Meanness! Not a word we hear every day! It almost sounds a little childish, “Mom, he was mean to me!” But sometimes “mean” is the only word that comes to mind to best describe the behavior of people. If I were to ask you to think of a mean person, someone who does mean things, or if anyone has ever been “mean” to you it wouldn’t take long to come up with a person or situation. When I feel the bite of meanness I usually talk to God about it exclaiming “Wow! That was SO mean!” It is as though we go through life and all is well until someone plays their “mean” card and then all hell seems to break loose. We get hurt, angry, confused, and either retreat or fight back. The closer the relationship, the deeper the wound carved into our spirits when meanness rears its ugly head. Most often we are surprised and caught off guard when loved ones are mean to us. Yet, it is only in these intimate relationships that we are capable of hurting so deeply. The fact is we are all mean at times even though some people think they do not have a mean bone in their body.
We should make a distinction between “meanness” and simple “rudeness”. Being rude includes bad manners and though it is irritating to be the recipient of rude behavior it rarely wounds or makes us feel inadequate. Meanness however includes being unkind, malicious, bad-tempered; behaving in an angry, often violent way; making people feel unworthy and uncomfortable; and being disagreeable. The synonyms for “mean” bring out its’ full flavor making it even more distasteful; Nasty, cruel, callous, uncaring, despicable, unpleasant, shameful! Meanness cuts deep into our souls making us feel inadequate, undeserving, and vulnerable. The key word here is “feel”! Feelings only describe emotions. Even though they seem to “drive” us at times, in reality they do not control who we are. Only God establishes our identity. We must be in charge of our emotions, resisting hurt, anger, and other negative feelings resulting from people being mean to us.
Before getting too far into the subject of meanness, let’s establish an important biblical truth. When we name sin and call it out we are not passing judgment on others, but calling it what it is. Jesus said it best in Matthew 7:1-5 “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
People often use these verses to tell others not to judge them for their sin since we all have issues. But this rationale only removes accountability. When Jesus says not to judge, He is commanding us not to “pass” judgment on each other. Think in terms of a legal trial with judge and jury. A jury listens to the evidence gathered against an accused person as well as their defense and then decides guilty or not guilty. If the verdict is “guilty” the penalty is determined by a judge who uses the law to pass judgment. The body of Christ is similar to a jury when there is evidence that members are walking in sin. Based on the Word of God, we can determine guilty or not guilty. BUT, the penalty or judgment for sin is left to God, the only just judge. We, the jury, do not “pass” judgment on fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. God gives leaders authority to deal with unrepentant sin but even they are not to “pass” judgment on anyone. With this understanding we are not afraid to call sin, sin, nor are we resistant to accountability. Instead we welcome conviction so we may confess, repent, and receive forgiveness. We all sin – so let’s all deal with sin!
Now let me say, being mean is sin! Sin entangles and spreads quickly! Meanness is ugly, entangles other people, and spreads like wildfire or germs and viruses. As I witness and take part in situations where family and friends say and do mean things, I see far more than just the meanness. I see its effects as the atmosphere is charged with dissension, unrest, and discomfort. Interestingly, no one ever thinks they are the ones at fault for being mean so everyone feels justified in blaming others for hurting their “feelings”. This is significant in light of Matthew 7 because when we refuse to acknowledge our part (our sin) and then remove it, we “pass” judgment on others, feel like victims ourselves, and spread the sin. When we do not deal with meanness and the resulting feelings, the lingering effects continue to damage and destroy relationships.
These lingering effects can be compared to the odor permeating the air for hours after cooking sauerkraut. You won’t notice the strength of the smell unless you leave the house and come back to the simmering pot at which time the unpleasant smell wafting through the entire house is immediately recognizable. Even when the sauerkraut is gone, the odor remains. You can try to “cover” it up with air freshener or perfume but it will only worsen the smell. You can try to ignore the odor but you would just be pretending. Or you may get used to the odor and accept the stink. All feasible options to enjoy a great meal!
Likewise, the lingering effects of meanness hang in the air, leaving a stench in the hearts of people long after things are said and done. We remain oblivious to it’s after effects unless we “step away” from the situation and return. It is only then we discover how unkind, malicious, violent, and uncomfortable we feel, and instantly recognize the effects of meanness. We can try to cover up the meanness with nice words, but it only adds insult to injury and worsens the situation. We can try to ignore the meanness and walk away, but we would only be pretending it didn’t hurt. Or we can get used to living with meanness, pretend it is no big deal, and eventually get accustomed to living in the sin. All possible options to say and do what we please whether it is mean or not!
There is only one solution for getting rid of sauerkraut smell. Open up the doors or windows and let fresh air displace and replace the bad odor. Fresh air will get rid of the stink left by any food over time (assuming the house is otherwise clean). Likewise, the only remedy to cure the effects of meanness is to open ourselves up to God and the freshness of His Holy Spirit! We need to receive a fresh anointing to displace and replace the putrid effects of mean words and actions. The fresh wind of Holy Spirit will cleanse and free us from holding on to negativity and hurt, from holding grudges, and from judging people who are mean (assuming the house, our soul, is otherwise clean).
When we smell the stink of “meanness” and acknowledge its far-reaching effects we can embrace the means God gives us to overcome! (pun intended)
We start first with the knowledge we cannot change those who operate with a mean spirit! I hope and pray if you are reading this and Holy Spirit has convicted you of being mean, you are willing to admit and deal with your own sin and be changed. But the truth is it is not our responsibility to “change” someone else. It is God’s! We can make people aware of sin, help them remove the speck from their lives, but we cannot “make” them do it. Very often when people are mean, we try to protect ourselves by demanding they be different. We say things like “You can’t talk to me like that!” or “Don’t treat me with such disrespect!” or “Don’t talk to me anymore!” People of God! We cannot tell people what to say or do as though they are children. What we can do is get right before God, hold up our shield of faith so the fiery darts of meanness do not penetrate, remain free from victimization, and pray!
Secondly, we must forgive, pure and simple! Even though it is difficult at times, forgiveness is still God’s command by which we overcome. It is a good thing Jesus said we are to forgive seventy times seven because people who make a habit of being mean need continual forgiveness. Matthew 18:21-22 “Then Peter came to Him and said, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”
People need forgiveness, we need to forgive, and we need to be forgiven to get free from the hurt, degradation, and pain that come as a result of meanness. In other words, to be free from the ripple effects of meanness, forgiveness is non-optional! We cannot wait to forgive until we “feel” like it. Remember the key word “feel”? We are not moved by feelings. If we wait to forgive until we “feel” like it we may never get around to it. When we obey God’s command to forgive, our spirits are opened to the freshness of His healing, grace, and love just like we open our doors or windows to let fresh air in to replace the stench of sauerkraut. We MUST do the opening – and we do it through forgiveness!
And thirdly, we overcome meanness by imitating good not evil. Rather than being mean to someone who is mean to us we are to be kind in return. Rather than being in denial that we are ever mean, we admit our own sin and shower grace on others. Rather than running away to lick our wounds when people are mean we allow God to heal our wounds. In 3 John 1:9-11 we see the lingering effects of mean words and God’s remedy of imitating good not evil. “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious (mean) words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church. Beloved, do not imitate what is evil, but what is good. He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God.”
Diotrephes wanted honor, respect, and supremacy among the church people. In this scenario, John had spiritual authority but Diotrephes would not receive him or the other apostles, choosing instead to “prate against” them “with malicious (mean) words”. Prate means to chatter idly or to rant and rave against others in trying to make ones’ self look better, in this case, with malicious words. Not only that, he refused to receive the brethren, forbid others to receive the brethren, and put out of the church anyone who went against his will. You can see the spread of meanness as it took its toll on others in the church. For the sake of the body of believers, John had to call him out (remove the speck in his eye).
When we prate against others with mean words and actions we do it to get attention, or because we are not getting what we want, or to make someone else look bad. If we feel we are being short sheeted, ignored, or mistreated, we get mean. In our ignorance we blame others of being mean and unfortunately like Diotrephes, we do not stop there. We attempt to get others on our side and reject anyone who doesn’t agree with us. At this point it is difficult to “pull” out of deception. This is a dangerous place to find one self. If we love preeminence we refuse godly authority, and we enter the cycle of meanness in trying to gain respect.
The only logical solution to stop being mean is to follow John’s advice; Recognize meanness is evil! Do not imitate it! Imitate what is good because good is of God! Those who continue to prate and defend themselves, being mean in the process and imitating evil, have not seen God. Let us be “seers” of God! Let us stop being mean!
Father God, teach us your ways! Remove the blinders from our eyes! We do not want to defend ourselves – You are our Defender! We confess to you there are times we are mean – sometimes we know it and other times we are unaware of it! Forgive us Lord for prating against others with malicious words. Forgive us for our unwillingness to surrender to You and allow You to change us and others. Forgive us for not forgiving as You have both taught and commanded. Forgive us for not imitating good but imitating evil. Today, Lord, we commit to doing good! To seeing You! We thank You that we are Your beloved! We thank You for Your truths! We thank You for the strength and wisdom to walk in those truths today! In Jesus’ Name we pray – Amen!