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October 1, 2017 Being Offended

 

Scripture reading: Matthew 5:21-26

 

[I. Introduction] The human condition can be strange. We are a tangled web of desires and temporary goals all of which seek to lift ourselves up and, often, bring others down. This is so because of the sin of pride. If the traditional understanding of Satan’s origin is correct, the sin of pride brought about his rebellion before angels fell. The first sin in the garden, the sin of Eve, was partly due to pride.  When Eve saw that the tree could make her wise, she ate of it (Genesis 3:6). She wanted to be wiser than God had made her.  (Wisdom is a good thing, but it must come from God in his time, not from another source.)

 

Since the fall, pride is intensified in the heart of man. We must ever be watchful of its influence and motivation in our thinking and in our actions.

 

Yes, the human condition is now strange and befuddled. We are apt to judge those sins that we think we are not guilty of. Sins like fornication, homosexuality, theft, and drunkenness. Those are, indeed, all sins and should be exposed as such for they ruin people’s lives. But when it comes to sins that affect our own lives we are apt to ignore them. Why do we do this? It is because we have pride.

 

Yet, God sees not as we see. He sees sin in all of its ugliness and in all of its forms. Some sins of which we think lightly the Lord considers serious, destructive to one another and to ourselves, and liable to His judgment.

 

Being angry with our brother or sister in Christ is a great sin. Jesus made that plain.

 

The human condition is strange. We are so concerned about how people perceive us, and how we perceive ourselves, that we like to give different names for various sins so that they don’t sound as bad.

 

  • Drunkenness is “suffering from alcoholism.” (Isn’t it interesting how an act of rebellion becomes a “suffering?”)
  • Adultery becomes “an affair.”
  • Fornication becomes “making love.”
  • Theft becomes “borrowing.”

 

But we even do that with anger. We do not want to be thought of as an angry person. So, when we are angry with another we are just “bothered by their behavior.” Or, if we are just a little bit more honest, we will admit that we are “offended.” Offense is a stronger word than “bothered,” but not as transparent as anger. “Offense” is a legitimate word. The Bible uses it a few times. It does describe, sad to say, a frequent experience among God’s people. Therefore, we will use it.

 

In our passage this morning Jesus uses the phrase, “angry with his brother.” But it is obvious that he is speaking about one person being offended at another.

 

Matthew chapter 5 is part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount and this sermon is intended for his own covenant people, not the lost. In the present age this means Christians.

 

In verse 21 we read: “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you…”  Everyone knew, and still knows, that it is wrong to murder. Surely, this is one of the most heinous of sins and those who committed it in the Bible were judged severely by the Lord for it.

 

Then Jesus says, “But I say to you…” He is revealing the true intent of the law. The law was never meant to merely regulate outward behavior. It was meant to reveal the condition of our heart so that we would flee to Christ. Then, if we come to Christ in faith and repentance, we receive the Spirit who empowers us to live out the law, not in drudgery or compulsion, but in joy and pleasantness. Once we are united with Christ we discover that we love the law and it is a joy to obey it.

 

When we are offended with a brother or sister in the Lord we have violated the sixth commandment. This reason, and this reason alone, should be adequate for us to take flight away from ever being offended, from offending others, or from holding on to an offense. It should be. But it isn’t.

 

We are creatures of self-interest. We often do things that are unwise and wrong because we are catering to our pride. Sometimes, we are not even aware that we are doing that. But we are. The human condition is befuddled.

 

Therefore, the Lord has graciously provided other revelations and motivations to awaken us out of our stupor and to help us see our sin and escape from its trap.

 

[II.] We must avoid being offended at all cost because it makes us liable to the judgment. The judgment to which he refers is his own judgment of his saints upon his return to the earth.

 

Some Christians think that there will either be no judgment of Christians at all because Christ died for their sins or else that, if there is one, it is nothing to be concerned about. Both of these notions are grievous mistakes. They arise because some Christians seldom read their Bible and only know the most basic concepts of the faith.

 

It is true that the disciple of Christ will not come under judgment for eternal perdition. There is an eternal, never-ending penalty to be paid if one dies in their sins. Christ has paid that and his payment is applied to those who repent and believe. But there will be a judgment of his own people. This will be a judgment in consideration of accomplishments as well as unrepented sins. The consideration of sins is not to determine eternal destiny but to determine worthiness for the kingdom.

 

Paul refers to this judgment numerous times in his writings. Time does not permit us to look at the many passages. But let us read one that deals with the same issue that Jesus does here. It is Romans 14:10-12. READ.

 

We looked at this passage two weeks ago and saw that Paul is not referring to sinful actions but to other kinds of behavior that we find offensive.

 

So, in Romans 14 Paul is dealing with relationships among brothers, that is, relationships within the church. He asks, “Why do you pass judgment on your brother?” He is not expecting an answer. It is a rhetorical question. It is a polite way of saying, “Stop judging your brother or sister!”

 

He asks, “Why do you despise your brother?” The NIV has: why do you treat them with contempt? As we will see shortly, this question deals directly with what Jesus is teaching. It is another rhetorical question. Paul is saying, “Stop treating your brother or sister with contempt.”

 

Why should we not judge and why should we not treat with them with contempt? Because “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” Who will? We all. That means all without exception. To emphasize this even more Paul writes in verse 12: “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” Each of us! Without exception.

 

Paul emphasizes what many Christians either deny, ignore, or pass over lightly.

 

We must be avoid being offended at all cost because it makes us liable to the judgment.

 

[III.] We must avoid being offended at all cost because it will lead us into further sin. In the middle part of verse 22 Jesus says, “Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council.” (ESV)

 

What makes a person liable to judgment is not some outward act it is just being offended by itself. This ought to make us keep guard over our hearts diligently and not just run with our feelings. Now Jesus says that if we act on our offense, our anger, by insulting the other person we are “liable to the council.” What does that mean?

 

The council to which Jesus refers is the Sanhedrin. The first judgment alludes to a local judgment. In Hebrew culture there were local judges (as seen in Deut 16:18) and the highest court or council, the Sanhedrin. What Jesus is communicating is that even to be offended will make one liable, but then to act on that offense by saying a negative thing about that person is a more serious offense.

 

It is a heavier offense and entails a heavier penalty. The Sanhedrin had the authority to impose harsher sanctions, even death, than the local elders.

 

In other words, if we start to attribute insults – negative characterizations – to those who have offended us than we have further sinned and this will result in a harsher discipline at the Judgment Seat of Christ.

 

We must avoid being offended at all cost because it will lead us into further sin and then further judgment.

 

[IV.] We must avoid being offended at all cost because it makes us liable to hell. In the last part of verse 22 Jesus says: “Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

 

This is yet a more serious judgment for a heavier offense still. But why would calling someone a fool be worse than insulting them? Isn’t calling them a fool just an insult, too?

 

The answer is that a better translation is  “Rebel.” So, other accurate translations translate the original word as rebel and some translations indicate in the footnotes that this is another meaning of the word.

 

Without taking the time to explain why “rebel” is, more likely, a better translation, consider the ramifications. If one is calling a brother or sister a rebel it is patently untrue. Belonging to Christ, God does not count them as rebels but you do! Further, whereas a mere insult manifests contempt, still a sin, “Rebel” claims that you know the person’s heart and you assess it badly: a serious offense indeed.

 

 What is the danger of assessing a brother or sister’s heart in such a way? According to Jesus you become liable, accountable “to the hell of fire.” The English word “hell” is quite imprecise and in some translations it is used to translate four different words or phrases in Greek. However, each of these words or phrases describe a different place. Here, the word is Gehenna, a Greek word which transliterates the Hebrew phrase ge Hinnom, “the valley of Hinnom.” This was a place just outside of Jerusalem where refuse was burned. In modern parlance: a garbage dump where the fires continually burned. This is the picture that Jesus wanted people to have in their minds. It was a place where the unwanted things went and were purged from Jerusalem.

 

It is a terrible place to go! But it is not the same place as the “lake of fire” after the final judgment, the judgment at the end of all things, the judgment that determines eternal destiny. Let me repeat, Gehenna is not the same place as the lake of fire. The lake of fire (what we more often think of when we hear the word “hell”) is eternal, never-ending. Gehenna is temporary.

 

Thus, the judgment to which Jesus refers is not the final judgment but a judgment of his own. What will come before this tribunal are the sins, like anger, committed after we have come to Christ and become one of his own.

 

We must avoid being offended at all cost because it makes us liable to Gehenna, a place of purging and discipline.

 

[V.] Finally, we must avoid being offended because it makes our acts of worship unwanted by God.  One of the privileges of belonging to the Lord is that we may worship Him. Singing praises to him, praying, and the great privilege of giving a portion of our means to the work of God on earth are examples.

 

But God does not want these things from you if you are not at peace with your brother or sister.

 

            So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. [1]

 

Our relationship with our brother or sister in Christ takes precedence over our service to God.  Don’t sing. Don’t pray and expect your prayers to be answered. Don’t give…until you have made peace with them.

 

We must avoid being offended because it makes our acts of worship unwanted by God.

 

[VI. Application and Conclusion] What we must do is clear. We must reach out to those who are offended by us. That is what Jesus is teaching here. Sometimes we are not even certain that someone is offended by us. It may be just hearsay. You may need to ask them if you suspect it.

 

But, did you know that the Scriptures also teach that the offended one is to reach out to the one that caused the offense and seek reconciliation? It does.

 

“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. [2]

Oh, how this simple step has been neglected! When we perceive that someone has done us wrong, when we are offended, we often do not go to that person. What happens in the church so frequently is that someone is offended and, instead of going to that person and amiably trying to work it out, they will go and tell others about what that person has done. We all know what that is. Gossip!

 

Therefore, we see that both the offended one and the one who is perceived as having caused the offense are both to seek the other and live in harmony. No one gets a free ride!

 

An important question for us is: How can I keep from being offended? There are some simple things that we may do that will lessen the opportunity for offense.

 

  1. Realize that almost all offenses rise up because of either pride or jealousy. We perceive that someone has said something or done something that infringes upon our interests. Well, who are you? Are you that important that you need to get worked up because you think your dignity has been tarnished? Pride is the culprit. We are all guilty as was Eve. Humiliy is the cure. Jealousy stands in second place as a source of offense. Realizing that these sins within us are the main cause of offense should make us think twice about being offended.
  2. That we will not entertain negative remarks about a brother or sister nor believe them unless we hear them directly from the person. John Wesley was a great man of God who was a shining light in the 18th century. He recognized the great spiritual danger of gossip and its tendency to give offense. In 1752 he and a band of brothers wrote up a covenant which everyone signed. It contained only six articles that they believed would help them to live faithfully before the face of God. Here are the first two of those six promises: (1) We will not listen or willingly inquire after ill concerning one another. (2)  If we hear any ill of each other, we will not believe it.

What wisdom is there in those two promises. John Wesley understood human nature. He understood that we have a sinful nature and that gossip and offense had to be checked.

           3. When we are corrected by another (a common cause of offense!), before we get offended just ask yourself one question: “Is there any truth at all in what the person is saying? There are three answers to that question.

  • One answer is that what they are saying is true.  If that is the answer we get then we must humbly say, “You are right. What can I do to make amends?” Confess it and move on.
  • A second answer is that it is false. If it is not true then there is no reason to be offended! You know and God knows that it is not true. Just pray for the person who thinks it is true and be at peace. Love them back even though they may not love you.
  • A third answer is that, “Part of what they are saying is right (maybe just a small part) and part of it is not.” You admit the part that is true and explain the part that is misunderstood. It is always good to apologize for the part that you did wrong.

 

There was a country bumpkin who was poor. He was so poor that he only owned one pair of pants. And they were not in good shape. He had two pockets in those pants. One has a hole in it and the other is carefully watched that no hole develops in it. Every thing that he hears of a hurtful nature—insult, cutting remark, gossip, unclean suggestion, or any such thing—he writes on a piece of paper and sticks it into his pocket with the hole. Everything which he hears that is kind, true, and helpful, he writes on a piece of paper and puts it in the pocket without the hole.

At night he turns out all that is in the pocket without the hole, goes over all that he had put into it during the day, and thoroughly enjoys all the good things that have come his way that day.

Then he sticks his hand into the pocket with the hole and finds nothing there, so he laughs and rejoices that there are no evil things to rehearse. Too many of us reverse the order, putting the evil things in the pocket without the hole so that we can mull over them again and again, and the good things in the pocket with the hole so that they are quickly forgotten. Paul’s way was: “whatsoever things are true … think on these things.”

 

This is just Wesley’s principles put into practice.

 

Let’s be like that country bumpkin. Let’s refuse to be offended. And, if we are offended, talk to the person. Then we can sing again. Then we can pray again and see answers. Then we can give.

 

 

 

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 5:23–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 18:15). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.