Theme: How to deal with Offense – Given or Received
1 Be on your guard
2 Rebuke and Repent
Jesus said, "I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live (John 5:24-25).
To those who are the living fulfillment of this promise, forgiven of your sins by Jesus Christ, dear fellow redeemed:
Martin Luther once used a simple illustration to describe temptation to sin, you may have heard it before. He said, “You cannot stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from nesting in your hair.” What Luther meant by these words was that no Christian can keep temptation out of his or her life, but that doesn’t mean they have to give into it.
Certainly, the birds of temptation are alive and well today. You definitely can’t avoid encountering temptation, maybe even more so than in Luther’s day. Our nation that was once highly religious and abundantly Christian has degraded significantly in the last few decades. Life for God-fearing individuals is as spiritually dangerous as it has ever been in the history of the world. Multitudes of once strong defenders of Christ are succumbing to pressures daily. Perhaps you’ve felt some of that pressure too.
But Luther’s words are just as true today as the moment he spoke them. They probably apply to our culture even more than his. No matter how wicked or sinful the world may get, believers always have power over temptation and the devastating effects of sin. The words of our text today, from Luke 17:1-4, show us how:
Jesus said to His disciples, "Offenses will certainly come, but woe to the one they come through! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea than for him to 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 in a day, and comes back to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."
The topic of offending others has been firmly entrenched in our culture for some time. You see talk of offenses every day, it’s so prevalent it’s almost impossible to avoid. In that sense, the opening words of Jesus ring true, “Offenses will certainly come!” But we must recognize a great difference between the common use of “offense” in our culture and the specific nature of what Jesus was talking about. In a way, the world has turned the Biblical idea of offending others inside out.
Today, offense means doing or saying anything that someone doesn’t like, regardless of the content and validity of what is said. The charge of offense has become the rallying cry for those who want freedom and license to do whatever they please. Anyone who objects to what is popular, even if they have a legitimate reason, is labeled as an “offender.” This approach is especially used against Christians who humbly desire to put God and His Word first and are willing to defend it. The baseless immorality of the sinful world doesn’t like God’s Word, or those who defend it, because it offends the sinful desires and inclinations of their hearts. In the world’s mind, true freedom is getting whatever you want, even if in reality it leads to slavery under Satan. And so, when the Law of God is used to reveal the futileness of sinful pursuits, people lash out with the cry of being offended.
It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s Law offends the sinful heart because that’s its very purpose. We know this personally because it’s the very why we’re so often reluctant to look inwardly to our hearts and confess our sins. Jesus Himself is even called the “stone of stumbling” and “rock of offense” (Romans 9:33) because His teaching divides believers and unbelievers. You can’t be neutral about who Jesus is. Either He holds you up as your foundation by faith or you stumble over Him in the foolishness of unbelief.
What the world does is use their own definition of “offense” to undermine what God says. The world tries to make believers feel bad about speaking the truth as if God is somehow upset by it. They claim that God wouldn’t ever speak against something that makes them happy or gives them pleasure. In the same way, the world distorts other Biblical truths like: love and judgment by deliberating ignoring what God says about those things and how He defines them. What Jesus says here is that every sin against God is an offense, regardless of how much pleasure it gives us.
When Jesus speaks about offending others in our text, He means something very specific. The word He uses means to set a spiritual death trap. Think of the type of trap that is used to lure an animal in, before the string is pulled and it is trapped. Jesus is talking about an action or belief that is harmful to your faith; not something that restricts your personal desire and pleasure. When these traps are present, Jesus wants you to realize that Satan is on the other end and they can only lead to destruction. Here we see how the world turns this inside out. Sinful desires and pleasures are actually the very death trap which Jesus speaks against. And yet, the world cries “offense” when Christians refuse to excuse sin.
What would happen if Jesus came into our culture and said what He did in our text? They would probably say, “You’re offending me, Jesus. Don’t judge me, don’t trample on my rights.” That’s what many say to Christians who use the very words of Jesus. But if God Himself can’t even speak clearly against sin, who can? The sinful flesh will always look for ways to turn God’s Word inside out. As those who know what God says about the offensiveness of sin, we repeat what Luther said. You can’t stop people from fostering and promoting false ideas but you can certainly avoid them in your life. And remember, this applies equally to us Christians as it does to the unbelieving world.
Part 1: Be on your guard
We can’t avoid offenses; they will happen. But Jesus tells us how we can deal with them. The first step is to “Be on your guard.” Like most spiritual truths, we can learn the best by looking first at ourselves. Literally, Jesus says, “Pay attention to yourself.” Again, we see how this differs from the world’s brand of offense. The entire concept of offense to the world, means that you focus on what others have done, instead of thinking about your role in the situation. The world always wants you to point the finger out, instead of in.
There are times when God wants us to reveal offensive actions of others. But one is only equipped for such a task when they are first able to look at their own heart. When you see those who constantly make demands for others, but are unwillingly to do the same for themselves, you should be able to discern where that attitude comes from. It comes from Satan. Satan doesn’t want you to look at yourself. He’s perfectly content to have you shuffle the blame and guilt of your actions onto others, as if it’s always someone else offending you and never the other way around.
This is a big problem for the Church at large today. Too many Christians are telling the world whatever it wants to hear because they’re worried about offending people. When this happens, the Law of God becomes obsolete, and the Gospel becomes a license to excuse whatever I feel like doing. So many peddle the message that God loves and condones whatever you do or whoever you want to be and before you know it you never take the time to “pay attention to yourself.” Satan hates it when you examine your heart and confess your sins. Because when you do this you lose the philosophy of grandeur that the world exalts. When you look inwardly and stay on your guard you stay grounded on the Word; you stay a down to earth ordinary sinner who is saved alone by Jesus; instead of a someone who doesn’t need that “old fashioned” religion or that “outdated” Book.
Do you really think that the squirrel, raccoon, bunny, or whatever varmint that falls into the death trap sees it coming and is okay with it? No, they think they’re safe! They don’t see the inherent danger! The greatest danger of spiritual offense that we have is in our own hearts. If we refuse to look inward because the world says we don’t have to, we’ll never see that danger. The world seems to think that the more we try to convince ourselves that something’s okay, the safer it will all of the sudden become. Jesus pronounces “Woe” upon those who do see the danger, and yet indulge anyway. Take a look at verse 2 of our text to see how Jesus feels about that, and to recognize it, you need to be on your guard.
Part 2: Rebuke and Repent
Jesus leads us into the next step of dealing with offenses by telling us what is to be done if the spiritual death trap ensnares us. It’s very simple, rebuke or repent. The only question is which one applies to you. At times, you will be the admonishing brother or sister, who offers a kind word of correction and discipline. In other settings you will be the one who needs the rebuke, and should follow it with repentance. Remember Christ’s opening statement, “Offenses will come,” you can’t avoid them, no matter how hard you try. But the solution is clear.
With these two actions Jesus teaches another easily forgotten truth about offense, another area that the world and your flesh loves to ignore. Offense goes in both directions. What I mean by this is that just as it is wrong to offend someone, that is to lay a spiritual death trap for them, it’s equally wrong to continually take offense to things that you shouldn’t.
What Jesus shows us by this is that you don’t have to be the guilty one to fall into the trap. Being easily offended when Godly correction is offered and using that against others, is just as wrong as the offense itself. Likewise, purposely looking for ways to be offended, even when you don’t have the right, is wrong too. There’s always a sense of pride and entitlement when someone admits that they offended you. It’s a stroke to the sinful ego that is constantly looking for proof that you’re better than others. And when someone admits that they were wrong and you were right, it’s music to your sinful nature’s ears. And so, we often look for ways to be offended over the little things, because it makes us feel vindicated for our own insecurities.
Jesus reveals something absolutely astounding! Don’t give offense, and don’t take offense either. Be the bigger person. Show your spiritual strength. Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put aside childish things (1 Corinthians 13:11).” Part of being a Christian is having the spiritual maturity to suck it up and deal with it when other people offend you. Don’t fall into the world’s line of extreme sensitivity. Put the best construction on matters of doubt, especially with your fellow believers. Don’t create grudges or hang on to them. You can do this because of what Jesus lists as the final step in dealing with offense, forgiveness.
Part 3: Forgive
Jesus talks about repentance with forgiveness because He’s addressing how we interact with others. We don’t want to give the impression that people can do whatever they please without consequence or remorse and take solace in the Lord’s forgiveness. We wouldn’t want to promote this anymore than withholding forgiveness when someone repents. But, you who have been enlightened by Christ, don’t have to wait for your fellow offender to repent before you forgive them. You can “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32).” Christ didn’t wait around for you to repent before He forgave you. It’s true that if you refuse to repent you will forfeit His forgiveness, just as if brother or sister is unrepentant they forfeit your forgiveness. But Christ forgave you first. He took the first step. You can too. Paul says in Romans 5:6 At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Jesus didn’t wait for you to be worthy before He the first step to the cross and died for your sins. Treat your fellow brethren, even those who offend you, the same way. Show them the same love that Christ showed you.
Christ didn’t mope around feeling sorry for Himself because so many people mistreated Him. Christ didn’t hide in the shadows waiting to pounce on those who sinned. He’s not the one who sets spiritual death traps. That’s the work of Satan. Christ also didn’t ignore the problems that He encountered. He didn’t make excuses for sins. Those who follow Him will do the same. It’s not loving to ignore the spiritual death trap when you see it. Jesus is not some ultra-relaxed, easy going, hip deity who just wants you to relax and be cool in life. He’s the almighty God of heaven and earth. He is your Lord and Master. And He doesn’t want you to ignore true spiritual offenses of sin when you see them, either in your own heart or others. Again, if you want to know what Christ thinks about the seriousness of sin, offenses big or small, read verse 2.
Christ was the only One who perfectly used God’s Law and Gospel. Without Him, you wouldn’t know about rebuking, repenting, or forgiving because He first showed you. The key is, He also now allows you to do the same for others. You don’t have fall into the many traps that the world sets. You don’t have to sit idly by and watch others fall into the traps. Don’t be brainwashed by society’s definition of offense. You’re stronger than that. You’re mature in the Word of God. You have a steady foundation. You can’t stop offenses from happening, but you can do something about them; and you can keep them from finding a place in your heart. Why? Simply put, you’re forgiven by Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.