A pastor was once asked: What is bullying?” Here is his answer: Although we do not find the word bullying in the Bible, we see the word “brutish,” a synonym of the brutal thuggery associated with thieves, assassins, and savage beasts.[1] The Hebrew and Greek words translated as “brute” or “brutish” mean “stupid, foolish,” and “irrational,” like cattle. We can derive from this that those who bully are acting as cows or other beasts incapable of rational thought. It is, unfortunately, not uncommon to see this type of disgusting behavior in fallen mankind – even in the church—in both males and females throughout all life stages.

Even though the Bible does not speak specifically about bullies or bullying, many biblical principles apply to the issue. First, it is crucial to understand what bullying is. A simple definition would be “using superior strength or power to intimidate people.” Bullies prey on people they perceive as weaker and threaten them with harm or end up hurting them to get their way. Obviously, bullying is not godly. God called Christians to love others and look out for weaker ones, not intimidate or manipulate people.[2] Christians should not become bullies but learn how to respond to bullying.

Generally, there are two situations in which a Christian may need to respond to bullying: when he is the victim of bullying and when he is a witness to bullying. When being bullied, the proper response might be turning the other cheek or self-defense. When Jesus spoke of “turning the other cheek,”[3] He taught us to refrain from retaliating for disrespect. The idea is not to return an insult with contempt. When someone verbally abuses us, we do not respond to their affront with outrage. When someone tries to assert their position or power to intimidate or force us into acting in a wrong way, we can resist their manipulation without being manipulative in return.

In other cases, mainly if the bullying is physical, self-defense may be appropriate. The Bible does not advocate total pacifism. God’s instructions to Israel[4] and Jesus’ instruction to His disciples to get a sword[5] are informative. Christians are to be loving and forgiving but not to dismiss evil as being too unchristian.

When a Christian observes bullying, it may be appropriate to step in and help prevent the attack against the victim. Each situation will be different, and many times, stepping in will add to the problem, but it often takes just one person to stand up on behalf of a weaker party to stop the bullying and prevent it in the future. In fact, a Christian could talk with a victim of bullying after the incident and help the victim with any needs, including assistance in reporting the incident.

God’s wisdom is necessary for all instances of confronting bullying. Those who follow Christ have the Holy Spirit living within them. He helps us understand God’s Word, guide us, and equip us to obey God in whatever situation we find ourselves.

We also need to consider our thoughts and attitudes toward bullies. It is easy to demonize bullies and think of them as hateful people. However, this is not a godly attitude. Every human being is born a sinner, and we all need salvation in Jesus.[6] At the very least, we should pray that the bully would have a change of heart and know God’s salvation.[7] Many times, though, bullies act the way they do in responding to their hurt. Perhaps they were bullied in the past. Maybe they feel insecure, and the only way they can feel acceptable to themselves is by belittling others. We can empathize with their hurt and extend God’s compassion, love, and grace while also maintaining solid boundaries to address their wrong behavior. Whether a person is driven to bullying by past pain or simply sinful tendencies, God is the one who can bring healing, restoration, and change. It is always appropriate to pray for both bullies and their victims. Similarly, when we are victims of bullying, we can go to God with our hurt and seek His reassurance and healing.

The Apostle Paul has good advice for us: “If someone does you wrong, don’t pay them back by hurting them. Try to do what is right. Do the best you can to live peacefully with everyone. Don’t try to punish everyone who does you wrong. Wait for God to punish them. In the Scriptures, the Lord says, ‘I am the one who punishes; I will pay people back.’ But you should do this: If you have hungry enemies, give them something to eat. If you have thirsty enemies, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will make them feel sorry for treating you in a bad way. Don’t let malicious intentions defeat you, but conquer them by doing good out of love. God has shown us incredible mercy. We should show this to others in how we behave – not by bullying, but by standing up to defend the weak, being willing to forgive, preventing bullying as best we can through appropriate channels, and praying for the bullies and bullied. The love and grace of God are enough to heal every wound.”[8]

[1] Psalm 49:10; Proverbs 12:1; Isaiah 19:11

[2] Galatians 6:9-10; James 1:27; 1 John 3:17-18

[3] Matthew 5:38-42

[4] Exodus 22

[5] Luke 22

[6] Romans 3:23; 6:23

[7] 1 Timothy 2:1-4

[8] Romans 12:17-21

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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