We all get offended. Offensive statements and actions by others are merely the beginning of what we find ourselves being offended by. In a world of endless venues for self, it seems that our potential for being offended is only limited to our imagination and sensitivity. Many of us (including myself) struggle with being offended for various reasons. These reasons may range from the relatively simple—someone is genetically or environmentally bewitched with delicate sensibilities, to the more complex situations of a complicated past. But don’t we all want to be happy in lieu of a melancholy mess? Wouldn’t we all rather be happy?
Some deal with offensive situations better than others, but no one is immune. Is getting offended a sin? No, but… No, it’s not a sin in itself, but being offended moves us into position where we focus on the situation at hand and not on God. The situation presents us with the opportunity to sin. Being offended is like the serpent in the Garden of Eden who offered up the idea to Eve to eat the forbidden fruit. Eve found herself at a crucial point of decision. Her mistake was lingering on thoughts presented to her by the enemy. She made the mistake of dwelling on the forbidden fruit’s appeal that seemed to match up nicely with her desire.
“Desire, when it has conceived gives birth to sin” James 1:15
Eve’s desires (which were natural and reasonable) can represent our desire to respond to an offending person in the wrong way. Just like it was natural for Eve to have the desire to eat, it is natural for us to experience emotions of offense. People are going to offend us. It’s going to happen! If we do become offended then find ourselves hatin’, retaliating, whispering negative remarks, being unkind, complaining, or even making the offending party the center of our negative thoughts instead of “straining forward to what lies ahead” (Philippians 3:13)—then yes it is sin. We have taken the same type of crucial moment that Eve (and later Adam) experienced and given in to it instead of turning in God’s direction. Personal offense and even ones levied at our family, friends, or religion are here to stay. We may as well get ready for the next event. The key to dealing with offenses isn’t simply resisting bitterness temptations by our own personal strength. It takes more than a one-time effort of strength. Unless you’ve developed a godly habit of dealing with an offense by thinking positive thoughts, the only absolute way out of one is to lean on God through prayer. Dump it on God; rant and rave, blow steam, vent all you want—he can handle it, but you must listen to his response when you’re finished. If you find yourself confused by your thoughts that have intertwined with ones from God—go to his Word. There are many websites to help you find answers such as http://www.openbible.info/topics/. If you are sincere, praying will sustain you in that moment. However, you likely already know through experience you will be taunted with thoughts of the offensive experience later and find yourself right back at square one—tempted yet again to respond poorly, even if only in thought. If you hold true to God’s plan in wisdom and turn to him, yet again in prayer, God will pull you through to the other side of your emotions. He will help you get over the offense once and for all. It may take ten times. If the offense is severe enough, it may take numerous times of giving it to God over a period of years. Though, more often than not, severity is hardly the issue. It can be a daunting thought to tackle the idea of dismissing offenses alongside trying to not offend others yourself by being gentle and kind, but there are countless testimonies by people that have done so and God has called us to it.
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense. Proverbs 19:11
Part of what allows Christians to practice this principle is contemplating a true understanding of grace. Grace is God’s gift to an undeserving, obstinate people—you and me. It is compassion, mercy, and forgiveness. How many times have you offended God? There is not enough internet storage space out there for me to list mine here. Although it’s God’s desire that we let go of petty and even hurtful situations because unrest, gossip, or sour attitudes don’t reflect his character, he also knows that we will be better off spiritually, emotionally, and even physically over time. (See medical literature about the effect of stress on blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes.) Dwelling on offenses does us no good, none—literally! Why would we want something that has no value? Many times offenses were not intentional or the offender doesn’t even realize he or she did anything offensive. Even if the person does realize it, the Bible speaks to how we are to respond to them. We must constantly remind ourselves that God has allowed circumstances where someone has offended us. He has actually ordained that offense by allowing it to happen. He knows what we handle better than we do.
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1st Corinthians 10:13
Based on that promise, we have hope to endure opposition. When we become offended, often it is because we are struggling with pride that God is absolutely opposed to; have expectations that were not met; or the real source of our response is deep-seated insecurities that have yet to be dealt with. The vast majority of offenses likely fall within these categories. Other times, there are negative contributions from the offender and the offendee, but we are blind to it. It is our job as Christians to own our part and determine how our piece fits into the puzzle problem. Romans 12:17-18 says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all”. Notice that it says, “give thought to do what is honorable”. Letting go of a thought may be the only action needed in making a right choice.
Although we get offended over truly insignificant things most of the time, sometimes others can say or do some pretty dastardly things that would offend anyone. We can’t let the severity of the offense be the determining factor. God can take things meant for evil and use them for your good. It’s a supernatural gift from God that circumstances of seeming opposition are actually veiled opportunities for blessing.
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 1 Peter 3:9
Blessing! Did you get that? We can’t know when or where that blessing will come, but God has made that promise. He may bless us here and now (even if we don’t fully recognize it), or better yet, he may be holding on to it for us to enjoy forever in eternity. (I’ll take mine forever thanks.) Blessings are great, but at the end of the day this life isn’t about us or what we can get; it’s about God. People need him.
How can people see the character of God in his people if we respond poorly to others? How we treat people is how people are suppose to know we belong to Christ, not just worthless religious talk. Jesus, as a perfect man, never responded wrongly in all the mistreatment and torture he endured. Plus many people throughout history have endured horrendous circumstances, yet a quietness of soul. We get overly irritated at things that are so very small in the grand scheme of things. Let it go! It’s not about you or me or the person who offended you. It’s about God, and he knows and wants your best interest. He wants you to let people off the hook just like he lets us off the hook many times every day. How many times should you let someone off the hook you ask? As Jesus’ disciple, Peter asked the same thing about forgiveness. He wanted to know how many times he had to forgive someone. As a Jew he was use to checking off the list of moral, religious obligations. He was trying to check forgiveness off his list. Peter didn’t understand yet that it wasn’t about the list. It’s about the heart— a mindset, a relationship. Jesus told him to forgive “seventy times”. That’s a lot of times. I suspect though, that if Peter got to number 70 then asked Jesus, “ok, what about now?” Jesus would have given him the same response—“70 times Peter, yes, 70 more”. If God only gave us 70 chances we would be in a world of hurt. It seems that letting offenses go is not about the number of times, nor about Mrs. So-N-So that said this or that, nor Mr. Whoever that didn’t meet your expectations. Rather, it’s about God’s love for all of us, and each of us doing our part to replicate his character and love as best we can. It’s about a mindset of peace and reconciliation.
God doesn’t want you to let it go just for the offender’s sake. He wants you to let it go for you—for your benefit and his glory. Allow the letting it go to be a 1, 2, 3 response all in one motion—turn to God, let it go, and pray. Repeat as necessary.
Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14
The Devil loves conflict. God desires peace. An offense can only lead in one of those two very different directions. Either it moves your mind and spiritual well being towards a peace that transcends all understanding, or it festers and moves you in the direction of conflict. Even if that conflict is contained within your own thoughts, it will eat away at your soul and subtly taint your perspective on others. It leads to bitterness. One famous theologian said, “A bitter root will produce bitter fruit.”
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. Hebrews 12:15
Clearly bitterness is bad, but what is less obvious in this verse is people can and do receive grace from God through people. Let’s position ourselves to be conduits of grace, not blockers of it. We all need it, so by principle, we should all give it.
A conscience that is regularly being pulled in the direction of offense will be continually pulling you away from God. His desire is for us to draw near to him. He continually uses other people—good and bad—to allow us to do so. We will never escape people offending and hurting us. God has specifically allowed those times in our lives as opportunities to show grace to others (even in secret thought) and to receive blessings ourselves. Your next opportunity will be here soon—take advantage of it. You’ll be glad you did.
Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness…be put away from you. Ephesians 4:30-31
I began by asking, “wouldn’t we all rather be happy?” If we can just realize and believe that God has our best interest in mind, and train ourselves to think differently about how we respond to offenses, we can have lasting joy. Happiness, as differing from joy, is mostly circumstantial so it will elude us often. Feeling happy is a gift from God too, so it’s ok to enjoy it when we can, but many, many people do not experience very much happiness in their lives and those that do will find it fleeting. Joy is attainable for everyone. Let’s take God up on his offer to bless us through offenses, while simultaneously blessing those who watch and learn such as family, friends, and coworkers. They are watching, and they do notice.