That Offends Me!

It is a sin to give offense. But it's also a sin to take offense when none is given.

But there’s another kind of differing believer. Believe me, you will encounter them. They’re the ones who refuse to accept others who make differing judgment calls. Instead, they keep pushing others to conform to their conclusions. They get upset at those who resist. They take offense when no offense is given. Earlier, we saw that it’s a sin to give offense. But we also saw that it’s a sin to take offense when none is given. Now we see why this distinction is so important. You see, the real reason why someone takes offense is not the actions of the other person. It’s his own pride or unbelief.

 

“That offends me!” Who hasn’t heard that? Particularly, what pastor, elder, or deacon hasn’t heard it? It makes us shudder. How should we respond? It depends on what kind of offense it is! We want unity and harmony in the church. But unless we consider that there are different kinds of offense and that God’s ordained servants must make different responses to each, we won’t get it.

What is an offense?

What is an “offense” according to God’s Word? It’s something that trips up someone so that he falls into sin or unbelief. The New Testament uses it as a noun. “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Rom. 14:13; cf. Rom. 14:20; 1 Cor. 8:9). It also uses it as a verb. “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall” (Rom. 14:21; cf. 1 Cor. 8:13).

The verb use is very instructive. When it’s active, it means “to cause to stumble or fall.” For example, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).

But when it’s passive, it means “to stumble over, to take offense.” But in this case, the blame isn’t on the “stumbling block.” It’s on the one who stumbles. For example, “And they took offense at him” (Matt. 13:57). Literally, “they stumbled over him.” Jesus was the stumbling block, but he didn’t sin. It was their own fault that they stumbled. They “took offense … because of their lack of faith” (Matt. 13:58).

This is a very important distinction. In other words, it’s a sin to give offense. But it’s also a sin to take offense when none is given.

The sin of giving offense

When Paul talks about strong and weak brothers in Romans 14-15 and in 1 Corinthians 8-10, he warns against the sin of giving offense. He commands stronger brothers to take pains not to cause weak brothers to fall into sin. “When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Cor. 8:12-13).

The sin of giving offense is one which a strong brother commits by doing something which is ordinarily a legitimate act of Christian freedom. But in certain circumstances it becomes wrong because it influences a weak brother to do something against his conscience. God holds the strong brother responsible for that sin because he failed to show Christ-like love and servanthood when it came to the weakness of his weak brother. He committed the sin of giving offense.

What makes the weak brother weak? First of all, a weak brother is weak in his knowledge of God’s Word (1 Cor. 8:4, 7). This makes him weak in faith (Rom. 14:1). “But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Therefore, he’s weak in conscience (1 Cor. 8:7, 10, 12). His conscience is over-sensitive. It condemns him for doing what God’s Word permits. Moreover, the weak brother is weak in self-control. “For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, won’t he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols” (1 Cor. 8:10)?

This means that a weak brother isn’t just a young Christian. He’s not just a Christian who gets upset because he thinks you’re wrong. Maybe these brothers have weaknesses. But that doesn’t make them weak brothers. A weak brother is a Christian who can be influenced to sin against his conscience by the example of a differing strong brother because he’s weak in his knowledge, faith, conscience, and self-control.

 

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