As Christians, we are called to turn the other cheek and love our enemies. However, there are also times when standing up for ourselves is necessary and even biblical. Finding the balance between being assertive and being humble can be difficult. In this comprehensive blog post, we will explore what the Bible says about standing up for yourself.
- Jesus asserted himself at times, so it’s not inherently unchristian to stand up for yourself.
- There is a difference between self-defense and retaliation. Self-defense is permitted, while retaliation is condemned.
- God calls us to defend the rights of the oppressed and those who can’t stand up for themselves.
- We must speak the truth in love, which sometimes requires confronting issues directly.
- Scripture encourages us to set healthy boundaries against abuse and mistreatment.
- Righteous anger against injustice is warranted, but we must be careful not to let it turn into sin.
- Prayer, wisdom, and care for others should guide our actions when standing up for ourselves.
Examples of Jesus Asserting Himself
In John 2:13-17, Jesus forcefully drives out the money changers and merchants from the temple. Verse 17 says, “Then his disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.'” Jesus was aggressively standing up for the holiness of the temple.
When Jesus is questioned about paying taxes in Luke 20:20-26, he adeptly exposes the ulterior motives of his questioners with his brilliant response. He stands up to them intellectually and refuses to be trapped by their manipulations.
In John 18:19-23, at his trial before the high priest, Jesus firmly asserts his rights when he is struck by a guard, saying “If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike me?” Jesus defended himself verbally and called out the injustice.
In Mark 3:1-6, Jesus heals a man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, provoking the anger of the Pharisees. But he angrily confronts their hardness of heart and refuses to back down from doing good on the Sabbath.
These examples show us that Jesus was not a doormat – he stood up for himself, his ministry, and his convictions without sinning. So self-defense and assertion are not inherently unbiblical.
Self-Defense vs. Retaliation
The Bible makes a distinction between self-defense and retaliation. Self-defense is actively protecting yourself, others, or your property from harm. Retaliation is vengeance and an offensive response to injury – often in excess of what is warranted.
In Exodus 22:2-3, God permits killing a thief in self-defense at night due to the uncertainty of his intent. But verse 4 condemns going beyond self-defense into revenge: “If the theft is certainly found alive in his hand, whether it is an ox or donkey or sheep, he shall restore double.”
Similarly, Romans 12:17-19 tells us to never “repay anyone evil for evil” but rather to “leave room for God’s wrath.” We are forbidden from retaliation. But defending ourselves is a different matter.
Thus, in the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus says “do not resist an evil person” (Matt 5:39), he is referring to personal retaliation, not self-protection. The rest of the verse makes it clear that he is referring to insults, not physical harm: “If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”
So self-defense within reason is permitted, but going on the offensive to get even is sinful. We guard our own boundaries, but let God be the judge.
Defending the Defenseless
A big part of standing up for yourself biblically is defending others who are oppressed or mistreated.
Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” We have a responsibility to give a voice to the voiceless.
Isaiah 1:17 also calls us to “Seek justice. Encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” God is very concerned with protecting the rights of the marginalized in society like widows, orphans, foreigners, and the poor.
Jesus modeled this kind of advocacy. When his disciples tried to prevent people from bringing their children to Jesus, he was “greatly displeased” and intervened saying, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Mark 10:13-16). He made sure the weak were defended.
Part of standing up for ourselves includes protecting others who are treated unjustly and advocating for them. As Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Speaking the Truth in Love
Speaking the truth firmly and lovingly is another aspect of standing up for yourself biblically.
Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” We do not have to compromise truth to be loving. Sometimes the most loving thing is to speak up.
In certain cases Jesus spoke very boldly and bluntly to others to provoke conviction and repentance in them. In Matthew 23 he confronts the Pharisees with seven intense “woes” and calls them “hypocrites”, “blind guides”, and “sons of hell.” But this was said with their best interest in mind.
Paul also challenged Peter publicly when Peter was in the wrong (Galatians 2:11-14). But he did this to stand up for the truth of the gospel.
So speaking truth firmly is not unchristian. In fact, communication experts say that 90% of communication is nonverbal – tone, body language, pacing. We can speak boldly yet still be loving. However, we must check our inner motives and make sure we are coming from a place of care.
As Proverbs 15:1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Discretion in how we stand up for truth is important.
Setting Healthy Boundaries
Having good personal boundaries is crucial for standing up for yourself biblically. Unhealthy people pleasing and inability to say no often lead to pent up anger and passive aggressiveness. God wants us to set healthy boundaries.
For instance, when Martha complains to Jesus that her sister Mary is not helping serve, Jesus affirms Mary’s choice to set a boundary and spend time with him instead (Luke 10:38-42). Saying no is not always selfish.
In an extreme case, Jesus even recommends separating from a spouse who is sexually immoral as a wise boundary (Matthew 5:32). He allows divorce in cases of unrepentant sexual sin to protect the innocent party.
Scripture also encourages avoiding foolish or abusive people who won’t change as a healthy boundary: “Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge” (Proverbs 14:7); “Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife” (Proverbs 21:19). We are not obligated to remain in toxic relationships.
Learning to say no, set clear expectations, leave unhealthy environments, speak up against inappropriate behavior, etc. are all ways of standing up for yourself wisely. We don’t have to be passive doormats to be good Christians.
Righteous Anger vs. Sinful Anger
Since human anger is often sinful, some Christians feel all anger is wrong. But the Bible distinguishes between righteous anger and sinful anger.
Righteous anger hates injustice and is motivated by a love for God. It channels anger over moral wrongs in a constructive way.
For example, Mark 3:5 says Jesus was angry at the Pharisees’ hard hearts: “He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.” Jesus’ anger led him to restore the man’s hand in defiance of the Pharisees.
In contrast, sinful human anger is motivated by selfishness and a desire for control. James 1:20 says “human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Our anger often escalates conflicts instead of solving them.
The key distinction is that righteous anger is 1) directed at injustice itself rather than people and 2) seeks the good of others. It coexists with grief over sin and compassion for sinners (Eph 4:26; Matt 5:22).
So is anger ever justified when standing up for yourself? Yes, when it is truly righteous anger. But we must be cautious, as “even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (Proverbs 17:28). It’s often best to pause and pray before reacting in anger.
Prudence, Discretion, and Care
The Bible emphasizes acting with wisdom, discretion, and care for others when standing up for yourself. Knee-jerk reactions often make situations worse.
Proverbs 12:23 says “The prudent keep their knowledge to themselves, but a fool’s heart blurts out folly.” Speaking rashly or bluntly reacting without thought damages relationships. We need to prayerfully consider the wisest approach.
Ecclesiastes 3:7 also reminds us there is “a time to be silent and a time to speak.” Just because we are justified in speaking up doesn’t mean now is the right time. We need to think strategically.
1 Corinthians 10:23-24 adds this perspective: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” What is right versus what is beneficial or constructive can be different questions. We should think of what course of action will care for others.
And Ephesians 4:29 offers this practical advice: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Speaking in a way that builds up others should be our aim.
Standing up for ourselves is not wrong – but wisdom, care for others, and seeking their growth should guide how we do it. Knee-jerk reactions often fail these tests.
Key Principles for Standing Up for Yourself Biblically
Here are some key principles for standing up for yourself in a godly way:
- Be motivated by love and concern for others, not just defending yourself
- Don’t return insult for insult or retaliate to “get even”
- Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger
- Consider the wisest timing and approach to stand up for truth
- Aim to build others up and beneficial, not just prove yourself right
- Confront issues in private first before going public
- Have compassion even on resistant people who may be blind or insecure
- Be humble and open to correction yourself
- Don’t exaggerate the offense but speak in love
- Trust God will defend you in due time if you do what’s right
Standing up for yourself and the truth is not unchristian. Even Jesus did so at times. But it must be done with love, wisdom, compassion for others, and in a way that seeks their growth and benefit. This takes patience, courage, discretion, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But when done rightly, it can powerfully impact others for good and put a stop to behavior that needed to change.
To summarize, as Christians we are called to turn the other cheek. However, this does not mean being passive doormats and allowing abuse and injustice. There are appropriate times to stand up for ourselves, defend others, and confront issues that need to change – just as Jesus himself modeled.
The key is to do so 1) out of love and care for others, not just our own interests 2) with Christlike compassion on resistant people 3) and with wisdom regarding the appropriate timing and approach. Our motives matter just as much as our actions.
Standing up for yourself biblical means having strength under control. As James 1:19-20 puts it, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger.
With prayer for God’s guidance, care for others, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, we can stand up for ourselves and what is right in a way that honors God and improves the situation. May God give us wisdom and boldness to speak truth in love!