Mr. Dunner used to be friendly with Mr. Flax. But then he learned just what a boor he was after lending him his chainsaw and getting it back with a broken chain. Now he keeps his distance.
Mrs. Applebauer isn’t talking to Mrs. Bushwold. The two disagreed some time ago over how the coffee should be prepared after church services, and one of them blew it up into a royal feud. (Each says it was the other one.)
Randolph has trouble trusting people because they tend to poke fun at how short he is. Pamela had to stop taking walks each week with Sally after the comments she made about her son’s behavior in school. Bill is giving his wife the silent treatment for putting way too much paprika in his favorite pasta dish and overcooking it besides. Mary turned Stanley down for a date because she couldn’t imagine marrying someone with such an annoying laugh.
A friendship is severed; a family is divided; a cloud of tension hangs over a congregation. Everyone feels justified—yet it’s all so … petty.
We are all susceptible to such thinking.
Are you oversensitive? Do you nurture grievances or allow bitterness to smolder? Do you hold certain people at arm’s length based on minimal information? Do you get upset over things that, in the big picture, are actually quite trivial?
It is easy to allow a petty grievance to arise between you and a family member or Church member, to nurture bitterness, and to decide that you just can’t handle that person. Recognize where this spirit comes from.
The force behind it is Satan the devil, who is promoting such twisted thinking in order to bring down society! It perfectly reflects his own thinking: Satan believes he has been wronged. Dissatisfied with what God offered him, he invents grievances and feels like the victim! Satan often seeks to influence our thinking and create division in this way.
I once asked my wife, “After being married so many years, what’s one lesson you’ve learned that would be good advice for singles who hope to marry?” After a moment, she spoke three profound words: Don’t be offended.
She said that she has learned to not let little things rile her and to remind herself that the person committing these little offenses—me—loves her and is not intentionally trying to make her life miserable. So she lets the offense go.
This is great advice for singles, but it is first-class advice for all of us. It’s actually advice from God: Don’t be offended.
“Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165). This is how to avoid being offended and to have peace in your relationships: Love God’s law.
A Matter of the Heart
Conflicting expectations or assumptions, social awkwardness, a lack of tact or wisdom, unrealized sensitivities because of a wounded past—any of these ingredients can cause an ill-advised comment to hit someone the wrong way and, bam!, someone decides that this incident represents the heart and core of that person and rejects having a relationship.
It can happen in our congregations and even in our marriages. Some allow a personal slight to blow up so big in their minds that they lose sight of the fact that Christ is here in His Church and still decide to leave.
Yes, we should be vexed by the wickedness of this world and upset if a converted person is committing a grievous sin. But making mountains of molehills, taking offense, and writing people off does not spring from righteousness. It originates from self-righteousness!
Are you judgmental and critical of others? Do you tend to push people aside if they don’t measure up to your standards and expectations? Do you hold grudges?
Remember, God has carefully chosen each member of His Church and placed him or her in the body (1 Corinthians 12:18). Do you view the other members of the Church the way God does? Can you recognize what God sees in them and why He called them?
God’s law is a law of love. Taking offense is self-oriented rather than loving. God’s law says, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart …” (Leviticus 19:17). God is concerned about what you think of others. He wants your heart to be filled with love for people, not hate.
Don’t think that just because you keep your hatred to yourself and act like everything is fine, you’re not harming anyone. That is foolish (Proverbs 10:18). Hatred, even unvoiced, is sin.
What should you do if you feel you have been wronged? Here is what God’s law says: “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people …” (Leviticus 19:18). Don’t retaliate or lash back at them—don’t even bear a grudge. “Bear a grudge” means to keep, reserve or maintain. This too is about what is in your heart. Don’t cherish anger or hold on to feelings of ill will. If you feel you’ve been wronged, you must be willing to let it go.
Then comes the second great commandment: “[B]ut thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord” (verse 18). You don’t want people being oversensitive around you, judging you, harboring bitterness or holding grudges against you, or assuming the worst about you. You appreciate it when you don’t have to walk on eggshells around people, when you know they see past your imperfections and give you the benefit of the doubt. Of course we all need to exercise social graces and proper etiquette around each other. But we also all want to feel free to be ourselves, to know that people accept us and appreciate us for who we are—that we are loved in spite of our flaws. We need to extend that same kindness toward others.
Offense Is a Trap
Remember what happened to the seeds sown on rocky ground in the parable of the sower: “the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended” (Matthew 13:20-21).
How much spiritual depth do you have? If you are shallow, you will get agitated when things get difficult or when someone does something upsetting, and you won’t make it. If a man tells a single woman, “You would be more attractive if you lost some weight,” that shows a serious lack of wisdom! But what should that woman’s response be? She could choose to be deeply offended by it. She could choose to never speak to that man again. She could choose to get bitter over it. She could choose to say, “The men in this Church only care about looks!” She could choose to get very depressed over it—perhaps even leave the Church over it! All such responses would show terrible spiritual shallowness.
The Greek word for offended, skandalon, refers to the trigger of a trap, or an impediment placed in the way causing someone to stumble or fall. It doesn’t take much to offend: It can be a hair-trigger. E-mail and electronic communication, for example, is a playground for misunderstandings. People who make judgments about each other based on an e-mail (“I don’t like the way he wrote this e-mail!”) are basing their judgments on ridiculously small amounts of possibly distorted information.
It is easy to take offense! It is human. But God is trying to shape us into something more than merely human. He wants us to come to think and speak and act like Him!
Offended can also refer to seeing something that hinders you from acknowledging another’s authority—perhaps the ministry, your boss or your husband. If he does or says something you don’t like and you take offense, you begin to focus on his flaws rather than your responsibility to submit to God’s government.
Satan can stir up feelings of offense over nothing. We can even be offended over good things. A minister correcting your mistake is good, because it helps you repent and become more like God! But someone who isn’t thinking right can easily take offense at this.
How often you are offended is a good gauge of how much human nature you have. We like to think we are justified in being offended. But in reality, we don’t get offended because we are godly, or spiritually deep—we get offended because we are spiritually shallow! It’s not because we are righteous, but because we are self-righteous!
What do we gain by judging others, taking offense and shutting people out? Do we really think life is better that way?
Maintain a Right Perspective
Jesus Christ was perfect and sinless, yet many people thought they saw sins in Him, taking offense at many things He said and did. God actually calls Him “a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence” (1 Peter 2:8; Isaiah 8:14).
“Sometimes we have little problems with other people,” Gerald Flurry writes. “In that situation, self-righteousness can produce a defensive attitude. We end up thinking, I try to get closer to people, but this person criticized me, and it causes us to hold back” (How to Be an Overcomer). What is the solution?
Consider Job’s response after being corrected by God. Once he saw God and saw himself in relation to God, his perspective straightened out (Job 42:2-3, 5-6). If you see clearly like this, you won’t be touchy and oversensitive, or defensive because of vanity. You will see what a sinner you are. “Then if somebody makes a negative remark about us, so what?” Mr. Flurry continues. “It doesn’t really matter. We can go on and love them and be friends with them. What difference does it make what people think of you? All that matters is what God thinks.”
If someone criticizes you with no validity, what difference does it make? But if he or she is helping you to see something you’re doing wrong, that is wonderful. Now you have the opportunity to rid yourself of it and become more like God! Eliminating sin makes you happier. Why would you ever want to hold on to sin? Why allow vanity to cause you to cling to bitterness or grievances with others?
Human nature is very negative and critical of other people. Many offenses would not arise if we eliminated our self-righteousness. Our view of others would be much clearer, and we would be far more compassionate, merciful and patient.
When a problem arises with another person, our first reaction is to blame the other person. We quickly see what he did to cause the problem, and that one thing fills our minds. Don’t let yourself get away with that! When you focus all blame on the other person, you absolve yourself of any guilt. Don’t assume you are the victim. That is Satan’s way! Take some responsibility—both for the problem and for the way you respond. Acknowledge that you have a part to play, and see what you may have done to cause the problem.
It takes maturity to see the other person’s point of view. Even if you really aren’t to blame, at least recognize that what you’re doing isn’t working. This might help you steer things in a different direction.
If you are trying to grow and overcome, you will be far less critical of others and much less bothered by their imperfections. Why? Firstly, because you realize how difficult it is to change. And secondly, because you realize how much other people have to put up with in you!
Learn to view other people the way God does. He sees something special in every person in His Church! (1 Corinthians 12:18). If you see only irritants, quirks and awkwardness, then you don’t see what God sees. He knows their problems and flaws far better than anybody, yet He still sees enough potential—enough beauty in their attitude and in their heart—that He handpicked that person to marry His Son!
It takes the mind of God to see beyond the physical—the blemishes, unusual mannerisms and eccentricities. It takes God’s mind to even see past beauty, which also can be a distraction, and look on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).
If God just wanted to avoid problems that come from interacting with imperfect people, He could have enjoyed all the perfect isolation He wanted—just two perfect God Beings, inhabiting eternity. But God chose family.
How does God look at people? Read 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is very patient, very kind. Love knows no jealousy; love makes no parade, gives itself no airs, is never rude, never selfish, never irritated …” (verses 4-5; Moffatt). “Not easily provoked” means that God’s love is not overly sensitive or touchy.
If someone offends you, give him the benefit of the doubt. He probably didn’t intend to; maybe he was thinking of something else; maybe he didn’t realize how he was coming across; maybe he had a tough day; maybe he had a headache. When someone says something offensive, we choose our response! We can actually choose to not be offended. God does that all the time.
God doesn’t focus on flaws. His love is “never rude, never selfish, never irritated, never resentful; Love is never glad when others go wrong, love is gladdened by goodness, always slow to expose, always eager to believe the best, always hopeful, always patient. Love never disappears” (verses 5-8; Moffatt). God’s love allows for mistakes; it desires to think well of others. It forgives! It believes the best about people. It covers faults rather than gossiping about them. It holds out hope and remains positive toward people.
The only reason you and I have the opportunity to marry Jesus Christ is because God is full of this wonderful love. If He were impatient, unkind or rude, selfish, easily irritated, easily offended, judgmental, quick to believe the worst—this marriage would never happen!
Matthew 18 has some important points on this topic. The first four verses talk about becoming as little children, especially in humility. Humbling yourself is a great key to not being offended. It is when we become full of ourselves that we so easily run into problems with others.
“But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (verse 6). Christ is very protective over every person in His Church; all are extremely important to Him. We all must strive to avoid offending others (1 Corinthians 10:32). Learn how to be respectful, to show honor to others, to show compassion and sympathy, to be tactful and loving.
However, even when we’re trying to avoid offenses, offenses will still occur at times (James 3:2). So, how should we handle that? Matthew 18 shows us. If there is a genuine problem, don’t just sit back and stew about it. Don’t just cross the person off your list. Resolve the matter, and forgive any offenses—even if you must do so repeatedly (verses 21-22).
The parable of the unjust servant powerfully demonstrates this principle. The master finds a servant who owes him about $10 million. The servant throws himself on the master’s mercy, and the master forgives him that colossal debt. Then the servant finds a fellow servant who owes him a little money, about $20. He can’t pay, so the servant who had just been forgiven all his enormous debt has his fellowservant cast into prison! “Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
When we repent, God forgives us debts beyond measure! How can we justify turning around and being very exacting when a fellow servant offends us? Do you really want to be judged by the standard you use to judge others? If we cannot forgive those offenses among ourselves, how can we rightfully claim forgiveness from God? (verses 34-35). Thank God He has pity on us and forgives us time and again!
God wants you to have the attitude of the lord in this parable: “Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt” (verse 27). Even if we have to do it 70 times seven times!
Anger Is a Trap
In Matthew 5:21, Jesus reiterated the Sixth Commandment, condemning murder. Then in verse 22 He listed three sins that are in the spirit of murder.
First is being angry without a cause. Anger isn’t necessarily a sin of itself (Ephesians 4:26), but it is when it arises out of vanity and without just cause. This includes being angry at your children for something they couldn’t help themselves, or being angry with your co-worker making a simple mistake. It’s being angry over trivial things, or without knowing all the facts (perhaps after hearing only half the story), or from making assumptions. It might be anger over something we ourselves might just as easily have done. This is about an attitude in your mind (see also 1 John 3:15).
If you are angry without cause, Christ says that spiritually you are on dangerous ground. You might have many reasons in your mind justifying your anger. Would God agree? If you were called before His court, and you laid out your reasons and proofs for your anger, would God say, Yes, this is righteous anger! Ask yourself: Would God be angry over this? He expresses His anger in order to bring someone to repentance. His anger is not because He is personally offended—it is an expression of His love!
The second sin in Matthew 5:22 is unjustly accusing someone of heresy (“whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca”). The third is condemning someone, accusing him of not even being converted (“whosoever shall say, Thou fool”). We must be extremely careful about even thinking such accusations.
God says if a relationship with another Church member is thus tainted, that problem needs to be resolved immediately (verses 23-24; see also Mark 11:24-26). You must not just carry on with your spiritual life like nothing is wrong! This recalls the Apostle Peter saying that if a man is not honoring his wife, it will impede his prayer life (1 Peter 3:7). We need to put a high priority on having peaceful, harmonious relationships with others if we want a clear line of communication with God. You cannot be upset, bitter and ugly toward other people and still be righteous and close to God—unless you are really trying to repent of that and are asking for His help to overcome it!
Take time to think: Does anyone have anything against me? Have I done anything to offend someone? Am I holding a grudge against anyone?
God tells true Christians to turn the other cheek to the person who smites us (Matthew 5:38-40). This is totally contrary to our human nature. He commands us to love even our enemies, to bless those who curse us, to do good to those who hate us, and to pray for our persecutors! (verses 43-44).
And why? “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust” (verse 45). This is what makes you a child of God! God suffers all kinds of wrong. Our Father has suffered tremendous persecution and has much justifiable cause for grievance. Yet He is longsuffering and steadfast in His love. He continues to bless evil people with sunshine and rain. We are to strive for that level of perfection! (verses 46-48).
The Law of Love
Consider some points from James 5:7-11. God has waited a long time for His Kingdom and has shown great patience with each of us; let’s show patience as well. Don’t talk with someone against other members in God’s Family like it’s just the two of you; be aware of the fact that God is standing right there at the door. Realize that God has endured far more trouble than you ever will. And remember that if you can put up with slights and injustices, you will be far happier!
God really wants us to be merciful people, as He is. This will result in better relationships with God and everyone else! (Proverbs 3:3-4). Matthew 23:23 says mercy is one of the weightier matters of the law.
James 3:17-18 define godly wisdom. “God’s wisdom is also peaceable, which means that it makes peace with others, especially within the family,” Mr. Flurry explains. “It is gentle, meaning forbearing—not demanding, and not looking down on others. It is ‘easy to be entreated’ or persuaded. It is happy to give in if the other person is right. It is ‘full of mercy and good fruits’ toward the misery of others—desiring to relieve them. God’s wisdom is also without partiality. … [It’s] also ‘without hypocrisy’—what you see is what you get. It doesn’t pretend to be something it is not. It requires wisdom to present yourself as someone who is trying to grow and improve, yet who never tries to come across as someone you are not” (The Epistle of James).
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:12‑15). This is how to have unity in the body!
“He that saith he is in the light, and hateth his brother, is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light, and there is none occasion of stumbling [Greek skandalon] in him” (1 John 2:9-10). If you are walking in the light, you won’t be tripping over things, stumbling around in the dark. You won’t be getting offended!
“The discretion of a man deferreth his anger [‘will make him slow to take offense,’ Moffatt], and it is his glory to pass over a transgression [or offense]” (Proverbs 19:11).
It is easy to get offended. It is hard to rise above taking offense, but God commands it. And He tells us how to do it: Don’t gossip. Don’t take vengeance. Don’t bear a grudge. Don’t hate your brother in your heart. Treat others how you want to be treated. Choose to give a soft answer instead of grievous words. Take responsibility for your own actions. Purge out your own vanity and self-righteousness. Humble yourself! Recognize how much God has to put up with where you are concerned! Forgive—even 70 times seven times. Treat others like God is standing right at the door. Build the love of God, so you are never irritated, resentful, overly sensitive or touchy. Always be patient and eager to believe the best! Walk in the light, right next to God, who loves people and sets the perfect example.
Above all, love God’s wonderful, precious law of love, and nothing will offend you.