A friend of mine has often reminded me that most friendships among professing believers cannot bear more than a single offence. People in the church are so easily offended that they are ready to write off another believer over the most insignificantly offensive word or actions. This betrays the fact that we have not learned to bear long with one another and to forgive one another. We have developed thin skin and speck-fixated eyes.
While offences are real and have real weight and consequences, if they are truly repented of, they do not need to end the spiritual union and communion believers have in Christ. After all, Jesus said, ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother’ (Matt. 18:15). So, what are some ways that we can learn not to be easily offended? How should we approach those who have offended us? How should we respond if we are approached by a brother or sister who raises an offence with us?
Remember what you were by nature
The starting point in learning not to be easily offended is to remember how sinful we are by nature. In Romans chapter 3 verses 9 to 18, the Apostle Paul reminded his readers that whether they were Jews or Greeks they were all pervasively depraved by nature:
For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:
‘None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.’
‘Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.’
‘The venom of asps is under their lips.’
‘Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.’
‘Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.’
‘There is no fear of God before their eyes.’
When we remember what we are by nature, we remember that we live in a fallen world with other sinners. Sin should not take us by surprise since we have ourselves carried out many sinful practices (in thought, word and action) in our own experience. This is why the author of Ecclesiastes charged his readers in the following way:
Do not take to heart all the things that people say, lest you hear your servant cursing you. Your heart knows that many times you yourself have cursed others (Eccl. 7:21-22).
Remember who you are by grace
If you are in Christ by faith alone, you are forgiven and covered in the righteousness of Christ. As one who has been forgiven of much, we should be those who are quick to forgive much. The Apostle wrote the following admonition to the church in Colossae:
Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Col. 3:13).
It will also serve us well to remember that we continue to need to be forgiven for our personal sins and transgressions (1 Jn. 1:8-2:2). Indwelling sin is a reality in the life of every true believer. We cry out with the Apostle Paul:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
For I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Rom. 7:15-25).
If this is the common experience of true believers, then it means that we should be willing to bear long with others. If we have known the continual battle between the flesh and the Spirit in our own life, then we should be ready to walk with others who know the same experience. This is why Jesus taught Peter that believers are to forgive their brother or sister if he or she comes and repents ‘seventy-seven times’ (Matt. 18:21-22).
Additionally, we should see more of our own sin than we do the sin of others. As the Puritan Thomas Watson once wrote, ‘A humble Christian studies his own infirmities, and another’s excellencies.’ The indwelling sin in our own hearts and lives ought to appear as a log, in comparison to what looks like a speck in the eye of other believers.
Remember what you will be in glory
There is a day coming when no believer will ever offend another believer or will ever be offended by another believer. Christ has purchased eternal holiness for his blood-bought people. This means that we should view ourselves and those who profess the true faith as those with whom we will dwell for all eternity in unbroken fellowship and love. In Charity and Its Fruit, Jonathan Edwards explained that Heaven will be ‘a world of love’ in which believers live together in perfect harmony.
Additionally, remember that the most aggravating believer in the present will be a glorified believer in the hereafter. As C.S. Lewis explained in The Weight of Glory, ‘It is a serious thing… to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship.’
None of these are meant to downplay our own need for repentance, or the need those who have offended us have of repentance. In fact, they are meant to encourage repentance. If we live under grace, it should be reflective of the way that we seek grace from others and extend grace to others in the same body of believers. Jesus died for all of the offences of all of the elect. We, therefore, are to live in the light of that, both by seeking to cause no offence and in labouring not to be easily offended. What a glorious picture of the gospel at work among believers when these things are seen in actions!
May God give us grace to bear long with other believers, and to cover their offences when they come to us in brokenness over their sin.
This article first appeared on www.feedingonchrist.org and is reprinted with permission.