There is more than insecurity and fragility underneath our proclivity to take up an offense, although those problems are constantly feeding it. At root, our easily offended hearts are full of pride and idolatry. We have set ourselves as the standard of what is right and good and what must be honored — any perceived challenge to that assumption results in anger, resentment, and the taking up of an offense. But we’re not the standard; God is — which is wonderful news for sinners.
I remember the flush of embarrassment that came to my face as I realized that my friend was letting me know I hadn’t been invited to be a part of the group of women she was meeting with regularly — and not by accident.
I tried to navigate the moment, relieving the tension by telling her not to worry about it. I let her know that my plate was full with doctors’ appointments and kids’ activities. “I couldn’t join the group even if I were asked!” I laughed, doing all I could to keep her from feeling sorry for me.
And my words were true. I really did have a plate too full to add anything else. I really didn’t want her to worry about it. Yet my hot cheeks and thumping heart told the secret I was trying to conceal — I was fighting the impulse to take offense.
Shutting the Gates
I knew well enough how destructive becoming offended can be. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city.” What horrible strength there is in taking up an offense! Offended people can become unassailable. Recalcitrant. Too hard-hearted to hear an appeal. When we are offended, we believe ourselves to have the moral high ground; therefore, we feel justified in making the one who has offended us a villain.
I thought I was on the inside of this particular group of friends, only to discover I was not. My sense of where I fit in with others was challenged in a painful way. I could choose to accept it with goodwill toward these sisters and lean on my Savior who has called me his friend, or I could get tough — hard as nails — like an unyielding strong city whose gates have been shut and whose pride has locked out the offending parties.
The Scriptures show us many instances of Jesus causing offense. He offends his hometown crowd. He offends Pharisees and scribes. He is the stone of stumbling and rock of offense. This is no big surprise to Christians. We aren’t shocked that the Pharisees or the hometown crowd are resentful and outraged by his superior understanding and his mighty deeds. From our vantage point, it isn’t too hard to see that when Jesus challenges their view of reality, he’s always right. We can see their blind spots and pride and how that pride makes them easily offended.
But it’s much harder to spot the pride when we’re the one being offended, and when the offender is someone other than the perfect Jesus.
The Drug of Offendedness
What do we do when we’re offended by one another? What do we do if the offense given or taken is a result of carelessness, or thin skin, or personality differences, or unintentionally missing the mark, or sinfulness in ourselves or others?
First, remember that when others are offensive in a truly sinful way, their offense is against God first and foremost. Sin against us feels personal, because it often is personal. But it’s significantly more personal to God, who doesn’t just relate to us, but who created us. God is patient with those who have offended his holiness. But he will not wait forever. And for those who are united to his Son through faith, their offenses against him have been extinguished at the cross.
Second, it is good to remember that God has made a way for us to deal with a legitimate offense. We can follow the instructions of our Lord and go to that person directly in the hopes of gaining our brother (Matthew 18:15). We don’t ever need to stay offended. Even when we don’t gain our brother by going to him, we don’t have to live in our offended state; we can lay that down at the cross. And laying our offense there, we can take a posture that is eager for reconciliation, should God grant it.
But what about when there is no intentional or discernible sin? What about the kind of situation that I found myself in — the one where I had not been sinned against, yet my hurt feelings were poised to harden into offendedness? It helps to acknowledge that taking offense is a powerful drug. It’s a powerful drug precisely because it gives us power. Remember the proverb — the offended brother is more unyielding than a strong city!