In the middle of the last century God sent a tremendous revival in Central Africa. He powerfully visited the nation of Rwanda.
Members of the churches and fellow workers became very sensitive to walking in the light with God and with each other. One leader, on the way to Morning Prayer, crossed the compound and spoke to a fellow worker: “I cannot lead prayer this morning without coming to you and putting right our differences.” The other worker replied, “I was about to come and see you!” They made peace with each other – over a relatively minor issue. One person had made a comment that was not in keeping with the flow of God’s presence in their midst. It could not be ignored. The Holy Spirit wants us to become that sensitive to Him.
If only this attitude could have been preserved in the subsequent history of the nation. Instead of forgiveness and peace between peoples, there arose a bitter inter-tribal war in the nation. Thousands of Hutus and Tutsis were killed in the ensuing mayhem.
Love God and your neighbour
Many people seem to believe that our relationship with God can be separated from our relationship with our fellow believers. That is simply not the case. Your love for God is measured by your love for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
The apostle John says, “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another.” And then he adds, “The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). This is a truly remarkable verse for two main reasons.
First, it strongly suggests that we can only enjoy the cleansing of the blood of Jesus as we walk in the light with God and with each other. Second, it shows how fellowship with God cannot be separated from fellowship with one another.
This is not to suggest that believers who fail in their relationships with each other are lost and on the way to hell. But it does mean, they are being highly inconsistent as lovers of God and they will lose intimate fellowship with Him.
The Early Church was known by the love the believers had for each other. Even the enemies of the church had to say, “See how they love one another!” This love for one another is one of the greatest testimonies of the Church. Jesus Himself said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)
And how do we know whether we love our brothers? The apostle John tells us, “He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling (or offence) in him.” (1 John 2:10)
The word used for “stumbling’ here is “offence’ (the Greek word is scandalon). It carries the picture of a trap set with bait. The prey is caught in the trap when it takes the bait.
A cause for stumbling
Offending means to “sin against’. A cause for stumbling is an occasion for sin. When we abide in the light, we remove all occasions for sin. The light enables us to see clearly and to avoid the trap no matter how attractive the bait. And there is no bait so attractive than carrying the sin of offence.
Who has not been offended? We all have at some time or another. And what is our natural reaction? The most natural reaction is to carry that offence.
The devil will use this bait to trap you like a cruelly and helplessly snared animal. This snare of the devil is there to hinder you, to harm you, to defeat you and to paralyse you totally until you are utterly incapacitated in your relationship with God and in your service to Him.
Criticism is not a gift of the Spirit
One of the ways the devil entices us into the sin of offence is by showing us the faults of others. He congratulates us on spotting the faults of others and praises us for our “great discernment’. Before you know where you are you have become a touchy, critical and resentful person – and all in the name of spirituality!
Criticism is not a gift of the Holy Spirit. It simply is a manifestation of our pride. Jesus put it like this. He said, “Before you look at the “speck’ in your brother’s eye, deal with the “plank’ in your own eye!” In other words, prioritise your own faults and deal with them first.
How easily we entertain this sin of offence. We get offended if someone doesn’t greet us correctly, if someone jumps the queue ahead of us at the supermarket, or if someone gets even a scrap of the praise we think is due to us. We are full of self-righteous indignation – and it is offensive to God.
Directed at God
Sometimes we are offended with God. Can you understand how arrogant that is – to be offended at the way God does things? Peter tried to advise Jesus that He shouldn’t go to the cross. “This should never happen to You!” he said. He was offended at the thought of Messiah going through such shame and rejection. Actually, Peter was saying that he would be ashamed of owning such a Messiah. Many today still struggle with the concept of a crucified Messiah. They rightly reason that if Christ suffered like this then His followers were not going to be immune from similar suffering.
And Jesus’ reaction to Peter was to be genuinely offended. This was righteous offence because Peter was a stumbling block to Jesus. He was denying Jesus’ very purpose and rejecting the plan of God. Look at Jesus’ response,
But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offence to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.'” (Matthew 16:23)
The offence of Jesus was felt most keenly in Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown. That day in Nazareth, Jesus was as much anointed as He had been in Capernaum or anywhere else. And yet, when He began to preach they said, “Isn’t this the carpenter, the son of Mary? And are not his brothers and sisters here with us?” In effect, they were saying, “We know this fellow. We grew up with him. Who does he think he is – some hotshot preacher? He can fool everyone else, but he can’t fool us!” And Mark says, “So they were offended at Him” (Mark 6:4). And then we read one of the most tragic verses in all the Gospels, “Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” (Mark 6:5)
Is it possible that this same Jesus is present in the spiritual Nazareth of our day, carrying as always His supernatural capacity to bring God’s grace and power into our lives? Could it be true that this same sin of offence makes Him as unable to bless us, as He was unable to bless those unbelieving people in Nazareth all those years ago? Make no mistake about it, the sin of offence blocks the blessing of God.
Stop fighting against God
What offences are you holding in your spirit against God? Do you blame Him for not coming through for you at some time of urgent need? Has your desperation been greeted with an apparent stonewall in heaven? What have you cried out for and been denied? People walk away from God and then blame Him for the consequences of their sinful actions.
Deal with your offence before God. Stop blaming Him for your predicament. God is a good God and He gives good gifts to His children. Otherwise, you limit the Almighty as He tries to bless you.
This was the sin of Israel in the wilderness. They limited God by constantly assigning negative motives to Him:
How often they provoked Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert! Yes, again and again they tempted God and limited the Holy One of Israel (Psalm 78:40-41)
Look at the way God sees your offended ness. He calls it provoking and tempting God. And the result is to limit Him – to limit His capacity to bless, to heal and to deliver. Carrying the sin of offence is a costly business – so costly no one can afford to do it!
Vindication from the Lord
We must learn from the example of Christ in His suffering and absolute refusal to vindicate Himself. Though He was in the form of God, carrying the very nature of God and deserving honour and glory equal to God, He humbled Himself, coming in the form of man. He went further – accepting the humility of the lowest place and the humiliation of the cruel and shameful rejection of death on the cross. Jesus knew vindication comes from the Lord and in God’s time that vindication came about and it will yet even be made clear when all acknowledge Him as who He is.
“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)
It is not surprising that Jesus taught us to deal with offence and to forgive others, leaving the matter in God’s hands. It is a pattern to help us pray and not a liturgical formula. Just how important it is to walk in daily forgiveness is seen by what Jesus said at the end of the Lord’s Prayer,
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (Matthew 6:14-15)
The implications of this are mind-blowing. Look again at what Jesus says. If we do not forgive others their sins against us then neither will our Father forgive us our sins against Him. First, let me say that it doesn’t mean that if we withhold forgiveness from others, we will go to Hell. The issue of our eternal destiny was settled at Calvary. Jesus died for all our sins there and we receive total forgiveness when we believe in Christ. We are saved by faith in the blood of Christ, and not by our behaviour either before or after we were saved.
But if we withhold forgiveness from others, God will withhold His Fatherly forgiveness from us. He will not allow us to enjoy open, unhindered fellowship with Himself if we hold unforgiveness in our heart against others. One way this works is the withholding of answers to our prayers.
And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses. 26But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses. (Mark 11:25-26)
The sin of offence blocks the blessing of God and prevents our prayers being answered. Unforgiveness brings its own kind of unavoidable torment and that torment will continue until you learn to abandon the sin of offence.
Don’t ever doubt it. There is no way you can walk with the Lord and hold onto your offence. You have to make a choice. Forgive those who have sinned against you and walk in love and harmony with them or, experience the weight of heaviness and the emptiness of a life of bitterness and offence. They say, “Revenge is sweet!’ But don’t believe it – unforgiveness is one of the most negative and destructive forces known to man. Don’t touch it! Rather let the command of Jesus be your standard,
“I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:44-45)
This article is an extract from my book “Hearts on Fire: Walking in Personal Revival”.