“That offended me.” Few phrases are probably more regularly used in this culture and in this time. We seem to be offended simply by a mere difference of opinion. Confront someone with a new idea or a dissenting perspective and the response is often the same. This is one of the great paradoxes of our culture. The tolerant simply cannot tolerate. Few cultures have ever been so prone to have their feelings hurt.
This of course, has presented challenges for the church. Attempt to share the gospel with someone and they take it as pushy and offensive. Say something disagreeable even within the church and someone will get angered and leave. Make no mistake, Christians say and do things that are selfish, unloving, and sinful. This certainly is not acceptable. And yet, whether a Christian’s actions are intentionally loving or not, many respond weakly.
How are Christians to live faithfully in light of these cultural trends? How do we respond biblically to a cultural that finds itself so easily offended?
First, we must remember that the gospel will offend. This is inevitable and sure. On several occasions Jesus told his disciples that He had not come to bring peace, but a sword, to divide father and son, mother and daughter, and so on. Jesus told His disciples that all men would hate them on account of Him (this of course meaning people everywhere, not every single person). The entire New Testament tells the story of God’s people taking the gospel to the world, meanwhile enduring great hardship for such obedience. Why? Because they were easy to pick on? Not really. Their message bothered people. It went against the cultural perceptions and values of the day. It confronted sinfulness and idolatry and worship of self. At times it even disrupted the economic stability of particular cities or regions (there’s a lot of money made selling idols!). The message of the entire book of Revelation, in my opinion, can be summed up in one word: suffer. We must first come to terms with the reality of Christian suffering for the gospel. We are deceived and need to get out more if we think everyone is going to be excited about what we have to tell them.
Second, however, we must make sure that the gospel is the only thing that offends. In 1 Corinthians 9:22 Paul says, “To the weak I become weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.” This verse (and this passage) is often misinterpreted. Many read Paul’s words as saying that Paul will do whatever it takes for people to be saved. This is unlikely. Paul would not do anything to see people converted. What Paul is saying is that Paul wants to make sure that the only thing that might offend anyone is the gospel. If cultural norms discouraged a particular behavior, then Paul would conform to those norms for the sake of the gospel’s hearing. Hence, to the Jew he would become like a Jew and to the one under the law he would become like one under the law (1 Cor. 9:19-20). Paul wanted to ensure that the gospel was the only thing that offended someone. It was unacceptable to Paul for people’s offense to relate to his behavior or preferences. I don’t think anyone would try and argue that Paul was afraid of making someone mad or offending someone. I think Paul probably looked for the prison first when he entered a new city to see how comfortable it might or might not be. He knew it was probably the place he would call home more often than not (man, there aren’t many like him in our culture!). So Paul was clearly not fearful of offending. His hope was that people would only be offended by the gospel.
This is a helpful reminder. We must acknowledge that the truth of the gospel, the message of repentance and surrender, will offend. There is no question of this. We cannot expect it to be otherwise (nor fear it). And yet, we must ensure that it is only the gospel that offends. Our lifestyle, our preferences, our choices, are all sacrificial, selfless, and thoughtful. We must watch our words. We must watch our actions. We must watch our lives to ensure that there is no other charge to be brought against us. Much like Daniel, let them find fault only in the word of our God (Dan. 6:5). If it is our speech toward one another, our selfishness, our pride that offends, then the fault is ours. Though we accept the reality of gospel’s offensiveness, this by no means gives us the right to be abrasive, hateful, or rude. We must be sure our offense is a righteous offense. In a culture that finds itself so easily offended, there is a great responsibility upon us to ensure that nothing offends but the gospel. However, we must be up to the task. Let us seek to offend rightly.