Monday, 10 October 2016

Christians Should Expect to Offend People

Time and time again in the Bible, we find examples of where doing or saying what is pleasing to God causes offence.

Old Testament examples

The prophets in Old Testament times often offended people.

See, for example, Exodus 15:22-25; 16:1-12; 17:3-4; Numbers 14:1-10; 1 Kings 13:1-10; 18:1-19; 19:1-3; 22:5-28; Jeremiah 11:18-23; 20:1-18; 26:7-15, 20-23; 32:1-5; 37:11-38:28; Amos 7:10-13.

Besides the prophets, others also caused offence for doing God’s will. 

Examples can be found in 1 Samuel 18:10-22:23; 24:1-22; Nehemiah 2:9-10, 17-20; 4:1-8; 6:1-14; Esther 3:1-6; Daniel 3:1-23; 6:1-24.

Jesus often offended

In the Gospels, we often read about Jesus offending people:

·       Aged twelve, He remains in Jerusalem without telling Joseph and Mary of His plans.  (Luke 2:41-50)

·       He infuriates people in His home synagogue by implying that they are far outside the will of God.  (Luke 4:16-30)

·       He tells a man that his sins are forgiven, angering some of those who are present.  (Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)

·       He does things on the Sabbath that greatly annoy the Pharisees and others.  (e.g., Matthew 12:1-14; Mark 2:23-3:6; Luke 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6; John 9:1-34)

·       He makes divine claims for Himself, with the result that people try to kill Him.  (John 5:18; 8:58-59)

·       He tells a man whose father is dead or dying to let the dead bury their own dead.  (Matt 8:21-22; Luke 9:59-60)

·       He calls Peter ‘Satan’ and Herod Antipas a ‘fox’.  (Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33; Luke 13:32)

·       He describes those listening to Him as children of the devil.  (John 8:44)

·       He frequently criticises the Pharisees and scribes in the strongest of terms.  (e.g., Matthew 16:6; 23:1-36; Mark 8:15; 12:38-40; Luke 11:37-52; 12:1; 20:45-47)

·       He tells the Sadducees that they don’t understand the Scriptures or the power of God.  (Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24)

·       He uses a parable that likens His audience to murderers.  (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19)

·       He violently drives people out of the temple precincts.  (Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; John 2:13-17)

·       When He is tried by the Sanhedrin, the high priest tears his robes in fury at what He has said and He is sentenced to death.  (Matthew 26:62-68; Mark 14:60-65)

We should not be in any doubt, then, that Jesus often chose to do things that caused offence.  He never let what people thought about Him stop Him from doing the will of God.  Nor did He allow social conventions to get in the way.  And when He was confronted by things that were wrong, He frequently didn’t pull His punches in criticising what He saw.  During His earthly ministry, causing offence was quite simply one of the major ways in which Jesus affected people. 

The early church often offended

From the New Testament it is clear that the early church often caused offence too. 

We find constant references to persecution of Christians by both Jews and Gentiles, including:

Matthew 10:17-23; Mark 10:30; 13:9-13; John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-41; 6:8-8:1; 9:1-2, 23-24, 29; 12:1-5; 13:44-51 14:1-23; 16:16-40; 17:5-9, 13-15; 18:12-17; 19:23-41; 21:27-26:32; Romans 8:35-37; 12:14; 2 Corinthians 11:23-26; 12:10; Galatians 1:13; 4:29; Philippians 1:28-30; Colossians 4:18; 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16; 2 Timothy 2:9-10; 3:12; 4:16; Hebrews 10:32-34; 13:3, 23; 1 Peter 3:14; 4:4, 12-19; 1 John 3:13; Revelation 1:9; 2:10, 13; 6:9-11. 

Clearly this persecution took place because some of what the early Christians did and said was found to be offensive. 

Most Jews of the time were offended by the idea of a crucified Messiah.  And they often lashed out at those who proclaimed one.

Gentiles got offended that Jews were getting offended, seeing Christians as responsible for civil unrest.  And they also frequently became hostile when Christians spoke out against various forms of immorality that were practised in Greco-Roman society.

Like Jesus, then, early Christians were clearly in the habit of offending people.

The Christian message of good news is offensive today

There is no reason for thinking that followers of Jesus today should expect to be any less offensive than Christians in the early church. 

The Christian message of good news is, in part, that people are in the wrong, that they need to change, and that if they don’t they will pay a terrible price after death. 

Generally speaking, people don’t like being told that they are in the wrong, they resent being told to change, and they have little sympathy with those who warn them that bad things are coming their way.  They get offended.

In some popular Christian thinking there seems to be the idea that when the good news is proclaimed, non-Christians will either respond positively to it or they will simply not be interested. 

In the Bible, however, we find a wider range of reactions.  Some people respond positively.  Some are uninterested.  But many respond in a hostile manner.  And we should expect all these reactions today.

Our job is to shine the light in front of people.  But for many, when that light shines in their eyes, it causes discomfort and they respond with hostility.

Other ways in which we should expect to offend

It is not just by directly proclaiming the good news that we should expect to cause offence.  There are other ways too in which this will often happen if we are following Jesus as we should. 

For example, as Christians our moral values are bound to conflict with those of the society in which we live.  And when we criticise sinful practices we will often be hated for it.  That is normal procedure the world over.  It is not a sign that we have done anything wrong.

It is also very common for Christians to find themselves in situations where doing the will of God means offending family members.  The Bible warns us about the need to put God above our families (Matthew 10:37; 19:29; Mark 10:29-30; Luke 14:26; 18:29-30).  And we must therefore take proper account of these warnings. 

All too often, without seeking God’s will, Christians fit their behaviour and schedules to meet the expectations of family members, sometimes almost automatically. 

However, Christian discipleship is a much more radical thing than is often realised.  Being a Christian means making Jesus the exclusive Lord of our lives.  Everything we do without exception should be submitted to Him.  And we must therefore be diligent and determined not to let anything or anyone get in the way of our devotion to Christ. 

Biblical instruction not to cause offence

Although we can expect often to offend people, there are also places in Scripture where we are told to take care not to cause offence (e.g., 1 Corinthians 10:32-33; 2 Corinthians 6:3).  Even Jesus can be found acting in this way at times (e.g., Matthew 17:27). 

This, however, is very different from what we have been thinking about above.  It has to do with situations in which offending people is not a necessary consequence of doing the will of God.

When we can do God’s will without offending people, we should certainly be careful not to cause offence.  In fact, I am sure that we should often go out of our way in an effort not to offend, even when that means doing things we find unnecessary. 

However, on those occasions when the will of God does cause offence, we should never shrink from offending.  Nor should we think that we must have done something wrong when we meet with hostility. 

Taking stock

If offending non-Christians is not part of our Christian experience, we should ask God if we might be doing something wrong.  As we have seen, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that following Jesus and causing offence typically go hand in hand.  So if we are not offending people, that is probably a sign that all is not well.

Similarly, when considering how highly to rate Christian leaders, one of the questions we should ask is how much offence they cause, offence, that is, for a good reason.  If a Christian leader is someone who is generally highly regarded by non-Christians, that may be a sign that something about his ministry is not right.  It may suggest that he is keeping quiet about something that he should be speaking out on more boldly.

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