Recently, I unintentionally offended someone by a post I shared on Facebook that I would not have thought would have incited another Christian. The person’s venomous response to me pierced my heart and caused me to ponder about how easily people are offended in today’s increasingly polarized and self-focused culture; how offenses are used to separate the Body of Christ; and what our response should be when offenses do arise. Have you ever caused an offense that was totally unintentional? Or has someone ever offended you– whether they intended to offend you or not? If you’re alive on planet earth, I’m sure the answer to the above questions is a resounding, “Yes!”
It’s important to keep in mind that even Jesus, who is perfect Love, offended many while He walked on the earth– and He is still an offense to many today (Matthew 13:57). If we follow after Him, as we have been called and commanded to do, we can be assured that we too will be an offense (John 15:18-20), especially in a culture that has forsaken and turned its back upon Him. When we align ourselves with Jesus, we will either be a sweet fragrance or a stench to others (2 Corinthians 2:14-17). No matter how hard you may try, you cannot live a life in which you won’t offend someone else. You just have to make sure that your offense is not caused by your ‘walking in your flesh’– in other words due to your own sinful nature– but is because you are following Jesus and ‘walking by His Spirit’. At all costs we must make sure that we are not an offense to God, even if others we love are offended by our standing with Him.
The great news is that God’s Word gives us the answers for what to do when we have offended others, and what to do when others have offended us. When offenses come, we often want to ‘pick up arms and go to war’, but we must remember that our fight is not against ‘flesh and blood’—the other person—but it is against the powers and principalities of darkness that always are at work to separate us from God and from one another ((Ephesians 6:10-18). Satan delights in stirring up offenses because they are the cause of division among people. Once an initial offense has occurred, Satan seeks to create a chasm in the relationship by having the one offended respond in such a way as to inflame the situation and cause the offending party to then retaliate in anger, hostility, or separation from the relationship rather than by responding in a way that will bring about the reconciliation and harmony God longs to see.
God has called us to respond in a way that is totally contrary to the way Satan, our flesh, and the world would lead us to respond when an offense occurs. He has given us His greatest weapon to defeat the enemy’s scheme to create division when offenses arise, and that is demonstrating Christ like love.
This is My command to you: Love one another. John 15:17 NIV
The kind of love Jesus calls us to have is summed up in this well-known passage:
Love endures with patience and serenity, love is kind and thoughtful, and is not jealous or envious; love does not brag and is not proud or arrogant. It is not rude; it is not self-seeking, it is not provoked [nor overly sensitive and easily angered]; it does not take into account a wrong endured. It does not rejoice at injustice, but rejoices with the truth [when right and truth prevail]. 7Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening]. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 AMP
So how do we put this kind of love into practice when we have been offended, or when we know that we have offended someone else?
1) First and foremost, go to God for His comfort and most of all His counsel. Only God knows your heart and the heart of the other person. And keep in mind that He created and loves you both. Feel free to ‘pour your heart out’ before the Lord as He desires to hear your innermost thoughts (Psalm 62:8; Psalm 142:2; Psalm 51:6). I assure you that He can handle whatever it is you are feeling! Due to our sin nature we are prone to justify and rationalize our actions; to deny any part we may have had in the situation; and to cast blame on others. Often after being offended we need to first ‘pour out our feelings’ before we are ready to be ‘filled up with truth’ that can only be obtained from God’s view. After receiving my friend’s response, I was hurt. In my pain I felt an offense against her welling up inside of me. I considered her response to me to be very divisive and unfair, and I wanted to defend myself. I knew I had to get before the Lord immediately to share with Him what I was feeling, or else I knew my feelings would take over and I would respond in a way I knew would not please the Lord nor help to heal the relationship with her. I shared my sorrow with Him and my disappointment that she would respond with such unkind words and in a way that presumed many things that were not true. I knew that I could not respond to her until I had first gone to God and bared my heart before Him, and received His heart of love for her. By His grace, I did not respond to her based upon my initial feelings, but I allowed God to hear and to heal my broken heart so that my response could represent His heart of love toward her. It is so important when we are offended that we not respond out of our pain but go to God so He can bind up our wounds and we respond with His Spirit of love.
2) Ask God to give you a humble heart and to open your eyes to see the situation from God’s perspective, as well as from the other person’s. Consider and meditate upon the cross and how Jesus responded to offenses against Him. Do your best to put yourself in the other person’s position so you can better understand where they might be coming from. Ask God to convict you of any pride, arrogance, or other sin on your part that might have led you—even unintentionally– to be an offence to the other person. Be willing to humble yourself and go to the other person and apologize, even if your offense was due to ignorance.
3) After stating your ‘case’ before the Lord, wait and listen to the Holy Spirit who will speak to your heart and lead you if you seek His wisdom and guidance. Then do as He directs you. (Proverbs 2:6; 3:6; James 1:5; John 14:17, 26; 16:13) The Lord initially led me to respond to my friend by asking her to forgive me for offending her, and I addressed some of her assumptions in what I felt was a spirit of love. She responded in a way that indicated she was more interested in ‘winning a fight and being right’ than in mending the relationship. I sensed the Lord lead me to say nothing more at that time. Sometimes the best response is no response, especially if you have done what you know God called you to do and the person still is offended. Consider that Jesus said nothing during his ‘trial’ before Herod. He was doing what His Heavenly Father led Him to do, and sometimes God will lead you to remain silent if He knows that by responding you may ‘add more fuel to the fire’ or for another reason He may lead you to say nothing. If, however, He leads you to speak, do not be afraid to speak the truth even if the truth offends the other person, but never speak the truth in an offensive way. For example, if someone is offended because of a stand you have taken based upon God’s clear commands in scripture —for example, being pro-life or pro- traditional marriage or against any form of racial prejudice —do not compromise the truth of God’s Word, but speak the truth in a way that is loving and winsome rather than defensive and accusatory.
A soft and gentle and thoughtful answer turns away wrath, But harsh and painful and careless words stir up anger. Proverbs 15:1 AMP
4) Forgive those who offend you as God has forgiven you for all of your offenses against Him (Matthew 6:14; Colossians 3:12). Do not allow the sun to go down on your anger if someone has offended you, and do not allow bitterness and resentment to take root in your heart (Ephesians 4:26, 31; Hebrews 12:15; Proverbs 4:23). When we are offended, our natural tendency is to want to get back at the other person, ‘to repay evil for evil’. That’s the problem…our natural tendency is our sin nature that must die if we desire God’s nature to be alive and at work in us. God’s perfect will and our sinful will cannot co-exist. You likely are thinking, “But you don’t know what they did to me! How could I possibly forgive what they’ve done?” On your own you can’t… you must be born again and have God’s nature at work in you to forgive as He has forgiven you. His Spirit in you will empower you to forgive the person, no matter the offense. I’m not saying it’s easy; it requires death to our own will that loves ‘nursing’ our offenses and taking vengeance, and it requires full surrender to God’s will. When we consider all of our offenses against a holy God, how can we not forgive someone else for his or her much smaller offense against us? Ask God to reveal to you the depth of the mercy He demonstrated when He died for you–and that He daily shows to you– and ask Him to fill you with His mercy for you to extend to the one who has offended you (Luke 7:41-47).
5) Bless and do good to those who have offended you, and seek to be reconciled with them and to live in harmony, if at all possible.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them…. Live in harmony with one another… Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Romans 12:14, 16-18 ESV
But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. Luke 6:27-28 ESV
6) Pray! A tremendous blessing that we can give to others is to pray for them. Pray that your heart will remain pure before God and before the other person so that Satan will not gain a foothold by your dwelling on the offense, which could hinder your relationship with God and cause you to withhold forgiveness from the other person. Pray for those who have offended you. Pray that God will give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation in their knowledge of God and open the eyes of their hearts so that they will come to know Him if they do not already, and that they will walk worthy of the high calling He has set before them if they are a fellow believer (Ephesians 1:17; Colossians 1:10) Pray for the person whom you may have offended, and if you have sought their forgiveness and they have withheld it, pray that they will choose to obey God and love and forgive you as He has commanded them to do, so that they will not sin against God and miss out on blessings from God. Above all, pray that the love of God would be manifested and abound in and through you, and manifested and abound in and through the other person involved in the offense. For love covers a multitude of sins, and love never fails! (1 Peter 4:8; 1 Corinthians 1213:8)
Written by Julie Van Gorp