Building a Life in Spite of Others

I love old homes. While others go to the beach, my wife and I check out old homes. Driving through certain neighborhoods, we’ll ooh and ahh over the architecture of some homes, but occasionally we’ll utter, “What were they thinking?”

You’ve seen those houses. Maybe it’s an OK house by itself, but it’s oddly out of place with its surroundings or the other homes on the street. And then there are those houses that are just … well, unusual.

The oddest house in America has got to be the Winchester House in San Jose, California. I had heard about this bizarre house, so when I traveled with family to San Francisco, I insisted we take a day trip down the coast so I could see this house in person. I was not disappointed.

An unusual house is one thing; a spite house is something altogether different. A spite house is a house that was … well, built out of spite. The homeowner deliberately built the house just to annoy, irritate, or inconvenience others. I’ll confess that I’ve had moments when I was ticked off by something someone said or did. Later I’d be driving home or lying in bed at night thinking of the clever retort I could give or something I could do that screams, “Ha! I’ll show you.” (Cue dastardly laugh.) But I never once thought of going to Home Depot, spending thousands on construction materials, and building a house.

Skinny House, Boston

But other people have done that very thing. For example, there’s the Skinny House in Boston. The origin of this house has to do with a property dispute between two brothers after the Civil War. When one of the brothers came back from his military service, he discovered that his brother had built a large home that took up most of the property—their shared property. On the small piece of land that was left, the other brother built a tiny house. He built it in a way that blocked the view from his brother’s larger home.

Montlake Spite House, Seattle

There’s the Montlake Spite House in Seattle. One guy went to his next-door neighbor and offered to buy a small strip of land between their homes. He wanted it for a garden, but the owner was so insulted by what he considered a ridiculously low offer that he built a house on it—a tiny house that is 15 feet across at its widest and less than five feet across elsewhere. This tiny spite house now blocked the neighbor’s view and so he moved.

My first reaction to such spiteful behavior is to label it as “too much,” but is there any spiteful behavior that—no matter how small—is not too much?

We think we’re getting at the other person, but spiteful behavior has a way of coming back on us. Consider the guy in Seattle who built the tiny house. It affected his view too. It’s like some strains of bacteria. Some bacteria release toxins known as bacteriocins for the purpose of killing other bacteria. The irony in this is that those same toxins lead to the death of the bacteria that released it!

Doong something spiteful may make you feel good, but only in the moment. Relationships are broken and your own reputation is ruined. Who wants to hang around someone so spiteful? But in the moment—in that moment you feel wronged—you feel such a strong urge to exact some form of retaliation.

There is no room for that in the Christian life. None. There is no justification that can be offered. What following Christ calls for is not always easy, but it is always right.

“A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath” (Prov. 15:1).

“A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise person holds it in check” (Prov. 29:11).

There’s wisdom in those proverbs. Even an atheist would agree with those principles. But I want us to take this to a deeper level and consider why such petty behavior is out of place for the follower of Christ.

  • You are Christ’s representative. Believers are described as ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). Ambassadors do not represent themselves; they represent the country or the one who sent them. Words spoken by an ambassador are considered as words of the country or person they represent. You are to act and do as the One who sent you.
  • You are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). God Himself dwells in you, and the sin of petty and spiteful behavior grieves the very God who lives in you (Eph. 4:30).
  • You are to adopt the same attitude of Christ, who “emptied himself by assuming the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). There is no time for spite or vengeance when we are busy serving.
  • You are to leave any perceived hurt or desire for vengeance in the hands of God. “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for God’s wrath, because it is written, Vengeance belongs to me; I will repay” (Rom. 12:19).

A spite house is built to tear down someone else—and you’re left with the wreckage. Let’s change this urge for spite into something that builds up.

“Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good” (v. 21)

That’s a house I can live in.


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What is a Spite House?


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