The word “offence” is used in the KJV of the Bible in one form or another some 73 different times. Out of those occurrences, 23 are found in the Old Testament and 50 in the New Testament. In the New Testament, the vast majority of these instances are from a word which means to cause another to stumble. Sometimes the word refers to clear cut cases where sin is involved (cf. Matthew 13:41, Romans 4:25, Romans 16:17). Sometimes the word refers to offences that cannot be avoided due to preaching God’s truth (cf. Matthew 13:57, 15:12, John 6:61, Galatians 5:11, 1 Peter 2:8). Sometimes the word refers to matters of personal preference that others believe to be sinful (Romans 14:20,21, 1 Corinthians 8:13, 10:32). Basically, the word means to cause another to be upset or troubled through either our words or our actions whether justified or not. The definition, however, is not the problem; we generally know when we have been offended. The question we need to ask is: what do we need to do when we offend and are offended? In this week’s article we will look at the subject of offending others and in next week’s article we will look at being offended by others.
First, it ought to be mentioned that the Christian is going to live his life in a way to try to unnecessarily avoid offending others. This principle is found in Romans 12:18, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” The Christian’s desire is to be at peace with all so that God’s truth may be taught and Christ seen in his life and this involves avoiding any actions or words that would unnecessarily offend others. Paul wrote, “Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed” (2 Corinthians 6:3). This is also the underlying principle behind avoiding actions that cause someone else to do something that they believe is sinful. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:32, “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God.” In the context of these passages the offence is a matter of personal preferences that would cause any individual to sin or reject the gospel. Certainly we never ought to allow our own personal tastes to hinder one from being saved! So, the Christian must live in a way that avoids unnecessary offences.
Second, it is quite impossible to live the life of a Christian and not offend someone by doing that which is right! There is no wholesale prohibition in the scriptures to ever offend anyone regardless of what the circumstance is. In fact, the scriptures presume that many are going to be offended by the teaching and preaching of the gospel. Jesus offended people by telling them the truth (Matthew 13:57, 15:12); Jesus even offended his own disciples (John 6:61)! Yet not once did Jesus apologize for telling the truth. In fact, in Matthew 15:12, after his disciples told him that the Pharisees had been offended by him, he said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch” (Matthew 15:13-14). The Christian ought not to be concerned about offending someone because he is teaching or preaching the truth so long as that truth is being taught in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Third, another cold and hard fact is that we are going to say or do something wrong that causes someone else to be offended. James wrote, “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). In this case, when we commit sin and do something wrong, it ought to be obvious that we ought to apologize and ask for forgiveness both from God and the one whom we offended (see 1 John 1:9 and James 5:16).
It ought to be the hallmark of the Christian life that very few are offended with him, even of those who are opposed to the teaching of the gospel. Let us make this our aim and put into practice a life void of offence. When we do offend, let’s make sure that we quickly recognize it and make the appropriate corrections.