How do I deal with offense in the body of Christ?

Can a dead person be offended?

I first heard this question asked years ago by a guest pastor at the church I was attending at the time. It definitely got my attention when viewed in the light of the following scriptures:

Romans 6:4, 6-7, NASB – 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. 6 Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin; 7 for he who has died is freed from sin.

2 Corinthians 5: 17, NASB – Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Truth be known, even though we know what those scriptures say, we often find ourselves offended! I wish I could tell you how many times over the years I have been offended in church. But considering that offense leads to disunity, and disunity leads to dysfunction, I can conceive that offense is likely the cause for every church denominational split known to Christianity.

Okay, so I am not here to argue against Martin Luther to posting his 95 theses in 1517, which caused the first and ultimate church split away from Catholicism (as it was at the time). But even that shouts dysfunction and disunity. Jesus teaches that we are His body and that He is our head – the head of the church. How can Christ take His rightful place as head if we are not a unified body? Dysfunction and disunity have been a part of the church arguably long before Martin Luther. Church splits are just an outward manifestation of an inward problem.

Can miracles occur within a dysfunctional, non-unified body?

Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time very possibly has wondered what has happened to all the miracles of the early church, and why they are no longer prevalent. Pondering this, if we could trace disunity in the church all the way back to its roots, would we see the starting point of when “miracles” (as we understand them) began to subside? Can a dysfunctional, disjointed body not rightly connected to its head effectively perform miracles? It’s a valid question.

There is hope! Scripture reaffirms to us that Christ has taken His place as head of the body! I believe there are pockets of unity that are becoming more and more frequent in the last two centuries as we progress rapidly towards the end of this age and prepare to usher in a new Christ-centered age. I also believe the closer we get to the end of the age, the more unified the body of Christ will become not only across denominations but also across the globe. We will once again begin to function together as one, and more and more miracles will be evidenced.

How then do we learn to live in unity in Christ, and as new creations, like these scriptures imply?

To help answer that question, let’s take a quick look at the body of Christ a bit more closely within 1 Corinthians 12 (highlighting a few verses from 12-26).

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ.  18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”  26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

Unity and harmony are the heart of worship. Being rightly fitted together allows Christ to fully function in His rightful place as head of the body, enabling us to be one under His leadership!

How do I fit into the body of Christ?

The portion of scripture noted above goes on to point out a variety of spiritual “body parts”, including apostles, prophets, teachers, those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages, and so on.

If you were to google the top reasons people don’t attend church, “Church is full of hypocrites”, “I don’t connect or fit in”, and “People judge me” are almost always among the top ten things listed. I’ve thought, too, that one reason mega churches are often so popular is because of the anonymity, meaning they offer a place for people who have been offended, or perhaps simply don’t want to connect, to quietly slip in late and leave early without being noticed.

Bottom line, the Apostle Paul encourages us to see ourselves as part of the body of Christ, fitting together and needing one another, as the only way we function well (indeed at all) is when we are in unity. Knowing how we fit in is important!

It all sounds simple enough until we begin to realize that the “body” also has unseemly parts – including butt holes! Butt holes that let it “rip” both often and smelly! We laugh, but this takes us back to the point of offense. The reality is the body cannot function without unseemly parts, so as much as we might be offended, “smelly” or not, we all contribute. Truth: offense comes more easily whenever we fail to see how we ourselves or others fit in.

I understand how I fit in, but why is offense so prevalent within churches, and what do we need to do when we are offended? 

Notice the question isn’t “if”, for the offense surely will come.  There is a much greater percentage of being offended within a church body than without.  Admit it or not, we hold our fellow believers to a higher standard within the church than we would others outside of that body.  It becomes very easy to assume “they should know better”. 

Not only do we expect everyone in the church to know what we know, adhere to what we adhere to, behave as we behave (publicly), and so on, we also have a tendency to “freeze” people in time whenever there is an offense, meaning we hold them captive for that offense in our minds, never mentally acknowledging that they may have moved on, grown stronger in their relationship with the Lord, and made changes. I wish I could tell you how immensely grateful I am that God does not freeze us in time this same way. He sees us outside of time, as a finished, completed work.

Another area that we tend to demand perfection within is when our own set of ideas or beliefs do not exactly match those of our fellow believers or church leadership. There is a reason why we have denominations within denominations today, all splintered. We are challenged to know how to “agree to disagree”. We struggle to embrace a core set of absolute truths and love one another regardless of any or all preferences that fall outside that very small, tight circle, setting aside the fact that love covers a multitude of sins.

Perhaps you are aligned with a church that adheres to the absolute truths we all agree upon and you know that core truth is being spoken from the pulpit, but you have disagreements with preferences that the church leadership may appear to follow. Offense can easily come whenever we have a slight difference of opinions and do not fully understand or willingly submit to the structure of spiritual authority that God has established.

Lastly, if you think about it, how often are you really offended by someone you don’t know or who doesn’t know you? You might have moments when you get mad at someone like that, but the only time it really cuts deep is when it comes through someone you do know.

What happens at the point of offense, and am I willing to push through it?

Come to me… (Matthew 11:28)

Oswald Chambers writes about this, noting that is a pivotal point where we either go towards a more useless type of Christian life or we become more and more ablaze for the glory of God.  The battle, he says, is lost or won in the secret places of our will before God, never first in the external world; and until we fight that battle before Him, we lose every time.  Note he says before Him, not with Him.  He goes on to say that nothing has any power over the man who has fought out the battle before God and won there.    

I believe the heart of what Chambers is saying is to take the offense to God in prayerful conversation and work it out. The Lord tells us to “come” to Him, and saying “yes” to Him enables us to maintain a humble, teachable spirit. The steps are easy (only one – “come”), but depending on how deeply we have been cut, the process of working it out before Him can be a hard one (we might have to “come” again and again). The sooner we let go of the offense, the faster we are able to heal.

Getting in prayer before Him and learning to see the offense as a means of opportunity is key.  1 Peter 4:8 tells us that love covers a multitude of sins.  I also like that James 5:20 tells us that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death – and also covers a multitude of sins.  I would love for my sins to be covered, wouldn’t you?

When He brings an offense to light before you about another person or group, it is almost always a call to prayer and action. Fervently begin to pray for them and ask the Holy Spirit to change YOU by allowing you to see them the way HE sees them. Ask, too, is there a gap we ourselves need to fill?

We can also ask the Holy Spirit to resonate this truth within our hearts: that we are one body, and that our faith journey is much, much bigger than just us. When we begin to see that and respond accordingly, offense no longer carries the same sharp edge it once did. After all, how many times have you gotten angry enough at your muscles for cramping or at your eyes for not seeing like they once did, that you would cut them out or off? Could the muscle or eye cut itself out and walk away? Hardly not! When one body part hurts, the whole body hurts. When one body part rejoices, all rejoice. Healing begins when we begin to see ourselves as a unified body.

Learning to join together as one with others is challenging and takes time.  You’re going to bump into one another and rub the wrong way, it happens!  Choosing to work through it teaches us how to contend for one another’s greatness in Christ.  Choosing the offense instead makes us vulnerable to attack (see 1 Peter 5:8), as it disconnects us from the body, where we are one and protected.  What will you choose?

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