On Christians being "offended"  

Posted by Denis Haack in , , , ,

It is not uncommon for Christians to mention that something or other "offended" them. When they report this, they usually mean more than to simply report a fact. The implication is that the person giving the offense should cease doing whatever it is that caused the offense.

Here is John Calvin's take on the topic from his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

If you do anything with unseemly levity, or wantonness, or rashness, out of its proper order or place, so as to cause the ignorant and the simple to stumble, such will be called an offense given by you, since by your fault it came about that this sort of offense arose. And, to be sure, one speaks of an offense as given in some matter when its fault arises from the doer of the thing itself. An offense is spoken of as received when something, otherwise not wickedly or unseasonably committed, is by ill will or malicious intent of mind wrenched into occasion for offense. Here is no ‘given’ offense, but those wicked interpreters baselessly so understand it. None but the weak is made to stumble by the first kind of offense, but the second gives offense to persons of bitter disposition and pharisaical pride. Accordingly, we shall call the one the offense of the weak, the other that of the Pharisees. Thus we shall so temper the use of our freedom as to allow for the ignorance of our weak brothers, but for the rigor of the Pharisees, not at all!... We learn from the Lord’s words how much we ought to regard the offense of the Pharisees: He bids us let them alone because they are blind leaders of the blind (Matt. 15:14). His disciples had warned him that the Pharisees had been offended by his talk (Matt. 15:12). He answered that they were to be ignored and their offense disregarded [III.19.11, p. 843-844].

Of course, sometimes the issue is complicated by the fact that Pharisees happen to control one's paycheck or opportunities for service--and though we don't want to weakly give in at every turn, some battles are not, in the cosmic scheme of things, worth fighting.

I'd be interested to hear your take on what Calvin has written here--and stories about how the issue has played itself out in situations you know about.

This entry was posted at Saturday, July 26, 2008 and is filed under , , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



This is an interesting post, since I have been recently contemplating an offense my neighbor has committed against our family.

Our neighbor has consistently called the police about our dog barking (I know-this is a minor thing, really, but just hold on until I get to the end...). They have called even after telling us they would call us first. They would call the police after only a short time (15 minutes or so) of barking. We would ask them to call us. They would say, fine, we will call. Then, they would call the police anyhow. It became something that just kept repeating itself.

This came to a point, especially because they are Christians and I had expected more grace from a fellow believer, where we could not talk to them anymore. It reads as such a small thing, but it was escalated by their actions, and it was very difficult to be forgiving. I do not say any of this to put us in a "holier than they were" light-it is simply that we kept trying to make peace, to no avail.

The more upset and distressed in my spirit I became about this, the more I prayed and asked God what to do. The Lord, after much wrestling on my own part, laid on my heart a mercy that was deeper than I could have had. First, how sorry I felt for this neighbor, and realized how empty their lives must be to have to pay so much attention to someone else's dog. Second, how sad a household it must be, to have to try to control people who are trying to be your friend, or to feel you must go in the yard and scream at their children. I came to see how tiny their vision must be, and felt pity. To think someone who knows Jesus would not understand His love deeper than this situation was sorrowful to me.

I believe when Jesus told Peter, "Don't forgive seven times, but 70 x 7..." it could have very likely been forgiving the same person, for the same thing. How many times have I thought of my neighbor, and become angry again? Then, I must forgive-again. It is only through the example, grace, mercy, and love of the Lord that I forgive again and again.

I agree with Calvin here, that we should disregard the offenses of others (although I know there are situations where we would have to confront someone in love, but I mean in cases like our neighbor), but to do it in a manner that embraces the mercy we have been shown, and show it to others.

July 26, 2008 at 8:03 PM

As I sit and sip and contemplate offenses, my heart (perhaps tenderized by the cab. at my elbow), shows me that it is I who have offended more often than not--I who have spoken words out of turn, who have thrown caution and compassion to the wind in order to promote that which I believe to be right.

However "right" I might be, I am merely the offensive clanging of a gong if I have not love...Oh Lord, have mercy.

That is what you make me think of. Thanks for writing.

July 29, 2008 at 9:05 PM

If only I were offended by what tempts me. Alas! All too often just the opposite is true. What offends me is in no way tempting, and what doesn't is at times very tempting.

August 1, 2008 at 12:43 PM

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