“Listen to me, you who know right from wrong and cherish my law in your hearts” (Isa. 51:7). God, through Isaiah, has an important message. We can hear the urgency in the words and almost see an exclamation point. “Listen to me…” Those words say it all. Stop, be still, pay attention, there is a message you need to hear.
To whom does God want to give this message? The message is to those who believe and follow Him. It is to those who turn to God’s laws for help in determining the differences between “right from wrong.” The message is to believers who not only “cherish” God’s law but are determined to obey it. The message is to us.
Now that God has the believers’ attention, He gives this message: “Do not be afraid of people’s scorn or their slanderous talk” (Isa. 51:7). Wait a minute! If God is addressing believers who cherish His law, He is talking to people whose lives will be characterized by their love for Him and for others. Yet God is saying to expect “scorn or slanderous talk.” Why would we expect love to be met with such negative reactions?
Why indeed? It seems reasonable to believe that goodwill would be the normal response to receiving love. That belief may be reasonable, but it is not always reality. No matter how much love we extend, there will be times in our lives when those who receive our love will be disdainful toward us. Their reactions may hurt our feelings or puzzle us, but most times they will not cause us to be afraid.
Why then did God choose the words “Do not be afraid” when warning about scorn being directed toward a believer? It is likely that God is speaking of the type of scorn that occurs when someone takes exception to our faith in Him.
God’s warning is fitting. A believer who chooses to live by the rules of God rather than join in activities that go against godly principles may seem bizarre and become an object of ridicule.
At a deeper level, true hostility may spring forth from those whose values and actions are in direct opposition to God’s laws. Even if a believer makes no judgment of another, a life lived by God’s principles will contrast with, and possibly condemn, a life that is not lived this way. And feelings of condemnation, even self-condemnation, may result in bitter opposition toward a believer.
It is difficult not to defend ourselves at the injustice of it all. Sometimes it feels so right to give back the same as we get. You know…an eye for an eye, unkindness for unkindness, anger for anger.
But is that not the reason for this verse of warning? During those times when our own anger rises in response to how we are being treated, when our feelings are hurt, when we want to belong but do not, or when our reputations are being destroyed, we may not feel up to cherishing and obeying the greatest of God’s laws—to love Him and love others.
But hold steady! There is a purpose in all of this. God is telling us to be ready for hostility, to seek His help in our reactions, and to practice being different by showing kindness to those who are not easy to love. It is this type of consistent kindness in the face of scorn and slander that may eventually cause a hostile person to take another look at what our faith means. It is also this type of behavior that helps us to be an example for believers who have not yet had a chance to learn these lessons.
We have been given the perfect example of how to react during these times, for Jesus showed us the way as He prepared to die for our sins. “He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word” (Isa. 53:7). Not to say “a word” in defense of ourselves may take more God-control and humility than any of us possesses, but we can pray that the words and actions we do use are pleasing to God.
And it will take a combination of prayer and determination. When the scorn and slanderous talk leave us heartsick, ready to give up, or angry, we have Jesus’ example of how to react. And with that in mind, we can once again gather ourselves to try to love others as God wants us to—even in the face of scorn or slander.
© 2010 Arlina Yates