Tom Gilson

The One Offense That’s Worth It

Some things just aren’t worth squabbling over. Not surprisingly, the Bible has plenty to say about this. A couple things not worth getting over, for example, are  money and privilege.

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

Jesus didn’t owe the tax, but it wasn’t worth giving offense to anyone over it. God will provide what we need anyway (see Matthew 6:25-34), though not typically in this fashion!

That’s one of many things not worth raising offense over. Another is  religious customs or superstitions. The following passage was part of Paul’s answer to the question, “is it lawful for a Christian to eat meat offered to an idol?”

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

1 Corinthians 10:23-31

Paul is saying, don’t let the meat’s history spook you, just enjoy it; idols are nothing anyway. But if you’re with others who think it’s an issue, don’t push the issue with them, either. Don’t eat the meat if it’s going to trouble their consciences. And don’t cause needless offense.

Personal possessions and dignity are not worth fighting over:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

The cheek slap was more a matter of humiliation than of violent attack. Something similar could be said of the one mile walk, which was (I’m told) an allusion to Roman soldiers’ forcing the Jews they had subjugated to carry their gear for them. It wasn’t just inconvenient, it was humiliating; but not worth fighting over. (In this passage we see again that possessions aren’t worth fighting over, either.)

Some Things Are Worth Contending For
The New Testament has much more than this to say about not giving offense—but there is a limit. Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees’ hypocrisy in Matthew 15:1-11, after which his disciples came to him and said, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 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 15:13b-14).

Jesus Christ, the one who taught us to turn the other cheek, who insisted on loving our enemies, who was silent at his own kangaroo-court trial and who died without defending himself, was nevertheless willing to give offense, but only for the right things. He called his own great friend Peter “Satan” when Peter tried to talk him out of going to the cross (Matthew 16:21-23). He pronounced a long and harsh series of woes on religious leaders who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but… themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:1-36).

Later on his followers spoke of the offense of the cross (Romans 9:33, Galatians 5:11, 1 Peter 2:6-8). What’s the offense there? For the Jews it had to do with a biblical curse that was pronounced on anyone who hung on a tree; Christians interpret this as Christ bearing a curse on our behalf and then overcoming it. For Gentiles the offense is in the message of our dependence on Christ.

This message is called good news: because of the Cross, we are free from the heavy burdens of defending our honor, privilege, and possessions; we are free from the burden of making our own way to God.

But here’s the hard part: it undermines every particle of pride in us. We are free from even the possibility of making our own way to God–and for those who think it’s within their capacity to make their own way, that’s the offense. It applies equally to those who don’t care about God, but think it’s up to themselves to carve out their own good life, whatever that means to them. God insists on being the one who does that for us. His gracious, unconditional love carries with it what I have (dangerously) called an insult. His love for us has nothing to do with whether we deserve it or not; in fact, we don’t.

There is one thing worth contending for, and if necessary causing offense. It’s not religious custom, it’s not possessions, it’s not privilege, it’s not dignity or honor. Think about that a minute: aren’t those things we usually get up in arms over? Aren’t these the issues that keep lawyers so busy? Armies, too? Jesus Christ says, relax over these things, they don’t matter.

But there is one thing that does. It’s not the kind of thing that makes sense to fight over with sticks or guns or stones or even lawsuits. It’s something to fight for with loving demonstration, and with firm and powerful persuasion. It is the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: We are to stand firm for the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified, resurrected, and coming to reign in glory.

That’s it. We are to relax and let God take care of all the other issues people typically get offended over. But this one thing, this truth of the Gospel, is worth standing for because it is true, because it is reality, because it is good, because it is of God—no matter what anyone thinks.

God grant that more people would let any offense of the Gospel fade away in the light of the goodness of your love. And this I pray, too: as a follower of Christ it’s not always easy to keep these things straight, so God grant that we Christians—myself first of all—would know how not to cause any offense but what goes with the truth of the Gospel.

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1 thought on “The One Offense That’s Worth It

  1. Archbishop of the archdioceses of Newark, NJ John J. Myers commenting on his pastoral letter in support of traditional marriage (something “worth contending for”) based on reason and revelation:

    To stay the course, pay attention to St. Paul who says that we must always proclaim the truth in season and out of season. It is by doing that, even when it is difficult, even if it should come to our being called “bigots” incorrectly and unfairly because we will not recognize positions that are erroneous, we should forge ahead. We need to stay faithful to the word of God and faithful really to human nature [inasmuch as it is created by God]… We can understand by the use of human reason alone—unassisted by revelation, although we know because God is so good to us—that He reinforces what we know by our own intellects, by means of His gift of Divine Revelation.

    See the full text of the letter here: http://www.rcan.org/archbish/jjm_letters/wtbo.pdf

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