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19/Deuteronomy 32:35).


It is Solomon who writes, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (19:11); and “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (16:32).


Jesus’ disciple is to demonstrate composure and restraint and be prepared to endure insults, a quality expected from a disciple of Jesus and a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.


Responding to Impositions

The disciple must also be prepared to go the extra mile, therefore demonstrating he or she is truly a disciple. It was a common practiced that when an occupier, such as the Romans, could press the common citizen into service by “carrying” the soldiers’ “baggage” for one mile. Jesus says we are to go an extra mile – not one but two. Seize upon the opportunity when imposed upon to go beyond what is required of you, and not begrudgingly as a sense of duty but an opportunity to witness that you have a different world-view, a different set of values.

How often do you encounter a beggar, someone who is homeless, or even someone who simply refuses to work but exploits others, or manipulate the system? What does Jesus teach? “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”


This principle is found in Deuteronomy 15: “If there is a poor man with you, one of your brothers, in any of your towns in your land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand from your poor brother…You shall generously give to him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him, for in this thing the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in your undertakings” (vvs. 7 & 10).


The Prophet Micah declares, “He has told you, man, what is good. What does God require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (6:8). It is not only our “duty” to respond, but to “love kindness.” As Jesus teaches, the merciful will receive mercy (Matthew 5:7) and an expression of godly righteousness is to give to the poor (Matthew 6:3).


Our response not only reflects our attitude towards those who ask/beg, but our attitude regarding our own material possessions. Is this not an opportunity to let our lights shine by our good deeds and thus bring glory to our Father (Matthew 5:16).


It Gets Harder

Those asking for money, or hurling insults are not necessarily our enemies. They can be family, friends, or strangers. The encounter may be by chance or circumstance, but we don’t consider others as hostiles with premeditated intent. But then there are our enemies, those who are dead set to inflict harm, determined to abuse us, even persecute us. What does Jesus teach about our response to them?


Jesus teaches, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” Whoever said indeed got the loving your neighbor from the Law of Moses (Leviticus 19:18), but they did not derive “hate your enemy” from the Scriptures.


Obviously the Roman presence as occupiers could be considered the Jews in Israel as an enemy, and by extension, the Gentiles who were pagan. They were abusers who cared nothing about the Jews and their religious beliefs and practices. Their presence met resistance from zealots and insurrectionist who were determined to rid the land of a Roman presence and held to the aspiration of Israel’s restored glory the nation held under King David’s reign. A national pride and love for Israel certainly would be a motivation to rid the land of their enemies, and their presence and oppression fomenting hatred.


There was a religious group who espoused the teaching of loving your neighbor but hate your enemy – the Essenes. Metaphorically they referred to members of their group as “the Sons of Light,” whom they were to love, while hating the “sons of darkness” – anyone outside the Essene Community.


Regardless of whether is a pagan or someone who violently disagrees with our religious persuasion, Jesus expects us to love them, perhaps with the hope they will be disarmed by an unexpected response, one of unimaginable love.


Suppose they persecute you, deliberately confront you, ridicule you, insult you, lie about you, threaten to, or actually do you physical harm. How does Jesus expect us to respond? Pray for them. Pray for them? Yes, pray for them!


Jesus and the Apostles hold nothing back. They tell us that if we stand with Jesus and Righteousness we should expect, we will, encounter persecution. We are not directed to enter into debate, or lift up a hand against them, but we once again are expected to not resist an evil person. Again, the Apostle Paul picks up on Jesus’ teachings and writes, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men… But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:14, 17-18, 20-21).


It runs against human nature doesn’t it, at least what is expected in our culture. We are not supposed to call them out or try them in the court of public opinion, slander them or spread gossip. We are to pray for them!


Here we interject Jesus thoughts found in the Beatitudes. Again we return to the blessedness of demonstrating mercy which offers forgiveness for wrongs committed against us (Matthew 5:7). There we find Jesus teaches us that we are “blessed” when we are persecuted for the sake of righteousness and the kingdom of heaven, when we suffer because of our relationship with Jesus (Matthew 5:10-12).


It Is a Matter of Witness

Jesus teaches that responding to insults and abuses, even persecution in a manner expected of a member of the Kingdom of Heaven, as His disciple, is a matter of witness: “…so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” Our heavenly Father is our example. He endures the insults, the rejection of the evil and unrighteous, but just as He shows favor to the good and righteous, He “causes the sun to rise on the evil…and sends rain.” Both the sun and rain is His to bestow, His blessing sustaining life, the very necessities enhancing our ability to produce and provide for our lives.


The love Jesus teaches goes beyond community standards. Loving our own, those who reciprocate in like-kind, is demonstrated even by the dreaded tax-collector (a traitor to Jews). To extend a blessing of peace, i.e., “greet only your brothers,” can be found among the Gentiles. As Jesus’ disciples, as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, our love and extended blessings of peace must exceed the common expressions and demonstrate, and more than common or trite platitudes; we are members of an alternate community founded upon the morals and ethics established by Jesus.


Jesus concludes His thoughts with what may seem like an impossible standard: “Therefore you shall be perfect [complete], as your heavenly Father is perfect [complete]” (Matthew 5:48). As disciples of Jesus, we are to be witnesses to one who surpasses imagination and transcends the noblest, yet finite, attributes of man and the efforts they produce. The Apostle Paul states our responsibility, and our goal in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.”


This is the witness of the disciple of Jesus, citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven, and a child of God: Ensure insults, abuses, impositions, and persecution. Do not return evil for evil, pray and go the extra mile to do good. It is the way of love, a love that supersedes the standards of the world and reflects the character and conduct of our Heavenly Father and our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. That’s what it’s all about.


This is what Jesus says about responding to insults and abuses, impositions and persecutions.


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