“I’m Offended!” What Biblical Offense Is (And Isn’t) In 21st Century America
Be careful, there are some people out there who are ‘professional weaker brethren.’
Language is not like math.
That’s what I tell my ESL students often when they ask me about translation and pronunciation rules. Not much we learn in this realm is quite like “2+2=4”. For example, if you ask me how to say “lose” in Spanish, I’d need to hear it in a sentence. I know of at least five ways to translate it and having a limited knowledge of the language, there are probably many I’m not aware of.
Very few words mean only one thing. “Offensive” and all of its forms is a very good example. Something can “offend” me in the sense that it annoys me. It can offend me in the sense that it hurts me. Even in the Bible it can mean that someone is aware of their sin because of Jesus Christ, and angry as a result. And many nuances exist within each of these meanings.
But there is one special meaning of the word in the Bible I think gets confused with other definitions and causes confusion and even at times misuse of the Bible as a result. In 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14-15, the discussion of what Christians are free to do should cause us to think of “offense” being at times the idea of causing another Christian to stumble morally and fall back into a sin with which they used to struggle.
The concept is not that difficult to get. Paul says it is understandable to have convictions in the sense that you are “fully convinced in your own mind” that you should avoid certain things or that you should do certain things. The examples he gives are things like not eating certain foods or believing that some days should be observed to worship and not others. Convictions often are formed based on weaknesses in our faith, based on temptations that can easily cause us to sin.
He is absolutely clear that you should not force your convictions on other people. One person believes they should not eat meat, since during that time it could lead to struggling with a former life of idolatry. Another believes all food is okay to eat because he has no struggle. Both can be right if they are fully convinced in their own minds what is best for them. Convictions are not absolute truths, which are true for all people everywhere and for all time. The Bible has many of those (Jesus is the only way to God, etc.), but much of Christianity is figuring out how to live in the way that is most pleasing to God and that will not look the same for all people.
But Paul also goes as far to say that if your liberty to do certain things causes offense to other Christians, you should avoid doing them. An example that is easy to think of in our culture today is that if I’m with a Christian friend who used to struggle with alcohol and I do not struggle with it, then I would not be acting in love if I drank in front of him or her. (For the record, I choose not to drink for a variety of reasons.)
Sadly, this is the starting point for the aforementioned confusion and misuse of the Bible. It my opinion, based on my lifetime experience dealing with churches and Christians, that people often try to say “this offends me” as if to say you shouldn’t do it because of what taught about not casting a stumbling block. But in reality, they are not offended in that way. They are not really even harmed. They are merely annoyed. Which is a totally different type of offense. Many Christians would not be even a little tempted to drink if another Christian drank in their presence. So are they “offended”? Not in a 1 Corinthians 8-10 or Romans 14-15 manner.
I’ll be frank–I am not overly concerned most of the time with annoying people. I am not acting in love if I annoy people on purpose, generally speaking. But if the fact that I watch a movie or TV show or do something similar that merely annoys people, then I do not have a biblical mandate to not do it based on causing anyone to stumble.
To really practice what Paul was talking about with 21st century American entertainment, I could easily envision a scenario where a friend of mine watches a TV show with more sexual content that I can handle and even though he is not tempted to lust by it, he chooses not to watch or discuss it around me. My conviction is to avoid the show.
Much of entertainment does not cause me any offense. I can certainly make it into something harmful by taking in so much it wastes my time I could doing other things that are better for the kingdom of God. But generally speaking, this isn’t about that. It’s about me being fully convinced in my own mind that I am free to do things others may feel they cannot. And far more often than not, the word “offense” comes up in these discussions meaning “I’m annoyed” and not “I may fall back into sin”.
I recognize this treatment of the issue doesn’t deal with parenting. As a non-Parent I’ll let others speak to that aspect of it. But in my personal life, I want to be careful how I use words, especially words in the Bible, and how I teach them. “I’m offended” may be something serious or it may be something not all that significant. May God grant us the wisdom to know the difference.