It is a sober challenge not to return like for like in our relational dealings. It demands a great deal of maturity to return sweetness for gruffness for example, or love for hatred, or patience for irritability.
There are even schools of thought that suggest an inability or refusal to return like for like is nothing short of a lack of manliness. That real men when hurt, hurt back. When insulted insult back. It is something of the same misguided thinking that holds to the Hollywood-esque bravado ‘real men don’t get mad they get even’.
When tempted to retaliate
At the heart of Acts 16 Paul and Silas are treated with the utmost inhumanity. They are publicly beaten, mercilessly flogged and carelessly tossed into prison, held in stocks by a Philippine jailer seriously lacking in charm and personality.
One could only imagine, sat in the dungeon that evening, what possible retaliatory thoughts might have been running through their minds.
Would it be unreasonable to think that they might well have pondered how they intended getting one over on that obnoxious jailor? Or how they might exact a similar humility on the town and religious officials who’d subjected them to such public humiliation?
Their minds might well have been ablaze with payback!
What is your knee-jerk response to insult?
What do you do when you’re verbally assaulted?
How do you respond when ridiculed or humiliated?
What occupies your thoughts when you are belittled or put down?
Often your immediate reaction is the closest reflection of your truest self.
When we take a moment to think and reflect, to count to ten as it were, what we end up with is not always who we deeply, instinctively still are, but a more tamed, thoughtful, subdued version.
If we need that process time to move from bitterness to sweetness, ponder time to step back from attack to retreat, or reflective time to move from hatred to acceptance; we are still lacking in the grace area. Needing the time to adjust, to take stock, tells us that at our most instinctive level we’re still impatient, irritable, proud and agitated people,
Returning the opposite of what is expected
Having suffered a freak earth quake, Paul and Silas spring from the prison, the quake having miraculously freed them from their shackles, and their very first instinct is to ensure the safety of their obnoxious jailor. Had they been lesser men, they’d have watched him draw his sword and instead of shouting to save him would have secretly whispered “good riddance”.
At the height of Montgomery’s fight for civil rights in the 1950s, Martin Luther King Jr. fought boldly and courageously to keep his fellow blacks from returning like for like in retaliatory action. When his home was bombed in the winter of 1956 to the near loss of his wife and daughter, and crowds of fellow blacks came baying for vengeful white blood, Luther challenged them to take the age-old command of “love your enemies” to new heights, and set it as a clarion call to a new way of reacting.
The truth is “real men” don’t get even.
Tough men don’t hit back.
Strong people don’t exact revenge.
“The tragedy of physical slavery”, said Martin Luther King Jr. that same year of 1956, “is that it gradually leads to the paralyses of mental slavery”. We think and so become as we are becoming.
Strong people love their enemies
Strong people return peace for aggression
Strong people insist on a higher road
Strong people forgive
Don’t debase or belittle yourself with anything less
Don’t trade in your dignity for anything lower