Years ago our sweet pastor’s wife taught about taking offense. She remarked that when something was done to us or was said to or about us, we could choose not to be offended. For me that was revolutionary thinking. How about you?
Is it a shocking idea that you have no right to take offense? You realize that you should forgive others, but do you quickly forgive and move on? Or do you enjoy the power of holding a grudge or being offended? What do you do with verses like Matthew 7:1-5 that talks about not judging and getting the speck out of your own eye first, or Romans 12:18 that tells us to live at peace with all men, or 1 Corinthians chapter 13 that is filled with characteristics for living a life of practical love? Do you equivocate? Pretend you’ve got it all together? Rationalize? In pride, we often focus on self and ignore God’s tuggings on our heart to truly forgive, to reconcile, to lay down our offenses at the foot of the cross.
We often think we are good at forgiveness. I’ve been there. In my early year, if you had apologized to me I would have been immediately gracious! I would hug you and genuinely forgive you. No grudges. Really! But if you didn’t apologize… whoa! Then I was offended! I felt I had a right to be offended. Yet, I thought I was handling offenses appropriately.
What made a difference in my thinking, and what will change all of us? When we realize and accept that our offenses (sins) against Father God are so much greater than any of the petty things we hold onto that have been done to us, then God’s transforming work begins in us.
The parable in Matthew 18:23-35 where Jesus is giving a word picture of forgiveness to Peter and the disciples will clear up our focus as we allow the stark light of scripture to stream into the dark corners of our hearts that we keep comfortably hidden. Jesus prefaced this parable with a command (a command, not a suggestion!) to forgive a person 70 x 7 times. A person. 70 x 7. A single brother. 70 x 7. Another Christian. 70 x 7 = 490 times! Then Jesus went on to tell the story, because stories pierce our hearts with truth.
God was piercing my heart. He was removing blemishes from my heart. He got my attention with that radical thought presented in our ladies Bible study group… I could choose NOT to be offended in any and every situation!
Once He had my attention it was like a seed being planted in my soul. The watering and fertilizing and sunshine started coming. Everywhere I turned I was confronted with verses and stories and examples of taking offense or not doing it. And that seed began to grow. I heard a stream of songs and sermons and wise proverbs on the subject. And it became a delicate little plant.
And this parable, of one who was forgiven of such a HUGE debt but was unwilling to forgive smaller offenses done to him, began to grow in my thoughts. And that plant started to thrive. I began to see the reality of my life and the HUGE amount of grace God had bestowed on me. I began to be humbled. I began to see reality, heavenly reality, through my blurred lens of self-righteousness and pride.
I realized no word spoken or deed done to me would ever come close to being as bad as my sin which nailed Jesus to the cross! My prideful, sinful heart which day after day after day after day chose my will over His and my ways over His, and my set of rules as to what was acceptable over His, had ruled my life. My self love had relegated My Creator and the God of the universe to the position of onlooker in my life, when in reality He rightly deserved the role of Chief Engineer, Conductor, President, Foreman, Principal, Boss,… the Sovereign Monarch of the domain of my life. Who was I that the Lord of the earth should take a back seat to me?
Over time that little seed turned into a way of life and a way of thinking for me. God’s love, His Word, and His grace worked in my heart as Isaiah 55:10-11 says “to accomplish what the Father desired and achieve the purpose for which He sent it.” You see when it comes to our Heavenly Father, His “Love is beautiful, but it is also terrible– terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved.” (Hannah Hurnard – Hind’s Feet on High Places)
Since this transformation, other people may have benefitted from my less-easy-to-offend attitude. I’m kinder, softer. But I am the greatest beneficiary of the blessings that have come from learning to forgive immediately and not take offense. I now know what it is like to walk in freedom from taking offense, to lie down at night to sweet sleep, not agitation and anger; to take criticism without taking offense; to maintain long term relationships even through hurts and misunderstandings; to be insulted, ignored, or mistreated and not have it ruin my day; to walk through church on a Sunday morning with a mind full of kind thoughts and blessings and prayers for the dear brothers and sisters I meet instead of an offended spirit full of hurt, anger, and self-righteous judgment!
I still get tempted to take offense. I still have people say or do hurtful things to me, but each time I have an immediate choice to give up self and choose love. To forgive. The transforming power of Christ and of the Word of God have changed me. When the God of love has planted that seed and grown a flowering, fruit-bearing plant in our hearts, personal offenses come into perspective and we can choose to walk in peace not prideful selfishness.
“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.” 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
God’s “…Love is beautiful, but it is also terrible– terrible in its determination to allow nothing blemished or unworthy to remain in the beloved.”
Hannah Hurnard – Hind’s Feet on High Places