A World Waiting To Be Won Duncan Heaster email the author


16. Salt Of The Earth: The Power Of Influence

17. Some Thoughts On Preaching (Alan Eyre)


18. I Have A Dream: The Church In The Last Days

19. Wounded Christian Soldiers

19-1 Christians Who Fall Away || 19-2 Not Giving Or Taking Offence || 19-3 Paul And Philemon || 19-4 Vendettas And Hatred In The Church


19-2 Not Giving Or Taking Offence

Let Nobody Come Between

Many find that human leaders or elders come between them and a personal following of Jesus. Yet we need to remember that Jesus never delegated his personal authority over His people to anyone. This is where the Catholic idea of the Pope as the personal representative of Jesus is so wrong. Much as we should respect our elders, this respect shouldn’t come between us and the Lord Jesus. Note how Paul never demanded power over his converts. He made himself vulnerable to them, in the hope that they would respond to him in an open relationship: “We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you…As a fair exchange- I speak as to my children- open wide your hearts also” (2 Cor. 6:11-13). Put together two scriptures in your mind: “You must obey [the Pharisees] and do everything they tell you”; and, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees” (Mt. 23:3; 16:6). Surely the Lord is teaching that we should respect elders but never cease personally analyzing what they teach for ourselves. Once we stop doing this, we start resigning our own personality and will be unable to follow our Lord personally, i.e. with our own persons. And then we will be ripe for being caused to stumble, if those elders we are listening to then offend us. For ‘we’, with all that we are, will have been dominated by them.

We must respect elders (and indeed all people) for who they are as persons, and not for any ‘office’ they may appear to hold. Notice how in Phil. 1:1 Paul omits the definite article (“the”) in addressing bishops and deacons. Those words indicate what they do for people, rather than any position in a hierarchy. Jesus seems to have outlawed the use of any official titles for His ecclesia (Mt. 23:8-12). Note how Paul deals with ecclesial problems in places like Corinth. He doesn’t write to the elders and tell them to sort it out and clean up the ecclesia. He writes to every member of the ecclesia. He confronts the whole ecclesia with his concerns over pastoral issues- not just the pastors. He tells the whole ecclesia of his concern about how they have not dealt with flagrant sin amongst them (1 Cor. 5; 6:1-11). The Lord’s teaching in Mt. 18:15-18 doesn’t ask us to refer our concerns about others’ behaviour in the ecclesia to the elders. He asks us to personally take the matter up with the individual. His church was to be built on individuals who followed Him personally and closely.

The depth of God’s grace and the extent of His acceptance of us is hard to plumb. We can too easily conceive of Him as a cross between a traffic cop and Santa Claus- handing out fines to the naughty and presents to the good guys. But His grace is acceptive of us all who are in Christ. And the Lord’s ‘receiving’ of the crowd reflects how even His body language reflected this same characteristic which was paramount in His personality. Increasingly it seems to me that “the Gospel of God” is not so much an invitation to do anything as a declaration of what God has done for us, in being willing to accept us as “in Christ”. And, perceiving that grace, we cannot but respond practically. We all need to become more inspired by grace. Our sense of grace becomes deeper the more we appreciate the seriousness of sin. And our sense of failure depends on how high our standards are. A personal focus upon the person of Jesus shows us the height of the standard, and the depth of our falling short. It sets us up to grasp the wonder of the grace of His salvation. And thus in a committed spiritual life, one thing leads to another. If we are personally focused upon Jesus, we come to be awed by our own failures and then inspired by His grace. And thus we naturally become less critical and less demanding of others, less offensive and less easily offended. Many Biblical characters worked their way through this problem of being distracted by others in their community. Ps. 43:1 begins with David lamenting how he had been unfairly judged by an “unmerciful nation” of Israel, but concludes with him focusing back on his personal relationship with the Father: “Why art thou cast down, O my soul?...hope thou in God...who is the health of my countenance and my God” (:5).

Peter Our Pattern

After Peter’s ‘conversion’, the Lord told Peter in more detail how he would die: “when thou shalt be old (i.e. more spiritually mature?), thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee (as Christ was carried to the cross) whither thou wouldest not (even at that last moment, Peter would flinch from the cross). This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God” (as Christ’s death also did: Jn. 7:39; 12:28; 13:32; 17:1). Having said this, the Lord invited Peter: “Follow me” (Jn. 21:19). Following Jesus is always associated in the Gospels with carrying His cross. ‘Live the life of cross carrying now, Peter’- that was the Lord’s message. And they went on walking, with Peter walking behind Jesus. But he couldn’t concentrate on the crucifixion life. Like Lot’s wife, he turned around, away from the Lord, and saw John also following, the one who had leaned on Jesus’ breast at the last supper (is this detail included here to suggest that this was a cause of jealousy for Peter?). And he quizzed the Lord as to His opinion of John. Peter got distracted from his own following, his own commitment to self-crucifixion, by the powerful fascination human beings have about the status of others and the quality of their following. The Lord replied that even if John lived until His return, without ever having to die and follow Him to the literal death which Peter would have to go through, well, so what: “What is that to thee? Follow thou me”. ‘Don’t worry in that sense about the other guy. Don’t let him distract you from following me’. That was and is the basic message. By all means compare this with the way the Lord answers the question “Are there few that be saved?” by insisting that we personally strive to enter by the narrow door (Lk. 13:23,24).

This was the same message the Lord had taught Peter through the parable of the 1st hour labourer getting distracted by the reward of the 11th hour one. He had that tendency to look on the faults of others (Mt. 18:21), to compare himself with others (Mt. 19:21 cp. 27; 26:33). And so, so many tragic times we do the same. We are distracted from the quintessence of our lives, the following, to death, of the Lord, by our jealousy of others and our desire to enter into their spirituality rather than personally following.

John’s Gospel has a somewhat strange ending, on first sight. The synoptics end as we would almost expect- the Lord ascends, having given His last commission to preach, and the disciples joyfully go forth in the work. But John’s Gospel appears to have been almost truncated. Christ walks away on His own, with Peter following Him, and John walking some way behind Peter. Peter asks what the Lord’s opinion is of John, and is told to ignore that and keeping on following Him. John inserts a warning against possible misunderstanding of this reply- and the Gospel finishes. But when we appreciate that the language of ‘follow me’ is the call to live the life of the cross, then this becomes a most impressive closing scene: the Lord Jesus walking away, with His followers following Him, in all their weakness. And thus John’s Gospel closes with a warning- to not let others distract us in any way from a personal following of the Man from Nazareth to His ultimate end, day by day.

Not Offending Others

Causing others to stumble from the path to the Kingdom is the leading characteristic of the condemned, according to the Lord’s words in Mt. 13:41. Compare His words: “It is inevitable that offences come; but woe to that man by whom they come” with “The son of man goes as it is written of him; but woe to that man (Judas) by whom the son of man is betrayed!”. The Lord sees those who cause offence as being as bad as Judas. It’s serious. We are the body of Christ. It has been truly said that Jesus has no face, no hands, no legs on this earth apart from us. Positively, this means that we beseech men and women “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 2:10 RV). The logical retort to the first century preaching of a risen Jesus would have been: “OK, but where is He? Show me the body”. And the answer was: “Well here He is. Right in front of you. And in my sister over there, and in my brother here right next to me”. And this is why, against all odds, the Gospel spread- with no written New Testament initially, no dramatic appearances of the risen Christ to the doubting. Negatively, this means that others come to know the man Jesus, whom having not seen they come to love, through the testimony of His people. We are Him to this world. But once someone is converted, they ought to come to see the Lord Jesus for who He is, with David we should be able to say that we see the Lord [and he meant, according to the New Testament, the Lord Jesus] ever before our face, so that we will not be moved by anything (Acts 2:25). And yet if this stage is not gone through, the convert will continue perceiving Jesus as His brothers and sisters, with the result that he or she will think negatively about the Lord for the sake of those who are in Him. The goal of all our preaching cannot be merely baptism. It is the inculcation of a life in Christ, a personal knowing of Him. This is why the first piece of literature I like to give anyone is a Bible Companiondaily Bible reading planner. For they must discover it all for themselves, above all.  So, to not give offence we must ever remind ourselves that we are Christ to our brethren. In us they see a reflection of Him.

Acting as He would act is really the whole key to not giving offence / causing others to stumble. He above all valued the human person to an extent no other human being has ever reached. When asked to pay the temple tax, which apparently few people paid in Galilee at that time, the Lord did so “lest we should offend them”- even though, as He explained to Peter, He was exempted from it, as the Son in His Father’s house (Mt. 17:27). He could have appealed to higher principle. But the Lord was worried that somehow He might make these apparently mercenary, conscience-less legalists to stumble in their potential faith. We would likely have given up with them as not worth it. But the Lord saw the potential for faith within them. And only a few verses later we are reading Him warning that those who offend the little ones who believe in Him will be hurled to destruction (Mt. 18:6). Could it not be that the Lord saw in those hard hearted, hateful legalists in the ecclesia of His day…little ones who potentially would believe in Him? And His positive, hopeful view of them paid off. For a year or so later those types were being baptized, along with a great company of priests. People change. Remember this, and given that fact, try to hope for the best, as your Lord does with you. People can change, and they do change, even those whom at present you just can’t abide in the brotherhood.

But the Lord continues His theme of giving offence to others when He says: “It must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! [The Lord must have said this after such careful introspection, knowing that He was the rock of offence to many, and that Jewry were to be ‘offended’ by Him]. Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot makes you a cause of stumbling [i.e. to others], cut them off…” or else you will be condemned (Mt. 18:7 Gk.). This is how important it is to search our lives and see what may cause others offence. And, in His relentless way, the Lord continues: “See that ye despise not one of these little ones” (Mt. 18:10), the little ones He has Himself just been so careful not to offend, by paying up His taxes. We offend people by ‘despising’ them. And, on and on and on, Jesus incisively takes His teaching further- in the parable of the shepherd who seeks the lost sheep. To not seek others’ salvation is to despise them. We may not think we are despiteful people. But effectively, in His eyes, we are…if we neglect to actively seek for their salvation until we find it. To not offend others is thus made parallel to seeking their salvation. And the shepherd seeking the lost sheep matches the man who plucks out his eye and cuts off his hand lest they offend others. So you see the parallels throughout Matthew 18:

Lest we offend them

Pay the temple tax, go fishing, make the effort

Lest we offend others and are cast into condemnation

Pluck out our eye, cut off our hands and feet

Lest we offend the little ones and are cast into the sea

Receive the little ones as if they are Christ, see the Christ in them

Don’t despise others

Go out looking for the lost sheep with unlimited effort

Lest we are cast “to the tormentors”

Give unlimited forgiveness to your brother, try to “gain your brother”

The self-willed effort we must make to not offend our brother is quite something. Just imagine looking at yourself in the mirror, wedging your finger nails under your eye socket, and pulling out your eye. This is the conscious effort we must make not to offend, and thereby to save. It’s really quite something. Note that the parallels tabled above show that to not offend is to save. If we seek above all the salvation of others, then we will not offend them. We will, quite simply, care for them as the Lord cares for us.

Respecting Others

To not offend others, to seek to save them, means that we will not despise them. 1 Cor. 11:22 accuses some brethren of despising others [s.w. Mt. 18:10] in the ecclesia by “shaming” them. If we perceive the value of persons, the meaning of others personhood, we will not shame them in our words, gestures, body language or actions. No “shameful speaking” should proceed out of our mouths (Col. 3:8 RV). Of course, the true believer in Christ cannot be ashamed- for whilst some stumble on Christ, the rock of offence, the believer in Him will not be shamed (Rom. 9:33; 10:11- s.w. 1 Cor. 11:22). For his or her sure hope of the Kingdom “maketh not [to be] ashamed” (Rom. 5:5). Again, if our hope of the Kingdom is real to us, nobody will make us ashamed, will in reality make us feel despised, or make us stumble. The reality ahead will transfix us so that all human unkindness toward us gains no permanent lodgment in our hearts. We do well to review our way of talking and acting to ensure we do not shame others. Think again of the shaming effect of phrases like “No true Christian smokes”. “No brother of Christ worthy of the name ever uses bad language”. What of the brother who smokes, the sister who does sadly swear under her breath in frustration…? These are none the less brethren who have believed in the Lord and are secured in Him, sitting in exalted, Heavenly places in Christ. They are therefore and thereby every bit equal to the brother who confidently makes those statements from a platform. Quite simply, we should not speak nor act in a way that shames or demeans another person. Carefully consider whether we have to use phrases like “As we all know…”, “No true Christian will…”, “No Christian worthy of the name can…”. They may be valid for use in the right contexts. But, just think about it. Consider your ways. Let sensitivity to others be the controlling rule of your speaking and being. We all tend to have pet phrases or set patterns of behaviour when we meet certain views or personality types who irritate us. We need to examine these, truly willing to pluck out the eye that causes offence. And when we feel we are truly in the right and they are wrong, then is the time for the unlimited forgiveness and seeking of the lost until we find them- with that positive, seeking, hopeful spirit of the Lord.

Receiving Others

To not offend others we must “receive” them (Mt. 18:5). It is written of Jesus that when crowds of materialistic, fascinated people followed Him, “He received them , and spake unto them of the Kingdom” (Lk. 9:11). He didn’t just turn round and read them a lecture about the Kingdom. “He received them”. Presumably Luke means to reflect how he perceived something in the Lord’s body language that was receiving of that crowd of peasants- whom we would likely have written off as just dumb groupies with no more than surface level interest. And we too must receive one another, even as the Lord has received us (Rom. 15:7)- and this includes receiving him who is even weak in the faith (Rom. 14:1). We should be looking for every reason to receive and fellowship our brethren, rather than reasons not to.

The essence of living this kind of life is the cross of Christ. Paul brings this out in Rom. 14:21-15:3: “It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak…We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves.  Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not himself; but, as it is written, The reproaches of them that reproached thee fell on me”. The quotation is from a Psalm which refers to the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet Paul applies this to us, in our bearing with the weaknesses of our brethren and seeking not to offend them. For this is the living out of the crucifixion life in ours. This is putting meaning into words, reality into the regular action of taking bread and wine in identity with that sacrifice. Sensitively bearing with our brethren, not doing anything that weakens or offends them, but rather building them up by our patience and tolerance of their scruples and limited perceptions. This is the cross, for us. The more we realize the height of the calling, the more even like our Lord we balk at what we are really being asked to do. It is so hard not to offend others and to commit ourselves to only building them up. As hard, in barest essence, as the cross of Calvary, on a day in April, on a Friday afternoon, about 1970 years ago.