How should we respond to disrespect?

Have you ever been mocked or despised? How did you respond? Do you wish you had responded differently? Do you know how you should have responded?

The following verses from Genesis illustrate how we instinctively want to respond when disrespected. But just because we are naturally inclined to respond a certain way doesn’t mean that is the correct way to respond. Let’s examine this response to being disrespected and then we will look at a verse in Romans that provides guidance in how we should respond.

The following verses tell us that Hagar was able to conceive while Sarai was not. Notice the word “despised”. Hagar despised Sarai. How did Sarai respond to the spite?

Gen. 16:1 ¶ Now Sarai, Abram’s wife had borne him no children, and she had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar.

Gen. 16:2 So Sarai said to Abram, “Now behold, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children. Please go in to my maid; perhaps I will obtain children through her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.

Gen. 16:3 After Abram had lived ten years in the land of Canaan, Abram’s wife Sarai took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, and gave her to her husband Abram as his wife.

Gen. 16:4 He went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, her mistress was despised in her sight.

Gen. 16:5 And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done me be upon you. I gave my maid into your arms, but when she saw that she had conceived, I was despised in her sight. May the LORD judge between you and me.”

Gen. 16:6 But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her what is good in your sight.” So Sarai treated her harshly, and she fled from her presence.

Hagar despised Sarai because Hagar was able to conceive but Sarai was not. Sarai responded harshly and Hagar fled, although she later returned.

About 14 years later, Sarah finally conceived, but once again there was strife. Notice the word “mocking” in the following verses. Who was mocking and why? How did Sarah respond to the mocking?

Gen. 21:1 ¶ Then the LORD took note of Sarah as He had said, and the LORD did for Sarah as He had promised.

Gen. 21:2 So Sarah conceived and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the appointed time of which God had spoken to him.

Gen. 21:3 Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore to him, Isaac.

Gen. 21:4 Then Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.

Gen. 21:5 Now Abraham was one hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.

Gen. 21:8 ¶ The child grew and was weaned, and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned.

Gen. 21:9 Now Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, mocking.

Gen. 21:10 Therefore she said to Abraham, “Drive out this maid and her son, for the son of this maid shall not be an heir with my son Isaac.”

Gen. 21:11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because of his son.

Gen. 21:12 But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named.

Gen. 21:13 “And of the son of the maid I will make a nation also, because he is your descendant.”

Gen. 21:14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar, putting them on her shoulder, and gave her the boy, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered about in the wilderness of Beersheba.

Hagar’s son was mocking, once again Sarah was disrespected, and once again Sarah responded harshly leading to Hagar’s departure.

When Sarah was disrespected, she responded with harshness. That is a natural human response, but is it the right response? How should we respond? Should we react harshly, or is there a better way? Consider the following verse.

Rom. 12:17 Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

When we are disrespected, it is wrong to pay back evil, but that does not necessarily rule out harshness. Discipline can be harsh, but it can also be an appropriate, loving response, in which case it would not be evil even though it is harsh. Think of it this way. If our sole intent when responding to disrespect is to hurt the person who disrespected us, then we are paying back evil for evil. If our intent when responding is to correct, protect, or discipline, then our response may be correct even if it is harsh. The issue when responding to disrespect is not whether or not we are being harsh, the issue is whether or not we are paying back evil for evil.


Further Reading

What should we do when an authority figure is unreasonable?

What should we do when we are surrounded by wickedness?

What should we do when someone harms us?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”