What do you do?
When someone insults you, but disguises it as a compliment, how do you respond? Those kinds of comments are what are known as backhanded compliments, and it’s not usually intentional (but often it is). Some people are just socially awkward. They don’t mean to sound snarky; they simply don’t know how to deliver a compliment. Chances are, they don’t know how to receive one, either. Yet at other times, the spiteful comment is entirely intentional. That person may act innocent, but their rudeness still hurts. So from a Biblical perspective, what should you do?
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“You are really smart for such a pretty woman.”
“You got the job?! Congratulations! I’m so surprised!”
“You look beautiful today.”
“I wish I was as cool with clutter as you are.”
You could write your own list of these kinds of commendations, couldn’t you? We’ve all heard them; in fact, we’ve all said them.
And they sting.
So, again—how do you respond to backhanded compliments Biblically?
Here are five Biblical responses. Which will you use?
“Love is not easily offended (1 Corinthians 15:3).”
1. Assume the best.
Give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she meant no harm. Or maybe she did. Not responding in kind doesn’t mean you’re being weak. Thank her for the “compliment” and let it go.
“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:6).”
2. Be gracious.
If you answer with gracious speech—even if she meant it as an insult—you will model Jesus for her. She will see that love does not act unbecomingly or use harsh or hurtful words. Remember that Jesus told us to answer evil with good.
“in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love (2 Corinthians 6:6).”
3. Apply kindness.
You have not walked in her shoes today. You don’t know whether or not she is acting out of hurt that someone else did to her. Gentleness is appealing and also contagious. Your kindness may just turn her day around.
“Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ (Ephesians 4:15).”
4. Speak the truth in love.
Especially when you don’t think any harm was meant, say, “Thank you for the compliment, but saying that today I look beautiful implies you don’t think I usually am. Is that what you meant to say?” Keep your tone non-combative, and gently let her know that she may not realize that what she said was hurtful.
“Luke 6:28 says: Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who insult you.”
Whether the back-handed compliment was an attempt to insult you or not, the person who talks that way needs prayer. Sometimes she is hurting herself, sometimes she’s clueless, and sometimes she just didn’t think before she spoke. Since you don’t really know why, it’s best not to rush to judgement. Praying for those who offend us is the right thing to do, and then pray for yourself if you received offense. Remember, love is not easily offended!