I work in a supermarket packing groceries. It is a temporary job while I am studying toward my university degree. Yesterday an obnoxious man started arguing with me about the way that I packed his groceries. I answered him back respectfully, but apart from who was right, the guy insulted me. My reaction was to confront him, showing my anger without insulting him, but I didn’t dare let it progress to the next level, which obviously would have been a physical fight.

The point is that there are people who make it difficult to resolve issues with wisdom. So in cases like this, is it better to not do anything and keep quiet, or to confront the person, when doing so could result in a fistfight? What is the correct biblical response? For me it was labor abuse, and I need to know how to react if it were to happen again.

Dear Friend,

You ask a very good question. Let’s consider it in two parts. First, there is the issue of your employment.

Any business owner knows that some customers are difficult to deal with. There are those customers who have negative personalities that cause them to easily find fault with products or services. There are other customers who see the world as hostile, and they walk around ready to defend themselves from imagined threats. And there are perfectly nice people who have had a horrible day and don’t intend to be rude. But the wise business owner has the motto “the customer is always right” because he or she wants to keep all customers. The money that the business earns is worth the same whether it comes from a nice customer or a rude one.

The business owner needs employees who will also act as if the customer is always right. It doesn’t matter at all if the customer is truly right. The business can only succeed if its customers are happy. So if the customer wants you to bag his groceries in a different manner, you are being paid to do what the customer wants, when he wants it, and also to smile and act happy about it. This is how the business keeps customers and also how you keep your job. If this is difficult for you, then please don’t go into any profession that requires you to have customers or clients.

You ask what the Bible says about when it is better to keep quiet and when it is correct to take up for yourself. In the Sermon on the Mount,(1) Jesus Himself taught that we should not only love our enemies, but we should also do more for them than they require of us. Jesus said that if they slap us on one cheek, we should turn and offer the other cheek for them to slap. In this way, we are demonstrating God’s love for that person. When God is in control of our lives, He gives us the wisdom and patience to show His love in such a way that is contrary to our human nature.

However, God also gave us the natural instinct of survival. When we are physically threatened, our brains secrete adrenaline to give us the extra boost we need to fight back or to run. So in cases where we are in danger, it is obviously correct to fight back or escape. This applies to partners in abusive relationships, people being assaulted by criminals, and those who are defending the weak.

Resolving disagreements or arguments through physical confrontation is for two-year-olds. They have not yet learned to reason or to express themselves verbally. Adults who resort to physical violence betray their immaturity. They are intellectually unable to reason, negotiate, or compromise, so they resort to infantile methods to resolve their conflicts.

We wish you well,

1 Mt 5