How to tell a loving insult from a sinful insult

Is it Christian to insult people? That was the question I raised in yesterday's post. I want to comment on it a little further.


We get a lot of help from Merriam-Webster, where 'insult' is defined as:

  1. to do or say something that is offensive to someone
  2. to do or say something that shows a lack of respect for someone
Jesus openly insulted people on almost a daily basis, but he did so in sense #1. To call the Pharisees "white washed tombs full of dead men's bones" was one of seven ways Jesus offended them in Matthew 23. Speaking to the general public, Jesus offended their sense of righteousness all through the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Jesus told it like it was, and some of what he had to say was offensive.

To insult someone in sense #1 is not a sin. It is sometimes necessary.

By the same token, just because you are offended doesn't mean someone is sinning against you. It may be what you need to hear.

On the other hand, I can't think of any circumstances in the New Testament in which Jesus or the apostles condone insulting people in sense #2. For instance, in Acts 17, Paul speaks to the members of the Greek Areopagus in highly respectful tones. He appreciates their pursuit of truth and the true God. He never denigrates them. This despite the fact that some of them laughed at him (sense #2).

To disrespect people is to hold them in disdain, and to hold them in disdain is to reject, if even temporarily, that they are made in the image of God and are people for whom Jesus died. I would argue that to insult a person or group in sense #2 is a sin.

Now in the hands of fallen people, insults are like nitroglycerin -- a highly explosive and volatile compound that should be handled with great care, if at all. Why? When our emotions are up, it is really difficult to insult a person or group in sense #1 and not stray into sense #2.

What about the example I mentioned yesterday of a black speaker labeling all whites as racist because they participate in a racist system? I was definitely insulted in sense #1. But that's not a bad thing. Was it an insult in sense #2? I'm not sure. And even if it was, I need to work out with my Father how to deal with it. I don't automatically discard the whole message.

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