In Luke 17:1-2 Jesus declares that “offenses will come,” but then adds, “but woe be to the one who cause offenses”. In Matthew 18:1-10 we learn that Jesus particularly warns Christians of the dire consequences that will befall those who offend little children or young Christians. In Acts 24:16 Paul testified that as a Christian, his desire was to live in such a way that he kept his conscience pure, void of offense towards God and towards men.
Don’t offend Uncle Sam!
For one thing, it’s not wise to offend the government by refusing to pay our taxes. Jesus taught Peter a lesson about that in Matthew 17:24-27. Someone had come to Peter and asked if Jesus paid His taxes. Peter affirmed that He did. Shortly after this exchange, Peter came to where Jesus was staying that day. Before Peter could bring up the subject to Jesus about his conversation concerning taxes, Jesus introduced the subject with a question directed to Peter. “Do kings collect taxes from their own children, or do they collect from strangers?” Jesus was referring to the fact that this is our Father’s world. We are children of the King. Peter correctly replied, “They collect them of strangers.” Jesus continued, “Then the children are free from paying taxes, are they not? Notwithstanding, lest we offend and upset those government officials, and get ourselves into needless trouble, we pay our taxes.”
Then before Peter could ask Jesus where they were going to get the money to pay taxes, Jesus showed His humor about such weighty matters as paying taxes. He directed Peter, the Master Fisherman, to go throw a hook and line into the sea and catch a fish. When Peter unhooked the fish, he found in the fish’s mouth enough money to cover both his own taxes and the taxes Jesus owed.
Note, in this true story that though this earth belongs to Jesus who will one day rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and as such, He and His family owe no one any tax; yet, in order to avoid offense, He teaches Peter and us to just pay our taxes and be done with it. Don’t argue about it and raise a big fuss over something so trivial.
The Bible is clear in Romans 13:1-8 about the obligation of Christian’s to submit themselves to governmental authority and pay our taxes. But I like Jesus’ attitude about this weighty matter. Taxes? No big deal! Just pay them. God will provide the money to do what you ought to do. I like His humor about the whole matter. Go fish for it.
Let’s get back to our text in Luke 17:1-2. From this text learn the following lessons.
1. WE ALL OFFEND
In James 3:1-10 we learn that we all offend others by the careless things we say and sometimes by the way we say them. Most of us don’t mean to offend. It just happens as we speak without thinking. Sometimes we are careless, thoughtless, insensitive, calloused, self-righteous and even rude. Sometimes in our pride we boast that “we don’t pull any punches, but tell it like it is!” That’s fine. There is nothing wrong or unloving in speaking the truth in love and humility. But those who like to boast about it often develop a calloused attitude about offending others.
We offend by our selfishness and lack of consideration of others. Some of us lack empathy, the ability to put ourselves in another’s shoes, and so offend others.
We offend God and we sin when we speak and act in the flesh, not understanding the truth of God’s Word. Peter had that problem more than once, as you can see in Matthew 16:21-23 and also in the 17th chapter when he was with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
2. MOST OF US ARE OFFENDED AT TIMES
This is especially true if we are self-centered and concerned more about our own feelings than the feelings of others and for the glory of God. Some people are touchy and must always be handled with kid gloves lest we offend them. The more we grow in Christ, the less we will be offended by others, If we are growing in the Lord, when offended by others by their rude words and surly attitudes, we will feel more sorry for them than for ourselves. In a mature Christian, offenses run off like water off a duck’s back.
3. THE CONSEQUENCES OF OFFENDING OTHERS
In Luke 17:1-2 and Matthew 18:6-7 Christ pronounces woes on those who would dare to offend others; especially children and immature young Christians. Such are living dangerously. God takes this matter of offending others very seriously!
4. HOW CAN WE AVOID OFFENDING AND BEING OFFENDED?
Going back to Jesus’ warning about offending children in Matthew 18:1-10, Jesus instructs us to cut off our hand or pluck out our eye before we allow these members of our body to offend others. Of course, Jesus is using hyperbole to make His point. Sin does not come from the hands or the eyes; but from the heart. At the same time He is showing the seriousness of offending others.
So, how can we avoid offending others without mutilating our bodies? Certainly we need to read God’s Word and pray daily prayers such as, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14 and “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts and see if there by any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139:23-24.
We can consider our spiritually weaker brothers and sisters who are sometimes offended by the freedom that we demonstrate in Christ. Weak, untaught Christian do not know or understand that liberty. They are so caught up in their efforts to obey rules. By considering their feelings, we can forgo exercising our liberty in some areas when in their presence to avoid needlessly offending them.
I Corinthians 10:24-33 gives an example of eating meat offered to idols. We know that an idol is nothing but a lifeless, worthless object of wood, stone, metal or plastic. Heathen offered their meat to idols. Of course, the idols did not eat it, so later they sold that meat in the market. Some weak Christians, coming out of that life of heathenism, refused to eat such meat lest they suffer guilty consciences. Mature Christians, realizing that there was no problem with the meat, just bought it, ate it and thanked God for it. However, the weaker Christian felt that it was sinful to eat it. Therefore Paul admonishes us as stronger Christians to refrain from exercising our freedom in such matters in the presence of weaker Christians, than to needlessly offend them.
Another way in which we can avoid being offensive to others is to consider carefully how we speak to others. Consider what we say and consider the tone of voice in which we speak. Is it harsh and rude?
Ask you spouse or your children or the person to whom you speak. They’ll probably tell you the truth. If they tell you that you sounded harsh or rude, humble yourself before God and confess your rudeness to that person. Thank them for being honest with you and ask God to help you learn to be more empathetic, that is, learn to put yourself in another’s shoes. You will have taken a big step in your Christian walk when you put the feelings of others before your own feelings.
Ask God, as Paul in Acts 24:16, to give you a holy desire to make an effort to always to keep a blameless conscience before God and before others.
Study to understand the truth of being crucified with Christ as taught in Romans 6:1-7, Colossians 3:1-3 and Galatians 2:20. If we have died and risen with Christ, we are dead to the offenses of others.
5. FINALLY, LEARN TO GLORY IN THE OFFENSE OF THE CROSS
Paul taught in Galatians 5:11 that the offense of the cross is something that we as Christians must not avoid. If you have determined to be known as a friend of Christ, you will find that the enemies of Christ keep you at arm’s length and you will share in Christ’s offense. In I Corinthians 1:23-31 he refers to the Gospel as foolishness in the eyes of the world. In Romans 9:33 Paul refers to Christ as a stumbling block and a rock of offense to the world. In I Peter 2:6-8 Peter refers to Christ as a rock of offense to the world, but He is precious to us as Christians.
The highest level of spiritual maturity on this earth is achieved when Christ and His cross is our only glory. Paul writes about it in Galatians 6:14. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.” That is, the world’s values and accolades are vain and meaningless to us and Christ is everything to us.
Earlier we showed how easily we offend others and are offended by others. In this article we are going to discuss two areas when dealing with offenses: rebuking and forgiving. Seldom a day goes by that we do not unintentionally or purposely offend one another. It happens in the home, at work and at church. It could happen anytime we are around people.
In our study of Luke 17:3-4, consider first the warning. “Take heed to yourselves.” That is, concentrate on your own weakness instead of focusing on the weakness of others. Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5 warns us of the danger and sin of judging and condemning others.
You are, no doubt, aware of the fact that forgiveness is a major theme of the Lord’s Prayer. It should be a major theme of our every day living. If you have problems forgiving others, I urge you to go to my GEMS category and read the life-changing article on HATRED and its physical consequences, written by a medical doctor.
Take time to read the wonderful story of the life of Joseph found in Genesis 37-50. In chapter 45 we read the very moving story of how he forgave his brothers who had been so cruel to him.
Another wonderful story of forgiveness is found in the life of David and his relationships with King Saul and also with low life such as Shimei. Read that story in II Samuel 16:5-13.
Thank God that He is forgiving. That truth is evident all through the Bible. Note, for example, Psalm 130. Remember Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness as He hung on the cross? “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
One who has a problem with forgiving other has no business attempting to rebuke others.
Paul teaches in Galatians 5:14-15 that the purpose of rebuking is not to bite and devour another, as a small dog yaps and snaps at people. Rather, even in our rebuking of others, we are to edify and encourage one another. Be cautious of the mindset that God has called you to a ministry of rebuking others. These are people who give themselves to fault-finding. Imagine the depressing life of living your life focused on the faults of others! The Bible has much to say about such people. II Thessalonians 3:6-12. I Timothy 5:9-15, I Peter 4:14-15, Proverbs 20:3 and 26:17.
The Bible warns us to not waste our time and energy on rebuking scorners. Proverbs 13:1, 9:7-8. and 15:12. Read my article on FOOLS for more on this.
HOW TO REBUKE OTHERS
We are to confront lovingly and directly those who have offended us. It is not our calling to “chew them out” or “gang up on them” with others nor “try to straighten them out.”
We are warned in I Timothy 5:1 to rebuke not an Elder or a Pastor, but rather we are to intreat them as we would our father and we are to deal with the faults of younger men as brothers.
Older women are to be treated as mothers and younger women as sisters. In other words, deal with them tenderly and kindly.
Paul speaks of an occasion he rebuked a fellow Apostle and friend, Peter. Read about it in article #10 of FREEDOM. The reason Paul rebuked Peter publicly is because he had publicly compromised a Scriptural principle in order to try to be accepted. It was a shameful step on the part of Peter, but because Paul handled it firmly, but graciously, Peter accepted the rebuke and became a close friend of Paul’s, as revealed in II Peter 3:15.
Ephesians 4:15, 29-32 teaches us how to confront others, speaking the truth in love.
In Matthew 18:18-20 Jesus teaches a principle for dealing with interpersonal problems. Follow these steps and it works every time without causing hard feelings and enmity.
1. Confront the one who has offended you personally, privately, directly and lovingly.
You may solve the problem on that level and that will be the end of it.
2. If that does not work, bring one or two witnesses and try to settle the problem.
3. If that does not work, bring the problem to the attention of the church leaders and let the church take the appropriate action.
AFTER I’VE CONFRONTED AN ERRING, OFFENDING BROTHER, WHAT NEXT?
Watch for evidence of repentance. Matthew 3:8 If he repents, be quick to forgive him. If he fails again, perhaps repeatedly; keep on forgiving him, as Jesus taught in Mathew 18:21-22. To forgive seventy times seven is just another way of telling us to forgive repeatedly without keeping score.
What if he doesn’t repent? Then you have no one to forgive. You simply keep on praying for him and leave him in God’s hands; but you must not become bitter. Leave the vengeance to God. Romans 12:17-21. He can take care of vengeance much better than you or I. The wait may be a long time, as James 1:2-4 intimates. In the meantime, you may face tribulation. That’s OK. Romans 5:3-4 tells us that tribulation helps us learn patience. In the meantime, it is our responsibility to bear the infirmities of the weak, according to Romans 15:1-7.
Are you willing and anxious to forgive those who have offended you? Love does not keep accounts and records of offenses, as we learn in I Corinthians 13. Love forgives.
Forgiveness is a matter of the will and not our feelings, Colossians 3:13 teaches.
When we are aware of our own weaknesses, it is much easier to be thoughtful and patient and forgiving of those who fail and offend us. May I challenge you to memorize Galatians 6:1-3. I assure you that you will have occasion to use it almost every day of your life. Let us be quick to recognize our own sins and faults and confess them to God. and let us be patient with one another’s weaknesses.