By Tim Sullivan


Swimming in the waves along a shoreline is one of my favorite things to do. But getting caught in a rip current is a frightening experience. Every instinct tells a person to swim against the current and that is why so many people drown in rip currents.

Recently I experienced a similar thing while surfing online. I got caught in a rip current on a popular social network. Someone I care about was offended by something I wrote, and the conversation veered off in a direction I did not know how to escape.

The experience grieved me. The more I thought about it, I realized a big difference in communicating with friends online and face-to-face. In a real-life conversation, you know who you are talking to. But you never know who is going to read what you post online - "friends," "friends of friends," or people you don't know at all. You don't know what frame of mind they are in as they read it. Everybody gets the same message.

In real life (unless someone is being purposely unpleasant) friends confine their conversation to matters they can talk about in a civil manner. We disagree so long as our disagreements are friendly, and if not, we change the topic. No one expects everyone to agree with them 100%, but everyone is given the grace to agree to differ. After awhile, people get a feel for where everyone stands on an issue, and so sensitive subjects are placed "off-limits." That way we can continue in peace.

Jesus gave us a great rule for any situation that involves other people:

Matthew 5:9
9: Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Troublemakers are not a blessing to themselves or to others. So how does one learn to be a peacemaker? This wisdom comes from Paul in a verse that is directed to the church but has universal application.

2 Corinthians 6:3:
3: Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:

Give no offense in anything. (Americans spell the word with a 's' rather than a 'c'.) But what is an offense? The dictionary defines offense as "a breach of a law or rule; an illegal act." Adam’s sin was an offense against God. He broke his law.

Romans 5:15:
15: But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.

An offense is also "an annoyance or resentment brought about by a perceived insult to, or disregard for, oneself or one’s standards or principles." Peter offended Jesus when he insulted the surety of his word.

Matthew 16:21-23:
21: From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
22: Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
23: But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

When God is offended, it is for good cause. But people are often offended for wrong reasons. The Pharisees were offended by Jesus because they thought he was unqualified to challenge them.

Mark 6:3:
3: Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.

These people were not the first or last to be offended by Christ. To those who believe on him, Jesus is precious. To others, he is "a stone of stumbling" and "a rock of offence."

1 Peter 2:7-8:
7: Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner,
8: And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.

A "stone of stumbling" (GRK proskomma) is a stumbling block, an obstacle that a person can trip over and stumble or fall. Jesus is a stumbling block to the religious pride of anyone who thinks salvation must be earned. On the other hand, people who are saved often vaunt their freedom in Christ and make it a stumbling block to others. Such behavior is harmful to the cause of peace.

Romans 14:19-20:
19: Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.
20: For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence.

A "rock of offense" (GRK skandalon) is also an impediment placed in the way that causes someone to stumble or fall. But this phrase also pictures the movable stick or trigger that springs a trap; a trap stick. Christ is a trap stick to anyone who denies him.

Matthew 10:33:
33: But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.

Of course, people offend and find offense over subjects far less important than the only Savior from sin. Differences of opinion over almost any issue can set even close friends at odds. This is especially true when the subject impacts either one of them at a deeply personal level. In such a case, the visceral reaction overrules any rational, cognitive evaluation.

If we want to be called peacemakers we must, like Paul, exercise ourselves to that end. He was committed to giving people nothing to strike against or stumble on.

Acts 24:16:
16: And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men.

Philippians 1:10:
10: That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;

2 Corinthians 6:3:
3: Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:

The Word of God gives good counsel on how to avoid strifes and contentions.

Proverbs 26:20-21:
20 Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.
21 As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife.

We live in turbulent, combative times. As Christians we can be part of the problem or part of the solution. If we are to be provocative, let us be provocative in the right way.

Hebrews 10:24:
24: And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works:


January 29, 2017