How do you respond to a rejection of your offer of service? What determines the offer has been rejected or you need another attempt at getting it accepted? The service could be delivering the gospel, training a subordinate business associate that presents himself or herself as untrainable, parental training of a child that has proved to be non malleable, or other examples. As these examples indicate, responding to rejection requires first a decision, maybe often a difficult decision, that one’s effort at performing the service has been rejected. The bible provides clear instruction on how to respond, having determined that rejection has occurred. It also provides guidance on what needs to be done before declaring a rejection. However, a decision to declare rejection will likely always be difficult, because accepting rejection is equivalent to accepting failure of an effort. We discuss examples of declaring and accepting rejection by the apostle Paul, Christ’s teaching on responding to rejection, and God’s guidance through Prophet Ezekiel on what one needs to do before declaring a rejection.
Examples from Paul
Paul encountered stiff resistance and at times outright rejection several times in his ministry. On several occasions, he declared rejection by the Jews and responded by shifting focus to non-Jews (Gentiles), usually by relocating his work from the synagogue to another facility. In Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas faced stiff opposition from Jews jealous that a large crowd gathered to hear the gospel. When the opposition became abusive, Paul and Barnabas declared to the Jews [Acts 13:46]: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles.” Also, in Corinth, Paul faced stiff opposition from Jews. When they became abusive, he “shook out his clothes in protest” and said [Acts 18:6]: “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” He relocated his work to a private home close to the synagogue, but still welcomed any Jews that joined him at the new location. Notable among these was the synagogue leader that accepted Jesus at the private home. A third example occurred in Ephesus, where some of the Jews in a synagogue that he visited regularly for about three months became obstinate, refused to believe, and sought to discredit Paul and his team publicly [Acts 19:8-10]. Paul left the synagogue and started preaching daily at a public lecture hall.
These examples point to Paul staying with the opposition until his relationship with them started deteriorating with continued contact, as indicated by their becoming abusive and clearly disruptive. When the interactions got to this stage, he declared rejection, released himself from any associated guilt, and moved on. However, as the account in one case indicates, he kept opportunities for any of them to rejoin him if they wanted. Paul’s response to rejection as illustrated through these examples is consistent with Christ’s teaching as we discuss subsequently.
Example from David-Saul Interactions
As we discussed in a previous bible study at THIS_LINK, David remained in Saul’s service after killing Goliath but was threatened by Saul because Saul was jealous and afraid of him. Saul was jealous of David because he killed Goliath and led Israel to victory over the Philistines at a time that Saul, the king, was visibly too frightened to try. He was afraid of David because God was with David and had left Saul, and David was successful and impressed the people of Israel in everything he did. However, David remained in Saul’s service despite several attempts by Saul to take his life. He finally departed after Saul’s fifth attempt at his life. He accepted rejection by Saul and responded by leaving and setting up a team to defend himself.
Christ’s Teaching on Responding to Rejection
Christ taught the following [Matthew 10:14–15, Mark 6:11, or Luke 9:5 and 10:10–11]: If you are rejected in preaching the gospel, detach yourself and move on after you “shake the dust off your feet.” The teaching is about how you respond after you have determined that your effort has been rejected. Shaking the dust off your feet symbolizes declaring to the people that they rejected you and your message and they alone will bear any consequences of the rejection, i.e., you will have no share in the consequences. Paul used the symbolism in Corinth, when he “shook out his clothes in protest.” Declaring rejection and absolving yourself of any share of the consequences are consistent with God’s instruction to Prophet Ezekiel as we discuss presently.
God’s Guidance through Prophet Ezekiel
God appointed Ezekiel as watchman over Israel, with a specific task to warn the wicked that they would die if they did not change from their evil ways [Ezekiel 3:16–19]. If Ezekiel should fail to warn them, they would die and he would be held responsible for their blood. If he warned them but they did not heed his warning, they would die but he would be absolved of any guilt.
The meaning of this guidance goes beyond warning the people of Israel during the time of Prophet Ezekiel. The guidance applies as well to present-day human interactions by defining performance expectations that need to be met before declaring rejection. When God assigns you a task, e.g., preaching the gospel, training a business associate, bringing up a child, or other examples: you are expected to make reasonable attempt to perform the task, cleared to move on if the attempt is rejected, but will pay a price if you do not make a reasonable attempt.
Reasonable Attempt to Succeed
The meaning of “reasonable attempt” cannot be specified objectively for every case. However, a standard of performance is implied that calls for the chosen provider to recognize the responsibility; identify compositing tasks; and make genuine effort to perform the tasks successfully, with patience and forbearance, and giving the recipient reasonable opportunity to benefit from the interactions. A reasonable attempt means you do what you can to succeed and do it in a way that conveys care, compassion, and leadership to the recipient.
The guidance to Prophet Ezekiel also requires the chosen provider to decide when a reasonable attempt has been rejected. The decision could be based on a judgment that the options for succeeding have been exhausted or the recipient’s attitude indicates additional attempts would be unsuccessful. For example, in the three incidents discussed earlier for which Paul declared rejection by Jews and re-focused his mission on Gentiles, the opponents had become abusive, indicating a relationship likely to deteriorate further if the contact continued. In the David-Saul example, David had survived several attempts at his life and felt he might “run out of luck” one day if he remained available to Saul. Declaring rejection will likely involve a difficult decision in most cases, because the declaration means accepting failure of the effort. However, if well-intentioned and reasonable attempts have failed, then declaring rejection may be inevitable.
Having made a decision to declare rejection and move on, it is important to let the other party know they rejected your effort, they own full responsibility for any consequences, and you are completely absolved of any guilt. The provider has completed his/her responsibility and is guiltless, notwithstanding that the intended beneficiary rejected the service. This is based on Christ’s teaching as discussed earlier and is consistent with the guidance that God provided through Ezekiel.
Please watch this bible study on video at VIDEO_LINK_1 and VIDEO_LINK_2, listen to or download the audio at AUDIO_LINK_1 and AUDIO_LINK_2. You can also download a pdf copy of the PowerPoint presentation from PDF_LINK.