Should We Do Something If It Might Offend Somebody?

“You shouldn’t do that. It might make somebody stumble.” I grew up hearing that but the fact is, some people just can’t walk.

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I’ve often heard the teaching that we shouldn’t do anything that might offend somebody. Those who advocate this idea often point to where the Bible talks about offending “a weaker brother.” While there is a biblical truth about being an offense that we need to properly understand, it’s also the case that many have been manipulated by faulty teaching about the passage in the New Testament which speaks about not being a stumbling block for weaker brothers. Some have misrepresented that text and suggested that if anything that you might do could potentially be offensive to somebody else, then you ought not to do it. That’s not at all what the Bible teaches.

What the Bible teaches is that we are to relate to each other on the basis of love. Loving people in the most effective way – that is the key. There is no disputing the fact that the Scripture says that if we have a weaker brother in our lives, who does not understand our freedom in Christ, then because of our love for that brother, we might be wise to be cautious and careful in our behavior, so as not to offend the person. That’s an act of love, it’s an act of grace toward a weaker brother – someone who’s not strong in grace. It’s what we choose to do based on our love for somebody not because somebody else tells us we should do it.

This  biblical concept has sometimes been taken to the extreme and taught to mean that if somebody is not going to like something that you do, then you shouldn’t do it. The truth is, to approach the Scripture from that viewpoint will cause you to become a slave because there will be many things in your life that somebody out there believes you shouldn’t do.

Even within the Christian community, there’s a diverse body of opinion about different things one might do or not do, right down to the most routine things we do every day.  For instance, I spoke to somebody the other day, who said that they believe that Christians ought not shop at Walmart, because this Christian believed they practice unfair labor practices. That is a conviction that they have. Well, does that mean that I should never shop at Walmart, for fear of offending that person?

The bottom line is this: To say that you shouldn’t do anything that might offend someone isn’t true. You need to relate to every person in love, but recognize that Jesus Himself sometimes offended religious people by the things He chose to do. He healed on the Sabbath. He hung out with the wrong people. He said things they thought He shouldn’t say.  In fact, He said and did many things they didn’t like. So we are to relate to people from a heart of love, but we don’t allow ourselves to be controlled by public opinion. The Spirit of Love inside us will show us the balance between the two if we truly love people and ask for divine guidance. It’s true that we need to be loving and thoughtful. It’s also true that some people need to grow up and even Love doesn’t mandate that we acquiesce to their childishness.

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