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. . . Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
— 1 Corinthians 6:7

The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And the biggest problem among my many idiosyncratic problems is the impulse toward self-defense and self-justification. The Lord has been working well on me over the last several years in this area, and I do think, by his grace, I have gotten better at suppressing this impulse, denying it, even going into situations I know will include much criticism directed at myself having proactively crucified it for the moment. But my inner defense attorney (a voting partner in the ambulance-chasing firm of Flesh & Associates) is always there, crouching at my door, seeking to rule over everybody by arguing in my quote-unquote “favor.”

Crucifying the defensive impulse is so difficult because it essentially means choosing to allow others to misunderstand you, misjudge you, and even malign you. (Of course, many times the painful things said are accurate, and so it’s another difficult necessity to listen well and to “test all things [and] hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).) But many times, especially for those in ministry or in other leadership positions, the criticisms and complaints are inaccurate, sometimes whole-cloth falsehoods, frequently petty, and these little injustices just pile up. The need to cry out in one’s defense rises up. But wisdom knows when to claim one’s rights and when to submit to being defrauded. For me, as I get older, and the longer I minister, the more I find myself being steered toward the latter.

Why would you and I do that? Why would we turn the cheek this way, go two miles with the guy demanding one? It’s certainly not very street-smart. It’s obviously not comfortable. But wisdom directs us this way, ultimately, because we believe that the consolation of Christ now and the compensation from Christ in the age to come will far surpass any “justice” we could gin up with our own self-interested rebuttals . . . even if we’re in the right. If Christ is our treasure, if Christ is our justification, why not rather be defrauded?

In many cases related to personal offenses, if not most, the best defense is neither a good offense nor a good defense, but simply sitting on the bench and, in love, refusing to play the game.

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25 thoughts on “Crucifying Defensiveness”

  1. SharonB says:

    Well said! Thank you!

  2. I look forward to the same Lord’s work to be done in my life. I struggle with this every day.

  3. jackson says:

    thank you for this… it really helped! I find myself constantly in defensive mode with my loved ones and my conscious has been screaming…this help put things in a clear perspective! Gospel Blessings!!!

  4. Aaron says:

    But, what if the defense is not about “us”? Is it loving for us to let others perceive things wrongly? Is it good for the church for false reports to stand? I think it’s not always a self-preserving defensiveness that acts to stand up for one’s self. That happens to be a by product (our reputation or the truth about us). But, maybe it’s being a good pastor to help people with proper categories and/or the pursuit of thinking about things rightly. . . . .

    I agree that at some point, there is nothing you can do, and it’s the consolation of Christ that allows us to be spoken wrongly of. But, I also don’t think it’s only defensiveness that would compel us to speak up.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Aaron, you are right, which is why in the post I say it is “wisdom to know when to claim one’s rights.”

      I also think it’s a different ballgame when it comes to defending misjudgments and injustices against *others*

  5. You struck a chord. This is so true in my approach to ministry.

    Would it be a stretch to say that this defensive impulse walks hand-in-hand with the illusion that everyone should be pleased with our work? We expect everyone to have the same opinion of our work and defend our idolatry of self when anyone has a different view point.

    I mention this because so much of my defensive impulse is planted in the idea that I am most validated when the most people agree with me. My defensiveness is an attempt to protect my sense of validation.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Daniel, yes, I share that need for validation. And sometimes, I don’t so much care if people agree with me — I just want them to keep quiet if they don’t. ;-)

      But I also suffer from that thing of wanting everyone to *like* me. So that if they disagree with me, they won’t say anything because they like me and respect me. And so it becomes this fuzzy emotional math for me that if someone disagrees with me, I take it very personally — even if they are disagreeing in an appropriate way — and assume from then on that they don’t like me or that they don’t respect me.

  6. Josh says:

    Thanks for this article and the scripture backing it. How about when you’re hurt by someone? There have been times when I’ve been hurt and just want to preserve the friendship by confronting this person, and sharing that I’m hurt. I’ve been asked before by a third party to just bear the hurt and wait for “God’s ultimate peace” in heaven, and that just doesn’t make sense to me. Why not give a chance for reconciliation? Thanks.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Josh, I think Matthew 18:15-20 may apply in situations like that.

      I did not mean at all to suggest that anyone ought to remain silent in or submit to abuse, even if not physical.

      I just know that — for me, speaking personally — it is important to “own” my own need to be right. And sometimes, even if I *am* right, I do more harm in seeking to win than good. I cannot say what you ought to do in your specific situation, but if Matthew 18 applies, you ought to abide by it, I think.

  7. Al Stout says:

    Very good. Very needed in my own life.

    Another reason I believe it is good to submit to those who defame, defraud or misunderstand us is that it often leads to wonderful presentation of reconciliation. This happens when the one who defames repents and relationships are restored. I am surprised how often this happens in the lives of those I minister to. In my experience, when someone demands their reputation be unsullied this reconciliation rarely happens.

    Al sends

  8. Eilidh says:

    I really appreciated this post, it pertains to something I’m dealing with at the moment! I was recently accused of being homophobic by a gay friend on a social media platform. I’ve spent the week trying to compose a compassionate and faithful reply, but am concerned that my main motivation is self-defence as you describe. So do I let this one go, accepting that in this case I am, like you say, misunderstood and maligned?

    1. Flyaway says:

      Pray that God will give you wisdom in this situation. That is a tough one. I gave up trying to do ministry on social networks. I wrote what I believed about God’s word and was attacked by a gay man. I had a friend who knew a man who was transformed by God from gay to straight and asked him to write a response. I don’t know if it did any good. I pray that it did.

  9. David says:

    It seems to me that the key to this issue is pride. When we seek to defend ourselves, it is usually because our pride is wounded. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we are acting defensively because the other people need to see the truth, but more often than not the real issue is still our pride.

    We can also refuse to defend ourselves and still fall to the same sin. If our response is self righteous silence, retreating behind a wall and meditating on how we’ve been wronged, we are no better off. Some of us stew in our wounded pride and thinking we are more virtuous for not having responded.

    The response we need is to take our pride to the feet of the One who did not consider equality with God as something to be grasped, and lay our lives continually before him as our sacrifice. He will do justice, and give grace, and teach us forgiveness and patience.

    As I grow I find less of a need to defend myself because I feel less wounded when I am spoken of poorly. The reason for that, I hope, is that my pride is getting in the way less, and the Holy Spirit has His way in my heart more. Someday the transformation will be complete.

  10. george canady says:

    Is it possible that we are defensive because we have confused discomfort for suffering?

  11. Angela Hogan says:

    Thanks Jared. I certainly find myself chafing at disagreement over my positions (usually over reformed beliefs). Then there’s also the somewhat more condescending tone of voice used occasionally (I believe) because I’m a woman–as if I probably don’t really understand the issues. Especially with men and women I respect, I have learned to stay calm and simply listen and nod and only reply if it’s appropriate, but the fact that it eats at me reflects the need for the same application–needing not to submit to being misunderstood (or not listened to) not only in the moment but also later when the memory of the situation begs for a “re-do” in my own imagination, further exacerbating the hurt. Need to breathe, focus on what I know is true, and pray, giving the result to God.

  12. Jd Ritenburg says:

    How many of us will shout from the rooftop of our desire to be like Christ; yes, that is our goal! And then a couple hours of false accusations, and we [especially me] are ready to storm Normandy with the flag of Christ, but with carnal weapons. God has graced and blessed me through you, brother Wilson, several times. Our great Lord will use this writing of yours to really help many of us I believe and pray, in that God-given desire to be like Christ.

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  14. Jared,

    This is a great post that leaves me with a question. When you first arrived on the scene in VT and were undoubtedly misunderstood for some reason, did you ever make it a “teachable moment” and speak about an issue from the pulpit?

    Looking for justification to say something on Sunday

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      I don’t recall anything that would fit the description, no, but I may have a faulty memory.
      Typically, I try not to address personal offenses from the pulpit, but rather take them to the person(s) involved directly.
      I think that kind of preaching — making reference to personal offenses in a generalized way publicly — is often passive aggressive and shaming and therefore not healthy.
      My 2 cents.

  15. Karen says:

    That the Lord would teach me to sit on the bench on love…..

  16. Karen says:

    Oops. “in love.”

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Jared C. Wilson

Jared C. Wilson is the Director of Content Strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, director of The Pastoral Training Center at Liberty Baptist Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel Wakefulness, The Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church. You can follow him on Twitter.

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