Offence Divides but Love Unites
Let me start by saying this may potentially be a challenging topic, but as you read through, I pray that there is something in it that resonates with you.
Christ’s church is based on love
I believe that the church of Jesus Christ is God's answer to a broken world today; "The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ's body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence." - Ephesians 1:23 (The Message)
So then, as Christ’s church, it's up to us to reflect his light to those in darkness, to lead by example on how to love people well. Telling people about Jesus is not enough, we need to be living out and shining his love in everything we do. It's about being his witnesses not his messengers; a witness has experienced Jesus and can testify about that experience, whereas a messenger simply passes on a message.
As Christians we can fall into the trap of thinking that telling people about Jesus is enough. Or maybe we take that further through doing good ministry work feeding people, leading prayers & worship or putting on events - or whatever good works we are busy doing for God; is enough. But actually, the real work is done in our love for one another. If we are busy perfecting the processes or squabbling over what bit of ministry belongs to who and getting offended over things because it’s not what we think is right, etc, then we gain nothing! We actually take away from the good work we do.
“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” - 1 Corinthians 1-3 The Bible is being very clear here; we can do amazing things and have incredible faith but without love; it all amounts to nothing. Everything we do in the church, for the church, without love for one another; amounts to nothing. I don’t know about you, but for me that’s a sobering thought.
So how do we exemplify that love? You all know it well;
"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 4-7
It starts in our hearts. No matter where you are on that journey, we can all work on the way we exercise God's definition of love because none of us are 100% there.
Offence paralyses the church
So, with all the above in mind, what happens when the love in our hearts is paralysed by offence?
Feeling offended often means feeling personally attacked, but we are supposed to work through disputes and then to forgive and let go. When we don’t, we carry that offence around in our hearts. What does this do to our love for one another?
If the church (again that means you and me) is a reflection of God’s love, but we are carrying heavy offences then what does what do to the church? You see, offence is everywhere, everyone has an opinion, everyone thinks their way is better because they feel passionate about it or they did hours of study on it, or it’s their attachment style or whatever, and often many decisions are based on what we think God is saying to us as an individual not as a collective body. That can lead to unhealthy division and potential offence. Having said that, if we go in the other direction and are trying our best not offend someone; “You can't say this, and you can't say that”, we end up all tip toeing around each other, and basing our decisions on fear. We think we are caring for people by doing this, but what we actually doing is hurting the message of the gospel by allowing ourselves to be slaves of fear.
If you look around the modern world, today’s society – it can seem like everyone is offended all the time. Topics around racism, abortion, marriage, climate, etc can divide us, (and by the way I am an advocate for robust debate especially on big topics), and quite often people align their identities around such things and when opinions are different, offence can be the result.
In fact, it can feel like we as a society can’t have healthy discussions in love anymore because everyone is so ready to be offended. What we see is a build-up of hurt which then leads to internal rage, ready to explode over the next person who offends us. Playfully speaking, in the words of the Black Eyed Peas; “Where is the love?”.
I appreciate, life is life and we clearly all hurt each other, but as I’ve learnt over time, probably most situations where offence happens is not even intentional, but the way we can take things personally and hold on to offence is toxic. I was going to give examples, but I’m pretty sure you can think of many!
Letting go and moving on
Let’s deal with the hurt through discussion, counsel and forgiveness and then move on swiftly. Let’s choose not to hold in and let’s help others let too.
"A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city. This means that it is a lot easier to conquer or win a strong city than reconcile a brother who is offended." - Proverbs 18:19
Reconciliation is important (it's the core message of the gospel) and we need to work on forgiveness, mercy and grace for both the offended and the offender. We are instructed to do that with kindness and love;
"Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection." - Colossians 3:12-14
When you choose to hold on to the offence of the past, you’re choosing to imprison your heart to the moment of the offence. The enemy loves it because he know offence leads to a hardening of your heart. We're called to forgive and let the matter go, not to please God but for the sake of our own hearts.
When you rehearse the offence of the past by consistently thinking about the transgression, you’ll harden areas of your heart that God actually wants to heal. If you keep your focus on the offence, rather than focusing on God’s Word, you’ll keep your heart stuck in that place. It’s imprisoned in that moment and it will steal from your destiny, and in turn the destiny of the church.
Offence triggers the moment that you were disrespected, dishonoured, abandoned, or rejected. Choose to let it go. When you are in Christ your past and past offences have no lordship over your future. Allow God to heal your heart completely. God’s word was designed to heal you.
So what’s the answer?
Firstly, deal with the offence seek forgiveness (click here for my sermon on forgiveness). Preferably with the person that offended you, but if that’s not possible work through it with an accountability partner, a loved one, a leader you can trust or if you need professional help, it’s worth seeking. I don’t say that lightly, mental health is important I speak from experience.
Secondly, we need to start letting go of the idea of living in fear of not offending people. It’s just not a realistic goal. People will not always agree and therefore the potential to offend will always be there. The answer is to work on our own hearts and work towards becoming unoffendable ourselves. Then, with integrity, to help our brother and sister on that journey too. Because when we do that, when we start to walk with hearts that are not easily offended, then we lead by example and shine that light to others though our love for one another. Like Jesus did – and he had every right to be offended.
Let’s be real; it’s hard and we can't do it on our own. We need to rely on the one who had every right to be offended (but chose not to be), the one who we crucified with our sin, yet he loved us anyway. Reminder; we are made in his image. So, what are we saying to Jesus with our behaviour when we carry offence around with us?
Let's pause and think about that.
My wife had a thought; imagine Jesus died for us without loving us, imagine he was offended by how we treated him so he chose to die for us as a duty/obligation instead of love, wouldn't this completely change the gospel message for us? “Forgive them father for they know not what they do”.
So, what does our choice to hang onto offence, say about our Christianity? Are we behaving like mature Christians or behaving like the darkness in the world we are supposed to be shining light into?
We need to work towards becoming unoffendable, and on the journey to get there, to be able to swiftly forgive when we do feel offence rises within us. Easy for me to write and you to read, not so easy to live out. We can't do it alone, we are battling against our flesh, and we all know it’s the spirit that brings life…Jesus says (funnily enough after disciples were offended);
“Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life." John 6:61-63 (NIV)
The flesh counts for nothing. Yes, we can choose to forgive and it’s important that we do. But we need to also rely on the spirit to help us forgive, let go and move on from the offence. God can help us;
“I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.” - Ezekiel 11:19;
Offence kills the church, choose love. Offence hardens our hearts, forgiveness softens it. Do we believe in an offended God or a forgiving one? Which are we made in the image of?
Let’s become a people of God who are not easily offended, a people of God who are defined not by their differences but by their abundant love for one another.
Men’s Ministry & Multimedia
This article was adapted from a sermon at a church staff meeting, which was followed by a time of prayer and then a few minutes of reflective worship - join in below;
Lord, I repent of my sin and I turn to You. Father, I forgive those who have offended me. I release and let go of the offence of the past. I choose not to relive those moments and allow them to harden my heart. As I do that, Lord, please heal my heart and make me whole again. Father, I look to You to set my heart free forever. By the power of your spirit & In Jesus Name. Amen.