Choose Not to Offend

One More Year of Choices

By Barbara Dahlgren

Jesus tells us it would be better if a person were drowned in the sea than to offend a new believer. (Luke 17:1-4, Matthew 18:6) Paul said, “We give no offense in anything…” (2 Corinthians 6:3) The message seems clear that we should avoid offending others. Offending those new to the faith may cause them to stumble; offending non-Christians may put up a roadblock to sharing our faith.

But… is it actually possible to go through life without offending someone? I don’t think so – not unless you are living in a cave away from all humanity. Offend means to upset or annoy someone. Some people are so insecure and easily hurt we can inadvertently upset them without even knowing about it. I don’t think it’s reasonable or even biblical to think we can go through life not offending others. Sometimes our very presence or existence is vexing to someone. How do we get around that?

Here’s a better concept of the biblical principle. We are not to deliberately offend others by being insensitive. The word for “offense” in 2 Corinthians 6:3 is translated as “an obstacle, difficulty, or stumbling block.” We want to avoid being a stumbling block to those weak in the faith (1 Corinthians 8:9) and to unbelievers (1 Corinthians 10:32).

In biblical times, some used their newfound freedom in Christ with an “in your face” type attitude instead of being sensitive to those making the transition from Old Covenant teachings into the New Covenant understandings. I don’t think most Christians today would deliberately cause others to stumble or be a stumbling block, but they do sometimes try to change others to fit their mold of Christianity.

Paul gives some great instruction in Romans 14. If one wants to eat meat and one wants to be a vegetarian… so what! If one wants to esteem one day better than another and one doesn’t… so what! If one wants to drink wine and another wants to be a teetotaler… so what! These things have nothing to do with Jesus being Lord, Christ being crucified, the resurrection, and so on. They are personal preferences. These choices are neither applauded nor condemned by Paul. Jesus accepts people where they are and so should we. However, being judgmental of each other is a different matter. Paul says, “Let us not judge one another, but rather accept each other, not to put a stumbling block in someone’s way.” (Romans 14:12)

We need to be extra kind and gentle with others. Our goal should not be to make others conform with what we think. Our goal should be to lead a life of integrity, reverence, and incorruptibility, using sound speech and doing good works. (Titus 2:7) We need to set a good example, not a bad one.

Even so, sometimes the gospel will offend others. Paul found that out when he preached Christ crucified. It was an offense (stumbling block) to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks. (1 Corinthians 1:18-23) Yet, we can’t alter the very message of Christ to appease others. We can alter how we present it, but not the message itself.

Jesus didn’t alter His message when speaking to the Pharisees who were putting unnecessary religious hardships on others. He knew their hearts were not right. Jesus was more concerned with the truth than their feelings, and they were indeed offended at what they heard from Christ. (Matthew 15:12) Sometimes it’s difficult to hear the truth. Correction and instruction are sometimes needed, yet it can be offensive to the one receiving it, even if it’s given in a gentle manner and spoken in love. (Ephesians 4:15)

Consider this… Unfortunately, no matter how hard we try, we will offend someone in our lifetime. Ultimately, only God can keep one from stumbling. (Jude vv. 24-25) However, if unavoidable offenses come, let it be because of truth spoken, not because of personal preferences, attitude, approach, actions, or insensitivity.

 

Suggestions for practicing this choice…

Listen more, speak less. Practice keeping your opinions to yourself. If you do speak, do so in a soft, courteous manner. (Proverbs 15:1)

Don’t judge others. Work on changing yourself, not others. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Treat others with dignity and respect. Learn to disagree without being disagreeable. (Luke 6:3)

Give up thinking you must always be right. You might win the argument, but lose the friend. (Proverbs 18:2)

Try to build people up, not tear them down. (Ephesians 4:29)