All of us have experienced that person in our lives – the one who is easily offended. It seems that no matter what we do, we cannot seem to please them, and we’re constantly doing “damage control.” In time, we can grow discouraged or impatient with such people. After all, it’s almost as if the person looks for ways to be offended! They are slow to change and quick to criticize. That kind of person is hard to win and hard to befriend. And in the context of the church, that person becomes virtually impossible to disciple because they resist challenge, deflect confrontation, ignore the Scriptures, and then… they bite.
By the nature of being offended, they view themselves as having been wronged or unjustly treated. It is an attitude of self-victimization (they often aren’t actually a “victim.” They only perceive themselves to be a victim). It’s an attitude that’s the opposite of a forgiving heart, and because they are easily offended, it becomes very, very difficult to minister to them.
A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city (Prov. 18:19).
So, if that’s the case, how can we minister to them? Just because they’re difficult people, that doesn’t absolve us from our responsibility to disciple them. After all, we are called to “admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1 Thess. 5:14). That is an all-inclusive exhortation to all the flock. The verse actually begins with this, “We urge you, brethren…” meaning that everyone in the body of Christ must see this as their responsibility, to come alongside those who are their fellow sheep in trouble. All should bear that sense of care, and they should be especially concerned for those who are difficult (the one who is easily offended notwithstanding). In fact, those who are easily offended fulfill all the kinds of people presented in 1 Thess. 5:14.
Caring for such individuals can seem overwhelming, but I think by explaining what 1 Thess. 5:14 means, you’ll have a better understanding of how to care for them:
First, Paul says to “admonish the unruly.” The KJV actually captured the Greek idea well, translating the word as “warn.” It’s the word noutheteo (νουθετεω), where we get the term “nouthetic” counseling from. What Paul is saying to do is to “put good sense” into the person (the assumption being that they are not being sensible). Warn them; make the unruly person alert as to the serious consequences of their actions. DO NOT fear confronting them simply because you know he or she will bite back. That’s not loving them, that’s loving yourself and showing you care more about self-preservation than the other person’s soul. Their souls are in danger.
They are “unruly.” This is the person who is “out of rank” or “out of step.” The word “unruly” is a military term to describe someone who is insubordinate, disorderly, un-submissive, or even apathetic. They neglect their responsibilities and always seem to be out of step without everyone else. Very often, this kind of person is embittered to the point where they just become criticizing bench-warmers who justify their unruliness for the way they’ve been treated by a family member, church leadership, or some member in “their” ministry who offended them. Keep in mind that whether or not someone actually did wrong them, leading to their offense, is not the issue. The issue is that they are justifying their sinful reaction because of something that happened to them (Note: This is otherwise called “blameshifting,” and a blame-shifter is not a person genuinely repentant, no matter how much they say so. By blame-shifting, they are admitting that they do not take full culpability for their behavior).
Ultimately, that points to the heart of the matter: they love themselves and because of that, they are self-seeking.
Love does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered (1 Cor. 13:5).
Again, this is also what makes ministering to this kind of person very difficult. In that sense, it’s a Catch-22. We are told to admonish them, but they refuse admonishment, and they refuse admonishment because of the root reason that they are so easily offended.
They are full of pride so when they get hurt or their ego gets singed, or their expectations aren’t being met and you “let them down,” they get offended. Of course, because of that they are much less spiritual than they think they are; they don’t hold fast to the Word of God.
Those who love Your Law have great peace, and nothing causes them to stumble (Psalm 119:165).
The word “stumble” actually means “to take offense.” It is a helpful word, because it points to the result of one who offends easily. They will stumble and fall. Likewise, Prov. 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty (high) spirit before stumbling.”
So, how are we supposed to minister to the easily offended? Admonish them.
Secondly, we are to “encourage the fainthearted.” Literally, that’s the “small-souled” person. This is the NT’s word for the person who is depressed or easily made downcast. Inevitably, that will always be the result of the one who is easily offended. They are prideful, and because they are prideful they are self-focused, making them acutely aware that they are not being treated they way they should be (or think they should be). So, because they don’t get what they want, they become full of despair. That is then compounded by the fact that they are already out of step, unsubmissive, and apathetic. If this person is a Christian (and Paul’s assumption in 1 Thess. 5 is that they are), this won’t help. They’ll become more and more depressed because they know they’re not doing what they should be doing: serving the body of Christ selflessly. But because they are self-focused, they won’t serve because of how they’ve been offended. It turns into a vicious, inescapable downward cycle leading to more and more depression.
You must encourage them to break that cycle. Reason with them, speak alongside them, provoke them to serve not only for their own interests, but the interests of others (Phil. 2:4). In other words, they must get the focus off themselves! They are in a dangerous position because if they persist in their self-focus and pride, they will render themselves useless in the work of the kingdom. Remember 2 Cor. 5:15, “He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”
Those who won’t serve because of how they’ve been offended (they won’t humble themselves) are not focused on Christ. They’re focused on how they’ve been hurt, or how they’ve been wronged. But they need to be reminded that they live for the King, not for the preservation of their own flesh.
Again, this won’t be easy, and it won’t be easy for a third reason: the easily offended person is also a weak person. This is another Catch-22. What this person needs most is the body of Christ, but because of their pride, they won’t think they need the body of Christ, and they especially won’t think they need your counsel. They’ll walk in their own counsel (cf. Ps. 81:11-12) leading to further despair and isolation.Then, because they’re isolated, they have an even harder time abandoning their sin (that’s the meaning of “weak” in 1 Thess. 5:14). Because they become more given over to their sin, they become more depressed, discontent, and resistant to instruction. They become further “out of step” and fall further and further behind, and enslaved to their “self-pity.”
That’s why we’re admonished to “help” them. That is, cling to them; hold them up. And in the context of Christian ministry, that means you keep pursuing them with right doctrine, right thinking, and a right perspective on life that keeps moving them away from their sin.
They need to understand that there is never justification for being offended, whether the cause for offense was real or perceived (cf. Rom. 12:19; 1 Pet. 2:19-20). Recognize that such people express their offense in different ways. Some respond in despair, some with anger (vented or slow-burning), isolation, rebellion, bitterness, disappointment, jealousy, etc. None of those are the right responses, and they must be warned their course of self-destruction. It never ends well for the one who is easily offended. Jesus warns that in the end times those who are offended (ultimately by Christ – cf. Matt. 11:6), will fall away from the faith, betray their fellow believers, and hate them (Matt. 24:10).
The same principle is true for the easily offended by their brothers and sisters in Christ. In fact, that was the demise of Cain in Gen. 4:1-8. Cain’s jealousy led to depression, followed by God’s confrontation, warning, and hope for restoration. Rather than responding with obedience, Cain was offended, and killed his innocent brother. How did that make sense!? Abel did nothing wrong. But that is the way of the easily offended. Their perception of reality is way off mark, so Cain was offended by his brother even though Abel did no wrong against him. That’s why many who are easily offended will often try to destroy you, your character, or even your church (through gossip, factiousness/divisiveness, maligning, etc.). They’d rather hurt the system than address their own heart.
Keep that in mind, because when you confront someone who is easily offended, even while following all the principles outlined above, it will require a lot of self-emptying on your part because more than likely, you’ll be bitten. It won’t matter how sincere you are, how much you’re trying to help, or how gently who confront them. Because their perception of reality is wrong, they will see your confrontation as hateful, unloving, and unsympathetic. Rather than assess the validity of the truths you express, they’ll look for all kinds of ways to find fault in you, and how you could have approached them better:
A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise (Prov. 15:12).
Unfortunately, it is a sad reality that there are many in the church today who are proud, self-focused, self-centered, stubborn, arrogant, and self-righteous. Paul predicted it would be that way and would keep getting worse (2 Tim. 3:1-5). That means that there will be many in the church who are easily offended, but we can never weary in pursuing them with truth. A friend of mine recently said something to the effect, “Love and truth must always guide the exercise of love (cf. Eph. 4:15). Love must stand the test of truth… Truth must exist before love can unite, for truth generates love (1 Pet. 1:22).” If you ignore their course of destruction, fear their response for your confrontation, or avoid breaching any subject that would offend them, you do not love them, and at best, your relationship will remain a shallow sentimentalism. That is not the way of Christ’s church.
Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary (Gal. 6:9).