Friday, October 14, 2016

The harming and hampering effects of taking up offense

Image result for a surprised cat
Mark 6:1-3 "Jesus went out from there and came into His hometown; and His disciples followed Him. 2 When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue; and the many listeners were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things, and what is this wisdom given to Him, and such miracles as these performed by His hands? 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him."

Defining what it means to take up offense
Stumbling blocks or offense can prevent otherwise good, godly people from being effective in their Christian walk. When we harbor bitterness, we find ourselves incapable of receiving any further spiritual insights from God. In Mark 6:3, we find the people in Jesus' home town of Nazareth being "offended because of Him", perceiving a line having been crossed, and thus ultimately rejecting His ministry. 

When we operate in resentment, it is due to us at some point doing what the Bible refers to as "taking up an offense". To "take up an offense" means to respond in bitterness and anger rather than in forgiveness. Jesus warns of taking up offenses in Luke 17:1-5 "He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 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. 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.” Elsewhere in the New Testament we are given a similar warning about not taking up offense in Ephesians 4:26-27 "Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity."

Meet the man who took up an offense at a football game
One day a man decided to take his friend, Joe, to see a football game. Joe 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 Joe sat motionless with a scowl on his face.

After the game was over, the excited man asked his friend: "So Joe, 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 striped 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 happened to Jesus in Mark 6 and what He taught in Luke 17. 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.

Two reasons to not get offended or take up offense
So why ought you and I not take up offenses? As we consider Jesus' actions and the crowds responses to Him in Mark 6:1-6 and the parallel account in Matthew and Luke, we can note two reasons:

1. Offense harms. Mark 6:1-4
When anyone takes up an offense, it results in harm to that person and to those around them. Oftentimes offense will array itself in religious garments. As crazy as it may sound, those that carry around offense don't half-the-time realize when they are expressing themselves in it. Offense can creep in when we least expect it. Mark 6:1-4 records the unfolding of offense at the Synagogue at Nazareth. As always, it is interesting to see how the other Gospel writer's record the same scene. Notice how we see offense creep in at Luke's parallel account in Luke 4:22 - "And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” 

Everything seems to be going well for Jesus, that is, until someone says in passing: "isn't this Joseph's son". Then the offense creeps up inside those in attendance. The thing is, the offense had been taking up somewhere in the past - whether it be in the immediate past or years ago. According to Luke's version of events, the people do a 180 on Jesus and we find the harmful results of offense expressed in Luke 4:28-30 "And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; 29 and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. 30 But passing through their midst, He went His way." 

Quite literally, whenever a church or group of God's people operate in offense, the presence and power of Jesus can momentarily lift whatever blessing was upon that people. Whenever an individual Christian operates in offense, though they remain a Christian, yet, they can for a period of time think, feel and act like a lost person in whatever specific area they became offended. As we see in the text above, Jesus exited out of their midst. Truly what Proverbs 18:19 states is very sobering - "A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a citadel."

2. Offense hampers. 
So we've seen how offense harms both the one who has offended as well as those around them. A closely related second reason for not taking up offense is due to how it hampers the spiritual life and regular life of people. It is no secret that we are living in a culture riddled with offense. I recall once stopping at a gas station and going inside to pay my bill. On the wall was a big sign with these words: "Don't be offended when we ask your age, take it as a compliment". The store owner was referring to the practice of requesting photo I.D from people who want to purchase tobacco or alcoholic beverages. Even in secular environments, offense runs rampant , which is why it is so dangerous. 

Think about what happens when such a malady is contracted like a cold by sincere people of God, Christian leaders and even pastors? If anything, pastors and Christian leadership are the most vulnerable to the ailment called "offense". If the enemy of our souls - The Devil - can trip pastors and leadership up into offense, think of the lives that would be affected. 

Now Jesus, being the Son of God in human flesh, walked above offense. However, those who saw His ministry up close became offended. In his hometown in Nazareth, we read what occurred when they took up offense in Mark 6:5-6 "And He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He wondered at their unbelief. And He was going around the villages teaching." Matthew's parallel account reads as follows in Matthew 13:58 And He did not do many miracles there because of their unbelief. Mark's account implies a hampering of Jesus' miraculous ministry and Matthew's version indicates that Jesus just didn't do the miracles. 

Whenever people take up offense, further light from God's Word can harden such a one. Jesus knew that the people were unwilling and incapable of receiving any further light from him. Offense had hampered their abilities to receive further illumination about His Person and work. As a person persists in offense, the kingdom of darkness will energize the effort, resulting in a spiritual element of rejection. No matter what anyone may try to do to remedy the situation, it's "never good enough" for those who have been bitten by the serpent of offense. Offense both harms and hampers spiritual growth and the amount of good that would had been otherwise done if the people had responded in a redemptive posture rather than in bitterness. 

Next time we will look at how one can get free from offense. 

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