Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…
OK, today’s question is this: have you managed to offend someone lately? And if not, why not? No, I am not being a smart-aleck here. These are actually legitimate questions. You see, here is a truism you can bank on: if you proclaim truth in the public arena, you will cause offence. It is that simple.
And if you publicly speak Christian truth in today’s culture, you are guaranteed to offend someone. Indeed, how can you not offend someone? If you stand up and make any Christian truth claim today you will end up offending all sorts of people. Let me make it plain for you:
-If you say marriage should only be between a man and a woman, you will offend homosexuals and their supporters. -If you say killing unborn babies is wrong, you will offend those who are pro-abortion. -If you say harmful drugs should remain illicit, you will offend the pro-drug legalisation crowd. -If you say that God exists, you will offend all sorts of angry atheists. -If you say Jesus is the only way to God, you will offend all sorts of non-Christians – and even some wimpy Christians. -If you say we are all sinners who deserve eternal punishment, you will offend those who don’t believe this way. -If you say the Bible is God’s full written revelation to mankind, you will offend those from other religions or no religion. -If you say there is such a thing as absolute truth, you will offend the relativists.
The list goes on and on. It is impossible not to offend some people if you take a stand for biblical truth and morality in the public square. And there is nothing new about this. It has always been the case. Whenever God’s people have stood up and proclaimed God’s truth, offence has been taken – big time.
In both Testaments we see over and over again how God’s spokesmen were hated, rejected and opposed by others. You see, they took offence at the message being proclaimed. Let me offer just one Old Testament passage here: “To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them, they find no pleasure in it” (Jeremiah 6:10).
Anyone not in loving submission to God will of course find his word to be offensive. They will hate it and reject it, and those who proclaim it. It has always been that way. And things are no different in New Testament times. One simply cannot read the Gospels and notice how often Jesus caused offence.
Everywhere he went he got people angry, he offended people, he divided people, and he caused an uproar. Yet today’s evanjellyfish think that all of this is taboo – we must not offend anyone or do or say anything to put people offside. We must just smile a lot and never say anything which might be deemed offensive, intolerant, judgmental or controversial.
Sorry, these guys do not have a clue. They obviously have never read what actually happened when Jesus walked the earth. Let me cite just one passage. Many dozens of others could do, but get a load of this one (as found in John 6:60-66):
“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “’Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, ‘This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.’ From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
Did you get that? Jesus offended people. He divided people. He caused many to turn away from him. And yet he was the most loving, gracious, meek and humble man to walk the planet. If such a person could not help but offend many, then how in the world do we think that we can avoid causing offence?
Of course the gospel message is deeply offensive. All those who live for self and sin will be offended by the gospel. That is natural. For example Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 that the gospel message gives offence. As he writes in v 23: “but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block [or offence] to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”.
Given all this, it makes perfect sense to hear John writing these words: “Do not be surprised, brethren, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Of course it will hate us – how can it do otherwise? To vainly imagine we can live a genuine Christian life and yet never offend anyone or get anyone bent out of shape is a pipedream. It just ain’t gonna happen.
Now, to say all this must not be misconstrued. Am I saying we should go around deliberately seeking to offend people? No. Am I saying we should delight in picking fights and getting people upset? No. Am I saying it is a good thing to be ornery, cantankerous and belligerent? No.
But we are to contend for the gospel, without seeking to be contentious. We are to fight for the faith, without seeking to be pugilistic. We are to argue our case, without seeking to be argumentative. But remember how the most graceful and loving man to ever live fared as he sought to proclaim truth. People hated him for it, and they eventually crucified him.
So if Jesus received such a response, why do we think we are going to get off without any opposition or enmity? As J. Gresham Machen wrote way back in 1923, ”Few desires on the part of religious teachers have been more harmfully exaggerated than the desire to ‘avoid giving offense’” (Christianity and Liberalism). Indeed, all the great preachers have always known this:
-“It is a poor sermon that gives no offense; that neither makes the hearer displeased with himself nor with the preacher.” George Whitefield
-“A sermon often does a man most good when it makes him most angry. Those people who walk down the aisles and say, ‘I will never hear that man again,’ very often have an arrow rankling in their breast.” C.H. Spurgeon
-“You can really test what is being preached by one particular criterion, and it is this: the gospel of Jesus Christ is always offensive to the natural man. . . . If you find the natural, unregenerate man praising either the preacher or his message then, I say, you had better examine that preaching and that preacher very carefully.” Martyn Lloyd-Jones
-“Why in God’s name do you expect to be accepted everywhere? How is it the world couldn’t get on with the holiest man that ever lived, and it can get on with you and me?” Leonard Ravenhill
-“The desire to please may be commendable enough under certain circumstances, but when pleasing men means displeasing God it is an unqualified evil and should have no place in the Christian’s heart. To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.” A.W. Tozer
Amen and amen. So I ask you again: Have you offended anyone lately?