Unoffensively Offensive

In communicating the gospel, two principles should guide us 1) We should be offensive; and 2) We should be unoffensively offensive.

I. Being Offensive Every Christian has a duty to be offensive. If he is not, he is not a Christian. An offensiveless Christian is as much a contradiction in terms as is saltless salt (Matt. 5: 13). To understand properly these apparently offensive statements, it is necessary to define the word offense.

For many the verb to offend means to displease or to affront someone. They interpret, for example, I Corinthians 8:131 to mean that a Christian should not eat meat if it irritates someone. Similarly, they believe that Romans 14:212 forbids the eating of meat or drinking of wine, if someone is displeased by that act.

Although the King James’ use of the word offense may give the impression of displeasure and irritation, this is not the meaning in most of the cases in the Bible where the words offend or offense are used.

The Greek words that are often translated as offend or offense are the verb skandalizo and the noun skafllialon. Originally, the word meant the triggering stick in a trap or the trap itself. Figuratively, skandalon meant some person, thing or action that caused another to be entrapped in sin. It is this latter sense that is used almost exclusively in the Bible. Observe some clear cases.



Matthew 5:29: “If your eye skandalizei you, pluck it out.” Jesus had said that it is adulterous even to look on a woman who is not your wife with the desire to have relations with her. If, then, he says, your eye “offends” you (to use the King James’ terminology), pluck it out. Jesus does not recommend this action because the eye is ugly to look at, but rather, because it is causing you to sin.

Matthew 18:6: “Whoso shall skandalisei one of these little ones that believe on me, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.” Surely, the King James’ translation to offend cannot mean to displease; as if it were better if one were drowned than if he displeased a boy, for example, by breathing garlic in his face. Jesus meant that it is a terrible thing to cause a little one to sin.

Matthew 18:8: “And if your hand or your foot skandalizei you, cut it off, and cast it from you; it is good for you to enter into life maimed or halt, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into eternal fire.” Skandalizei can only be translated by cause to sin. Nothing else can possibly fit.

Mark 4:16, 17: “And these in like manner are they that are sown upon the rocky places, who, when they have heard the word, straightway receive it with joy; and they have no root in themselves but endure for a while: then, when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, straightway they skandalizontai themselves.” Jesus is not speaking of actions that displease or irritate themselves, but actions that cause them to fall into sins.

These passages suffice to indicate the meaning of the Greek words skandalon and skandalizo. They mean cause of sin or to cause to sin.3

Strikingly, this term is applied to Jesus and the cross.4 For example, in Rom. 9:335 Paul calls Jesus a rock of skandalon, a rock that causes the Jews to fall, or stumble, or trip. Or, to put it boldly, Jesus is a rock that causes people to fall into sin. He is in their way; he demands that they be lowly and he exalted; he teaches that they are not saved by what they do for themselves but by what he does for them. The proud Jew cannot stomach such a demand for humility. He runs headlong into this rock in his path, trips over it, and falls. Christ is his rock of offense, the cause of his falling into sin, that is, the sin of disbelief.

With this Biblical meaning of offense in mind, we may now return to the opening statement of this section: “Every Christian has a duty to be offensive.” That is, every Christian has the duty to present the offense of the cross (Gal. 5:11)—the offense of Christ. Without toning down the gospel, he must present Christianity in all of its fullness6 and clarity—even though it “irritates” others and is unpopular. He may not omit the doctrine of salvation by faith out of deference to the feelings of someone who may not like that doctrine. He may not silently pass over the doctrines of the bondage of the will, election, reprobation, foreordination of sin, hell or creation because they seem foolish to the human intellect. To accommodate the gospel to people’s feelings and prejudices is to emasculate the gospel. In spite of the unbeliever’s distaste for the gospel or his ridicule or repudiation of it, the Christian is obliged to present the entire Biblical message with all the power and clarity at his disposal. He is to carry the Biblical message—the offense—to all people. In this sense he is to be offensive.

II. Being Unoffensive

But in presenting the offense of the gospel, the Christian is obliged to present it unoffensively. The content of his speaking must be offensive; the manner, unoffensive. In other words, he must be unoffensively offensive.

Some mistakenly confuse a full presentation of the truth with bluntness; they identify a bold, frank, uncompromising message with . tactlessness. This is not Biblical. Paul became all things to all men (I Cor. 9:22). This does not mean he compromised his message, for his epistles and life show that he did not. But to the Jew, he became as a Jew, following their customs, in order to win the Jew. To the Gentiles, he acted as one not under the ceremonial law. To the weak he became weak so that he might gain the weak. To the strong he became strong so that he might gain the strong. When in Rome he did as the Romans did. He became all things to all men.

In order to present the gospel effectively to an educated person, it is Pauline to adapt to his ways. It would be most offensive (as to manner) to the educated, if, in trying to speak to them, someone dressed slovenly, used poor English and disparaged the proper use of reason.

Tact and common sense must be employed. Instead of flinging out the question “Are you saved?” while passing someone on the street, the stranger’s confidence must be won by real friendship. Instead of arguing with him and in front of a crowd (where he could lose face), sweetness and quietness must he employed.

If you are a Dutchman, you may have to forget your Dutch ways and acquire some Italian mannerisms before you will help Giuseppe Oliviero.

Even when reprimanding someone, the Christian must never lose his temper and become angry. He must be filled with love and understanding. In other words, he must cut with the sharp edge of the sword of the Bible, but in a loving manner. He must be unoffensively offensive.

If people are offended as you present the gospel to them, it can be for two reasons:

1. The message displeases them; or

2. The manner of presentation displeases them. If it is the former, do not worry. You have done your duty. But if it is the latter, then it is your fault and you will be held accountable. Our task is to present the full-orbed gospel —the offense—in an unoffensive manner.

1. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend”(AV).

2. “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” (AV).

3. It would he very beneficial and exciting to look up these words or the word offend in a concordance, and to read the Biblical passage with this meaning in mind. There are close to 50 such references in the New Testament. The reading of the same passage in different versions would also increase one’s pleasure and insight into the Biblical meaning. Such a project would enhance one’s appreciation for the Word of God.

4. Galatians 5: 11, the skandalon of the cross.

5. Cf. I Peter 2:8.

6. The cross symbolizes not only the death of Christ, but every thing that centers on Christ and his revelation. The offense of the cross is everything that God has revealed in His Word.