The Blinding Power of an OffensePastor Lutzer | January 2, 2005
Whatever we hang onto that is more important than loving the Lord our God with all of our heart, mind, and soul is idolatry.
Selected highlights from this sermon
All of us have been offended at one time or another. But has that offense become an idol to us? Are we blind to our own faults? Do we desire vengeance? Does that offense come up in every conversation – do you see it everywhere you turn? Most importantly, has God been put on the shelf until you can take care of the situation?
Whether you’ve been the offended person, or perhaps even the one who offended another (even unknowingly), this message details the characteristics of a person who is dealing wrongly with an offense. But Pastor Lutzer also tells us how we can deal with the situation and how Jesus is willing to pull that offense out of you.
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Jesus said it is inevitable that offenses shall come. When He uses that word “offense,” it’s actually the Greek word “Scandalon,” from which we get “scandal” or “scandalized.” That word can be interpreted as a trap because originally a scandalon was the bait that was used in a trap. It can be translated as “snare” or “an offense,” or anything that hinders our walk with God. Jesus said that it is inevitable that these types of snares and traps will come.
Today I’m beginning a series of messages entitled “Suffering Wrong.” I’m taking that directly from 1 Corinthians, chapter six, where the apostle Paul talks about taking Christians to court. Regarding Christians taking one another to court He says, “Why are you doing that? Would you not rather suffer wrong? Wouldn’t it be better to just simply take the loss, because this is a bad witness?” In one of these messages I am going to be commenting on that passage and preaching from it.
Suffering wrong… have you ever had to suffer wrong? What we are going to do is to look at how Satan uses offense and binds people, so that there is a wall between them and God and they can’t move ahead spiritually. They are stuck where they are.
What is our goal during the next eight weeks? Well, first of all to uncover hidden bitterness and resentments that lie deep in the soul. You see, we can’t find them unless we are honest. And what we would like to do is to invite the blessed Holy Spirit of God to seek us in such a way and to see whether or not those kinds of sins and resentments lurk in our soul.
Secondly, we’d like to bring about reconciliation with wounded parties. That’s very important. I know that sometimes reconciliation isn’t possible, but we should always attempt it. And in this series, I am going to encourage you to try to be reconciled with those who have hurt you or other people whom you have hurt. We are going to learn (surprisingly) that for every person who has been hurt, there is a hurter who does the hurting. And sometimes we forget that. Perhaps the hurters are sitting here today, too. In fact, I know they are.
And then the bottom line is we’d like to clear our consciences, so that we have a conscience that is free of offense before God and before man. It’s the stuff of revival; it’s the stuff of human relationships that clogs the wheels of our relationship with God.
And what we’d like to do in this brand new beginning is to get rid of all the clutter and get rid of all the debris that is in our lives. Are you in favor of that? Would you support that if that were our goal?
Now the Bible talks about us walking with God, and these hurts get in our way. And usually they are offenses from people who are closest to us. It would be a little easier to deal with our enemies, we expect that from them. But listen to the words of David. I am going to read it first and then I will give you the text. He says, “For it is not an enemy who taunts me, then I could bear it. It is not an adversary who deals insolently with me, and then I could hide from him. But it is you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend. We used to take sweet counsel together in God’s house as we walked in with the throng or the congregation. It’s you, a friend.”
You see this is why divorces are so nasty and bitter. It’s because someone I love, someone who is in my house, someone with whom I shared a bedroom. They’re the ones who have hurt me and those hurts go the deepest. David said those words in Psalm 55 that I just read.
Well, let me give you an example of some of these offenses that Satan uses to keep people bound. First of all: unfulfilled promises. We’ve all had that experience. You lend somebody some money and they say, “You know I’ll get it back to you as soon as I have it.” And later on you know right well they have it because they buy a new car. And they just pretend as if everything is fine. And you are thinking, “Look at all the money you owe.”
I heard of a dentist that did a lot of work for Christians. He stopped going to church because he said there were too many choir members singing through teeth that he had fixed that had not paid him. (Laughter)
Breaking of confidence, and I’ve had this happen. I told a man something about a certain organization as to what was going on. He agreed not to tell anyone. He not only told the board of that organization, but he identified me. Do you think, by the way, I wouldn’t remember that if I met him today? It would come to mind.
Rejection, abuse, we could put in racism, all kinds of different means of rejection. One cutting remark made in the summer can last all winter and beyond. Several winters, as a matter of fact.
False accusations: here’s a girl who accuses a boy of something and the boy absolutely denies it. The two families are friends but now there’s a wedge between them. Parents tend to defend their particular child, so the parents say, “My girl, our daughter would never lie.” And the other parents say, “Our son would never do this!” And there you are – false accusations. Or it may be true accusations that are denied. My, how deeply those offenses go.
If you have your Bibles you may turn to Proverbs, chapter eighteen, verse nineteen. It reads this way: “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city, and quarreling is like the bars of a castle.” A brother offended is more unyielding; you can more easily conquer a castle, a city that’s defended with high walls. You can more easily conquer it than a brother who’s been offended. But even though it appears impossible it is possible. And that’s what we are praying for during this series of messages.
Now if you have a city like that, what’s the purpose of the walls? The walls are to keep people out. When we were in Germany we visited Rotenberg, which is the correct pronunciation of that particular town, a medieval city that still has the walls. In fact, I walked on about ¾ mile of the walls of Rotenberg. We took a midnight tour with a watchman who played the part of a medieval watchman, and how interesting that was.
We learned that at a certain time the walls of the city were shut, or the gates of the city were shut, and no one could come in. But there was a manhole that we saw just big enough for one person at a time to crawl through. And if you were late you had to give an explanation and they had to make sure that you were clean, that you were not an enemy.
You see the walls are there to keep people out. A brother offended is going to build walls. He’s going to lay deep foundations to make sure that the wrong people don’t ever come into his life again, sometimes living in isolation because he does not want anyone to come into his life.
And then what does the text mean when it says “quarrelling is like the bars of a castle.”? Well, do you find it easy to take away the bars of a castle? Can you remove them? No. That’s the way it is with people who quarrel. We’re talking today about strongholds. We’re talking today about walls, and bricks, and we’re speaking about human relationships.
Well, what I’d like to do now is to give you some characteristics of the person who has an offense and who will not give it up. For love or money, he will not lay it down. What are some of those characteristics?
First of all, we become blind to our own faults. I titled this message “The Blinding Power of an Offense;” it blinds us to our own offense. You see, in the walls of this castle that I’ve spoken about, since you control who comes and goes, an offended person will make sure that the only information and the only people that are allowed through the gate is someone who agrees with him and someone who takes his side. And all other information is filtered out and there’s no possible way that anyone else can touch him because the walls are so high and the gates are so thick. And so he can’t see his own faults. When we have an offense we are blinded to our own faults.
I think this is what Jesus meant when in Matthew, chapter seven, you remember He said, “You know, you think you have a speck of sawdust in your own eye, but you don’t realize there’s a beam in it.” And so you have guy and he has the beam. He’s the person you see, who is agenda-driven. He’s the one who’s got this beam, this 2x4 in his eye. He thinks it’s a piece of sawdust, but it’s actually a 2x4. And as he looks at others he is absolutely confidant that they all have 2x4’s. He thinks he only has a piece of sawdust, and they are the ones with the 2x4’s.
What he does not understand is that when he looks at them, what he sees in their eye is a reflection of what is in his own eye. But he can’t see it. He’s blinded by it; he’s blinded by Satan. And so, his hurt runs so deep that he says to himself, “No matter what I do to other people, it can’t possibly be as great as the harm that has been done to me. And, therefore, I have a right to hurt other people because, after all, I have been hurt.” And he justifies it, and he is blind to what he is doing.
Take your Bibles and turn to Romans, chapter twelve. This is a marvelous passage of Scripture. If you ever say to yourself, “I don’t know how to pray for Moody Church,” rather than just repeating the same old prayers, take Romans, chapter twelve, and begin at verse nine. Pray this prayer every day for a week for Moody Church. That’s praying biblically.
Paul says in verse nine, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to the good. Love one another with brotherly affection; out-do one another in showing honor; do not be slothful in zeal, but be fervent in Spirit, serving the Lord.”
I’m picking it up now in verse fourteen. “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” (That in itself is a whole message.) “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep, live in harmony with one another, do not become haughty but associate with the lowly, never be conceited.”
Why is He saying that? It’s because offended people are often very conceited. Their pride gets in the way you know, and they become blind to it. And then it says, “Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God,” and then He quotes the Scripture.
You see, the person who holds an offense that sticks like Velcro to his soul will always seek justice, yes, but vengeance actually. Vengeance may be identified with justice, but normally when we talk about vengeance it is that which is overdone. It is that which is an overreaction, the desire to see someone destroyed, the desire to absolutely do all that you possibly can to make people pay the utmost farthing.
A person like this believes that if he were to forgive, he would trivialize the offense. So, there is no way he is going to lay down his bitterness. That would mean it is small in his eyes, and, therefore, he hangs on to it.
And then he spends a lot of time convincing God to hate the same people whom he hates. And so he gives all these reasons to God as to why God should be as angry at them as he is. Like the Sons of Thunder in the days of the New Testament, the people of Samaria, “God, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus said, “You don’t understand what spirit you are of.”
I love to tell the story of a man who I think is a friend of mine, though we live distantly from one another. He said that he left this Christian organization that he felt had wronged him. They had promised him a certain number of things, and they didn’t come through with the promise. And they had some personality conflicts. But he thought that he was right and they were wrong. And so when he was released, he was so angry he stomped the dust from his feet and prayed that God would curse the place and shut it down.
Well, years later he had to confess that all that God did since he left is to bless the place. It grew; the ministry was used mightily of God and still is used by God today. That is something like Balaam. You remember He tried to curse Israel, and all that would come out is blessing.
Have you ever noticed that God sometimes blesses people that you and I think He shouldn’t? Has that ever crossed your mind? It’s certainly crossed mine. I know a lot of people that I wouldn’t bless if I were God. (Laughter)
And so, what happens is now this person in his vengeance will believe only that which is evil about a person. All good information is filtered out. Because he is standing there you see, at the door of his castle making sure that the only information that is fed into him confirms his own feelings. And everything else is censored, and it’s not allowed to apply. And so what happens is he accepts only that which confirms his predisposition.
Hate is a terrible thing. When my wife and I were at Ground Zero, there was a woman who was walking back and forth, I guess all afternoon. She was doing this for the half hour that we were there. She kept walking along the sidewalk as hundreds of people were looking at Ground Zero, and she kept shouting, “Bush and the CIA did what you see here.”
I had two thoughts. The first one was, “Isn’t this wonderful that in America even marginal people can give their viewpoint?” And then I thought something else: the power of hatred. If you hate the president, no matter who he is, you’ll connect dots and you’ll make accusations whether you have evidence or not. Because all that matters is that you latch onto something that confirms your hatred…the power of hate. Hate filters out the good and embellishes the bad, regardless of what we hear about those whom we hate.
There’s a third characteristic and that is you can become a destroyer. John 10:10 says this of the enemy, Satan, because remember if you hold onto an offense you are in league with the devil. We’ll see that in future messages. But you can become a destroyer. John 10:10: “The thief comes but for to steal, to kill and to destroy. I’ve come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” The thief destroys.
Are you aware of the fact that there are some people who get their sense of significance from destroying others? There really are! I could tell you lots of stories about that. There are people whose whole sense of value, and self-worth, and power is tied up in the ability and the desire to destroy people, whether those people are an enemy or not.
Later in this series I am going to read a letter that I received from someone about a mother-in-law who tried to separate and tried to destroy the good marriage of her son and daughter. You’d think that most mother-in-laws, and I’m sure most do, would delight in the fact that the son and daughter had such a wonderful relationship.
But this mother-in-law was trying to drive a wedge between them. She couldn’t stand the fact that they had a good relationship. She becomes a destroyer. Destroyers are very interesting people, often times filled with paranoia, as we shall see. They think, “Everybody’s against me.”
And number four: you take the offense into other relationships. Somewhere I read that 66% of all divorced people get divorced a second time. And I suppose the reason is because they take as much baggage into their new relationship and they had previously. Maybe more baggage! More than might be in a Pullman freight car.
And so they bring all of this into the second relationship believing of course that they are not at fault, and possibly they might not be. But often times unresolved issues spill over. And so, what happens is the whole world revolves around the offense and the bitterness that lurks in the human heart.
I love to tell that story (you’ve probably heard it before,) about the man who was in a bar. And someone took some strong smelling, rotten cheese and smeared it on the man’s mustache. And so as he walked out into the night in the clear air he said, “The whole world stinks.” (Laughter)
Have you met people like that? They are bitter, and they are going to make sure you don’t mistake the fact that they’re bitter. And they want everyone to know that they are bitter, and they will manipulate, and they will work.
Number five is this: that a person who holds onto an offense succumbs to idolatry. I’m reminded of what John says in 1 John 5:21. “Little children, keep yourself from idols.” Well, the best way to illustrate this is to tell you a true story.
When I was in high school there was a student there who was involved in an accident, even though he recovered very, very well. But, because of that, he has a physical characteristic that we made fun of. This was a Christian high school and we all should have known better. But kids, you know, can be mean. And further more, he laughed along with us. So, we didn’t think we were hurting him too much. And when graduation came, I went my way and he went his, and I never hear from him again.
About ten years ago a mutual friend wrote to me and said that this man had left the church and had left God long ago, years ago. And he traces it back to the bitterness that he had because of the names that we called him, and the things that we said about him in our meanness. Fortunately, this mutual friend sent me the address of this man.
And I wrote a letter in my own handwriting begging his forgiveness. I told him that what we had done was un-Christian, it was evil, it was indefensible, and I gave no excuse. I didn’t say “Well now, we didn’t know we were hurting you.” I gave no excuse. I humbled myself and said, “Nothing would delight me more than if you were able to forgive me.” I’ve not heard from him and I hope that he did forgive me.
But here’s the point I want to make, and everybody needs to be really thinking about this for a moment. Believe it or not, that man actually had this offense as an idol. Because, what he was saying is this: “I’m willing to give up on God until this other matter is resolved. And unless I can get vengeance,” or whatever else that he wanted, “unless this matter is somehow addressed to my satisfaction, I can just tell God to ‘Take a hike.’ I can stop going to church, I can stop being with Christians, I can just do whatever I like because my relationship with God is negotiable. What isn’t negotiable is justice or vengeance, being brought to bear on a situation that pained me very, very deeply.”
You see the idols of the heart? Do you see how easily we are willing to give up on God and to put our relationship with Him on hold, until something else is resolved? Is that not idolatry? When we say, “Something else is more important than my relationship with God, and that is the resolution of the evil that has been done against me.” It is idolatry and it has to be identified as such.
What do we do about it? Very briefly, first, we must confront our idols. What is standing between you and your relationship with God today? Something that somebody did or some offense that cleaves to your soul? And you say, “I can’t walk with God, I can’t be with the people of God. Because, look at what has happened to me!” It is the blinding power of an offense. And whatever you and I hang onto that is more important than loving the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, and soul is idolatry. And we can’t see those idols unless God reveals it to us. We really do need time in God’s presence.
Second, you have to turn this stumbling block into a stepping stone. You have to believe that God is saying to you, “If you can overcome this in your walk, than you can go on to new heights and new challenges in your relationship with Me.” After all, all things do work together for good.
But this, as I mentioned, takes a great deal of real honesty, humility, and brokenness in the presence of God. And you know, “Denial” is not just a river in Egypt (laughter). Am I going too fast for some of you here? If you don’t take time, you will deny that it’s there.
And of course what we need to do is to follow Christ’s example. Who when He was reviled, reviled not in return, He uttered no threats, but committed himself to Him that judges righteously. You have to give it to God. Oh, but you say, “I’ve invested so much in it! I’ve had it for so long! I’ve made sure that these wounds would never heal, and now you are asking me to just give it up?” Yes, I’m asking you to just give it up, to just lay it down.
Remember that young boy converted at Cabrini Green? I told you about him several weeks ago. When he was telling his friend what happened he said, “Jesus pulled all the sin out of my heart.” Don’t you love that? Are you willing today to let Jesus pull that offense out of your heart?
In a few moments we are going to be sharing at the Communion table here at the Moody Church. We are going to be reminded that Jesus Christ gave His blood and His body was broken so that we could be reconciled to God. And, having been forgiven and reconciled, we now reconcile with others.
My sister was a missionary in Africa. She said that before communion there was always a five or ten minute break between the service and communion so that people could go to one another and be reconciled. I think that’s a great idea, because the Bible says, “Examine yourself before you eat.” Examine what is in your heart that stands in the way of your relationship with God. Now, we are not going to do that this morning because there may even be people who offended you who are not here today. You couldn’t make it right if you wanted to. But I’ll give you a week to work at it.
But the main thing is that you and I come to this table today, we come to the Lord and we say, “God, I’m willing to give up my idols, I’m willing to lay them down.” For some of you that idol of pride has to be laid down, and you have to receive the forgiveness of Christ for the first time. You have to say, “Jesus I am a sinner. Save me.” He died for people like you and people like me.
For others who know Him, there has to be that yielded ness and that giving up to God and to say “God, pull the offense out of my heart because it stands in the way.” And then go to whomever you have to go to. “It stands in the way of my relationship with you.” It’s the trap that I mentioned in the beginning of the service. It’s the trap that the devil uses to keep people bound. Be free today in Jesus. And if you will, let us pray.
“The dearest idols I have known, what ere those idols be, help me to tear them from the throne, and worship only Thee.” Father, who is able to go into the heart of all those who have listened to this sermon? Who is able to probe the conscience, to reveal the sin? Who is able Father, to pull the offenses out of our hearts? Who is able Lord, to give us the strength to go to those whom we have wronged, or perhaps those who we think have wronged us? Who, O Father, is able to do that? We cannot. Come to us at this moment. Set your people free.” And whoever you are now, you talk to God if God has talked to you. (Pause) “Father, we need your help. We need to be broken and yielded. Grant that, oh God, we ask today. And don’t stop working until all is well. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.”