DEALING WITH OFFENSE
The curse of sin has left mankind vulnerable to many difficulties and evils. Pride and selfishness in the sin nature make men prone to hurts which can easily become offenses. We, as Christians, are not immune to these struggles. In fact, the closeness of our fellowship and our dependence on one another seem to make us especially vulnerable to feelings of being “left out” or slighted.
The struggle with offense is often spoken of by both believers and nonbelievers. Christians, especially, understand the need to rid themselves of grievance and resentment in order that they may be at peace with God and men.
As people speak of this struggle, much is said about forgiving others. They speak about the snubs and affronts they have suffered from their neighbors and talk of laying down the feelings of injury and indignation they have carried. Sometimes their words convey a sense of heroism or martyrdom. “I’ve suffered under this far more than is just, but I’ll have to forgive my antagonist and go on with life.” To “lay aside” an offense, leaves it where it can easily be picked up again and rarely heals the hurt inside.
Is it not strange that much is said about forgiving others and little said about the need to be forgiven? Natural law says that for every effect there is a cause. How is it that there appear to be so many effects (hurts and offenses) and so little cause (sin)? If we are looking at this matter honestly, should not our need to be forgiven be mentioned at least as frequently as our need to forgive?
It is sometimes said that the Christian will have many reasons to feel hurt, but he never has a right to become offended. A hurt is painful for a few hours or even for a few days, but it is soon healed in the ongoing events of life. It is quickly overlooked, forgiven, or forgotten and leaves no inner bitterness or distress.
Offense is a hurt one chooses to hold and internalize. Each time it is remembered, it causes one to feel overreached and bitter. It undermines one’s confidence in the person who occasioned the hurt and tends to destroy goodwill toward him and toward anyone associated with him. Views and feelings ungrounded in reality are usually part of offense. A person offended is incapable of understanding or chooses to not see all the truth of the situation confronting him.
The psalmist wrote, “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. 119:165). Those who walk close to God have, deep in their spirits, an active understanding of their own weaknesses and failings. They catch themselves saying things that are not really kind or that could easily be mistaken as an affront. They recognize that they are prone to misinterpret words spoken and that their pride makes them too ready to interpret what they sense or hear as an injustice. Knowing these things about themselves, they give to their neighbor a wide degree of tolerance and do not allow their minds to dwell on things that could be taken as hurtful. In those rare occasions when rudeness cannot be mistaken, they take their hurt to the God of all comfort, asking for a deeper charity that “shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8).
When a person carries an offense, he blames another person—or God—for what he is feeling. He may not say it in words or even admit it mentally, but he is waiting for some judgment to be meted out against the person who wounded him. Or he may, in his heart, be waiting for an apology from him. He believes that someone besides himself must do something before the wound can be healed.
When one carries an offense, he actually sins against his neighbor by withholding goodwill and charity from him. In doing this, he sins against God, also. This condition cannot be remedied by anyone other than himself. He cannot make his brother or his neighbor change, but he can, with God’s help, change the attitude of his own heart and mind.
If this is to happen, the person feeling resentment must recognize that it is his sin, not that of his neighbor, that is the real cause of his problem. If his neighbor has done or said something amiss or hurtful, that responsibility remains with him. The thing that really needs to be healed is not what his neighbor said or did, it is the hurt turned to bitterness in his own heart. It will not work for him to try to lay aside his grievances and try not to think about them any longer. Only as he admits his need and his sin will the grace of God come to his attitude and spirit, washing them, erasing the hurt, and bringing the freedom to sincerely offer love and fellowship to the person he has not been able to love.
This freedom is not a myth or some unreachable ideal. God Himself promises this grace to those who come to Him with their need. “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26). Many have experienced just this grace as they came to God and acknowledged their need of cleansing. Many are those who no longer desired an apology from their neighbors but went, instead, to them to build a bridge of goodwill and understanding.
If our personal reconsecrations are to endure, we will need to own any offense we carry, acknowledge the seriousness and sin of it, and bring it to God for cleansing and healing. If revival in our congregations is to last, we will need to judge offense for what it is in God’s eyes, guard against it carefully, and deal with it according to Scripture.
“Only by pride cometh contention, but with the well advised is wisdom” (Prov. 13:10). Only as we are meek and humble will we be free from offense. God’s Word points us to this truth again and again. “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5). “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Ps. 51:17).
From Messenger of Truth, Vol. 115, No. 2, January 18, 2017