They decided to keep moving. They came upon Crater Lake. There was a slope leading down to the lake so they decided to slide down the slope in the hopes of finding a path once they got to the bottom.
It turned out that the slope was not as gentle as it first appeared. Their speed of descent started to pick up. They could hear water and then, to their horror, they realized that they were heading toward a waterfall. They dug their cleats into the snow in a desperate attempt to keep themselves away from the falls and managed to find a ledge. Here they waited until they were rescued.
Sin is a slippery slope, so goes the moral of the story. It doesn’t seem so bad in the beginning but before we are aware of our danger we are heading downhill to disaster. The article ends with this cryptic statement: “Stop your fall.”
The article was built around Isaiah 1:16 which ends with: “…stop doing wrong.” One of the areas of our lives where we struggle to do what God’s demands of us is in righting the wrongs we have done to others.
We don’t always consider the consequences our words or actions have for others. We vent or act to relieve ourselves of whatever is bothering us, without caring about the damage caused by what we say or do. Basically, it’s selfishness in action.
Proverbs 18:19 tells us about one of those consequences, “An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel.”
Walls. Resistance. Broken relationships. Even those who are offended may “put on a happy face” but you can be sure that a door deep inside has been slammed shut.
But what exactly is an offence? One definition is: “You offend another person when you cause them to go off the righteous path either by encouraging them to do so outrightly or by being a stumbling block to their growth and development as believers. This can be done by deeds or by words. This often happens without intention or simply because of insensitivity to others.”
I’ll bet that wasn’t what you expected! We have already looked at what some of the consequences of being offended are. And it would be easy to slough off those consequences by saying: “Well, so-and-so is responsible for how they react, not me!” That is true. But all of us bare responsibility for having put that other person in a position of having to choose whether or not to be angry, or hurt, or unforgiving, because of some callous word or deed that we have committed.
Jesus told His disciples that it would be better for them to be drowned than to offend a weaker or younger believer. He told them that they needed to be absolutely brutal when ridding themselves of anything that would cause such offence. “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Matthew 18:7)
Paul said a great deal to the believers of his day about a particular issue that had the potential of giving offence. It had to do with meat that had been used in pagan sacrifices and then offered for sale in the marketplaces. Some believers wouldn’t eat it because it had been used in pagan worship and were offended if another believer invited them to dinner and served such meat. Paul said that meat was meat, but he would not take the risk of causing another brother to go against his conscience in order for him, Paul, to exercise his freedom to eat whatever he wanted. “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall” (1 Corinthians 8:13). We might call that excessive, but the Word of God doesn’t, and provides us with an important principle and an attitude that we need to cultivate. It is a serious thing in God’s sight to provide the means by which another believer might be led into sin.
So what happens if I do offend? (And we all know that we do.)
In the Lord’s famous “Sermon on the mount” He said: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23, 24).
Worship doesn’t happen unless the wrongs have been righted. The offender is to go to the one he has offended (the issue described in this passage has to do with the offender being angry and calling a brother “a fool”). He is to seek reconciliation with the brother he has offended. This, at the very least, would involve an apology and a plea for forgiveness from both his brother and the Lord.
In the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32, the boy returns to his father and confesses what he has done: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.”
Notice that the son recognizes that his primary offence has been against God. This is noteworthy because if we were to stop to think before venting or acting out, we might realize that it isn’t simply another human being that we are offending but God Himself. This was also the case when David repented of his sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:28; Psalm 51:4).
Humility is something that we have a hard time practicing. We tend to try to put a positive spin even on our acts of repentance. There are a number of whys that people “repent.” Some are more effective than others.
“I’m sorry” is good but lacks the element of recognizing sin for what it is or asking for forgiveness.
“I made a mistake, but so did you” is pretty much a guarantee of NOT being successful at reconciliation. It may well be true that the other person has some responsibility for putting a stumbling block in your path that caused you to sin, but you have arrived at this moment to deal with YOUR sin. As well, a “mistake” is not the same as a “sin.” If it’s a sin, call it by its name.
“If I have offended you, forgive me.” Oh, that wretched “if!” It begs the other person to say, “Oh no, you didn’t!” and let you off the hook. If you are in any doubt, a better expression is: “I feel that I have offended you, please forgive me.” That puts the burden on you, not on the other person. If that person has been offended they will have no doubt about your spirit of repentance. If they truly were not offended (and perhaps should have been), they’ll love you all the more for your sensitivity.
“I know I have offended you, forgive me” is pretty safe. Add an “I’m sorry” and you have probably done all you can do to pave the way to reconciliation.
What happens if you follow all the steps and the person you have offended refuses to forgive you?
Peter, speaking to persecuted believers, writes in1 Peter 4:19, that after they have done everything right and still not seen any change in the circumstances, they are to commit the problem to God and continue to do what is right. “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” This same principle will apply to a situation where forgiveness is withheld.
Romans 12:17, 18 and 21 give us clear direction here: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone…Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Each of us can only do what WE need to do. The rest, as it is committed to God, is up to Him and the person in whom He is continuing to work. His, or her, journey, is still in progress, just like yours and mine.