The following is an excerpt from Frank Viola’s new book God’s Favorite Place on Earth, recommended by 47 top Christian leaders. If you order the book between May 1st and May 7th, you will receive 25 free books and audios by 15 different authors. Just go to GodsFavoritePlace.com for details and endorsements.
When Martha complained to Jesus about Mary on His first visit to Bethany, Mary could have chosen to be offended by her sister. But there is no indication that she felt that way. She also could have taken offense when Judas and the disciples protested against her act of extravagant worship. But again, there is no indication that she did.
Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the pain that was inflicted upon Mary in both situations. Here was a woman who loved her Lord with all her heart, and she was unfairly criticized for it. Not by her enemies, but once by her sister and another time by some of the Lord’s own disciples.
It reminds me of the old adage, “No good deed shall go unpunished.”
The words of Elbert Hubbard come to mind: “To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.”
In both cases, Mary never opened her mouth to defend herself or her actions. In silence, she entrusted the matter to her Lord. And in both instances, Jesus rose to her defense.
Point: there will always be some Christians who will undermine and denigrate your good actions.
T. Austin-Sparks once wrote, “If you get upset, offended, and go off and sulk, and nurse your grievance, you will die.”
With that in mind, here are eight things I’ve learned about being offended by others:
(1) Christians will hurt your feelings
Because of the fall, this will happen. Sometimes a person acts with malicious intent, desiring to hurt you because they don’t like you or they’ve chosen to be offended by you. Other times they will hurt you without realizing it.
I’m sure that when the other disciples chimed in with Judas’ complaint, they weren’t trying to hurt Mary. It was just the result of fleshly judgment.
(2) When others hurt you, your spiritual maturity will be revealed
You will discover how real your relationship with Jesus Christ is when your feelings get hurt. You can be the greatest speaker, the greatest worshipper, or the greatest evangelist, but when your feelings are hurt, what you do at that moment and afterward will reveal the reality of your relationship with Jesus.
People have one of two reactions when their feelings get hurt: they deal with it before the Lord, or they destroy others.
Mary left it in the hands of Christ.
(3) God intends to use mistreatments for our good
Recall the mistreatment that Joseph endured at the hands of his own brothers. Joseph took it from the hand of God, saying, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.”
Remember King David when Abishai cursed him? David chose not to kill his detractor, but instead he saw the persecution in light of God’s sovereign hand.
To paraphrase Romans 8:28, everything that comes into our lives, whether good or evil, first passed through the hands of a sovereign, loving God before it got to us. And He uses it for our good.
Once you make peace with God’s sovereignty and His ability to write straight with crooked lines, the more at peace you will be with those who mistreat you. While God is not the author of confusion or evil, He seeks to use all things for our transformation.
When Jesus defended Mary, He transformed her act into an immortal example of what real worship entails. Her example was such that we’re still talking about it two thousand years later.
(4) Christians often get offended by reading into words and actions
This usually happens when a person is oversensitive and thinskinned. In my experience, this makes up most cases in which a Christian takes offense at another believer.
As a group, Christians are the most easily offended people in the world when we should be the least. While Mary was mistreated twice, she didn’t take offense.
(5) Christians often get offended with a person when they believe false accusations against them
Wise and discerning Christians who have been around the block ignore gossip that puts other believers in a bad light. In fact, in the eyes of the wise and discerning believer, any statement that has a defamatory tone is discredited out of the gate.
When wise and discerning believers are concerned about someone, they go straight to the person privately as Jesus taught us to do, asking questions rather than making allegations.
Some Christians, however, never think to do this. Instead, they readily believe slanderous allegations about a sister or brother in Christ without ever going to that person first.
The question “How would I want to be treated if someone were saying these things about me?” never seems to occur to them. The life of Jesus Christ always leads us to live that question. The flesh always leads us in the opposite direction.
Remember, Satan is the slanderer (that’s what “Devil” means), and he uses gossip to destroy relationships. That’s why the Bible says that believing gossip separates close friends and that one of the seven things the Lord hates is “sowing seeds of discord among brethren.”
(6) What you do with a hurt is a choice you make
You can choose to be offended and make a friend out of your hurt, feed it, take it out for daily walks, cuddle it, and protect it until it destroys you and others. A root of bitterness, if allowed to live, will defile many and prove destructive to your own spirit.
You can also choose to be offended and retaliate actively or passively.
Or you can choose to live by Christ and bring your hurt to God. Sometimes the Lord will lead you to go to the person and talk to them in a gracious manner, seeking reconciliation.
Other times He will lead you to forebear it, take it to the cross, let it go, and move on. “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offense.”
Sometimes He will show you that you’ve completely misinterpreted the actions of another.
In cases of repeated abuse, which I’m not addressing in this section, getting others involved is often wise and necessary.
Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you should enable that person to commit a crime or continue to devastate the lives of others.
(7) To be offended by a child of God is to be offended by God
When Jesus began preaching in His hometown of Nazareth, He offended His neighbors. They stumbled over Him and rejected who He really was.
When you choose to take offense at another Christian, you are rejecting who they are in Christ. Thus it affects your relationship with Jesus, whether you realize it or not. Why?
Because Christ and His body are connected, so “if you’ve done it to the least of these my brethren, you’ve done it unto Me.”
Again, I’m not equating being offended with being hurt.
(8) You can live free from offense
This doesn’t mean that you will never be hurt. Nor does it mean that you will never be angry. Jesus got angry. Remember His temple tantrum? Paul said, “Be angry and sin not. Don’t let the sun go down on your wrath.”
Anger is a normal human emotion when someone abuses you or abuses someone you care about. But what you do with your anger determines whether or not it is sin.
In addition, we should always be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” The Lord has called us to the high road of living without offense. And He has given us both the power and the will to do His good pleasure in this area.
FRANK VIOLA has helped thousands of people around the world to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the author of the new book God’s Favorite Place on Earth (David C. Cook, 2013). He blogs regulary at frankviola.org