An email arrived from a friend with some discouraging news. She and her husband had launched out on a new venture that, so far at least, has not worked out, putting them in some financial difficulty. A friend at their church urged them to consider applying for help from a fund set up for that purpose (I am leaving out some identifying details). Even though they never actually received any money from the church, some other people (including some in leadership) accused them of being only concerned about getting their own needs met. This has been very painful for our friends to endure. They have tried to explain themselves but it hasn’t worked out so far.
What do you do when you are unfairly accused? Let’s sharpen the point before we move toward an answer. What do you do when you unfairly accused by people you know and love and thought you could trust? I added that phrase because it’s one thing to be unfairly accused by total strangers. It’s something else when people in your inner circle turn against you. Because it is personal, the pain is much greater.
How does a Christian respond in that situation?
I started off by thinking about my friends and then broadened out to consider biblical principles that apply to all of us when we are unfairly accused.
1. Remember what Jesus said.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). That phrase “all kinds of evil” means that the followers of Jesus will endure insults, lies, ridicule and false accusations, and those attacks will come in many different ways. The world crucified the Lord of Glory so we should not be surprised when the world attacks those who follow him. Some of these attacks will come against our faith. Sometimes our motives will be questioned. Sometimes our words will be twisted. Sometimes we will be ostracized for our views. Sometimes we will be deliberately misquoted. Sometimes we will be the victims of a whispering campaign where we can’t even pin down the things said against us. The point to remember here is that these things will happen from time to time. It’s part of what it means to be a follower of Christ.
Sometimes we will be ostracized for our views.
2. Don’t be surprised.
Said plainly, we won’t always get along with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. This hit me with great force recently as I was reading Ephesians. The book is evenly divided between three chapters of theology and three chapters of practical application. When Paul finishes his soaring doctrinal treatise that makes up Ephesians 1-3, the one that ends with the reminder that God is able to do far beyond anything we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21), when he launches into the so-called “practical” section in Chapter 4, what’s the first thing he says? I mean, what’s the very first thing out of his mouth? Check out Ephesians 4:2.
“Always be humble and gentle. Patiently put up with each other and love each other.”
Did you get that? “Patiently put up with each other.” The NASB says “showing tolerance for each other.” Whoa! After all that high-sounding talk in Ephesians 1-3, his first reminder is, “You’re going to have to put up with a lot of nonsense inside the church so you better get used to it.” Sometimes people hear what they want to hear regardless of the facts. We should not be overly surprised when despite our best efforts our actions are criticized and our motives are questioned.
3. Speak the truth as graciously as possible.
It’s possible that in our haste to defend ourselves, we will talk too much, too soon, and with too much emotion. There are times when we need to speak the truth, but in those moments we must speak the truth in love. State the facts, lay out the truth as you see it, don’t presume to judge another person’s heart (even if they are unfairly judging yours), and don’t say anything in a heated moment that you will regret later. Sometimes the Lord uses these very painful times to move us on to new ministries and new areas of service, and sometimes to a new church altogether. I don’t think we can always see in advance what God may be doing in these times of trouble. Speak the truth in love and leave the results in God’s hands.
4. Fight against becoming a victim.
You know you’re in the victim mode when a) you feel wronged, b) usually by your friends, c) involving unfair accusations, d) where you can’t get your side of the story fairly told, so that e) the whole thing eats at you day and night, and f) you can’t stop talking about it, so that g) you become consumed with “the issue” until h) you lose your focus completely and i) sometimes say or do foolish things that j) hurt yourself and others and k) permanently damage relationships so that l) you end up miserable and frustrated and m) nothing is solved.
5. Pray this prayer.
Here’s a simple prayer that has helped me many times. “O Lord, let the truth come out and let your will be done.” That’s a good prayer because it focuses on the Lord, not on you or your accusers. What you want is truth to be told and God’s will to be done.
We make a mistake in trying always to clear ourselves.
In almost all these situations, the truth from God’s point of view will be more than what you see or what your critics see. And God’s will always goes beyond our limited field of vision.
6. Guard your heart.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23). We desperately need that reminder when we are under attack. Let’s face it. Unless we guard our own heart, we will soon be down in the gutter with our opponents. We’ll be tempted to answer in kind, to attack them as they have attacked us, to vilify them, to smear their reputation, and in general to do whatever we have to do to get even with them. It’s frightening how quickly we can fall into the attack mode when we are angry and hurt.
Remember this. You can’t control what people do to you or what they say about you. In the Internet age, anyone with a computer can make any sort of ugly attack, post it on the Internet and hide behind a cloak of anonymity. Technology has made it too easy to say whatever we want and then post it on Facebook or YouTube or a discussion board. So our challenge must be to guard our own heart when we are under attack.
You can’t control what people do to you or what they say about you.
How do we do that? Here are a few suggestions . . . Stay in the Word.
Repeat the promises of God.
Listen to Christian music.
Sing a lot–out loud.
Hang out with positive people.
Ask your friends to hold you accountable for how you respond.
Pray that Christ might be magnified in your life.
Keep an eye out for “God sightings.”
Ask your friends to hold you accountable for how you respond.
Stay busy serving others.
Practice daily repentance.
Give thanks that God is working in ways you can’t imagine through these attacks.
Pray for those who have unfairly accused you.
7. Forgive and forgive and forgive.
I remember meeting a pastor for lunch one day. I knew that he had gone through a hard time, but I had no idea how bad it was. People he thought were his friends had turned against him in a series of public, repeated, vicious attacks. They not only attacked him, they also attacked his wife. There were threats, ugly phone calls, rumors, gossip, lies spread about him. At one point he had to hire armed guards for his own (and his wife’s) protection. It was the worst story of local church conflict that I have ever heard. What does forgiveness look like when your character has been assassinated? It isn’t easy or quick and it certainly isn’t cheap. How had he found the strength to keep on going? The turning point came when he went to his office, got on his knees, and named his enemies one by one. As he named them, he said, “Lord, I forgive _____________ for Christ’s sake.” He named them and he forgave them one by one by one. Did it change things? No, not really, not the outward situation, but it made a huge difference in his own heart. And he continues to pray and to forgive to this very day.
I don’t believe in “miracle prayers” that allow you to say a few words and then wash away the deep pain of life. But I do believe in forgiving again and again and again. Better to come back to the place of forgiveness than to live in the swamp of bitterness. Harboring resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy will die. It’s self-destructive behavior.
Don’t live in the swamp of bitterness.
There is a better way. If someone objects that forgiveness costs too much, I simply reply that unforgiveness costs much more. I recommend that simple prayer of forgiveness, understanding that when we forgive those who have sinned against us, we are only doing what Christ did when he forgave us first.
8. Put your life and reputation in God’s hands.
It’s easier to do this when life is going well and everyone loves you and you have no problems, no worries, and everything is right in your world. It’s a lot harder to put your life in God’s hands when you feel the pressure of constant criticism. But that’s when we most need God’s help. And if we feel like we can’t trust the Lord when we are unfairly accused, we need to ponder these words:
“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).
Notice that Peter emphasizes what Jesus didn’t do when he was unfairly accused: He didn’t hurl insults.
He didn’t retaliate.
He didn’t curse and swear.
He made no threats.
I submit to you that this is not a natural way to live. When we are insulted, our natural inclination is to return an insult for an insult. But Jesus chose another way. As the old spiritual puts it, “He never said a mumblin’ word.” “As a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7). When he stood before Pilate and Herod, and when he faced the jeering mob, he uttered no insults, he made no threats.
You find out what you really believe when others mistreat you. Sometimes the real test of your faith is what you don’t do. Sometimes you’ll be a better Christian by not saying anything at all.
What was his secret? How did he do it? The answer lies in the final phrase of verse 23-“He entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” In our day we hear a lot of talk about claiming our rights. That spirit comes into the church and we hear people getting angry and saying, “How dare you trample on my rights?” Most of our problems stem from claiming our rights. But the Bible turns that upside down. You aren’t to think of your rights first. You are to think of others first.
Sometimes the real test of your faith is what you don’t do.
Let me ask you a question. Do you think Jesus was a helpless victim that day at Calvary? He was the Son of God. He had the power to call down a legion of angels to set him free. He had but to say the word and all of heaven would come to his aid. But he never said that word. Consider carefully two quotes from Christian leaders of an earlier generation. The first comes from the renowned British Bible teacher F. B. Meyer:
We make a mistake in trying always to clear ourselves. We should be wiser to go straight on, humbly doing the next thing, and leaving God to vindicate us. “He shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noon day.” There may come hours in our lives when we shall be misunderstood, slandered, falsely accused. At such times it is very difficult not to act on the policy of the men around us in the world. They at once appeal to law and force and public opinion. But the believer takes his case into a higher court and lays it before his God.
That is exactly what Jesus did and it is exactly what we are called to do. Now consider these words from Oswald Chambers in My Utmost for His Highest:
Beware of the thought that Jesus needed sympathy in His earthly life; He refused sympathy from others because He knew far too wisely that no one on earth understood what He was going through. Notice God’s ’waste’ of saints, according to the judgment of the world. God plants His saints in some of the most useless places. We say, ’God intends me to be here because I am so useful.’ Jesus never estimated His life along the line of the greatest use. God puts His saints where they will glorify Him most, and we are no judges at all of where that is.”
Oswald Chambers nails it when he says that we are no judges at all of how we can most glorify the Lord. If we believe in God’s sovereignty, then we must believe God has allowed the attacks and unfair accusations. If that is true, then even the worst that others do to us somehow serves a higher purpose. Certainly one part of that higher purpose must be to demonstrate to the world how a child of God reacts when we are crushed under an avalanche of unfairness. The cross of Christ made no sense at the time. It seemed like a terrible injustice had been done for no purpose at all. Yet when man did his worst, God did his best. Out of the monstrous murder of the Son of God, salvation came to the world.
We are going to heaven because a good man was falsely accused.
We are saved because he did not try to save himself.
We are forgiven through the bloody death of an innocent man.
When man did his worst, God did his best.
By his stripes we are healed. God knew what he was doing that day when darkness covered the whole earth. Are we willing to entrust ourselves to that kind of God whose ways are far above our own? When we are unfairly accused, we are to turn the other check, bless those who curse us, and return good for evil. We are not to retaliate, not to threaten, not to get even. Jesus showed us how to live, and he showed us how to die.
When you live like this, you are truly doing what Jesus would do.
When you live like this, you will baffle and astound the world around you.
And you will experience the miracle of healing that comes when we dare to follow Jesus all the way to the cross.