Let me begin with two definitions:
- Offended – Caused to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful.
- Offense – Annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to, or disregard for, oneself or one’s standards or principles.
Within the Body of Christ no one should be careless about offending someone else. We should be controlled by the Holy Spirit so that love and self-control prevail in our relationships (Gal 5:22-26). If that were always true in our experience then the rest of this article would not be necessary. Unfortunately it is not always true.
The root of depravity runs deep in the soil of our hearts and its fruit is frequently seen in our relationships. Since I have in previous articles discussed life within the Body of Christ; relationships within the family of God known as the local church, we must confront this reality in such a way as to avoid being divided. God has spoken clearly about this issue; there are biblical principles that will help us.
When facing offenses most of us choose to run to passages such as Galatians 6:1, “Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted,” or Matthew 18:15-16, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.” But take note of the context in each case. These are instructions concerning how to deal with genuine sin problems in the life of a fellow believer. They are not talking about petty upsets and annoyances. So how do we deal with those things?
Take another look at the definitions above. Notice the key words “upset, annoyed, resentful.” They describe the feelings of one who has been offended. The common denominator in all those words is self-centeredness. If we are to deal with offenses biblically we will need to submit to the Holy Spirit to make us other-centered. When that is true there is really no need for any kind of confrontation. As I thought about this issue I remembered an article I wrote four years ago dealing with this subject. Rather than reinvent the wheel I have chosen to incorporate much of that article into this one. Please read on.
“For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psalm 103:14). That verse from Psalm 103 is one of my favorite verses. When I meditate upon it in context I learn a number of things concerning how God responds to my sinfulness. I learn in this Psalm that God does not treat me as my sin deserves (v.10). He extends mercy to me (v.11). He has removed my sin from me as far as the east (where the altar of sacrifice was placed) is from the west (where the mercy seat was found). That is forgiveness (v. 12). He has compassion on me (v.13). Finally, according to verse 14, He understands my weakness. All of this is God’s response to my sin against Him.
The New Testament picks up these concepts and applies them to our interpersonal relationships. “ And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Col 3:12-13).
Please notice how we are to respond to those who sin against us or offend us. We are called upon to be humble, which means I don’t react as the offense deserves. Paul admonishes us to be kind and gentle. There is the expectation that we will have compassion toward the offender. We are called upon to forgive as we have been forgiven. Finally, we are told to be patient and forbearing. Everyone of these expectations finds its corresponding action in God in the Psalm 103 passage mentioned earlier.
The Psalmist uses dust as the epitome of weakness. His message to us is that God understands our weakness and does not hold it against us. In Colossians, Paul tells us we should treat each other the same way God has treated us when we are sinned against and offended. Each of us is weak as dust and should understand the weakness of our offender.
Have you had to deal with anyone’s dust recently? How did you respond?
Gene Getz, in his book, Building Up One Another, suggests four action steps when we feel hurt or offended.
- First, ask yourself, “What do I do (or not do) that irritates or offends those around me?”
- Second, in light of your own weaknesses in your treatment of others ask, “Do I expect more from them than I do from myself? Do I criticize others in the area of my own weaknesses?”
- Third, think about those people you have trouble relating with and/or against whom you have a grudge. Now ask, “Did they intend to be offensive? Am I being a little over-sensitive? Am I upset because they remind me of myself?”
- Fourth, consciously and deliberately forgive everyone who has hurt or offended you. Remember, forgiveness is not contingent upon their asking forgiveness; it is an act of obedience toward God.
Do you see what these steps do? They sensitize us to how weak we all are and help us to be a little more understanding. Perhaps when we are offended our response should be to pray for the offender that God will enable him to overcome his own weakness, which is probably a burden to him. Offenses then become occasions for ministry.
Dust is prevalent in all our lives and therefore in all our relationships. We can use God’s cleaning agents and sweep it out, or we can allow it to collect and choke us. Do you have some dust you need to deal with?
[Today’s post was submitted by my co-laborer and fellow pastor, Brad Canterbury, who writes from his 50+ years in pastoral ministry.]