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WHY DOES THE TRUTH OFFEND?
There is a false belief held by some Christians, sort of a Christian myth, that if you are a good Christian you will not offend anyone. In fact, a Christian who offends people is sometimes considered to be just one more arrogant, insensitive, narrow-minded Christian, because it is thought that "true" Christians are sensitive and considerate, and never offend anyone.
To be sure, there are Christians who offend others by their tone of voice, overbearing manner, or by insistence on things that could be called "dogma" rather than truth. This article is not intended to excuse prideful Christian behavior, attitudes, or hardheartedness. History shows that there have been and still are many Christians who do not act very Christ-like. Much could be said about the great need for Christians to walk in love, have good character and demonstrate the fruit of the spirit.
While a lot could be written about walking in love, this article examines a different reason why people are offended by Christian activities. This article asks the question, "Why are some people offended by truth, even if it is spoken or acted out in love?" All we have to do is look at the life of Jesus Christ to realize there are plenty of people who are offended by truth even when it is lovingly presented. There are several reasons that truth is often offensive to some people.
Truth is Exclusive and Absolute
Some people are offended by truth because of its very nature— it is exclusive and it is absolute, not relative. The absolute nature of truth means that it does not depend on, nor is it changed by, people’s opinions. For example, if someone says, "There is no God," that does not affect the existence of God. It only shows that the person is ignorant. Truth is also exclusive, meaning that it is "narrow" because it excludes anything contrary to it. Unfortunately, in the spiritual world, some people view the narrow nature of truth as "narrow mindedness." We all recognize the narrowness of truth when it comes to the physical world. People do not put water in their gas tanks or jump from tall buildings if the elevator is full. We train our children to do what is "right" (like looking both ways before crossing a street), and not to do what is "wrong" (like running with a knife) so they will live safely in our "narrow minded" world.
Both the physical world and the spiritual world are expressions of truth and that is why they are exclusive, or narrow in nature. The Bible itself confirms that the spiritual world is very narrow, which is why God has specific commandments about what is "right" and what is "wrong." Moreover, God expects us to learn about the spiritual world from the physical world, just as we learn about it from His Word.
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
The Bible teaches that God’s power and His nature can be understood from the world around us. Nevertheless, many people deny spiritual truth, which is easy because doing things the wrong way spiritually usually has very delayed consequences. If we put water in our gas tanks, right away the car does not start. If a person denies Jesus Christ and tries to save himself by his own works, it will not be until the Day of Judgment that he will learn that Scripture was correct when it said, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 6:23). At the resurrection and Day of Judgment the things of God will be clearly seen by everyone, but then it will be too late for the people who reject the truth now. It is because truth is exclusive and absolute that it is essential for each of us to work hard to discover what is and what is not true. There are great blessings for obeying the truth, and serious consequences for denying it.
The Devil’s War Against God and Truth
Another reason people are offended by the truth is because the Devil has waged a war against God and truth for thousands of years. He fights this war on many fronts, and his primary weapon is lies. The Devil has been inculcating lies into the human psyche and society for so long that there are lies deeply embedded in every society on earth. The Devil resists truth everywhere, because, as Scripture says, "…for there is no truth in him…he is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8:44). The Devil and his demons work hard to deceive people and lead them away from God.
The Devil is very crafty, and adapts his methods to the culture he is trying to deceive. For example, in Western culture today, we are very scientifically minded, and there are many instruments for measuring and tracking what happens around us, so the Devil does not often come out in the open. However, in ancient cultures, and in some cultures today, that is not the case. For example, the Devil wants to continue to promote the lie that dead people are not really dead, but alive as some kind of spirit beings. Thus, one of his common lying signs is to make dead people seem alive, and he does this in various ways, from giving information via mediums in séances, to "haunting" houses, to full demonic apparitions that resemble dead people. Many people, seeing this "evidence," are turned from the clear biblical truth that the dead are dead until the Rapture or resurrection, to believing the Devil’s lying sign as actually true.
A major tactic of the Devil is to create a cultural climate in which there is a lot of disagreement over truths espoused by the Bible. That way, anyone who claims to have the truth is considered ignorant or arrogant, and is thus easily dismissed.
The Fallen Nature of Mankind
Another reason truth is often offensive to those who do not adhere to it is because people are selfish. We are flesh creatures who have a sin nature and live in a fallen world, and our flesh and sin nature combine to make us inherently selfish and self-centered. That is why we so often give in to temptation and do things that we know are not good for us, and it is also why it can seem so hard to do what is "right" all the time. Because we are self-centered, we can become offended by truth. We want to do things "our way," but the exclusive nature of truth means we have to do them "the right way." God calls our selfishness and the things we do from a selfish motivation "evil," and shows it is a reason why people do not come to Him, but are offended by the truth.
(19) This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.
(20) Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.
(21) But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God."
It goes against our selfish nature to always do things God’s way, but God is love and everything He asks us to do is in our best interest.
Truth Will Always Offend Some People.
The combination of the absolute nature of truth, the Devil’s lies, and the fallen state of mankind combine to result in truth always being offensive to at least some people. For example, why is lying, cheating, and stealing so widespread? It is because people would rather get what they want than be self-sacrificing and truthful. There is an example that shows that people would rather get what they want than act selflessly and walk in love in the gospel of John. Jesus was trying to teach the people that he, not manna, was the real bread that came down from heaven, and that if they would eat his flesh and drink his blood (both idioms for involvement and commitment), they would have everlasting life (John 6:53 and 54). This seems like a very fundamental truth, and it was spoken from Jesus’ sincere and loving heart to see people live forever. Jesus was asking people to turn from their self-centered lives and follow his ways so they could live forever. How did the people respond? Scripture records what they said and did. They said, "…This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" (John 6:60). What did they do? They left, as John 6:66 records: "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him."
When Jesus asked the people around him, including his disciples, to turn from selfishness to truth, many of them simply walked away from him. Do we honestly think it will be any different for us? But if we know that many unbelievers will be offended when we tell them they have to come to Jesus to be saved, should we just ignore the subject of salvation altogether? After all, there are so many other things to talk about; do we have to talk about God, Jesus, or everlasting life?
Why Do We Speak About Jesus?
In order to honestly answer the question about whether we have to speak to unbelievers about salvation and obeying God, we have to become clear on why Jesus, the Apostles, and so many other dedicated Christians have spoken to others about those things. God is real, even if people do not believe it; the Bible is true, even if people do not believe it; and the Day of Judgment is coming, even if people do not believe it. It is an act of love to tell people about blessings they could have now and in the future, and to warn people about a potential disaster they are unaware of. What we need to realize is that not everyone we speak to will "feel the love."
As Christians, we must face the fact that there is no way to present the truth about Jesus Christ and salvation to people without some of them being offended. Once we realize that, we have a decision to make: do we present the truth even though some will be offended?
The Stumbling Stone
While we are pondering when and how to present the spiritual truths of the Word of God to others, it helps to remember that God knew how people would respond to His loving advances. God knows the absolute nature of His truth, and that most people would reject it, and reject His Son. That is why God refers to Jesus as "…A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense."
1 Peter 2:6-8a (ESV)
(6) For it stands in Scripture: "Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame."
(7) So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,"
(8a) and "A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense."
It is a profound truth that it is God who calls His Son "a stone of stumbling and rock of offense." God Himself, who loves people much more than we could imagine, could not think of a better way to present His love, His Son, and His truth, that would not offend many of the self-centered men and women of the earth. Therefore it is safe to assume that neither you nor I are going to come up with a way to present Jesus Christ as God’s plan of salvation without offending some of them. And how will they react? Many will just think we are arrogant and narrow-minded, and shun us, and others will aggressively try to curtail our Christian activities. That is what has happened to evangelically-minded Christians through the centuries—they have been restricted or forbidden to meet, to own Bibles, to preach, to witness to others, and often they have been persecuted to the extent of imprisonment, torture, and death.
Evangelism and Persecution
Just as the Bible says that unbelievers will be offended at Christ, it says that those who live godly lives, which includes lovingly reaching out to others with the truth about Christ and salvation, will be persecuted.
2 Timothy 3:12
In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,
This statement in 2 Timothy 3:12 is not a profound act of foretelling on Paul’s part, but rather an honest evaluation of what happens when the absolute truth of God meets the self-centered hearts of fallen man. Just as a thief is angry when he is caught and strikes back if he can, many unsaved people are angry when they are presented with the truth that they must come to Jesus to be saved, and they strike back, doing things like making evangelism illegal and persecuting Christians who speak and live the truth.
There are Christians who try to make Christ acceptable by not mentioning him but only doing good deeds. They say, "I let my good works do my witnessing." However, if we are honest about the subject, we can see that there are a number of problems with this approach. First, it is not really effective. There are not large numbers of people filling church pews who are there simply because they saw someone else doing good works or living a good life. No one can be saved until they make Christ Lord and believe God raised him from the dead (Rom. 10:9), and no one knows to do that unless someone else tells them. That is why there are so many commands in Scripture about speaking the Gospel to others. At some point someone must actually speak the Word to those who do not believe.
Secondly, doing good deeds is a common tenet not only of religion, but of service organizations. For example, the slogan of the Boy Scouts is "Do a good turn [deed] daily." Therefore, a Christian doing good deeds does not necessarily point an onlooker to salvation through Jesus Christ nor to the fatal consequences of rejecting him. Thirdly, why would we not speak about Jesus Christ, salvation, and everlasting life? We speak to others about what is important to us, such as things we enjoy, things that have happened to us that are noteworthy, and people who mean a lot to us, such as our children. What does it say about us, when we will not speak to others about Jesus Christ and salvation? There can only be two answers: either Jesus and salvation do not mean that much to us, or we are concerned or afraid of how the other person will respond.
We have to be very honest with ourselves when we consider why we are not mentioning Jesus and salvation to the unsaved people we know. If the voice in our head says, "I do not want to offend them," or "I do not what to ‘turn them off,’" we need to be honest about the emphasis we are putting on the word, "I." Is the real reason we are not speaking about Christ a matter of protecting ourselves from being shunned, called "narrow-minded," or being otherwise persecuted? It is often not the "I" that offends people, but the "stumbling stone," Jesus Christ. People enjoy being lord of their life, and do not want to have another lord. It is loving, in fact, the pinnacle of love, to offer everlasting life to someone who is not saved. Similarly, it will be a time of great despair to be present at the Judgment and see someone get thrown into the flames if we had the chance to tell that person about Jesus but failed to do so.
Jesus Christ was loving, selfless, and giving in every way, and yet people rejected him. Jesus never told us we could get better results than he did. Instead, Jesus armed us with the truth by telling us how it would be when we ventured into the world to try to turn it from its selfish ways and offer it everlasting life.
Matthew 10:16-40 (NIV abridged)
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore…Be on your guard against men…All men will hate you because of me…When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another…A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master…If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! So do not be afraid of them…Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul…Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.
It is never our desire to offend anyone, but we must realize that truth, even if it is presented in love, will offend some people. We each have the choice to either love people enough to offer them everlasting life, knowing that we might offend them, or we can choose to simply be quiet and not risk offending anyone. Let’s make the same choice Jesus did and tell people about Jesus and everlasting life, knowing we will live forever with some of them because of our efforts.
Cartoon Source: GospelGifs