by MarJanita Geigley, staff writer
This article was originally featured in the September/October 2015 issue of Daughters of Promise.
Probably one of the biggest problems we face as Christians today has to do with the debatable word, “offense.” What makes this issue so tricky is that it has two opposite components. On one side, we hear terms like “Be yourself,” “Ignore the haters,” and “Do what it takes to reach the top.” Over the past forty to sixty years, our culture has become more and more self-focused and independent of each other and stopped singing together as a choir in pursuit of grabbing the best solos. We have now reached the point where we are only accountable to ourselves, and if someone has problems with us, it's their own fault. In other words, we do not care whom we may offend in the process of reaching for the stars.
But the other side of offense looks completely different. We do not mind if we offend, but we do not want to be offended. The ones around us should be forgiving and nonjudgmental of us. They should not be offended if we are married to multiple husbands, or have our best friend, who is another woman, as our marital partner.
How should we as Christians be living amongst the turmoil of “offense”? Should we simply accept and agree with everyone and everything? Or should we boldly plunge through life, not caring who we trample in the process?
God’s design was for us to live together in harmony. Because of sin, that became impossible. However, our new birth changed our hearts, calling us to the higher responsibility of loving and serving those around us (I John 4:10-11). Christians today take that to mean that we then do not “offend” anyone and should practice tolerance, whether that is in the way we think, speak, associate, or the way we believe. But that is not always true. If someone’s actions, beliefs, or lifestyle goes against Scripture, we need to be separate and different (II Cor. 6:14). That does not mean we hate that person and tar and feather them, but it does mean that we, as Christians, cannot agree with their sin. If their actions disagree with God’s teachings, it is sin, and we need to recognize it as that, no matter how much the other person is offended. Be prepared for consequences though; a true follower of Jesus in today’s culture will be labeled as an offender, bigot, etc…(Matt. 10:22).
This is now the tricky part—because we can then become like the fanatics who hate everybody and burn down abortion clinics and graffiti the LGBT headquarters. But we once again are called to a higher calling because we are still to love and care for those around us (Phil. 2:3). We are not flying solo through this life.
I just came from a trip to Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. My friend and I spend about 120 hours in travel time during our three weeks there—that’s a lot of time to be sitting in buses, planes, trains, and tuk-tuks. During times like that, friendships can balance on a critical point. Obviously, there is always going to be a window seat and a middle seat and a larger bunk and a smaller bunk. If would have followed today’s advice to “Do what makes you happy and don’t care what others think”, we would have always been comfortable, but we probably would have lost our friendship and then been traveling by ourselves (and going to elephant camps and floating markets is not as much fun by yourself!). Because we valued each other, we both made sacrifices (sometimes she got the best and sometimes I got the best), and then we would laugh about the garlic-smelly seat partner or the morgue-like bunk later.
If it is not a sin, sometimes we need to swallow our pride, personal opinion (gulp, that one is hard for me) and preference just so we can be part of the blessing that comes from the friendship and fellowship of our family in Christ and not cause them to stumble or struggle (I Cor. 8:13).
Even though I went to a conservative church while I was growing up, I was still a bit more “liberal” than some of my extended family. I remember my parents encouraging me to think through what I wore at family gatherings, not because I needed to create a false pretense or not that I couldn’t be who I really was, but so I would not hurt or offend the family I loved.
It does matter what people think of us. We should strive to develop our unique talents and “be ourselves”, but we need to check our independence and selfishness. One of the most important things we leave behind when we’ve exited is our reputation. Our character needs to be built well so that others will see Christ in us. It’s just like a report card. How we treat others, deal with the issue of “offense”, and live our lives now will determine how we pass our tests, and all those tests will be recorded. Whether we realize it or not, God and those around us are watching constantly and viewing our report cards.
A little robin was sitting in the nest with her mother. Being the inquisitive bird that she was, she couldn’t help but ask the question that kept running through her mind. “Mom,” she started, “what’s the purpose of our lives? We’re not very special, talented, or pretty like some of the other animals. We just hatch one day and then die a little bit later.”
Mother Robin gave a musical chuckle as she patted her daughter’s head with her wing. “Always thinking deep thoughts, aren’t you? No, we may not seem like very much, but don’t let that fool you. Every day we do our very best at what we do. We sing our most beautiful songs to the One who made us. We chirp cheer into the hearts of those who hear us. We love the ones around us with all our hearts, and we remember not to strive for solos but for harmony. We may seem like just another dead bird when we die, but we have left behind our story. Those who knew us will remember the song we sang, the love we shared, and the way we chirped each and every day. And it’s not just about us. What we do now and how we treat the birds around us will make an impact on the entire Robin Legacy.” Mother Robin finished with a smile, “Now, my little bird, go sing with the choir!”