By T. R. Robertson
Christians in 21st century America have a reputation for being easily offended. Unfortunately, we’ve done a lot to earn it. Even worse, our thin-skinned approach to life is weakening our witness.
Does our hyper-sensitivity achieve the purposes of God? Or does it actually hinder rather than further his mission?
Read through the following questions and determine if you are too easily offended:
Am I truly offended?
We like to think we have solid biblical reasoning behind us for taking offense. The Scriptures do provide specific warnings against certain types of offense against others. Jesus warns strongly against causing the “little ones” to stumble (Luke 17:1, 2). Paul warns both the Corinthians and the Romans to be careful not to do something that will cause a struggling Christian to compromise his conscience (Romans 14; 1 Corinthians 8–10).
But in my experience, those generally aren’t the sort of situations where people say they’re offended.
We may be profoundly shocked or scandalously embarrassed or in sharp disagreement. But most often when the offended card is played, we’re not actually tempted at all to compromise our conscience or our beliefs. Being offended is quite frequently a self-centered response, even when the provoking act or comment is truly abhorrent. The only stumbling block present is the offended person’s own pride or delicate sensibilities.
I have no doubt that I’ve managed to offend several readers already, and I’m only a few inches deep into the article. But are you truly offended? Or just peeved?
How can you know the difference? And how can you train yourself to be hard to offend?
Whenever you feel offended, take a hard look at yourself and your motives and ask some tough questions. Then consider what the Scriptures say about it. Just as the smart phone companies like to tell us “there’s an app for that,” for many scenarios that seem offensive, there’s a Scripture for that. Then pray for God to help you become a Christian who is hard to offend.
Has someone sinned directly against me?
If so, take time to pray and think about it, working through both the objective and subjective thoughts and feelings you’re having about the situation.
Then spend time meditating on the particulars of Matthew 18:15-20. Jesus lays out precise steps to follow whenever you encounter sin. Gossiping to everyone in the church (or on Facebook) about how offended you are at what’s going on is not one of the recommended steps. The goal of what we usually call “church discipline” is not to put people in their place or to put them out of the church. The goal, as Paul describes it in 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, is always reconciliation.
Train yourself to choose reconciliation as your default response to truly sinful offenses by consistently praying for God’s protection from temptation, for both yourself and for others around you. It’s difficult to take quick offense at something done by a person you’ve been praying about.
Am I taking it too personally?
Have you misjudged the intent or motives behind what was said or done? This can be difficult to work through and requires serious prayer and self-examination.
No matter how well you know people, presuming the ability to read their minds and discern their hearts is a perilous road to walk. Your assumptions often say more about your own heart than about the true motives of others. We tend to judge others’ motives based on two things: how we’ve been treated (or mistreated) by people previously, and by our knowledge of our own impure motives.
Paul confesses in 1 Corinthians 4:1-5 that he can scarcely trust the judgment of his own motives, so why should anyone else think they could have a clear understanding of his conscience?
Train yourself to develop the practice of putting yourself in the other person’s shoes by regularly pondering the murky sources of your own thoughts and purposes, confessing them to the Lord in prayer. Ask for the Holy Counselor’s help in discerning the true motives of others. And when you find yourself jumping to conclusions about someone else’s motives, seize that opportunity to renew your efforts to explore and train your own conscience.
Am I avoiding my own problems?
Is there something you’re avoiding dealing with in your own life that is causing you to want to turn the attention away from yourself? Are you sure you’re not the one who is causing offense by your own actions?
Jesus’ most quoted statement, even by those who don’t know him at all, is commonly called the golden rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). This principle, put into practice, can change the actions of both the one offending and the one offended.
Sometimes we offend others because we don’t stop to think how we would feel if someone else used those words or that tone to describe us. Many Christians would do well to ask themselves how they would like to be described with the same contemptuous words and painted with the same broad brush as they are in the habit of using to talk about politicians or celebrities they say they are offended by.
When you do stumble and use harsh words to pass quick judgment on people, wouldn’t you hope they would be compassionate and mature enough to make allowance for your lack of restraint and tact?
Train yourself to be both a giver and receiver of kindness—spend at least one day each week consciously saying kind things to both acquaintances and strangers throughout the day. During your prayer and journaling time, make a list of the people in your life who are the most abrasive and unpleasant to deal with. Pray for them regularly, and make specific plans for ways to smother them with kindness.
There are some people at my workplace who can be very unkind. I find they bother me less when I am regularly praying for them. Then I view them as wounded souls who need to see God’s love through me.
Did someone’s actions conflict with my cherished opinions?
While our culture insists on beating the drum for tolerance, it’s actually intolerance that is most often modeled. It’s no longer the norm to respect someone’s right to disagree.
Christians are offended by the opinions of non-Christians. Atheists take offense at statements by believers. Liberals and conservatives are equally offended by the words and actions of the other side.
When you’re offended by opinions or choices in conflict with yours, ask yourself whether you’re more concerned with being right or with being righteous. The righteousness of God is best expressed through peace. The heart of a peacemaker finds a way to rise above or get beyond the need to point out the errors of others.
Proverbs 19:11 describes the response of a mature and godly person: “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
Train yourself through prayer and Bible study to make God’s mission your mission. With a proper perspective, disagreements will no longer shock or offend you but can be seen as opportunities for dialogue and discussion. Look for ways to claim the promise of Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
Is the offense against God or against me?
Is it all about you? Meekness prepares the heart to turn the other cheek when someone says or does something against you personally, as Jesus did when he was on trial (Matthew 27:11-14).
Or is it about God? Meekness also prepares your heart to defend God’s righteousness and character with decisive and effective action, as Jesus did with the money changers in the temple, just a week earlier (Matthew 21:12, 13).
It’s appropriate to be offended when God is being dishonored. It’s much more difficult to be honest with yourself and make sure you’re not confusing your pet opinions and obsessions with God’s own reputation. The misguided zealots who protest at soldiers’ funerals claim to be defending God, expressing God’s hate on his behalf. Yet they are truly fueled by their own emotions.
Train yourself to know the heart of God by bathing continually in the cleansing depths of his Scriptures. And pray fervently to maintain a true perspective on whose passions you’re pursuing—yours or his.
T.R. Robertson is a freelance writer in Columbia, Missouri.
Becoming a Forgiver
Some of the most easily offended people say they forgive quickly. When they are hurt, they acknowledge (often begrudgingly) that forgiveness is God’s will, say a quick forgiving prayer, sigh, and move on. However, this is a shallow process of forgiveness that doesn’t really heal the issues and sometimes leads people toward bitterness—“I’ve been hurt before, and I’ll be hurt again. That’s just life.”
While conflict is inevitable, it’s easier to handle when your approach to forgiveness focuses more on the healing you desire than the hurt you experienced. People whose forgiveness is deep and sincere are less tempted to hold a grudge over petty arguments.
Find a close friend who can help you, and work through these steps slowly, over time, asking God to bring the good news of Christ into areas where you’re hurting. Keep pressing ahead until things like bitterness, gossip, avoidance, and resentment are gone from your life.
• Ask God to show you what you need to forgive.
• Confess to God how you feel about the person, the situation, the results, and the sinful ways you reacted to what happened.
• Out of obedience to God, pray to forgive the specific actions that person did (or didn’t do) that hurt you. Tell God that you let go of the right to hold guilt over the person or retaliate against the person.
• Pray blessings for the person who hurt you—this gives evidence of how deeply you’ve forgiven.
• Pray that the Holy Spirit will heal your heart, your life, and the ill effects of what happened.