A woman chased me down in a parking lot after I had just preached a sermon to tell me that she was “highly offended” by my message. I have to admit that her frankness caught me off guard and I was’t sure how to respond to her. While she rattled through her objections to my message I began to become offended too. Offering a critique and voicing your offense are two different things. I also wondered what other issues caused her to confront me directly. Was I prepared to engage in this hornet’s nest of ideas, emotions, and motives? All of these questions were running through my mind in a single awkward moment.
Since then I have been thinking about how I should respond to a person who fundamentally disagrees with me? I didn’t want to just ignore this person or disregard her opinions but I also didn’t have time to engage in a deep theological conversation while standing in the rain. (Did I mention that we were standing in a parking lot IN THE RAIN). How are we called to respond when we are offended?
Most of the time I dig my heels in when someone challenges my beliefs and you probably do the same thing too. But what if whenever we are offended we stop to ask ourselves, “why am I feeling and responding this way?” Often we take offense because our viewpoint is being threatened. Instead of shutting down, we must allow ourselves to sit in a moment of tension and see where the Lord is taking the conversation.
As a society, we are quick to take offense because almost everything hits a raw nerve. We feel the freedom to respond by belittling someone behind a computer screen or bullying them in a tweet knowing that there are few repercussions to our anonymous attacks. We are quick to shutdown or disregard those with opinions that seem to threaten our own. We’ve lost the art of honest debate!
Sometimes God uses the offense you feel to bring conviction. And conviction from the Holy Spirit can lead you to reevaluate what you believe and why you believe it. Have you ever stopped to consider that God may be using offense to correct your ways?
After the resurrection the followers of Jesus were empowered by the Spirit to preach the Gospel to many of the same people who had been deeply offended by Jesus and called for his death. In Acts 3 Peter preaches to the people at the Temple,
You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. (Acts 3:13-15).
I’m sure that those who heard Peter were offended by the way he publicly accused them of not only missing God’s message but also killing the messenger—Jesus. But Peter doesn’t then storm off after having said his piece. Some of his hearers were offended (they cart him off to jail in the the next chapter). But some of those gathered also experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit that opened their ears to the Gospel. “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord,” he preached and many responded to his message.
Repentance means to have a change of mind, as though you turn around and head the other direction. Are you willing to have your mind changed when you feel offense? I am not sure if I will ever have a second chance to talk to the woman who was so “highly offended” by my sermon but I know that God used the moment to correct me when I took offense. I hope that I find grace to look inward and maybe even have my mind changed the next time I am offended instead of digging my heels in and preparing for a fight.