In today’s world, people seem to be getting more offensive. How do you avoid being offended, and how can you overcome the feelings of offense?
Offenses are rife in this world, especially on the Internet. If there is a platform with a chat or comment section, you don’t have to read far before you see people being offensive and people being offended.
As a result of this phenomenon, new terms have been invented to label those who practice this kind of behavior:
- Troll: Somebody who deliberately posts inappropriate and offensive comments to provoke a reaction.
- Flamer: A person who writes content to start arguments and invoke negative emotions such as rage, doubt or sadness.
- Keyboard warrior: A person who hides behind the anonymity of the Internet to be far more aggressive and cruel online than he or she would be in real life.
The Internet is supercharging the human tendency to deliberately hurt others. This should be no surprise, as Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes” (Matthew 18:7).
An example of a “stumbling block” is found in Revelation 2:14, in the letter to the church of Pergamos. In this passage we find the example of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a “stumbling block [skandalon] before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols, and to commit sexual immorality.”
The reference is to an incident in the Old Testament when Moses was leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land. Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse Israel, but God would not allow it (Numbers 23:7-8). However, Balaam circumvented this limitation by advising Balak to have the women of Moab entice the Israelite men to worship Baal. This was a clever “stumbling block” designed to cause God to curse Israel for their sin (Numbers 31:16).
This is an excellent example of how offense can be a trap. If you take the bait, you’ll be trapped.
Since offenses are rampant and will worsen, how can you overcome them when they come your way?
Keys to overcoming offense
Consider two simple keys to overcoming offenses. (Though they are simple to say, they can be hard to do.)
Key 1: Don’t retaliate
Why do we need to overcome offenses?
Because our instinct when we are offended is to retaliate and give offense back. Jesus warned that in the end times, “many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another” (Matthew 24:10). He also said that when He returns, He will “gather out of His kingdom all things that offend” (Matthew 13:41).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus addressed the Old Testament teaching of “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” to make an important point about His expectations for His followers (Matthew 5:38). It seems the Pharisees were using the law in Exodus 21:23-25 as an excuse for retaliation. In other words, if you lose an eye or a tooth in an incident, the one who caused the loss must also lose an eye or a tooth.
Jesus wasn’t advocating Christians become punching bags. His point was don’t respond to offenses with another offense in retaliation.But this interpretation missed the real point of the law. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” was not about duplicating the crime through the punishment but was to limit the severity of the punishment so it fit the crime.
The intent was that no more than a “tooth for a tooth” or “an eye for an eye” was to be taken. This limit was to prevent one from using the law as a weapon to destroy another person.
When hit, it’s natural to want to hit back harder. We see this today when people abuse the legal system to sue for far higher than the actual damages or use the law to destroy another person’s financial status or reputation.
Jesus taught His disciples not to retaliate. Jesus said, “Whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also” (Matthew 5:39).
Jesus wasn’t advocating Christians become punching bags. His point was don’t respond to offenses with another offense in retaliation.
Jesus then gave another example of not escalating the situation. If you are sued for your “tunic,” give your “cloak” also (verse 40). Lawsuits can be expensive and troublesome, so sometimes it is best to de-escalate the situation, even if you suffer an undeserved loss.
This doesn’t mean Christians can’t use the law to defend themselves, but Christians must try to pacify a situation instead of escalating it.
Jesus gave yet another example of one who “compels you to go one mile, go with him two” (verse 41). Jesus talked about being “compelled.” Jews were under Roman occupation, and the Romans could compel you to drop whatever you were doing and run an errand for them. Jesus was sharing the wisdom that by going the extra mile, you not only do the right thing, but you also gain favor and improve a bad situation.
Key 2: Be compassionate
Peter once asked Jesus, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Peter probably thought he was being generous by proposing to forgive a person up to seven times. Imagine his shock when he heard Christ’s reply: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (verse 22).
Not seven times, but 490 times! In essence, Jesus was saying we shouldn’t put any limit on the number of times we forgive someone.
Compassion is being willing to overlook the sins and shortcomings of others and even suffer loss for the sake of the other person.What character attribute do you need to forgive someone time after time?
Jesus then told a parable of a man who owed a king a large sum of money that he couldn’t afford to pay. When the king demanded that everything the man had be sold, including his family, the man begged for mercy. The king was then “moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt” (verses 23-27).
Here is the attribute that one must have to combat offenses. It is the opposite of offense—it is compassion.
When we are offended, we usually focus on ourselves and how we have been unfairly treated. The focus becomes the self.
But compassion shifts our focus to the other person. Compassion is being willing to overlook the sins and shortcomings of others and even suffer loss for the sake of the other person. This level of compassion stems from loving God’s law (Psalm 119:165).
Even in extreme agony, He could look at them with compassion and not take offense. Instead, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).
The offenses we suffer will all be much less severe and painful than what He endured, but we need the same characteristic.
With compassion, we can go the extra mile and help others, even those who offend us!