Pursuing Peace (2): What is an Offense
Hebrews 12:14 - “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” Matthew 18:7–8 - “Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.”
Describing Bitterness - Jim Wilson: “Guilt is what we feel when we sin, and bitterness is what we feel when others sin against us.”
Quantifying Bitterness - Bitterness not caused by great atrocities done to humanity; No one is bitter at Hitler or Stalin because of their atrocities; We are bitter over toothpaste, toilet seats, coming home late; Bitterness is caused most often not by great sins, but by annoyances of close proximity.
Overcoming Offenses - Our thematic passage (Heb. 12:14ff) provides the call, cause and character of a lack of peace, in this case forming into the example of the murderous bitterness of Esau. This all started with Esau’s idolatrous greed, despising the covenant blessing. Other parts of Scripture provide the defining categories and processes of reconciliation (e.g., Mt. 18). Failing to pursue peace and holiness is fatal: “without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). The consequences of our lack of peace are severe for others, also: “by it many be defiled” (v15). Jesus taught that there is no more foundational pursuit than peace through personal reconciliation (Mt. 5:23ff,6:14, 18:1ff). “If you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Mt. 6:15). Following Christ, you must live at peace with others, granting forgiveness and seeking to be forgiven by those whom you have wronged. Resolve to live in peace because you have peace through Christ.
Defining Offenses - Before determining how to resolve offenses we must be clear on what constitutes an offense. 1) True offenses. In Mt. 18, the classic passage on reconciliation and church discipline, Jesus defines offense as causing “one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble” (v6). An offense is a cause or occasion of sin, a “stumbling block.” (Mt. 5:29ff, 16:23, 18:6). A true offense requires a) that another person violate the Law making you the victim of such sin and b) this alleged sin is confirmed with proper evidence. There is some subjectivity to what you take as an offense, e.g., a person could speak ill about you (breaking the 9th commandment) and you could simply not let this offend you, not holding it against them. 2) Imagined offenses. Therefore, not everything that bugs you is an offense which you must act to resolve. Differences of opinion, irritations, annoyances, failures of others, corporate vs individual expectations, etc. do not necessarily constitute an offense against you. Don’t create additional offenses by a critical spirit and a judgmental attitude as though you are the judge of all things. In peace, let go of non-offense annoyances and pettiness.
Responses Offenses - There are only two categories of resolution: those offenses we a) forgive without requiring further action. This is being "tender-hearted" and letting "love cover a multitude of sins" (Eph. 4:32, 1 Pt. 4:8). b) If issues arise to a higher level, we must use the means of sequential, humble confrontation (Mt. 18:15ff) to give opportunity for the peaceful resolution. Our temptation, however, is to hold something against someone without doing either (a or b), but instead rallying others to our allegations by gossiping about others. To pursue peace, you must determine to forgive without confrontation or confront the offender or person you have offended. Act to pursue peace.