And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins. – 1 Peter 4:8
Think of a specific situation where you were offended or hurt by someone’s actions or words. This can be an offense you believe was intentional, or it can be a situation that directly affected you because of the sin of another, resulting in you being hurt. These offenses could come from a spouse, child, parent, brother or sister in Christ, or even your pastor or other spiritual leaders.
While you’re thinking about that, let me share a funny story. I really like having house plants – I think they add a nice “live” touch to my living room, kitchen, and bedroom. I don’t really know much about plants…I’m no botanist! And because I am a “get it done” sort of person (and not a perfectionist) I have the extremely-low-maintenance kind of houseplants – the kinds that are hard to kill.
One day I went downstairs into our basement where the kids have all their toys and since the weather had been nice we hadn’t spent much time playing down there. Some days later, when we went downstairs, I noticed my poor, neglected, near-death plant up on the window sill. I felt so bad for neglecting it! I literally apologized to my plant as I gave it a good watering. The next morning I noticed right away that it no longer looked dead, but that the leaves were all perked up and shiny! Then I thought, “This plant is very forgiving.” I, on the other hand, am very offensive to my houseplants – I don’t water my plants until I start to seeing the leaves droop!
I have always admired Orchids. If you know anything about Orchids it’s that they are very high maintenance plants… the humidity must be just right, you can easily over-water them, and too much sunlight could kill them. But they’re so beautiful… so I bought one. For the first month, things were going OK… I even went so far as to putting it in the shower and running hot water for several minutes to try and meet it’s need for humidity! Despite all of my efforts and special attention to my orchid, after three months, it died. Orchids are not very forgiving plants, even when I try my hardest to not offend them.
Now go back to that specific offense you just thought of…
We know that offenses are a part of life. And they’re not easy.
All throughout the Bible we read of offenses. Jesus tells Christians to expect offenses. “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come…” Matthew 18 deals extensively with offenses and gives clear instructions on what to do when we’ve experienced a severe offense – go to the individual in humility and with an attitude of reconciliation, if they will not hear, then bring in a third party to hear the matter, if it still cannot be resolved, take it before the church, etc.
In this four-part article, I don’t wish to address those offenses that are blatant and that need to be addressed. Rather, I’d like to focus more on our attitude towards our offenders and the steps we can take to overcome our own sinful desires in taking offense.
#1 Defining Offenses:
It’s important to know that there is a difference between “being offended” and “taking offense.”
Being offended is what others do to you (unkind words, slander, mistreatment, etc).
Taking offense is what we do to ourselves (harboring the offense; essentially, not choosing forgiveness).
The last time I flew on an airplane with my children, I was deeply offended by my own daughter. She did not like her ears popping from the air pressure and she made her displeasure known! She didn’t care that her high-pitched squeal was hurting my ears and that others were glaring daggers at me! She was being quite offensive.
I had a choice to make: respond in the Spirit or react in the flesh.
Should I cover the offense in love, or do I take offense? To take offense would be me getting up and walking away. It would be me yelling back at her. It would be sulking and whining about how terrible of a little girl she is and what did I do to deserve this! Taking offense means that we demonstrate we’re hurt or offended.
So often it’s the little offenses that can cause the most problems in our relationships… ”the little foxes that spoil the vine.“ They creep into our relationships and cause the anger, the bitterness, the wrath, and the evil speaking. These can be blatant offenses or simply because our expectations of each other are too high.
I heard a preacher once use the illustration of getting offended over someone forgetting your birthday. His counsel was to simply, “lower your expectations!” Expect no one to remember your birthday, then you will be pleasantly surprised if someone does remember and not offended when they forget! :o)
We are so self-focused at times, aren’t we? It’s these little offenses that can have great power over our lives. They can cause us to emotionally shut down and to become unhappy. But worst of all, they have the power to hinder spiritual growth.
It is so important to handle offenses in the Spirit and not the flesh. “Walk in the Spirit and you’ll not fulfil the lust of the flesh” – lusts like anger. Not every offense needs to be confronted or spoken about. Some things should just remain between you and the Lord. If we deal with every offense, we would go crazy and probably cause more problems within our relationships. I often have to remind myself “to not make a mountain out of a molehill.”
Get clear direction from the Lord before confronting someone with an offense. I do not want to minimize the feelings of hurt that come with offenses. There are times they must be confronted. However, confronting offenses should never be based on you fighting your cause, but should be for the spiritual well-being of the offender – to help them realize the error of their way (“speaking the truth in love”).
Hurting people, hurt people.
Those who often speak unkind words are they themselves dealing with a great deal of hurt. They, too, might be harboring unforgiveness in their heart. Unforgiveness is a vicious cycle that infiltrates many Christian women. We can be at war with one another…with our spouses…with our parents…with our kids! Someone’s got to stop it by choosing forgiveness! Why must you both be wrong? Your offender is wrong but you don’t have to join in the sin by responding wrongly!
Remember the passage where Peter asked Jesus how many times he must forgive his brother? When Jesus replied by saying, “seventy times seven,” he was implying that he must forgive his offender every time.
You may ask, “How? How can I forgive my spouse for being constantly insensitive, how can I forgive that sister in Christ who seems to always make negative comments? How can I forgive my parents, or my child, for some things they’ve done, some choices they’ve made, some sin they’ve involved themselves in… that has directly affected me?”
Ask yourself, have I allowed the sin of another to be put upon myself? Like the story of my houseplants, are you allowing your spirit to be killed because of the offense of another? Just like bitterness, YOU will suffer more than your offender when you do not choose forgiveness.