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Woe to Offenses

Many today revel in a perverse victim mentality, perking up their ears and focusing their eyes any time there is a possibility they can claim to have been offended and deserving of pity and apology.

Forget the defense industry–this is the offense industry and it is booming. Moreover, faith in Christ is often occasion for deep offense as well. The saints are offended, sometimes legitimately, sometimes gleefully, and sometimes necessarily, when their convictions or pride are wounded. The Lord warned us about giving offense, but clearly there are times when that risk is necessary and his own ministry is proof enough.

There is a subtle, but significant, difference between an offense and being offended, at least in the way we use the terms today. For the most part, in the Bible, being offended means committing a sin or being sinned against, but today, we are offended mainly when our feelings are hurt, and that is not always sinful.

Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of offenses!” but he was talking about “things that will produce sin; that will cause us to sin, or temptations to induce others to sin” (Matthew 18:7, Barnes). We are offended, though, anytime we get our noses out of joint or someone says something that isn’t just the way we would have had it said and sometimes we are even offended when a reproof hits its target and we, the hit dogs, howl in agony.

People are just as prone to be offended by the truth as they are by lies, especially when you consider those who do not have a love for truth and are under the influence of strong delusions about their own righteousness (see 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Even the teaching of Christ itself resulted in many sinful reactions–people being offended by the truth about themselves (John 6:53-61). It was his disciples who were offended by the teaching–the same mob that loved the free fish and bread, but hated to think about flesh and blood, and “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more” (66).

Add to these disciples those who were mortified when Jesus suggested they were enslaved to sin and you get a very full picture of just how offensive the gospel can be to those who have settled into a complacent level of comfort (see John 8:28-32). “The blind see and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:6).

Even in his own country, where he taught in their synagogue with wisdom and did a few mighty works, his neighbors were offended at him–the carpenter’s son–and disbelieved (see Matthew 13:53-58). Within the plan of God, Jesus was the chief cornerstone, but his humble spirituality made him a stone of stumbling and rock of offense to the very people who anticipated him most (1 Peter 2:7-8). Being offended at the gospel, then, involves not only disbelief, but disobedience.

Consider the contrasts: The rich young ruler was offended when commanded to sell his wealth and donate to the poor, but the woman at the well was only humbled when exposed as a fornicator. The Pharisees were offended when their piety was questioned, but the publicans and harlots gladly accepted the diagnosis of the Great Physician.

When we take offense at anything and especially something that results from the New Testament, our offense can usually be traced to pride. We are too proud to confess a sin, too proud to change our behavior, too proud to be questioned at all. We make noise about everybody being a sinner and how shameful it is when people cannot confess their sins, but when pressed, our pride gets in the way and we take a fall instead.

People are offended by any preaching that calls their attitudes or behavior into question, preferring to hear soothing messages about how good they are; Amos said, “They hate the one who rebukes in the gate, And they abhor the one who speaks uprightly” (5:10).

They are even more offended by personal rebukes and will sometimes flee the congregation to save face. Church corrective discipline offends so many that churches are often unwilling to go that scriptural route and merely overlook or condone immoral behavior in the ranks. Like children, some people are grossly offended by mere warnings–warnings that error is on the horizon or in the camp, warnings that one thing leads to another, warnings at all (see 1 Corinthians 4:14, 1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Dealing With Offenses

Jesus was constantly offending people, which tends to happen when you brandish words like “hypocrite” and “brood of vipers” so adroitly, yet his blunt manner was intended to rescue the softhearted and chip away at the hard, if possible. Jesus never gave offense with an impure motive, but a message of repentance will always be offensive to those who believe themselves to be above correction.

Jesus offended the scribes and Pharisees especially when he exposed their hypocrisy (Matthew 15:1-12). Most would have been tempted to respect their position and office enough to keep silent, but Jesus saw it as an opportunity to point out how far they had fallen, and how unreliable was their example before the less learned in Jerusalem.

Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14 ESV)

A short time later, however, Jesus appeased his critics when he could have offended them again:

When they came to Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax went up to Peter and said, “Does your teacher not pay the tax?” He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do kings of the earth take toll or tax? From their sons or from others?” And when he said, “From others,” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free. However, not to give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook and take the first fish that comes up, and when you open its mouth you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for me and for yourself.” (Matthew 17:24-27 ESV)

The temple tax was not an essential matter and its payment did not highlight any particular transgression in Capernaum, and so Jesus paid it, although he was not required. Where his disciples could understand why Jesus was opposing the Pharisees, they might not understand why he would refuse to support the temple, and so he took the path of least resistance in this case. Not every battle is worth fighting and one does not always have to press to have things his way.

A similar dilemma appears in the ministry of the apostle Paul, who was almost as offensive as his master, and often to the same classes of people–Pharisees who had now become Christians as well.

Great controversy swelled around the introduction of Gentiles to the church of Christ, but Peter dispelled much of that with his report from the house of Cornelius. Still, the belief developed that such converts should first be circumcised and taught to keep the Law of Moses as proselytes (see Acts 15:1-5). The widespread circumcision of adult men as a prerequisite to fellowship surely would prove to be a steep obstacle and it had no basis in God’s plan anyway, so all the apostles opposed it (see 15:24).

Paul had two young uncircumcised proteges and because of the potential for offense, he considered their cases carefully.

Timothy was a Jew, but his father was a Gentile and Timothy, while taught the Scriptures from his youth, had never been circumcised (Acts 16:1-3). Paul chose to have him circumcised upon entering the ministry, not because it was morally or scripturally necessary, but “because of the Jews who were in that region”–how they would react to an uncircumcised Jew and how Timothy would be unable to enter certain places and even gain an audience with certain people because of his uncircumcised flesh. To avoid giving offense altogether, Paul had Timothy circumcised.

Titus, however, was entirely Gentile, and circumcising him just to avoid offending the Pharisees would have the effect of validating their false doctrine on the matter (Galatians 2:1-5). Certainly some of the Pharisaical Christians were offended that their traditions and opinions were not being upheld, but circumcising poor Titus was not the answer, and it only would have perpetuated the error anyway. With Timothy, Paul avoided the offense, but with Titus, he had to give it.


Like Jesus and Paul, we should not glory in offending people, just because we can or because it looks like fun.

Some have different customs and cultures, even in our own country, and it is an act of kindness to respect them, especially in their homes. Many have sensitivities, idiosyncrasies, and even weaknesses over certain matters and it is godly to anticipate and avoid aggravating them (Romans 14:19-22).

Unfortunately, that may mean walking on eggshells with some people, but offending them carelessly as an alternative is surely no better. The careless and unnecessary offense can be avoided: “A brother offended is harder to win than a strong city, And contentions are like the bars of a castle” (Proverbs 18:19).

As we learn, however, the risk of offending a sinner or a brother for the sake of his soul is reasonable and necessary.

Extending the gospel invitation to a lost soul or rebuking a brother or sister who is in error is a chance one has to take (2 Corinthians 7:6-9). Our aim must be that our neighbor and brother suffer loss in nothing eternal and we can’t get there if we are terrified of offending his denominational pride or false security.


If you are one who is easily given to being offended, or who is plagued with the victim mentality, secretly rejoicing to have some reason to invoke your constantly hurt feelings to acquire pity, it’s time to tighten your offense valve and grow up.

Shorten your list of things that offend you to those that offend Jesus and you will find the absence of bitterness is better than receiving empathy anyway. Love your neighbor and brother by not being so easily provoked to offense or anger (see 1 Corinthians 13:5). Learn to believe the best about people instead of expecting the worst and spin unclear comments positively instead of negatively (see 1 Corinthians 13:7). Learn to let go of resentments and minor offenses instead of pursuing your pound of flesh (see 1 Corinthians 6:7).

Truly, the gospel can be an offensive message, even to those who claim to support it. Sometimes the offense, however, is unavoidable, but never let pride prevent you from doing the right thing.