How we deal with insulting behavior says a lot about what we believe.
"No offense, but ..."
Nothing puts me on edge like those three words. What follows is never pleasant.
No offense, but you have a lot of zits. [Read: Someone should tell you your face is hard to look at.]
No offense, but your name is kind of old-fashioned. [Read: I think your name is dumb.]
No offense, but you just don't have the experience for the role. [Read: You are a talentless wannabe who could never compete with the likes of me.]
What someone means when they say "no offense," is that they are about to offend you ... badly. The thing is, offense rarely presents itself in such an overt way.
Many times it's a statement that hits us wrong or an action we find inconsiderate. It's a presumption someone makes or an assumption we make or an assumption we make about a presumption someone else makes.
Basically, it's pretty easy to get offended.
I've seen this concept at work in my own life. Several years ago I had a blowout with a friend. We were working on a project together and had a major disagreement about how to proceed. He assumed I didn't trust him; I assumed he didn't care about my feelings. We both took offense.
Two months later we sat at a restaurant booth, working out the final threads of that conflict. That experience had a happy ending, because we were able to discover what went wrong before our relationship disintegrated. We recognized that neither one of us had intended to offend. It had just happened.
Insult Me, Please
We live in a world where people seem to want to be offended.
Last week I accidentally pulled out in front of someone in a parking lot. Even though we were both driving slowly and there was little chance of an accident, he shook his fist at me and yelled something I couldn't hear but assumed was not complimentary. He was offended.
When you think about it, the root of offense is pride. Someone does something that seems disrespectful or degrading, and my "I deserve better" alarm goes off. If my expectation is that people are out to wrong me, I will read every action or word as a potential insult.
I know people like this. I've been like this.
The thing is, I am not supposed to be offended for myself. Jesus said, "Bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Luke 6:28). As a Christ-follower, I am not to be overly concerned about my rights or the way I'm being treated.
The principles of God's kingdom promote a different way. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says love "is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs." Love is not easily offended, nor does it give offense. In fact, these things stand in the way of love — the trademark of the Christian life (1 Peter 4:8).
Proverbs says this very thing: "He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends" (17:9).
A Time for Offense
While offending one another can be counterproductive, sometimes we need to be offended.
Consider the story of Jesus and the Pharisees in Matthew 15. After Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites for finding ways around the law, Jesus' disciples come to Him and say: "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?"
I imagine their eyes were wide as they essentially said, "Um, Jesus. You just ticked off some of the most important guys in Jerusalem. Are you sure you wanted to do that?"
Jesus' response is interesting. He says: "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots." (v. 14)
Christ wasn't concerned about offending people for the right reasons. He understood that the Pharisees were offended because what He told them was the truth. Their pride had been hurt, but their reaction was evidence of their hardheartedness.
The Bible tells us that believers are an offensive odor to those who do not know God (2 Cor. 2:15-16). If you've spent much time talking to non-believers, they will most certainly express the ways Christians offend them. But if you listen closely, the thing that may actually be offending them is the Gospel. Nothing hurts man's pride like the need for a Savior. According to Paul, the cross itself is an offense (Gal. 5:11).
The Locked City
So what's the big deal about offending someone? If Jesus did it, shouldn't we? Offending others by speaking the truth of the Gospel is one thing. You might even say it's part of the job description of a believer. Offending others for your own satisfaction, however, is not.
When you offend someone, it impedes your impact in that person's life. Proverbs 18:19 says, "An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel."
Several years ago I found out that Ty (not his real name, of course), someone who attended my Sunday school class and whom I considered to be a friend, had said something negative about me to someone else. Since I received the information in a gossipy way, I didn't confront him about it.
But during the next year the offense smoldered like embers under a pile of hay. It affected how I viewed Ty's leadership. My bitterness grew to the point where I even avoided eye contact with him.
Everything came to a head the Sunday I heard my pastor preach on Matthew 18. "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over" (v. 15) Before I could chicken out, I picked up my phone and dialed Ty's number.
He was happy to meet with me and when I explained how he had offended me, he was ready and eager to apologize. "I thought maybe something was wrong," he said, "but I didn't know what it was."
It turned out the wound that had plagued me for more than a year — the thing that had caused me to resent this guy's leadership — was an offhanded statement he had made that he didn't even believe anymore. I learned my lesson. My cooperation with a fellow Christian had been hindered by my unwillingness to deal with an offense.
Ty is a good example of how a believer should react when he has offended someone. He listened to me. Without getting defensive or making excuses, he apologized for the way he had hurt me. I had become that fortified city, but his gentle response unlocked the doors.
I think of that experience often as one of the most impacting of my spiritual journey. For the most part, I try to apply grace to situations where I feel attacked or insulted. Proverbs 19:11 says, "A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense." Choosing not to get offended is glorious. Really? I mean, it seems like a nice thing to do, but glorious?
I think the glory is found in the fact that this action reflects God's grace. I was born offending God and will continue to do so until I die. And yet, because of Christ, God chooses to overlook the offense. And this is to His glory.
David implored: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
That's my prayer, too. And as I recognize His abundant grace toward me in my imperfection, I will be more apt to overlook the offenses of others.
No offense, but I think you should do the same.
Copyright 2008 Suzanne Gosselin. All rights reserved.