When I was in elementary school, I remember playing a game with some other guys called, “No Offense, But…” I really don’t think it’s a game, but the rules are this: You can say anything you want to someone else, as long as you say, “No offense, but…” beforehand. So it would go like this, “No offense, but you’re ugly.” “No offense, but you’re fat.” “No offense, but you’re an idiot.” Since the words “no offense” were said beforehand, the other person was not allowed to be offended and you could say whatever insult you wanted. I think the teachers put a stop to that game pretty quick, and rightfully so.
“Taking offense turns an emotional hurt into an intentional harm, a distaste into a disgust, and an insecurity into an insurrection.”
What does it mean to take offense or be offended at another’s words or actions? Being offended involves seeing or hearing another’s words or actions and allowing them to be amplified in your inner-most being. Taking offense turns an emotional hurt into an intentional harm, a distaste into a disgust, and an insecurity into an insurrection. At times when we are offended, we assume another’s motives and take pride in “knowing” that our own interpretations are correct. Other times we are correct in our understanding of their intent, and we become offended because what they did was morally wrong. Every time we take offense, however, we conclude we are in the right and they are in the wrong. Therefore, we often feel justified and entitled to be offended and to hold onto our shock and anger. Often, relationships become damaged because offense was either given or taken. But is this what God desires from us?
If you are someone who gets offended easily, is presently offended, knows someone who is offended, or helps people who get offended (in other words, if you are human), consider these points when dealing with offense:
Being offended is a heart and identity issue. Scripture is clear that all we say and do comes from our hearts. That includes taking offense. While others may do inappropriate things or say inappropriate words, taking offense is our response to such actions. If we are right in our interpretation of their actions being morally wrong, taking offense means we respond in shock and allow the other’s actions to marinate in our minds and hold on to feelings of anger or disgust. When you choose to hold onto an offense, ask yourself, what are you really feeling? What do you do with that anger? Avoidance? Irritation? Counter-attack? Snarky remarks? When we take offense at something, it means we take it personally. When we take things personally, we see comments or actions attacking the very core of our being or character. But if our identity is found in Christ and not in another’s words or actions, then any offense would likely not be taken. Our identity and worth found in Christ are at the very core of who we are. If we find our identity and worth in other people, we will be more likely to be offended.
Being offended is a choice. Taking offense does not occur due to another’s words or actions because it is our response. It occurs in our hearts because we choose to be offended. If we choose to be offended, we typically blame the other person for us being offended. They need to apologize. They need to make it right. They need to stop their behaviors and actions. Whatever it is, it is their fault for our offense and we make it their responsibility for changing how we feel. We also conclude that we are in the right and they are in the wrong. While the words or actions of another may be inappropriate or sinful, or we may interpret their words or actions as inappropriate or sinful, it is our choice on whether we become offended or not. In his book, Unoffendable, radio personality and author Brant Hanson encourages believers to become people who are, as the title says, unoffendable. He states “unoffendability frees us to love people in risky and profound ways. You can’t find a single story in the Bible where [Jesus is] so disgusted, so scandalized by someone’s moral behavior, that He writes him off” (p.27). Choosing not to be offended protects your heart from resentment.
Being offended leads to resentment. Marinating anger in the heart becomes resentment fairly quickly. When we are angry, we see ourselves as completely right and others are totally wrong. We believe we have the right to be angry, but we must be careful because we are never entitled to our anger. Pastor Paul Bevere warns believers to flee from the trap of offense. In his book, The Bait of Satan, Bevere shares a personal story about how he took offense at another pastor’s unkind words. For years, he held onto this offense, but after receiving conviction from the Holy Spirit, he confessed his resentment to the other pastor and sought forgiveness from him. The other pastor followed his lead and also confessed sin as well. The two remained friends years later. If offense leads to anger and resentment, and believers are told to get rid of these, then offense is undoubtedly, the bait of Satan.
Sharing your offense with others is sin. Generally, when people are offended there is an internal need to tell others. Why? Perhaps it is to feel validated or perhaps because one thinks others should know. Rarely is an offense shared with others to gauge one’s own heart and reactions. It is typically for the offended’s benefit and the offender’s shame. Power? Control? Revenge? Whatever the reason for the sharing, a shared offense becomes gossip. According to Pastor and Author Matt Mitchell (Resisting Gossip), sinful gossip is “bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” Instead of lovingly confronting the offender, the offended may seek revenge on an offender by speaking bad about them behind their back, or they may seek favor from others so they feel validated and don’t feel alone. This helps them feel empowered in their offense by uniting others in their cause, but also helps others join in their offense against the other person. If you are offended, it is best to check your own heart and perhaps seek counsel from one wise, trusted and impartial source. We are called only to confess our own sins, not to confess another’s sins to other people. If there is a need to tell another, a trusted confidant or counselor who is willing to be honest with you would be acceptable, but sharing with anyone else would be gossip. If someone sins against you, “go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over” (Matthew 15:18).
Taking offense at people’s words or actions is a matter of the heart. We can choose to take others’ words and actions personally, or we can recognize that whatever others say and do are simply words or actions from a sinful and fallible person. Their words and deeds are opinion and not truth. We must stand in our identity as Children of God, refuse to be moved by such words or actions of people, and instead stand firm in who we are in Christ. We also ought to remain humble in our interpretations and not assume we know another’s motives for their words or actions. While taking offense is a choice, how we deal with being offended is also a choice and reveals our hearts. If we are humble and need confidential counsel in how to deal with our offense, that would be alright. Yet if we tell others, we ought to check our hearts and gauge our actions to God’s Word (Mt 15:18). May God grant you wisdom and discernment as you seek not to be offended, but instead to respond in love.