Is it me or does it seem that everyone is offended nowadays? People are offended by all kinds of things from decorations to beliefs. While we are all entitled to our own opinions and right to be offended, it sure seems to me that it has gotten out of hand. “I am offended!” has become a common cry that seems often self-serving and unbalanced. This caused me to investigate how Jesus handled the issue of offending others.
The greek term skandlon means “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to be a stumbling block” (Thayer). It is used metaphorically in the NT to cause or make one to stumble, not physically but spiritually. It is often translated “offense” or the verb form “to offend.”
When I researched the gospels I discovered three key ideas about how Jesus dealt with offending others.
- He expected that his message and actions would offend others. When John the Baptist sends disciples asking Jesus if he truly is the Messiah, Jesus tells them about his miraculous works which he is doing. Then he adds, “Blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (Mat. 11:6). He understood that his message would be offensive and controversial. Once many of his disciples turned away from following after him because of his hard teachings, but he didn’t change his teachings or chase after them (John 6:61-67). He came as the light of the world and he knew the darkness would try to overcome the light (John 1:5).
- He practiced and counseled his disciples to leave offended people alone. Once the disciples came to tell Jesus the Pharisees were offended because of his teachings. Jesus instructs his disciples to “let them alone” (Mat. 15:14). He says if they follow these blind guides they will both fall in the ditch. Earlier, when his hometown of Nazareth was offended because of his teaching, he understood it was because he had grown up there. He chose to move on and do no more works in the area (Mat. 13:57-58).
- When possible, in cases that did not violate the truth of God, Jesus tried to not offend others. Jesus didn’t intentionally try to offend people. In fact, even though he didn’t have to technically pay the temple tax since he was the Son of God, he told Peter to pay the tax so as not to offend them. They would not understand how he was exempt from such a tax, so Jesus paid it, rather than offend them (Mat. 17:24-27).
What are some lessons we can apply to our own lives in 2017 in this ultra-offensive culture from Jesus? Here are a few for you to consider, I am sure there are more.
- The Christian message will still offend people today. If we craft a version of Christianity that is politically correct and offends no one, then we are not preaching the true gospel of God. The gospel, in its very nature, is offensive (1 Cor. 1, Gal. 1).
- We need to be willing to keep our distance from folks who claim they are offended. We should try to work through the issue, but if they are not willing, then we need to let them alone. We should practice the golden rule, always being kind and respectful, but we may be best served by ending the discussion and moving on to other works.
- Christians should not be in the business of trying to offend others. We should try to adopt cultural norms that are acceptable standards of word and action when possible. Our message and our leader cause the offense, it should not be our petty opinions that really don’t matter that cause them. For example, we should adopt appropriate terms for races and ethnic groups, rather than persistently using older terms that are now considered offensive.
I hope this study has been a blessing as you try to navigate our overly-sensitive culture and one that is becoming more hostile to the Christian faith.