It would not take anyone very long to find something offensive or be offended today. Finding offensive material is easy. I’m sure many of us have responded to an offensive comment or action by confronting or arguing with the offender. Someone cusses around my children, and I speak out about the inappropriateness of his language. A family member drinks too much in front of my children, and next time he is not welcome to dinner. A friend posts a meme, crossing the line, and I stand up for what is right or defriend them. Most of us feel justified in our assessment and response because the offender crossed the line or sinned. In fact, some of us are deeply offended or shocked by our ‘friends’ remark. With some of the socio-political situations roaming the internet today it is easy to be offended, want justice, or be shocked by their behavior. But this is the wrong response. How we respond to this person tells us more about ourself than it does the person. Coming down to the offender’s level to fight him fails to consider what is best for the offender.
Christ calls us to be peacemakers, salt of the earth, and to love our enemies:
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9).
- “You are the light of the world. . . . Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16).
- “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:43-48).
Jesus teaches us to be ministry minded and focused on serving others for the Gospel! Our goal is to minister to others. We are to be peacemakers. What does this mean? Mediators between two friends arguing? Not being in conflict ever? Maybe, but not quite the intended purpose. We are to be peacemakers for God. Underneath every offensive remark and battle with another person, is this person’s relationship with the Lord. Greater than offending me is the person’s offense towards God. A person can cater to my every preference in life yet still be an unbeliever who offends Him. Winning this person to Christ is way more important than honoring my requests. At the end of his life he stands before the Lord, not me. I am not judge and jury, the Lord is. Christ says we are to pursue what would bring peace between people and the Lord. In other words, we’re the salt of the earth who loves and serves others encourage them to reconcile to God. In short, our greatest battle is for other people to be saved. All other battles are secondary — yes, even that one that really hurt.
Is this person mean? Do they persecute you? Do they make life hard? Probably . . . but they make life hard because he or she does not understand the Gospel. Rather than being shocked by his or her behavior, minister to the person. We have the right knowledge on how to honor the God. Inappropriate speech, actions, and sin comes from wrong knowledge about how to honor the Lord. Therefore, we who know more have the greater responsibility to minister to the weak. Being offended places the focus on my personal preferences, not the Lord’s glory.
Think about our Lord. He ministered to Israel. He preached the Gospel, healed them, served them, loved them, fellowshipped with them, provided food for them, and prophesied to them. How did they respond? “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Matthew 11:19). Yes . . . they responded by calling Him sinful and indicting Him. The Pharisees would say, “This man casts out demons only by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.” (Matthew 12:24; see also 9:34). Yes, the Pharisees accused and taught others Jesus belongs to Satan.
That’s offensive! Listen, the blameless Son of Man, Son of God — God in the flesh, worthy of worship and praise is flat out accused of sin, satanic practices, and told he’s unworthy of worship. Jesus has every right to be offended and smite them to the ground immediately. This is how we want to respond right? Defend ourself and stand up for what is right. We are in good company. After a village did not receive Jesus when he was headed to Jerusalem it forced Jesus to look elsewhere for lodging (Luke 9:51-53).
Wait, you rejected the Messiah’s entrance into your village, are you cray cray?!?!?! CRAZY!!! Sinners!!!!!!! “And when [Jesus’s] disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?'” (Luke 9:54). Natural response right! If you’re going to reject Jesus, then you are worthy of judgment to hell (Matthew 10:14-15). This is how we often want to act. We often want to combat the person and call them crazy for their ignorance. But Jesus does something else, “But he turned and rebuked them. And they went to another building” (Luke 9:55-56).
What did Jesus do? He went to another village, continued his trek to the cross. (Yeah, that burns a little . . . his desire to still minister to them . . . my desire to ignore them . . . burns, ouch). See, He went to the cross for them despite their offensive behavior. He died for them despite their rejection. In fact, Matthew says right after Jesus warns Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum about their rejection and the judgement levied to unbelievers, Matthew reminds us that Jesus still calls out to them, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. . . ” (Matthew 11:28).
When people offended Jesus, he remained focused on ministering to others. And this is important, if you get one thing, get this. Jesus took their responses. Rather than going tit for tat, he used their responses to learn about them and then minister to them.
Think about when James and John sent their mother to ask Jesus for the preeminent seats in the kingdom. Jesus didn’t respond by turning his back on the disciples. Instead he diagnosed their actions, learned about them, and then taught them the biblical perspective.
Here’s the pattern. Jesus does right. They insult, act offensively, and reject Jesus. Jesus knows their ignorance, has compassion, and continues to minister to them. Big difference from our desired pattern: We [think] we do right, they insult, act offensively, and cross the line. We fight, walk away, and turn our back.
We need to conform to Jesus’s ways of doing things. We need to realize: This person needs the Gospel. He or she acts with ignorance (proven by offensive behavior). We have knowledge leading to eternal life. We are peacemakers. We continue ignore the offense and continue to minister to him or her. This person needs us to stay focused on the goal: peacemaking.
What is the major difference between the two approaches? Love. Jesus said, “love your enemy.” Love means we want to see another person honor God. Love means we endure ignorant behavior and instead show people a better way by helping inform him or her. Love means we are for the person, even when he or she seems against me. Love means we want our greatest enemy to stand before Christ and hear, “Job well done good and faithful servant.” Love means being a peacemaker.
“Yes, but he is a believer and should know better.” Yes he should, but his actions indicate he doesn’t . . . so rather than fight him, come alongside him and love him. “And we urge you, brothers, Admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all of them” (1 Thess 5:14). When someone says something offensive, acts wrongly, and / or does something stupid. Rather than place my expectations on him or her, I’m going to take the situation and learn about the person. I’m going to assume he acts in ignorance because he or she is weak in knowledge. Therefore instead of fighting him, I’m going to come along side him gently to help his knowledge of God’s will so he honors the Lord better with his behavior.
“But I’ve told him 1000 times this truth and he hasn’t changed.” Yeah? Well the Lord has put up with our impatience all 1000 times and we’ll enjoy His patience and grace the next 1000 times too! Do not forget the last line of 1 Thess 5:14, “be patient with them all!” The Lord changes people when He is ready. We are not responsible for the change. We’re responsible to minister the Gospel faithfully the entire time. So stay faithful, stay ministry focused, and thank the Lord for His grace and patience! The goal is peace and holiness in our’s and other’s lives. A person who responds with ire will not dissuade me in ministering to him or her.
Now, a few final caveats. First, I am not justifying sinful behavior. I am simply trying to say we need to remember the sinful behavior offends God more than me and the goal is his or her reconciliation with Christ, more so than living in a way that makes my life easier. Second, in our work with others, we need to make sure we are not being judgmental. Not liking skinny jeans is a personal preference. When I ask others to share a similar preference and declare it sinful when he or she doesn’t is being the kind of judgmental person Christ denounces in Matthew 7. It is pride and hubris to demand people think like we do in areas of preference. We don’t want people to think like me, we want them to think biblically. Third, if you do not know the person very well, get to know the person. You may find knowing the person better explains his or her “problems” better. Seek to know and love the person. Most imperfections, oddities, and problems have a reason when we understand his or her history.