Here we are at the very beginning of a brand new year! This is normally the time that I would encourage us all to celebrate our successes in 2013, to forget the failures of the past, and press on into the new thing that the Lord is doing in 2014.
However, I felt the Lord leading us to launch the new year by starting off a new message series. In this series, we’re going to learn about common tripping hazards that exist in life which keep us from running the race that Christ has set before us with full speed and endurance. We’re going to learn how to put our past in our past and move forward unhindered by it.
The first tripping hazard that we’re going to learn about this morning is that of offense. We’ve all been offended at one time or another in our lives. Some people seem to live peaceful lives and are very rarely offended. Others seem to live lives filled with non-stop drama and seem to be offended by just about everything. In any case, either being offended or offending someone else is impossible to escape in this life.
No one likes to be offended and most of us don’t want to offend others. However, what does scripture teach? How can we live our lives being less offended and offending people less often? After all, we know that a trait of living life by the Holy Spirit and walking in the wisdom of God is that it is full of peace and also peace-loving. Offense is obviously quite contradictory to this lifestyle that God desires us to obtain.
To start out understanding all of this, we first need to define what an offense actually is.
Well, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, it was once defined as a stumbling block, to cause one to sin, or the act of stumbling. That definition is now obsolete and offense is now defined as something that causes a person to be hurt, angry, or upset. As we well know, both definitions are still completely accurate.
Luke 17:1 (NKJV)
It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!
Luke 17:1 (NIV)
Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.
Luke 17:1 (ESV)
Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come!
Why do these translations of the Bible vary so much from one another when it comes to this concept of offense? Is one right and the others wrong? Is it maybe uncertain what the original text meant?
In order to begin to understand what the Bible teaches about offense, we first need to go straight to the original language and capture the accurate definition of offense. Then we can begin to unravel what the Bible teaches about offense.
The Greek word used here in Luke 17, as well as the other 15 times that the New Testament teaches about offense is the word skandalon. This word literally defined is: the movable stick or trigger of a trap. The Vine’s expository dictionary defines it as the part of a trap to which the bait is attached, hence, the trap or snare itself.
Therefore, all of these translations are accurate. To be offended literally means to have taken the bait or to have been caught in the trap. Who here can agree that when you are offended, that’s exactly how it feels. You are trapped. You are trapped by hurt, sadness, anger, bitterness, and resentment. You are separated and kept distant from the person who caused you to be offended, anyone whom agrees with that individual, and even from God, Himself.
It is interesting because the followers of Christ whom Jesus was addressing in Luke 17 were ones who had personally saw God use them to heal the sick, deliver people from demonic possession, miraculously provide for their needs, and many other signs, wonders, and miracles. However, when Jesus taught them about offense and how they are to respond to it, they cried out to Him, “Increase our faith!”. They had enough faith to see the impossible become possible right before their eyes. However, when it came to forgiving people who offend them not just once, but over and over again, their faith was not great enough.
Offense is serious. It causes division and produces the fruit of our old, sinful flesh. Offense prevents us from living our lives to their full and keeps us from fulfilling the plans and purposes that God has for us. Offense keeps us from moving forward into our future by holding us in our past.
Offense causes church splits, causes members to leave churches, keeps nations at war, divides nations, separates close friends, shatters families, makes employees loath their jobs, keeps customers away from businesses, causes mental illnesses, and on and on. Offense is the root cause of all sorts of issues and sins. It divides us not only from the person whom offended us, but it also divides us from God, Himself. How? Because offense causes us to sin.
Jesus has called us to agape love others as He has loved us, keeping no records of wrong, and to completely forgive others as He has forgiven us. Jesus has called us to bless those who curse us and said that anyone who is angry with someone is guilty of murdering them and is in danger of the fires of Hell. Jesus said that if someone sues you and takes your shirt, to give them your coat as well. If someone forces you to walk one mile with them, then continue on and walk two miles with them.
Offense traps us and disables us from doing these things with the right heart and right motive. Jesus understood how serious offense is. He saw it for what it truly is, a trap and snare of Satan. However, He also understood that it is impossible for us to live life without ever being offended and without ever offending others.
In fact, in Matthew 24, Jesus said that one of the signs that the end times are drawing near is that many will be offended and will betray and hate one another. Look at our culture and the news today and it is easy to see the end times approaching. Much of it consists of people offending other people and people being accused of hate because of differing opinions. Many court cases today do not have a root cause of an actual law being broken as much as simply being offended by another.
We must rise above this and choose not to take the bait of Satan nor allow Satan to use us as his bait. We must choose to take up the cause of Christ alone and choose to walk in the wisdom of God which is peace-loving, considerate, submissive, and full of mercy and produce all of the fruits of the Spirit. Just as Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6, we choose to put no stumbling block in anyone’s path so that our ministry will not be discredited.
Jesus spoke of offense very seriously.
6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
When Jesus spoke of what would cause people to end up in hell, He spoke of one, singular root cause: offense. He spoke only of this skandalon bait of Satan. We know that the punishment for any and all sin is hell, which is why we need the forgiveness and salvation of Jesus. However, it should be alarming and awakening for us when we see that Jesus spoke often of hell and offense being the root cause. Now bear with me before you go severing your limbs and gouging out your eyes. Obviously, Jesus didn’t want us to physically do that, but He wanted us to get the true picture of how serious offense is and how aware of it we need to be.
When it comes to offense, there are two sides. There is the one who caused the offense and the one who is offended. The deceitful thing about offense is that it is not by any means a black and white matter. Think about bait and traps in the natural realm. No one would use a doe decoy with doe urine around it to bait and trap a turkey. No one would use a small rope noose with some bird seed under it to bait and trap a bear.
We are all very different in just about every way. What offends one person won’t necessarily offend another person. When someone offends another, they may not believe that person nor understand why they are offended for the simple reason that they wouldn’t have been offended themselves. No matter the offense or whether we feel that the other person is right in being offended or not, Jesus’ words still apply. If we offend someone, especially another believer, it would be better for us to have a large millstone hung around our neck and for us to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to us!
Now there are obvious offenses that apply generally across the board. These are usually the ones which there are laws against such as murder and theft. Generally speaking, it is offensive for someone to kill you or to steal from you. For that reason, the one who does these acts is an offender and there is a penalty enforced for that offense.
There are also offenses that seem to be unresolvable. For example:
1 Corinthians 1:22-24
22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Scripture calls Christ, Himself, an offense. Here, that same word skandalon is used; a trap. Only Satan, in his mastery of deceit, could cause the solution for sin and offense to be used as a trap to cause sin and offense. However, this isn’t an arguable matter for us. Jesus is Jesus and on this matter, compromise is not an option. God’s truth and wisdom cause offense.
Let’s be honest with each other here. God’s truth offends us. There are certain sins that are enjoyable for us that we would prefer to keep in our lives. However, when God’s word reveals them as sin and something destructive in our lives that is leading us to death, it offends us. Whenever we have weaknesses and imperfections in our lives and God’s word points them out as exactly that, our pride causes us to be offended.
In these cases, however, God’s truth is not going to change to suite each of our own desires. God knows what is best for us and we simply must allow God to change our hearts and our thoughts to align with His. Remaining offended by God and choosing to walk in pride thinking that we know better than Him and that our ways are better than His ways leads nowhere good. God exalts the humble, but He opposes the proud. Standing in opposition with God is shaky ground to be standing on at best. It’s a battle that we will lose, so it’s best to simply surrender to Him willingly and humbly!
However, what about the countless scenarios that can unintentionally and arguably cause offense? Does scripture reveal anything about these offenses? There are some things that are Biblically black and white and offer no room for argument. However, there are far more matters that are referred to in scripture as arguable matters. These are matters that can be argued either way, even within scripture, itself. There are far more offenses that fall into this category than the ones that are black and white.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 8 and Romans 14 about the arguable offenses. These were written in an amazing time of history when God’s salvation was provided for all people of all nations of all heritages of all traditions of all languages. The Holy Spirit began to be the single common factor within one of the most diverse people groups of all time.
For centuries, the Jewish Israelites were God’s chosen people. He gave them alone His word and they thought that they alone were the ones who followed it wholeheartedly. They were a chosen people and a chosen nation. God’s plan of salvation would come through them alone and establish His kingdom for all eternity. Now, Jews and Gentiles alike were being saved and Spirit-filled. The Israelites had a strong heritage full of traditions and rituals that came straight from God, Himself. The Gentiles (who are simply non-Jews) came from anywhere and everywhere with all sorts of backgrounds.
Offenses were at an all time high. Jewish believers were adamant that the Gentile believers essentially practice Judaism. Their males needed to be circumcised, they needed to stop eating certain meats, they needed to start eating meat, they needed to worship on one particular day, they needed to celebrate these feasts and festivals at these appointed times, they needed to start acting like this and stop acting like that, etc. In fact, some Jewish believers argued that Christ’s salvation wasn’t even available for these Gentiles.
Gentile believers argued that they were accepted by Christ as they were and filled them with the Holy Spirit as they were and there was no need to practice their rituals and traditions. Christ fulfilled the law and salvation can only be gained through Him, not by following traditions.
You can begin to see and understand how the church was filled with offense from the very beginning. However, if offense is so serious to Jesus – paving the way straight to hell for us quite literally – and we, the Church, are His physical body here on the earth, then didn’t He offer us a solution to this bait and trap of Satan? Would He permit His body to be overwhelmed and consumed by these offenses after He just gave His very life to empower His people to overcome them? After all, Jesus said that it is not possible for us to live life and not be offended.
Of course, Jesus provided us with the solution – both for being offended and offending others!
Join us next week and learn the secret to being less offend-able and how to correctly handle the times when we offend others. We’ll learn the keys to keeping peace and unity in every area of our lives just as God intended it to be!