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
Yesterday we began to look at how forgiveness frees us to put down offense. http://www.growingchristianresources.com/2016/06/p1-freeing-benefits-of-forgiveness.html
We briefly described what offense was and noted how forgiveness defuses its corrosive effects. I felt it necessary today to explore this concept of "taking up offenses" a little bit deeper before moving onto the other "freeing benefits of forgiveness". This malady of offense is a strategic device used by our enemy to "shut-down" the lives of God's people.
In what circumstances do offenses occur?
Often a stumbling block or offense occurs when a misplaced word or mis-perception 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". Instead, 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. Older Bible teachers often refer to what are called "the noetic effects of sin", meaning the collateral damage caused by our sin, including broken relationships, mis-understandings, damaged emotions and other various spiritual, psychological and physical maladies that affect the human race.
Those Christians who serve the Lord in positions of leadership or who are involved in key areas of ministry are the most vulnerable to offense. Why? Because this malady is a strategic weapon used by the enemy to cripple the body of Christ at large and the Christian life in particular. Christian leaders deal with a wider-volume of potential opportunities to take-up offense, due to their frequent dealings with all sorts of people. All Christians must be on their guard against offense, however, Christian leaders must be ever more watchful. Practicing forbearance or the virtue of patience in the face of provocation is key. Galatians 5:22 lists forbearance as one of the fruits of the Spirit.
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 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 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.