Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Don't be offended

Matthew 18:7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (KJV)

Matthew 18:7 "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!" (NASB)

What it means to take up offense
What is Jesus referring to here when he warns about "taking up offenses" or "stumbling blocks"?  The Greek word used for "offenses" and "stumbling blocks" in this passage is the word "scandalon" from whence were derive our English word "scandal".  Offenses are those events or words that hinder or greatly diminish belief in the Lord.  To take up offense means to perceive the crossing of a line in a response of anger or bitterness.  Its another way of saying that I retain resentment, bitterness or a grudge rather than forgiveness.  Offenses or stumbling blocks cause by the wrongdoing of others are by nature contrary to God's word.  Thus in taking up an offense as one being wronged, my heart's responses to spiritual truth will be affected - often leaving me with a limited ability or no ability to appreciate Christ and His word.  As Proverbs 18:19 reminds us - "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a citadel."

In what circumstances do offenses occur?
Often a stumbling block or offense occurs when a misplaced word or misperception of a person's actions or words results in you and I being bitter rather than forgiving.  Jesus is telling us here in this passage that "in this world it is inevitable, there will be offenses".  If you have not ever had the opportunity to be hurt, or be at the
receiving end of thoughtless words and deeds - just wait!  
In the parallel account of Luke 17:1-2 Jesus says:  "He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble."

So its not a matter of "if offenses will come", rather it is more a matter of "when they will come".  You and I cannot control what people will say or what events will come into our lives.  We also are not living in a fair world, since our world is a fallen one.  The only thing we can control is our response.  Will you be bitter, or better?  Will you retain a grudge, or forgive as the Lord forgave you?  (Colossians 3:13) Unless the cross is in our center-line of vision, the vulnerability to taking up offenses will be pretty high. 

An illustration of someone taking up an offense
One day a man decided to take his friend from overseas to see a football game. The friend had never been to a game, nor was he familiar at all with football. As they were up in the stands, watching the game, the crowd around them was cheering, and the man himself was whooping and hollering, for the home team was winning. However his friend sat motionless with a scowl on his face.

After the game was over, the excited man asked his friend: "So what did you think of your first football game"? His friend sharply responded: I have never been so offended in all my life! Those fellows in the stripped shirts kept ever so often getting together in the middle of the field, stopping the players from playing. And you know what, I think they were talking about me!"

Now this illustration conveys the truth of what Jesus is teaching. The friend in our little story perceived a line had been crossed. He came to the game, not knowing what to expect. As he watched, he began to draw conclusions about what he thought he saw.  All we know is that the man chose to respond in anger and bitterness, resulting in his inability to appreciate the effort of the other man in treating him to his first football game.

The warning about taking up offense
Now Jesus is not dismissing from responsibility the one who says careless words or does thoughtless deeds.  Often when an offense is taken up, a legitimate hurt has been committed, and not just merely a misunderstanding.  Certainly those who are careless or reckless in their treatment of us should be held accountable for their actions.  The key of course is by whom should they be held accountable - us or God? 

Jesus is warning us who have been at the receiving end to be careful not to "hold bitterness" or "take up offense".  Again in Luke 17:3 we read - 3“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4“And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

So in this world of ours, and even in the church, the likelihood of someone saying something wrong, or not saying something that should had been said, can yield in us a response of anger or bitterness if we're not careful.  If we have taken strides to guard are hearts through reflecting on God's Word and God's forgiveness in Jesus Christ, the chances of taking up offenses will be greatly diminished.  More tomorrow....

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