Recall for just a moment what it feels like to be insulted, ridiculed, or devalued. Recall that time somebody implied you were ignorant, foolish, or downright stupid. Or the exhaustion you experienced dealing with that person who’s habitually, aggressively hostile. Despite your best efforts to treat them well—resolve differences peaceably and speak the truth in love—the arrows keep coming.
How Insults Can Work for Good
How are we to respond internally? For believers who affirm that God works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11), ordaining even hard things for the sake of making us more like Christ (Rom. 8:28-29), we have to wonder, how can we think about insults in such a way that they actually serve as blessings—freeing us from fleshly attitudes and increasing our joy?
In this four-part series of articles, we’ll look at four ways insults can actually make us better. Today, we’ll explore how insults reveal hidden engine trouble.
Think about how we typically respond to insults. Most of us struggle in those moments with some form of anger (clamming up or blowing up), anxiety (fearing their power to hurt us), and despair (feeling hopeless about the discord). When these destructive emotions surface, they’re like lights on the dashboard, alerting us to check under the hood—to examine our hearts for things that require God’s gracious intervention.
Making an Idol of Man’s Praise
Here’s a key question to ask yourself and the Lord: how much am I being like Haman in the book of Esther? If you’re not familiar with the story, Haman, a high official of the king, was “filled with fury” because a Jewish man named Mordecai would “not bow down or pay homage to him.” To exact his revenge, Haman devised a scheme to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the land (Esther 3:5-6).
Our knee-jerk reaction is to say, “I’m not at all like Haman. I’ve never plotted murder.” But then you might recall nurturing feelings of hatred or bitterness, slandering someone else, or numbing your pain with a substance. So when you wonder if you are at all like Haman, consider: Has someone’s insult led you to sin in response? Are you returning evil with evil or are you overcoming evil with good? (Rom. 12:14-21)
Haman’s problem is our problem. We’ve made an idol out of the praise of men. Insults feel like mortal wounds because we care so much about what others think. No, it’s not wrong to want encouraging, respectful relationships. But when we prioritize man’s opinion, we are inviting insults to burrow deep in our souls. Fueled by self-pity and self-aggrandizement, we grab the arrow’s shaft and drive it home.
What is this crazy power over us? Our souls, like everything else in nature, abhor a vacuum. If our souls aren’t brimming with heartfelt belief that we are the Lord’s precious possession, his beloved, radiant bride, we will look for that assurance horizontally. But putting that much weight on horizontal relationships multiplies our sorrow (Ps. 16:4).
Our flight to freedom—finding that assurance vertically—can begin by praying something like this:
“Lord, I’ve made the approval of people a functional savior – as if human affirmation can save me. As if my joy and peace depend on applause. But Lord, I don’t want to be a glory-robber. Let my heart be so centered on bringing glory to your name that I can say with Paul, ‘But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court’ (1 Cor. 4:3).
Lord, this is impossible unless you open the eyes of my heart so that I know the breadth and length and height and depth of your love for me (Eph. 1:18; 3:18-19). Fill my soul with and assurance of your love. Let that be a mighty shield when arrows come my way.”
Next week, look for Part 2: Insults Heighten Our Appreciation of God’s Grace.