Have you ever said something with a pure heart and were criticized by another believer who didn’t understand or just appeared to be patronizing? Or, maybe you posted something online and then had another believer challenge you, disagree with you harshly, or accuse you of being a heretic because they took your words out of context.
It shouldn’t happen, yet it does.
I’d like to think they don’t mean it, but sometimes they do.
It’s hurtful when we get bullied by someone. But it tends to hurt even more when it comes from another believer.
When other Christians challenge our beliefs or convictions in a loving manner, they may be trying to help us grow spiritually and gain a more proper understanding of the Bible. The key term is in a loving manner. However, when someone blasts you harshly, gossips about you, or disagrees with you by shaming you, questioning your salvation, or using sarcasm, it’s easy to want to respond out of your flesh and behave the same way they do—counter-attack, defend, and insist you are the one who is right.
Jesus prayed that we, as believers, would be united in love with one another as He was united with His Father (John 17:21). That’s the way others will know we are His followers. And that’s the way others will be drawn to Him and His church. Therefore, even if another Christian has been unloving toward you and me, it’s our opportunity to show them what a genuine follower of Jesus would do. And here are three ways to do that:
- Pray for their sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s conviction.
While we may think it best to respond to someone’s insensitivity with instruction on how they can be more loving, it’s also possible our response will trigger more anger on their part if they are unteachable or have a track record of lashing out. That’s why it’s best to pray for them before responding (and in some cases instead of responding at all).
First Peter 4:8 tells us to “keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” That passage is in the context of prayer and when we pray for others’ hearts to be convicted of their unloving words and actions, we are perhaps keeping them from sinning more and maybe even helping other believers who might be hurt by their words next to keep from sinning in their response or retaliation, as well. In that way, praying for those who offended you may eventually help prevent a multitude of sinful reactions as a result of the offender’s continuing words and actions.
While it may be tempting to tell our side, clear up their misunderstanding, or let them know how wrong they are, there is a time and place for that conversation and it is always one on one, not in a public forum or on a social media feed. If the person is not a friend or acquaintance, just an online bully (sometimes they are called internet trolls), your words to them may have little effect anyway. To the contrary, any of your words spoken to God will have far more effect. Instead of dialoguing with the rude believer and proving your point, pray that God will work on their heart so they don’t feel the need to cut others down when they’re trying to prove their point. Christ’s reputation is at stake any time another sins publicly. When we pray for their repentance and transformation we are allowing God to transform us at the same time and make us people who are more compassionate than competitive.
- Ask God to soften your heart toward them.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). It is hardly persecution when one bullies us with harsh words or critical comments. Yet, when we apply Jesus’ words in that situation and pray for the person who offended us it’s difficult to keep an embittered, resentful, or angry heart at someone we are praying for. Pray for others who rile up your flesh and fire off hurtful words and make you want to respond in an ungodly way. When you pray for them it will keep you from becoming angry or bitter or sinning in your response. And it will keep you from becoming like them. At the end of the day, it’s better to be loving than to win the argument or be right.
- Ask God to make you more aware of the kind of person you don’t want to be.
Through the years, I have learned more about how to speak kindly to others, from how unkindly others have spoken to me. I have been able to do this through prayer and surrender. When someone hurts me with their careless words or sarcasm or flippant nature, I’ve learned to go to God with it and pray about the situation so I don’t become someone who hurts another person in the same manner. I will ask God to remind me of the hurt each time I’m tempted to hurt another person in the same way. I’ve also asked God to help me relate to Him and the rejection and pain He experienced at a much deeper level.
Which of these steps will help you in the face of ill treatment by another believer? I’d love to hear your response in the comment section below so I can pray for you and your heart.
For more on how to respond maturely when you’re bullied or offended, see my book, Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You.