Mistreatment from others is unfortunately a common human experience. When someone wrongs us, it’s natural to feel hurt, angry, and vengeful. However, as Christians, God calls us to a higher standard in how we respond to mistreatment. The Bible provides clear guidance on how believers should handle being wronged and abused.
- Do not retaliate or seek revenge against those who mistreat you. Leave justice and vengeance to God.
- Forgive those who wrong you, just as God has forgiven you.
- Overcome evil with good. Respond to mistreatment with love and blessing.
- Entrust yourself to God’s care when facing persecution. Rely on His strength and deliverance.
- Pray for your enemies and those who persecute you.
- Look to Jesus’ example of undeserved suffering and obedience.
- Trust that God will ultimately right all wrongs and bring justice.
- Keep your conduct honorable when suffering unjustly.
- Avoid bitterness and instead be merciful as you’ve been shown mercy.
Mistreatment from others is a sad reality of life in a fallen world. No one enjoys being wronged or hurt. However, for the Christian, how we respond to persecution is just as important as the persecution itself. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that believers are called to a radically different standard than the world when it comes to retaliation, vengeance, and forgiveness.
The natural human reaction when hurt or abused is to get even and return evil for evil. However, Scripture instructs Christians to not repay evil with evil, to not avenge themselves, and to not give in to wrathful anger (Romans 12:17-21, 1 Thessalonians 5:15, 1 Peter 3:9). Instead, we are to treat our enemies with love, patience, kindness, and forgiveness. This is in direct opposition to our natural instincts.
Do Not Retaliate or Seek Revenge
The Bible clearly prohibits personal retaliation and vengeance against those who have wronged us. Consider these verses:
“Do not say, ‘I’ll do to them as they have done to me; I’ll pay them back for what they did.'” (Proverbs 24:29, NIV)
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NIV)
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:17-19, NIV)
As these verses demonstrate, vengeance and payback do not belong in the Christian vocabulary. Retaliation is not the right approach, even when we have been clearly wronged. This goes against our natural inclination to “get even” when hurt. Rather than obsessing over how to get back at someone who has harmed us, we are called to trust God to handle justice in His timing.
Forgive Those Who Have Wronged You
Not only does Scripture forbid vengeance, but it takes the additional radical step of commanding us to forgive those who sin against us:
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)
“For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matthew 6:14-15, NIV)
Forgiving others is directly tied to receiving forgiveness from God. We are to forgive others in the same extravagant, generous way that Christ has forgiven our sins.
Forgiveness does not mean instantly trusting the person again or acting like we were never hurt. However, it does mean refusing to punish the person through anger or distance. We can acknowledge wrongdoing while still choosing to release them from vengeance or resentment.
Forgiveness may not happen instantly. It often takes time and is a process of releasing the natural bitterness in our hearts toward injustice. But we are called to patiently move toward fully forgiving others just as we have been forgiven by Christ.
Overcome Evil with Good
The Bible instructs believers to take the supernatural approach of overcoming evil with good. Rather than mirroring the world’s ways of attacking back, we are called to a greater response:
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV)
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.'” (Romans 12:17-20, NIV)
Rather than lashing out in rage when provoked, we are to surprise our enemies with active love and care. This could mean responding to an insult with a blessing, giving food to someone who has stolen from you, or helping someone who has slandered you.
Overcoming evil with good requires looking beyond surface-level conflicts to see the humanity in our opponents. It requires drawing from God’s strength to walk in grace rather than bitterness. As Romans reminds us, only God has the authority and wisdom to fully repay evil. When we choose to overcome evil with good, we are refusing to play God while also trusting in His promise to ultimately bring justice.
Entrust Yourself to God’s Care
When facing persecution or abuse from others, we can entrust ourselves to God’s faithful care and protection:
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.” (1 Peter 3:14-18, NIV)
Peter encourages us to not be afraid of mistreatment, but have reverence for Christ as we suffer. Jesus himself endured excruciating injustice from others, but He trusted himself to God who judges justly. We can follow His example by refusing to let fear rule our response and instead patiently enduring through reliance on God.
When we are wronged or abused, we can pray for God’s protection and deliverance. But ultimately we can surrender outcomes to His authority, knowing He cares for us and will help us endure mistreatment. Entrusting ourselves to God allows us to let go of seeking vengeance in our own strength and instead trust divine justice.
Pray for Your Enemies
Not only does Jesus prohibit revenge, He takes it even further by commanding us to pray for those who persecute us:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:43-45, NIV)
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.” (Romans 12:14, NIV)
Praying for someone who has harmed you can seem nearly impossible when harboring bitterness. However, bringing an enemy before God’s throne both softens our anger and opens their heart to conviction and repentance.
Rather than obsessing over how they have wronged us, we can sincerely ask God to bless them. We can pray they would come to know Christ as Savior. Praying for enemies demonstrates our trust in divine justice, our obedience to God’s commands, and our supernatural capacity to love the unlovable through Christ’s empowerment.
Look to Jesus’ Example of Undeserved Suffering
When we face persecution, we can be encouraged and strengthened by Jesus’ own example of intense undeserved suffering:
“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’ When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23, NIV)
Jesus was the perfect Son of God. He was completely sinless and faultless, yet He endured horrific abuse from others. He was rejected, mocked, beaten, and crucified despite never doing anything wrong. Yet Jesus responded with grace, entrusting Himself and His cause to God.
When we face injustice from others, we can take courage knowing Jesus understands exactly what we are enduring. If Jesus Himself responded to horrendous persecution with patience, humility, and trust in God, we can draw from His strength to suffer well. Keeping our eyes on Christ’s sacrificial example gives us power to walk in His footsteps when abused or persecuted by people who wrong us.
Trust God Will Ultimately Bring Justice
One reason we can choose to not retaliate against those who wrong us is that we trust God will ultimately right all wrongs:
“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them.” (Proverbs 24:17-18, NIV)
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19, NIV)
As these verses indicate, God cares very deeply about justice and promises to repay all evil done. When someone sins against us, we can release them to God’s hands, knowing He promises to handle punishment and vengeance Himself in the perfect way only He can.
Our natural inclination is to assume that unless we get back at someone, they will get away with their wrongdoing scot-free. However, as God’s Word reminds us repeatedly, only He has the complete wisdom and knowledge to enact justice in the fullest sense. When we let go of our grip on vengeance and trust God to deal with those who harm us, we act out of faith that divine justice will ultimately prevail.
Keep Your Conduct Honorable
The Bible frequently instructs us that when facing unjust treatment from others, we must keep our own conduct honorable and above reproach:
“Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:12, ESV)
“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 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.” (1 Peter 2:20-21, ESV)
“Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For ‘Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it.'” (1 Peter 3:9-11, ESV)
When we maintain upright, moral conduct in the face of mistreatment, we give credibility to our witness for Christ. If we retaliate in the same way as the world, our example loses its power to point people to God’s gracious mercy. Keeping our conduct above approach even under persecution allows the Holy Spirit to work through us.
Avoid Bitterness and Show Mercy
Scripture frequently warns believers against allowing bitterness against others to take root in their hearts. We are instead commanded to operate from mercy:
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;” (Hebrews 12:15, ESV)
“But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another…Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:15, 26 ESV)
“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” (Mark 11:25, ESV)
Harboring bitterness and anger toward those who have harmed us only leads to misery. Scripture frequently warns of allowing unforgiveness to take root because it defiles our hearts, impacting our souls and communities. As Jesus emphasizes in Mark, we cannot fully receive God’s forgiveness if we are refusing to forgive others. When we release bitterness and show mercy instead, we are freed from its poison and open to God’s grace.
Guidance for Specific Situations
The above principles summarize the Bible’s overarching message about responding to mistreatment from others through patience, love, forgiveness and trust in divine justice. However, different situations may call for applying these truths in unique ways. Here is some additional guidance for specific scenarios:
When Facing Physical Violence
Unfortunately, believers can face not only verbal abuse, but outright physical violence and persecution for their faith. When faced with physical brutality or life-threatening persecution, seeking to preserve and protect one’s life and the lives of others is right. We see this in the Bible when Paul exercises his legal rights to avoid illegal whipping by Roman authorities (Acts 22:25-29). Jesus also avoided violent attacks by hostile crowds because “his hour had not yet come” (John 8:59, John 10:39). Self-preservation efforts can be pursued in ways that do not contradict the Scriptural command against personal retaliation.
Mistreatment within marriage relationships requires special care. Spouses are called to self-sacrificial love that mirrors Christ’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:22-33). When one spouse sins against or persecutes the other through unkindness, adultery, abandonment, or abuse, God’s will is still for reconciliation and forgiveness whenever possible (Matthew 18:21-22, 1 Corinthians 7:10-11). However, persistent and unrepentant sin by a spouse may warrant involvement by church authorities, separation, divorce, and/or civil intervention when necessary to protect the abused spouse and preserve his or her life. Even in such solemn situations, the Christian is called to avoid vengeance and bitterness while entrusting judgment to civil or church authorities.
Within the Church
When believers face mistreatment from other Christians within the church, Scripture provides guidance for appropriate response and discipline. As mentioned above, we must forgive personal wrongs while avoiding bitterness and malice (Colossians 3:13). However, in certain circumstances involving serious sin, formal accountability and church discipline are warranted. Jesus Himself gave instructions for addressing public sin within the church (Matthew 18:15-17) with the goals of repentance, reconciliation, and protection of the body. Church leaders have a solemn responsibility to enact biblical discipline when necessary to confront blatant, unrepentant sin that is harming the church.
When Confronting Could Make Things Worse
In highly abusive or volatile environments, directly confronting mistreatment could inflame an attacker, resulting in more harm. Women trapped in domestic violence or believers living under tyrannical regimes must follow their conscience about when it is too dangerous to directly address evil. In these cases, individuals can still apply other biblical principles like avoiding retaliation, blessing enemies, trusting God’s justice, etc. However, the priority should be protecting oneself (and any dependents) from further harm as fleeing persecution is often condoned in Scripture when possible (Matthew 10:23).
The Bible acknowledges the complexity of how to respond when severely persecuted or endangered. As Christians, we can pray for wisdom to apply biblical truths with care for our circumstances. But we can have confidence that God ultimately oversees each situation with perfect justice and intimate care.
Mistreatment from others, whether persecution, abuse, or offenses, is an inescapable part of life in this fallen world. As Christians, it’s easy to react to wrongs with anger, bitterness, and desires for vengeance. However, Scripture clearly outlines a radically different path: rejecting retaliation, forgiving freely, entrusting justice to God, overcoming evil with good, and praying for our enemies and abusers.
Living this out requires denying our natural instincts and drawing daily on Christ’s grace. But God promises to provide strength and help when we submit to His will. His Holy Spirit can soften our hearts toward those who harm us, freeing us from bitterness’s grip. As we step out in vulnerable obedience, we can trust God to cover what we cannot do ourselves while also working to redeem even the worst situations. Suffering unjustly may be inevitable, but we have everything we need in Christ to respond in a way that powerfully honors Him and spreads His kingdom. The biblical path away from vengeance and overflowing with Christlike mercy is challenging but beautifully reflects the radical love and grace of Jesus given freely to mankind.