Friday, June 11, 2010

taking offense: part 1

Offense is something that's been on my mind a lot lately. What should we do when we are the ones who have been offended by fellow believers? Is it ever appropriate to show our displeasure, or does it pretty much always lead to discord? And what are our responsibilities as far as striving to not offend other people?

As a Christian, I try to use the Bible as my guide. I say "try" because I don't always seek it out as often as I should. I tend to stew. I sometimes mutter, and I write - because I often find it's easier for me to work things out through the written word.

When I've been offended, it seems that it would be natural for me to express my unhappiness about it. After all, shouldn't we be able to get things off our chests, to be honest about it? In an ideal world, perhaps. If we could lay down our defenses, our rights, our feelings of entitlement. If we could have pure motives, and always assume positive intent.

But we're not in a perfect world. And it's painfully obvious at times. So I went digging. Here are a few verses I found in my NIV:

A man's wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.
-Proverbs 19:11
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. -Romans 12:18
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. -Colossians 3:15
Gulp. Really? Do I have to? Must my first response be denying my own rights, roll over and play dead...become the proverbial doormat?

Consider Jesus' words:
For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. - Luke 14:10-12

Humility. Sometimes it rankles. Certainly it rankles. But let's also consider Jesus' example:

5Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
6Who, being in very naturea]">[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very natureb]">[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
-Philippians 2:5-8

When we consider how the very Son of God chose to humble himself (for us, the worst of sinners), it sheds a new light on the subject. And He is known as the Prince of Peace. The verses preceding that last passage say this:
3Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. - Philippians 2:3-4 (emphasis mine)

So how do we find that balance? How do we establish healthy boundaries, protect ourselves from unhealthy relationsohips...and yet strive for peace in our interactions with others? Is it really possible to have those boundaries without seeming to invite discord?

I am still really wrestling with that. In the meantime, here is more food for thought:
The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. -Psalm 103:8

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. - Prov. 15:1

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. -Prov. 29:11

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry... - James 1:19

So I suppose what it boils down to is really trying to assume positive intent. I must remind myself that there are (at least) two sides to every story, and that maybe, if we can assume that the person who has offended us meant well, it really can work out peaceably. It seems that if we want to be godly, Christlike people, we really do need to learn to turn the other cheek when we've been slighted.

I'll close with a paraphrase of something I heard Beth Moore say recently, on a DVD. She said something to the effect of "The Enemy is the author of every offense." This statement really struck a chord with me. If we can remember that the Lord's desire is for believers to enjoy peace and unity, we would do well to beware that the Enemy's goal is for the exact opposite.

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. - Romans 14:19

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject. I'm really just mulling over this stuff, trying to find some answers to questions that have come up lately. So...what do you think?

In "taking offense: part 2," I'll take on the challenging subject of how we might share our opinions without offending anyone, or whether it's even possible. Stay tuned to see if I've wrestled any answers out of all my questions!


Joy said...

Wonderful post, really appreciate all the quotes you included ~ will definitely be copying down many.

One thing I do in seeking balance is tell a friend, Charlie or journal about little injuries; but not confront the person or make public unless grievous or as you pointed out I believe the person is meaning to be a toxic influence. Believing I deserve comfort and support but perhaps letting peace champion over justice.

Mindy said...

Thanks, Joy! I value what you have to say about it - those are great ideas. I tend to be a little nervous about talking with a friend, personally...unless it's someone completely removed from the situation. I am extremely prickly about gossip, etc., and I think that women often use the idea of "processing" in a way that can end up being harmful. It's definitely a tricky balance for me, so to be safe, I usually stick to talking to Jeff about things - or one of our mothers. :)

Another subject I've been mulling over today is whether we can/should defend ourselves against slander, etc. What would/did Jesus do? But I don't think I'm gonna get into that on the blog...

paige said...

mindy - i blogged about something similar awhile ago:
LOVED all your scripture, and also joy's input "let peace champion over justice" - love that. i agree with you too - i usually talk to Neil about *everything*. He's so even keeled & so able to see every angle of a problem.
As far as defending yourself. i went through a little bit of something kinda like that :) & Neil told me (wisely) to let it go. He told me that even if i did try to defend my position - that people will think what they think regardless. He told me to just *live out* what i believe - less talk, more walk kinda thing. It takes a long time, but it's so worth it in the end.

Mindy said...

Wow, Paige, I completely forgot about that! It's something that's come up around here lately, so it's been on my mind...

Molly @ Me and Madeline said...

Great post, Mindy!

Yeah, there is a very thin line between "venting" and gossip. I tend to use my sister or Justin as my sounding board, sometimes I'm too close to a situation to view it objectively.

As a rule, I'm not easily offended. It's really easy to take things that people say or do the wrong way, so I always try (key word being "try"!) to always think the best and tend to say a lot of "I'm sure they didn't mean it that way".

I think taking offenses is the #1 reason people church hop. It makes me crazy. People aren't perfect, and even our close christian family will hurt us and dissapoint us. If more people would actually take the time to see what He has to say about it (as you have!), there would be far fewer church splits, fueds and fights.

Looking forward to Part 2!

Sarah, Nathen, Aiden, and Evan said...

Great post Mindy:)And very timely, I hate to be a gossip but often find myself being just that, your post put me in "my place", thank you. I need to just have peace with some things, and pray for change in people.

Thanks for your wisdom, and openness on this subject, can't wait for part 2.

Rena said...

Really great post, I appreciate you talking about this topic so honestly here.
I've had to go through something similar recently and I've learned that yes, there is much we need to overlook.
And if it is something that needs to be addressed, for me it is soo difficult to talk about it in a way that doesn't make the matter worse. But if you can get to the point where you can understand the other person's position, and the other person feels he/she has been HEARD as well, then there is the potential for real conversation and growth. Like you say, it's very hard to find the right balance. Looking forward to Part 2!