Stewarding our Response to Words Intended to Wound
Everywhere you look today, someone is being offended. Some of it seems warranted. In our current culture of bitter divisiveness and self-righteous vitriol, a lot of offensive words are being said. Then there are cases where the offense is harder to understand, and some where it seems almost manufactured. It really doesn’t appear to matter. Whatever the source, being offended is the fashion diei.
A growing number of these offending words are aimed at followers of Jesus. So, it is important to ask, “if we are to be faithful stewards, how should we respond?” Here’s my take. We cannot control whether offensive words and actions will come our way. They will. However, it is our choice whether we will choose to take offense.
Proverbs 19:11 reminds us,
“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”
Here are five reasons why I believe followers of Jesus must steward their attitudes and always choose NOT to take offense.
- Taking offense deafens us. When we choose to take offense the volume of the cutting words drowns out any opportunity for us to hear the bits of truth that may lie in them. Choosing offense robs us of any chance to grow and allow God to shape our understanding. Could it be that even in the most hurtful words, there is a glimmer of truth that we need to hear? If so, as stewards we must choose to listen and trust God to give us humility and discernment. We may be surprised what God might teach us if we keep our spirits open and our defenses down.
- Taking offense destroys dialogue. When we choose to take offense, we allow anger to shut us off from any form of potentially fruitful dialogue. Instead, we move quickly to label our attacker, put them in boxes and ‘unfriend’ them. Taking offense will result in either lashing out in self-justified anger or retreating behind a formidable wall of self-defense. Both responses render open, caring and redemptive dialogue impossible. As stewards, we must choose to stay engaged, refuse labels and ask God to give us a love for our neighbor that triumphs over their hurtful words.
- Taking offense provides us justification for un-Christ-like responses. ‘Taking offense’ means inviting the fruit of offense into our spirit; fruit such as anger, indignation, self-pity and a thirst for revenge. Once these emotions have taken root in us, they provide ample self-justification for a startling array of equally offending responses. As stewards, we must choose not to let anger or bitterness take root in your spirit but trust God to give us the mind of Christ and a response that opens the door for understanding, healing and the possibility of restoration.
- Taking offense is a form of self-righteousness. We choose offense when we tie our beliefs to our identity and lash out against any challenge in order to protect our self-esteem. What offends us is the wrongness of other attitudes in the face of the absolute rightness of our own. However, if all truth is God’s truth, then as stewards we can be set free to discuss what is true without it becoming a personal attack on us. When we keep our identity firmly in Christ, we are set free to choose not to take offensive words personally. In this freedom, we remain open to the possibility for meaningful engagement and relational redemption.
- Taking offense is the sin of the owner over against the obedience of the steward. The root of offense is the sin of believing that we are owners and protectors of the truth. This treats truth as a commodity to be possessed and defended. Scripture teaches us, however that the truth is a person; Truth is the incarnate Christ. As His followers, we are called to point others to Him. He needs no defense, He simply needs faithful stewards who are set free to lift Him up as the hope of this sin-sick world. We can only do this if we respond to offense by entrusting the truth to God, and be set free to respond appropriately without anger or the need to protect or correct. The truth does need to be lifted up, but stewards do it in ways that further dialogue, invite people to know Jesus and glorify Him.
In these five ways, stewards choose not to play the owner but surrender their life back to Christ that He might set them free to steward relationships even in the presence of offensive words and actions.
We can sum it up this way. Our response as faithful stewards will have two characteristics. First, we will have ears to hear what God might have us learn from what was said, listening for what was true. This requires humility and a desire to grow more Christ-like even in the face of verbal or written assault. Second, we will be free to speak the truth boldly in a spirit of love to address what was false. This requires both courage and a commitment to be used by God to help people know Him better and follow Him more closely.
Both responses require continuing in dialogue. They are the hard way, the humble way, and the only proper way for faithful stewards. Because it is hard, it must be bathed in prayer. So, let me close by offering a three-fold prayer in the format of the famous Serenity prayer written by Reinhold Neibuhr.
Lord, help me not to take offense at hurtful words but help me know when to listen to what you want me to hear, that I may learn and grow as a follower of Jesus;
Lord, keep me free from a spirit of anger or vengeance, and help me know when to speak your truth boldly to those who use words intended to hurt and offend, or who simply speak in ignorance;
Lord, grant me the wisdom to know the difference.