Let’s face it, people can be mean. We know it. We experience it. We can be it.
I remember sitting in a cab watching an elderly woman cross 88th and Broadway. She wasn’t in a hurry, but my driver was. I’ll never forget watching her turn around and give my impatient driver the finger. It was so shocking that I busted out laughing. My driver was being mean, but so was that little old lady! I hadn’t expected that.
Meanness from unexpected sources can be really shocking. Perhaps the most shocking place to encounter meanness is within the body of Christ. But it happens all the time. Again, we experience, and we do it. It can lurk beneath the surface near our idols and when our lusts are not satisfied, our idols reach down to use unkindness as a tool of choice.
To be mean is to insist on your own way at the expense of others. It’s the opposite of Christ’s kind gentleness. It is to throw away God’s faithfulness and exert your own pride as means to achieve selfish ends.
With each experience of someone being hateful towards us, God is giving us an opportunity. Sure, we might be taken aback, but that’s simply because we have expectations greater than depraved souls can meet all the time. Sin shouldn’t shock us, but grace should. Hateful experiences become opportunities to display the grace God has given us. Here’s just a couple of ways to leverage these hurtful occasions.
Someone being mean to you is a problem. But if you are spiteful in return, then you have two problems. Sinful responses to sin only compounds the problem. Mingled problems with numerous people are way more complicated than one angry person. Proverbs 14:29-30 says, “Whoever is patient has great understanding, but one who is quick-tempered displays folly. A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” When someone is unkind, patience is a balm to their wound, it is peace to their chaos. It won’t fix their anger, but God may use your sobermindedness to love an angry soul.
Seek to respond in gentleness.
Don’t confuse stay calm with “stay calm and carry on.” I can stay calm, move on with my life and still not be gentle like Christ. I can say harsh words in a soft tone. I can deliver malicious phrases with a smile on my face and a steady voice. To respond in gentleness is to give a loving answer. This kindness is a manifestation of Christ within us and therefore a gift to the wrathful. Proverbs 15:1-2 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge, but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” Responding in gentleness is to stay next to the person as you offer consistent forgiveness and hope.
Praying for mean people shows that you understand God and his gospel. Because if you pray for your enemies, you’re displaying a realization that you too were once an enemy—an enemy of God. Mean people need help. Praying for those who are hateful towards you shows an understanding that you also need the same help. This help only comes from God who is glorified when we ask for our enemies what we would want for ourselves. Jesus said praying for our enemies is what a child of God does (Matt 5:44-45).
Don’t be condescending.
The wisdom of stay calm, respond with gentleness and pray for them can be condescending if you don’t take heed to yourself first. Honestly, every example I can think of here is about driving. I can become mean-spirited when someone cuts me off in traffic and then be completely offended when someone is hateful in return to me. Christian, you are never above someone else’s sin, don’t be condescending about theirs.
A mean spirit flows from our hearts (Matt 12:34). It displays the reality of our depraved roots that we’re normally better at hiding. But when these roots peek from our depths and display hatefulness, we must deal with them. Our own meanness must not be covered. We must dig it up and find the roots that need to be extracted and replaced with the kindness God provides. So, when someone is mean to you in the next 48 hours, smile, embrace them and remember God is giving you the privilege of loving another person.
Questions to search your own heart:
1. What moments do you see your own meanness?
2. Are you quick to play it off or hide it?
3. In those moments, what is the subject you are mean about?
4. What are you after by saying mean things? By doing mean things?
5. Have you confessed and repented to the Lord for wanting this thing more than him?