The Worst Kind of Offence in an “I’m Offended” Culture

The Worst Kind of Offence in an “I’m Offended” Culture

The Worst Kind of Offence in an “I’m Offended” Culture
George Gillespie (1613 – 1648) ministered in Fife and Edinburgh and was one of the main Scottish theologians at the Westminster Assembly. He wrote several important publications in support of Presbyterian church government.
1 Jun, 2018

“I’m offended” rhetoric seems to have great power in our culture. Never perhaps was a generation more concerned about offence. From speakers on university campuses to boycotts to cultural appropriation – being offended is very prominent. It goes beyond offended feelings and displeasure. Rightly or wrongly, there is evidently something akin to moral outrage behind it. Certain politically correct values are being elevated as the standard to which people must conform. Of course this is a mere human standard. But do we know what offence really is as the Bible defines it?

In the Bible offence not the same as making someone displeased. Rather it is something that causes them to stumble in their spiritual progress or offend against God’s Word. We can do this without meaning to do it. It also happens when we do and say the right things in the wrong way or at the wrong time and so turn people against what is right. Scripture deals with this matter in the most serious way possible. In his comprehensive treatment of the subject, James Durham says the following about making others offend or stumbling them:

  • there is no sin that has more woes pronounced against it. The Lord himself denounces and doubles a woe against making others offend (Mathew 18:7), and the Apostle confirms it (Romans 14:20);
  • there is no duty more commanded. Durham notes that whole chapters are devoted to avoiding stumbling others (e.g. Romans 14, Acts 15, 1 Corinthians 8, Matthew 18);
  • there are no worse consequences than those connected with it. Durham notes that it brings: woe to the world; destruction to many souls (Romans 14:20); reproach upon the profession of Christianity; cools love among brethren, begets and fosters contention and strife; mars the progress of the gospel; and, in a word, makes iniquity to abound, and often ushers in error into the church.
  • there is nothing more damaging to the fellowship of believers. Fellowship suffers if we are not sensitive to what edifies and hinders edification in others (Romans 14:10,15 and 21). Spiritual admonition and conversation and prayer together will lack the right spirit and blessing without such sensitivity.
  • there is nothing hardens us more and makes us more inclined to sin. It hardens us by making the conscience less sensitive to conviction. The more we are in the habit of disregarding others in general the less we are restrained from doing that which is actually sinful.
  • there is nothing that damages the success of the gospel more. Carelessness in this brings reproach on profession of the gospel. Sensitivity in this greatly adorns the gospel, however.

Careful reflection on the many ways Scripture deals with this issue will reveal that these conclusions are accurate. The worst kind of offence that takes place in our society is all too serious. We are speaking about offence as the Bible defines it and we are all guilty in this.

George Gillespie describes as briefly as possible the various dimensions of the biblical principle of not causing others to offend against God’s Word.

 

1.What is Offence According to the Bible?

Offence is not grieving or displeasing my brother. It may be that when I grieve or displease him, I actually edify him. But edification and offence are not compatible (Romans 15:1-2). Offence is a word or action which is or which may be, the occasion of another person’s halting, falling or swerving from the straight way of righteousness.

 

2. When is Offence Sinful?

There are different ways that this can happen:

(a) when offence is given and not taken. It is sinful to give anything which would be the occasion of stumbling, even though he does not actually stumble;

(b) when it is taken and not given. It is sinful to take offence if there is no lawful reason for it; and

(c) when it is both taken and given, here there is sin on both sides. It is sinful to stumble someone else and it is sinful for them to fall from the right way.

 

3. What if We Don’t Intend to Make Someone Offend?

It is not only a word or action in which we intend the fall of our brother but also a word or action which in its nature would lead them to sin. For example, when someone publicly commits a sin or that which has the appearance of sin (John 16:2).  A man may stay away from public worship intending to employ his studies all during that time for writing things for the good of the Church. He intends to edify but stumbles others because the action leads them to sin (1 John 2:10).

 

4. How Does it Make Someone Sin?

If it is in something lawful (but others do not think it is lawful) then it makes our brother condemn our lawful action. By our example he may be activated to what his conscience condemns. In both cases sin results. If it is in an unlawful thing then it is also sinful.

The following sinful effects may result:
(a) Our brother may be made to fall into outward sin; or,
(b) He may be made to stumble in his conscience and call in question the way of truth; or,
(c) It may make him halt or weaken his full assurance; or,
(d) It may hinder his growth and going forward, and make him (though not fall, stumble, or halt) to have a smaller degree of progress; or,
(e) Through the nature of the action, occasion is given him to sin in any one of these ways.

 

5. When is it Wrong to be Offended?

It is wrong to be offended at someone else for making use of a lawful thing (Romans 14:3). If I do not know about their weakness and their taking offence the offence is only taken by them and not given by me. Though there is weakness through ignorance here, it is still sinful. Their weakness and ignorance is a fault and does not excuse them.

 

6. Can Something Make Others Offend Even if it Did Not at First?

Gideon’s ephod (Judges 8:27) and the brazen serpent (Numbers 21:9 and 2 Kings 18:4) were monuments of God’s mercies, they were neither evil nor appearances of evil. It was wrong for the people to be drawn into the sin of idolatry with them but keeping and retaining them after this happened would give occasion for this.

 

7. We Must Avoid Anything that Creates Offence

We should avoid anything from which other people take offence  It does not matter if it is indifferent or lawful in itself (1 Corinthians 8:13). It does not matter if any human authority commands us to do it.

We cannot, however, avoid necessary things such as the hearing of the word, prayer, etc because of offence taken at them. We cannot abstain from these even though the whole world would be offended at us (Matthew 15:12).

We are only blameless of making others offend if the action is not evil in itself, not done in an unreasonable and excessive way and not done with the appearance of evil.

 

8. We Must Not Make Anyone Offend

We must not stumble those who are malicious any more than we can the weak. Therefore we must abstain from all things that are not necessary for the sake of avoiding offence to either. Someone who is offended through malice commits a greater sin than the one offended through weakness. Nevertheless, we ought to do good to all men, but especially those of the household of faith (1 Corinthians 10:32).

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Being Peaceably Principled in a Poisonous World

Being Peaceably Principled in a Poisonous World

Being Peaceably Principled in a Poisonous World
John Brown of Wamphray (1610-1679) was the Church of Scotland minister of Wamphray near Dumfries. One of the great theological writers in the later period of the Second Reformation, he wrote a large number of books and also pastored the Scots Church at Rotterdam.
11 Nov, 2016

Civility has disappeared from a great deal of public discourse. Words such as “toxic”, “venomous” and “poisonous” are used to describe it. Political discourse seems to major on insults. It is not difficult to see that language can be not only divisive but degrading. In a polarised world, how should we respond to the invective directed against our views? How do we avoid worldly spite infecting our response? Disagreements among Christians also arise. Sometime there are necessary differences for the sake of truth, but is it possible to handle them peaceably?

John Brown of Wamphray gives some answers to these questions in his comments on the wisdom that Paul expresses in Romans 12:17 “Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men”.  He notes how helpful it is that Paul goes on to say in verse 18: live peaceably with all men” but qualifies this with “if it be possible”. 

 

1. Christians must expect to be treated badly

A Christian should conduct himself as humbly as possible among his fellow brethren. Nevertheless, such is the strength of corruption in the best and the restless maliciousness of Satan (who is always blowing at the coal of strife and dissension) that they must expect bad treatment even at the hands of their fellow Christians. This is why he adds the following to his former exhortations: “Recompense no man evil for evil”. It supposes that even if the previous exhortations are followed, they will meet with bad treatment.

 

2. Christians must not retaliate in the same way

Whatever evil Christians may experience and whether from friends or foes, they ought to withstand their own heart corruptions (which are ready to seek private revenge) and forbear this unchristian retaliation. Men who are led by an evil spirit may count it their honour not to endure a wrong but to get even with any who injure them. Yet, it is a most unchristian thing and unseemly for the followers of Christ. “Recompense to no man evil for evil (see 1 Peter 3:9; Proverbs 23:2; Matthew 5:39; 1 Thessalonians 5:15).

 

3. Christians must avoid stumbling anyone

Christians ought not to be proud and vain nor scurrilous and dishonourable in their behaviour. Instead they ought to conduct themselves honestly. This means being careful to walk so as we may not stumble any but rather best win them over and in a way best suited to their position and our relation to them. Christians should “provide for things honest” (see 2 Corinthians 8:21).

 

4. Christians must show respect to all

Christian behaviour means not only avoiding stumbling fellow Christians but also having respect to strangers and seeking not to stumble them in outward things. “Provide for things honest in the sight of all men” (see 2 Corinthians 8:21 and Matthew 5:16).

 

5. Christians must seek to live peaceably with all

It is not seemly for Christians to be quarrelsome and keeping up arguments among themselves. It is also not becoming for Christians to be striving and contending with the wicked and those who are strangers to Christ; it creates a stumbling block. They should “live peaceably with all men”.

 

6. Christians will find that peace is impossible with some people

The wicked malicious disposition of some (the seed of the serpent) is so great that they will never allow the godly to live in rest and peace no matter what they may do. The apostle therefore adds this clause: “If it be possible, live peaceably with all men”.

There is great difficulty in conquering our own corruptions in order to join in peace with others. It may also be impossible to achieve peace and quietness with some. Despite this, it is nevertheless, the duty of Christians to be serious and earnest in using all possible or imaginable means to attain peace. They must be gracious in forgiving the injuries they have received and recompensed good for evil (1 Peter 3:9). We must do as much as lies in us to live peaceably with all men (see 1 Peter 3:11; Hebrews 12:14).

 

7. Christians must not pursue peace on sinful terms

In pursuing peace with others, we ought not to descend to sinful, dishonourable or dishonest terms. Even in pursuing peace we should be careful to behave with honesty as befits a Christian. These two duties may and should be aimed at together: “Provide things honest in the sight of all men” and “if it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men”.

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7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others

7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others

7 Reasons to Avoid Stumbling Others
David Dickson (c.1583–1662) was a Professor of Theology at the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh who wrote commentaries on many different books of Scripture. He opposed the unbiblical worship and church government foisted on the Church in Scotland by Charles II and this cost him his position.
22 Jul, 2016

A stumbling block in Scripture is not simply an obstacle. It is anyone or anything by which someone is drawn into sin or error. Or it may simply hinder them from being edified. Scripture tells that it can happen even through things that aren’t in themselves sinful. The implications of this are virtually all-encompassing. There are few things we must take more seriously than this in the Christian life.

The word which means stumbling block is often translated as “offence”. This is not the same as someone being offended in the sense of being displeased. Rather it is something that causes them to offend against God’s Word. Scripture deals with this matter in the most serious way possible. In his comprehensive treatment of the subject, James Durham says the following about stumbling others:

  • there is no sin that has more woes pronounced against it. The Lord himself denounces and doubles a woe against making others offend (Mathew 18:7), and the Apostle confirms it (Romans 14:20);
  • there is no duty more commanded. Durham notes that whole chapters are devoted to avoiding stumbling others (e.g. Romans 14, Acts 15, 1 Corinthians 8, Matthew 18);
  • there are no worse consequences than those connected with it. Durham notes that it brings: woe to the world; destruction to many souls; reproach upon the profession of Christianity; cools love among brethren, begets and fosters contention and strife; mars the progress of the gospel; and, in a word, makes iniquity to abound, and often ushers in error into the church.
  • there is nothing more damaging to the fellowship of believers. Fellowship suffers if we are not sensitive to what edifies and hinders edification in others. Spiritual admonition and conversation and prayer together will lack the right spirit and blessing without such sensitivity.
  • it hardens us and makes us more inclined to sin. It hardens us by making the conscience less sensitive to conviction. The more we are in the habit of disregarding others in general the less we are restrained from doing that which is actually sinful.
  • it damages the success of the gospel. Carelessness in this brings reproach on profession of the gospel. Sensitivity in this greatly adorns the gospel, however.

A number of these serious consequences of stumbling others are drawn from the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ in Matthew 18.  David Dickson shows from Matthew 18:7-14 in greater detail how Christ gives seven reasons to avoid putting a stumbling block before others.

Christ forbids laying any stumbling block before others whether by word, action or any other way. This is anything which may induce anyone to sin or may hinder them in the course of obedience of God.

 

1. Much Woe Comes Through Stumbling Others

Much woe, sin and misery comes on the world through stumbling blocks thrown in front of others. Therefore, beware of offences, for “Woe unto the world because of offences!” There is a necessity that there will be offences (v7). Stumbling blocks or inducements to sin and ways to turn men away from the right paths of the Lord will be laid in their way. This necessity is because men’s corrupt natures are inclined to be drawn and to draw others to sin. God’s decree to permit such stumbling-blocks in order to try some and punishment of others also makes it necessary (v7).

 

2. The Greatest Woe Awaits Those Who Stumble Others

Woe to that man by whom the offence comes. Therefore beware of offences. Whatever damage comes or may come by a stumbling-block will be imputed to him who gives offence, or lays a stumbling-block in others’ way. “Woe to that man” (v7).

Those who are offended (drawn into sin) cannot excuse themselves. Neither the fact that offences occur in God’s providence nor the guilt belonging to those who create the offence excuses them or will save them from wrath for their sin. This still stands: “Woe unto the world because of offences” (v7).

 

3. Nothing is Worth Stumbling Others

It is better to lose anything that may cause a sinful fall to yourself or your neighbour than to sin and be cast into hell with it. It is better to lose anything that is even as beneficial or necessary as your eye or your foot (v8). It is better to be deprived of it than to sin and so be cast in hell with it: therefore beware of giving offence.

[a] The cause of stumbling ourselves and others is in ourselves. Some beloved lust may seem as precious and beneficial to us as our eye, our hand or our foot but yet it causes us to stumble (v8-9).

[b] Such beloved lusts must be put to death and cut off or else we cannot but perish. It is better therefore that these lusts be cut off than they and we should both perish. To cut them off is better (v9).

 

4. Being Careless About Stumbling Others is the Same as Despising Them

Despising any of these little ones must be avoided and so laying stumbling blocks must also be avoided. This is because being careless about stumbling them is the same as despising them (v10).

 

5. The Angels Minister to Those We are Careless About Stumbling

God esteems the least of these little ones so much that the good angels who daily enjoy God’s glorious presence are ministering spirits appointed to attend on them. Therefore do not despise them by being careless about stumbling or offending them.

If we consider what price God and his holy angels set upon the least Christian we would be loathe to despise or offend them. For “in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (v10).

 

6. Christ’s Care for His Flock Should Prevent Us from Stumbling Any of Them

Christ came to redeem the least of believers even those who count themselves lost. Therefore you should not despise them by being careless about stumbling them. The esteem and love that Christ has for the least Christian should motivate us to beware of stumbling or despising them. “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (v11).

 

7. Stumbling Others is the Devil’s Work and Opposes God

It is not the will of the Father that the least Christian should perish and therefore you should not despise them or be careless about stumbling them in a way through which they might perish. This is taught in the parable of a good shepherd (verse 12-14). The purpose of the parable is to show that as a good shepherd regards all of his sheep and, if they wander, will carefully seek to reclaim them and save them so does God. He does this for the least of His elect, the least of Christians; He will reclaim them from their sins and danger of perishing, as the text shows.

[a] He that stumbles his neighbour does what he can to make him perish. He opposes the will of the Father to preserve his neighbour from perishing because of a stumbling block.

[b] The devil and those who serve him do what they can to hinder the salvation of believers but God will preserve them. For “it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish” (v14).

[c] Although he that lays a stumbling block before his brother will not be able to destroy him, yet he may put him out of the way a little and hinder him in his course to heaven. The parable of the shepherd recovering the wandering sheep shows this.




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