Defense against Offense – Scripture on Offending Others
The King James Version’s influence on modern Christian teaching is pervasive.
If the herd says we should or shouldn’t do something because they like it or don’t, we should obey so we do not sin by offending their sensibilities.
For years, I was taught offending other people is sinful, citing verses like Romans 14:21 (“It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.”) and 2 Corinthians 6:3 (“Giving no offense in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed.”). I learned Christians are supposed to be each others’ morality police; if the herd says we should or shouldn’t do something because they like it or don’t, we should obey so we do not sin by offending their sensibilities. So saith the Scripture on offending others.
Learning for Myself
Eventually, I dug into these verses myself and learned the context of their teaching. And of an old English way of referring to sin (an offense). It turns out these verses are far more about leading others to sin than anything to do with people’s preferences or sensibilities. The authors of the excellent reference book Hard Sayings of the Bible do an excellent job summarizing this “stumbling block” principle…
It is the principle of Christian life and conduct that whatever we do or say should not become a hindrance to the faith and life of a Christian brother or sister.
The difficulty this principle has created for many Christians is related to understanding not so much its import but rather its implementation… How can we know whether what we eat (or drink or wear or participate in) merely offends fellow Christians and is regarded as inappropriate by them, or causes fellow Christians to stumble and fall in their faith-pilgrimage and perhaps even reject the faith…
We must recognize that Paul is not concerned about simply offending others by doing something with which they disagree, or which they deem inappropriate or unacceptable for Christians. Rather, he is concerned about the eternal welfare of these “weak” Christians, about acts which cause them to fall in their spiritual journey, leading to the distraction of their young faith (1 Cor 8:9, 11-13; 10:32).
In other words, we should be vigilant to not knowingly cause the fall of our fellow believers.
The actual Greek word used here is skandalizō, which means to entrap or to ensnare. It comes from the word skandalŏn which is the bent sapling of a snare used to trap game. This imagery is crucial to consider, because no such snare is set accidentally.
I don’t believe Paul is condemning us for ever doing anything that accidentally contributes to the sin of another. Rather, I believe he’s saying we condemn ourselves if ever we forego Christ’s love and set up a trap for a fellow believer with specific knowledge of their vulnerability. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 basically spell this out with practical context.
A mature Christian, he says, knows that the details of eating this food or celebrating that holiday or anything else… they’re not what matters; it’s all kosher under the new covenant. The mature Christian knows that what matters is knowing Christ and expressing His love. The rest of the details are between each person and God. A wise man once said we’re to preach the Gospel, not our personal convictions.
However, the immature Christian has no such knowledge and can get hung up on things God considers trivial. Can I eat this? Can I go to that festival? Can I drink that? And so on. If a mature Christian knows of such a “weak” Christian’s struggle and rubs their nose in it — “Wow, this bacon is so good it’s positively sinful,” said with a tease — they’re trying to make them stumble and cross their own conscience.
This is not Christ’s love. This is not maturity.
Instead, we should seek to follow the principles Paul gave in Romans 12-13 and 1 Corinthians 8, as cited by Hard Sayings of the Bible: “Do nothing that causes fellow believers to come to ruin (1 Cor 8:13, 10:32); rather, build them up in love (1 Cor 8:1); seek the good of others (1 Cor 10:24,33).”
The authors go on to summarize, “Paul does not tell us how to discern, specifically, when our conduct will bring injury to a fellow believer’s spiritual life… A life lived in fellowship with Christ, driven by his love, seeking to imitate his life… will have the kind of sensitivity to each other which will prevent us from harmful acts.”
So, I’m sorry if I offend someone, but unless I believe I could cause a fellow brother’s entrapment, I’m not going to make broad changes to my life just for other people’s sensibilities, even if the KJV might make it sound like that’s wrong.
Frankly, even the cross is offensive to some, and I don’t plan to stop carrying it, either.
Paul put it well in Galatians 1:10 (NIV): “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
Originally posted 2015-02-13 06:03:46.