Is it Christian to insult people?

What would you do if you got to enjoy a few minutes with a famous celebrity, and he/she took to insulting you without provocation?

When I was in college, my summer job was working in the pro shop of a local country club. Free golf all summer -- I was in hog heaven. At this club, we hosted an annual weekend tournament in which famous senior golfers played along with club members. For the members, this was a great thrill. However, it didn't always turn out so well. I remember standing alongside one of the tee boxes one morning when Sam Snead's foursome was about to tee off. One of the members, a respected man at the club, had worn pink slacks and a pink shirt that day. No doubt he had picked the outfit especially for his big day with Snead, one of the greatest golfers the world has ever known. On the tee box, Snead mocked the man's outfit and said, "Go ahead and hit, Pinkie." Those of us within earshot of this exchange cringed and felt sorry for the member, who had ponied up a lot of cash to play with Snead.

This morning I cringed when I read a story about Jesus in Luke 11:37-44. A Pharisee invited Jesus over to his house for a dinner party. Now in that culture, eating together was a profound gesture of acceptance and community. How would Jesus respond to the man's hospitality? He began by not washing in the expected ceremonial way before eating. By not washing, Jesus intended to provoke a hard exchange. The Pharisee saw Jesus recline at the table and wondered, "Aren't you going to wash?" Jesus then laid into the Pharisees as a group. "You Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you."

In other words, "Thank you for inviting me over... you filthy pawn of injustice."

Can you imagine how Jesus' disciples cringed when Jesus said these things?

The insult registered so clearly that one of the experts in the law who was also at the table piped up and said, "Jesus, when you say these things, you insult us also." And Jesus responded by laying into the experts of the law with further, more specific insults.

All this brings up the question: is it Christian to insult people?

I recently read a message in which a black speaker laid into his audience, saying all whites in America are racist because they participate in a racist system. I was insulted. I thought, "When you start with the insults, I don't need to be a part of this conversation." This morning's reading of Luke makes me wonder if my knee-jerk reaction to insult might not have been a little too knee-jerkish.

So I ask again, because it's an open question for me: is it Christian to insult people? If so, when and how? And where do we draw the line?


  1. Dr. Beck, Our tongues are like a two edged sword. It will cut deep and leave a lasting wound. I have said things (a snide remark) in the past to make myself look great only to impress me and those words still haunt me. A true man who has the love of Christ in his heart must guard his tongue.


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