The gospel offends people. This has become a familiar sentiment for most Christians. The news of sin, judgment, and salvation in Jesus is in blatant combat with our own self righteousness and pride. So an unbeliever who longs to magnify the good in himself and dismiss the bad as just little mistakes or momentary slip-ups will be hurt and offended by the idea they have sin so deep that the Son of God had to die to pay for it.
The idea of the gospel offending people is usually talked about as a way of saying “oh well, it is what it is…” I’ve heard many pastors say it when people walk away from the church or when response to a sermon is particularly negative. “What can you do? The gospel is going to offend people.” It becomes a way that we throw off the issue as something we shouldn’t care about. It’s as if Christians believe they should be loving and sympathetic with everything except in regards to our beliefs.
There are very good reasons that people speak and act this way concerning those that are hurt by the gospel. It’s true; the bible does claim that the gospel will offend people.
1 Peter 2:7-8 “So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”
1 Corinthians 1:18 “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Folly, a stumbling block, rejected. These don’t sound like positive responses to the gospel. We can’t pretend that the gospel won’t hurt, confuse, or annoy some people, but how should we respond when it does?
Responding to People’s offense
Considering the truth that the gospel will hurt, offend, and insult people, we who believe in it follow in the example of Paul, who says “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 1:16). So it is a good instinct that people are more obedient to Christ than to man, and that the fear of God is higher in their hearts than the fear of man. But should we simply disregard the pain and sorrow of those whom the gospel offends?
Check out what Paul has to say in Romans 12 (the same book where he says not to be ashamed of the gospel).
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do 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, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
When people ignore the pains that the gospel can bring others, I think their spirits are often in pride and not genuine love. Saying “well I don’t care how you feel, because I’m right and you’re wrong,” is not letting love be genuine, it is not mourning with those who mourn, it is being haughty, proud, arrogant, and impatient. Even if your convictions and beliefs are true, you should remember that at one time they offended you as well. And instead of making an enemy out of those that see the gospel as offensive or hurtful, hurt with them.
We mourn with those that mourn. Think about how that idea works in other circumstances. When a friend is homesick and misses her parents, you mourn with her. Not because you agree with her emotions. You don’t also miss her parents. But you see that this person you love is hurting and for that you hurt with her.
The reasons the Gospel offends
We should hurt with the people that the gospel hurts. We should hurt for them, but not for the same reason that they are hurting.
They’re hurting because the gospel says that they cannot please God on their own, so it breaks the worldly idea of being a self-made winner, and not needing anyone to help you, much less a savior. They’re hurting because the gospel says that they have evil within them, and all they have ever longed for is to be a good person. They are hurting because the gospel says that some things humans do are simply wrong. People don’t like the idea of concrete morality, they imagine that all is good unless it hurts another human, but some of our sin hurts not another human, but God, and that is an offensive idea. These are the reasons that unresponsive unbelievers are hurting, and we should hurt too. But the reason we hurt is not the reason they hurt, the reason we hurt is the fact that they hurt.
If love is to be genuine, we need to feel the pain of others, even if it’s a pain that God is using to save them. If we want to really follow Paul’s message of not taking vengeance, then we won’t get angry or heated when people don’t listen to our message or agree with our beliefs, we’ll love them.
Standing firm in your beliefs does not mean becoming a cold, uncaring person. Standing firm in your beliefs means speaking in love with those who disagree, urgently praying that God might reveal his glory to them, because you love them and long for them to be saved.
When the gospel of Jesus hurts someone, or is foolishness to someone, instead of tossing them aside and turning a cold shoulder, turn the other cheek, walk with them two miles, and be patient in love, remembering that you carry a peace and power that transcends all capacity of humankind, and they do not.