Let’s start with a question: If you could say anything you wanted without any fear of offending someone, what would you say?
In 2017, it’s difficult to imagine an environment without any fear of offending someone. It would seem we might be the most offended culture yet.
Among the definitions of “offend,” there is one that stands out: to violate or transgress (a criminal, religious, or moral law).
A violation. When we offend someone, they often feel that something deeply held within them has been violated. Oftentimes, the response is a lashing out of opinion in a burst of intense emotion and disdain. It isn’t difficult to imagine why we would grow to avoid this occurrence.
Of course, there are those people who seem to enjoy offending others. They like to get a rise and ruffle feathers. But the vast majority do not enjoy the negative outburst of vehement disapproval.
So what position does this leave us in, then?
Speaking truth in love
There is a difference between avoiding offense in fear and avoiding offense in love. When done in fear, we might be missing an opportunity for the Lord to speak a truth. When we avoid in love, we hold back what otherwise would cause unnecessary pain or perhaps send a message of condemnation or shame. Scripture does not merely say to speak the truth, but to speak the truth in love.
Why, then, are we oftentimes afraid to offend?
Unfortunately, we live in an era of polarities. The default tendency has become to hold back any kind of truth, any kind of disagreement, any kind of differing perspective because Christians are supposed to be nice, right? Well, no. We are called to be kind. These two are not the same.
Somewhere along the way Christians have gotten derailed from the radical intensity of a loving Christ who offended people right and left. Namely, the religious leaders of His time. He didn’t shy away. He spoke directly, yet never with a chip on His shoulder. Sadly, we are hard-pressed today to find a solid balance between this radical boldness to speak the truth with a blazing spirit of love and a heart of compassion. Instead of learning the balance, it’s easier to just avoid confrontation and offense altogether.
The key to offending
Here’s the thing … if we are faithful to always speak the truth wherever God calls us to speak, we are absolutely guaranteed to offend someone. This is purely unavoidable. Do you really think it wasn’t offensive when Jesus told a group of people that unless they ate His flesh and drank His blood, they would have no life in them? Their response says it all: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” And then Jesus called it out directly: “Do you take offense at this?”
The key to biblically offending someone is to never, ever, ever seek to offend, but rather to seek to love. Only the Holy Spirit can show us how to do this properly. It is so unbelievably easy for the flesh to enter in and corrupt a moment of truth, killing all hope for life and love to be breathed through it. We are far too guilty of loving to speak the truth rather than speaking the truth in love.
As a people commissioned to be known by our love, this is unacceptable.
It is equally unacceptable to abandon the truth altogether and remain comfortably nestled in our religious cocoons, far removed from any environment of differing opinion. We must engage in conversations with those who share vastly different mindsets. We must seek out opportunities to share Who we know and the Love that has radically changed us. And more often than not, we will see many of the risks of offending fall away when we humble ourselves to listen to the one with whom we disagree.
When we recognize that we have room to learn ourselves, we will find that people are more willing to listen when we want to talk. May we be so brave as to take the necessary steps toward a greater humility, sharper listening skills, and a deeper love for the one who may or may not be offended by us.
Let’s Talk About It: What are you ways you can seek to love over offend when speaking truth?
The last article of this series, “Shedding Light on Offensiveness Part 3: A healthy balance in a world set to offend,” will be sent out to subscribers Saturday, August 19. Subscribe before Saturday to receive the article right to your inbox!