May 29, 2020

But so that we may not cause offense…

“But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

Matthew 17:27

Christians talk A LOT about being offended. We’re offended by how someone looked at us. We try to make sure we sing the right way so that we don’t offend someone. We tiptoe around certain issues so people don’t get offended. People stop going to church because they’ve been offended. People write books about getting over being offended.

It’s interesting though as you look through the gospels that Jesus does a lot of offending. The Pharisees were offended when Jesus said that the Pharisees hearts were far from God (Matt 15:1-14). The disciples were offended that Jesus was saying that He came from heaven and that they’d have to eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:25-71). The people in His hometown were offended by His wisdom and His ability to perform miracles (Matt 13:53-58, Mark 6:1-6). The religious leaders were insulted when He called out their hypocrisy (Luke 11:37-54). Paul says that the cross is offensive (Galatians 5:11).

It’s not clear why Jesus was concerned about not offending those who collected the temple tax. Maybe the collectors weren’t religious leaders, maybe they were low paid workers. Maybe Jesus didn’t see this as a major truth that needed addressing. What is clear though is that Jesus really didn’t mind religious people being offended by the truth. What’s also clear is that he really didn’t worry about people being offended by the truth and leaving (John 6:66).

So, maybe it’s time that we stop focusing on offense. If we’re speaking truth to believers, maybe we shouldn’t be worried about whether they’ll be offended. Jesus offended the religious on a regular basis. As Christians, if we hear something from another Christian that offends us, maybe this is a good opportunity to check ourselves with the Holy Spirit and ask Him why it was so offensive. Did the person just hurt our feelings or is this an area that the Holy Spirit is trying to correct us and that person happened to poke at a sore spot. If it’s the later, THANK THEM. They just did you a favor by bringing to light something God is trying to help you work through.

Here’s Paul’s take on speaking the hard truth to the Corinthian church that was likely offensive:

Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 

2 Corinthians 7:8-10 NIV

Now, before we all go out and look for people to offend, perhaps a few guardrails are helpful:

  1. This doesn’t mean to go be a jerk. Don’t tell another Christian they’re ugly just because you want to practice offending people.
  2. This doesn’t absolve us from “speaking the truth IN LOVE” (Eph 4:15). We can absolutely can and should present a message kindly, carefully, and methodologically. People should be offended by what we said, not the way we said it.
  3. Don’t use this as a license to go offending unbelievers. There are ZERO recorded times of Jesus offending the tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, etc. He offended the religious leaders. Yes, we should speak truth to unbelievers as well, but perhaps we need to be more careful about how we do it so as not to become a stumbling block to them coming to Christ.
  4. This doesn’t give us a license to offend people with our bigotry, racism, biases, ethnocentrism, etc. Jesus offended people with Truth! Even when he said something to the Syrophoenician woman that you would think would have offended her, clearly he knew his audience and knew that she wouldn’t get offended and leave but would instead press in further for relationship, because that’s exactly what happened (Matt 15:21-28).

So, let’s stop worrying about offending the religious and about whether we’ve been offended by another believer. Speak the truth in love to your fellow believer, and when you get offended, take that to the Holy Spirit and ask Him if there’s something you need to learn. If the person wasn’t speaking a truth that you need to learn or grow from, have thick skin, shake it off, and move on. Don’t spend your time feeling offended. If the relationship needs mending, go to them and work through it. Jesus regularly offended the self righteous religious people of His day, let’s not be afraid to do the same when needed.

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