“When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:23)
How do you tend to react when someone slanders you, insults you, or falsely accuses you? So at work perhaps, a colleague bad-mouths you in front of the boss. Or you’re out with a group of friends and are told that another, absent, acquaintance has been unfairly criticising you behind your back. Maybe someone tweets something negative about you or posts an unkind comment on Facebook. The most difficult scenario, perhaps, is a fellow Christian who – without any justification – unleashes a torrent of harsh words in your direction.
The natural human reaction, of course, is to retaliate and go on the offensive. I feel hurt, offended, unfairly treated and so it’s understandable that I would want to fight fire with fire. Or at the very least, that I would want to defend myself robustly and protect my reputation by putting the record straight. Most of us don’t like the idea of other people viewing us in a bad light or being taken in by lies and gossip.
But the Apostle Peter urges Christians to think and react differently to unjust suffering: “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (verse 21). Now Jesus had to put up with way more than you or I will ever have to endure. “He committed no sin” (verse 22) and yet he was relentlessly mocked, insulted, reviled, spat at, beaten, stripped, humiliated and finally crucified.
That Jesus didn’t revile in return and refused to trade insults with his enemies was certainly not a sign of weakness. No, the man who was God lacked neither the power nor the resources to launch a full-scale counter-offensive. “Do you think”, he asked his disciples on his arrest, “that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53).
What was the secret, then, to Jesus’ refusal to retaliate? Well, Peter tells us that “he continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus wasn’t interested in the judgements of men and women on his life and wasn’t swayed by their opinions or knocked off course by their insults. No, he knew that there was one verdict on his life that really counted; that of his Father in heaven, the one who judges justly. For this he had to wait patiently, because his Father’s vindication would come only after Jesus was crucified and raised from the dead.
This is the example that Jesus has left us with. He calls us to follow in his footsteps. And that means that we need to play the long game whenever we face insults, slander, false accusations, unfair criticism, or any other kind of unjust suffering. Not that I should go out of my way to make people dislike and revile me. But whatever mud might be thrown at me, I remind myself that only God’s verdict on my life has any eternal significance. And he’s got my back. So I continue to quietly and confidently entrust myself to the one who has righteousness and justice as the foundation of his throne (Psalm 89:14).