In Luke 17:1 Jesus made it clear that offences would come. It is impossible to go through life without being offended by someone. He then warns that those that offend others are also in danger. “Woe to them” he says. He then follows that up stating that the one that causes an offence would be better off for a millstone to be tied around his neck and cast into the sea. But what did Jesus mean by offend?
When someone is offends us we typically get really upset. Webster’s defines this type of offense as a breach of moral or social code. We get offended when someone causes us to feel discomfort or vexation. I am convinced that this is the most frequently accepted definition of offense. However, this couldn’t have been what Jesus meant is it?
Jesus certainly did things that were against the social order of his society. Twice he drove the money changers out of the temple (John 2:14-15 and Matt. 21:12). On the second occasion in which he cast the money changers out, the chief priests were sore displeased (Matt. 21:15) and eventually asked him by what authority (or right) does he do these things (Matt. 21:23). As we know, Jesus and the chief priests did not see eye to eye and for this, they crucified our Lord and Savior. Likewise, Paul’s preaching was also against social codes of conduct and many were offended at this preaching. The assembly in Ephesus were so upset over his preaching that they were causing a riot (Acts 19:24-37). Similar things were done in Thessalonica when Paul preached there (Acts 17:5-9). One could hardly say that these people did not take offense to the preaching of Paul. They were either upset that Gentiles were being taught about God (Acts 17) or that so many Greeks converted their way of life was altered (Acts 19). Knowing this, certainly this is not what Jesus had in mind in Luke 17:1.
It is amazing that most think that offense is to be made upset at what another says or does. Earlier I referenced what Webster’s has to say about offence and offending. What is interesting is that is the last definition listed. A dictionary typically lists the most common use of the word first. In the case of offend, the most common definition is to transgress the moral code or divine law: sin. In the Greek, the word employed by Jesus is the act of causing one to stumble or sin. In other words, Jesus is not talking about the violation of social customs. Jesus is not talking about making a person uncomfortable by what you have to say.
Brethren, we need to realize that when a preacher, a friend, a spouse, a parent, etc tells us that we are doing something wrong, that we have sinned, that we need to mature, etc they have not necessarily sinned against you. In fact, I would argue that they are doing you a favor (unless the correction of course encourages you to sin). Too often people use the modern definition of offense when their preacher “steps on some toes” as to why it is time for him to move on. Brethren, may it never be said of you.
Furthermore, we continue to use this modern sense of the word to explain why we feel someone has violated our “conscience.” When we see a person break a pattern we are used to at worship services (like what I accidentally did last week) you may have felt uncomfortable, but did it cause you to sin? No. By having the scripture reading just before the sermon is a matter of procedure not a matter of righteousness. When we see a person not dressed in a suit and tie on Sunday have they violated a book chapter and verse OR have they violated a social custom? Think about that brethren. I am not saying it is right or wrong to wear a suit and tie or “Sunday Best.” What I am saying is that we need to be very careful to not be as the Pharisees who condemned others for going beyond a Sabbath’s Day journey, or carried their bed, or healed on the Sabbath day. Were they “offended?” Yes, in the modern sense. Did Jesus cause them to sin by healing on the Sabbath? Absolutely not!
So, the next time someone says something that makes you uncomfortable or says something that makes you squirm in your seat ask yourself. Did that person sin against me? Can I back that up with scripture? Or do did that person simply violate a “social custom” that either myself or society has established. I promise you this brethren, it is not a matter of being thicker skinned that keeps us from feeling offended. It is educating ourselves about what truly is offending. Now, to the one that really does cause you to stumble… as Jesus said, “Woe to him.”
Grinnell church of Christ
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Woe to Them By Whom Offenses Come?
Volume 3 Issue 47 October 28, 2012