It doesn’t take much to offend someone these days. It often seems people are looking for excuses to be offended or angry. Whether it’s cups at a coffee shop, that picture you saw shared on Facebook, or that insensitive thing your aunt said over Christmas, it’s easy to find ourselves taking offense in life.
This habit of taking offense is not isolated to one group of people either. Christian, Atheist, Democrat, Republican, liberal, or conservative. We all get offended. We all have pet issues that offend us, all while we laugh at those other groups for getting offended over something that we don’t understand.
But why do we get so offended? What is it about the way we view the world that causes us to cry out in uproar when someone says something or acts in a way that violates our sense of self or morality? Do we ever stop to examine the source of our anger? Do we ever stop to ask why we get offended.
Ultimately, I think it comes back to pride. If we hold ourselves up as important and special, then any perceived challenge to our position is offensive to us. It threatens the identity we’ve cultivated for ourselves. We take offense when someone fails to acknowledge and respect an important part of our identity, or when someone treats us as less than we feel we deserve.
Taking offense is rooted in our sense of self. The more we hold ourselves up, the more likely we are to be offended when people treat us as less.
But being treated as less is an inescapable part of being a follower of Christ. Jesus calls his followers to it, with teachings like, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”
And if you consider yourself nothing but a servant and slave, you shouldn’t be offended when the world treats you like one.
As Christians, our identity is Christ. And Christ was the servant of everyone. He was spat on, beaten, and killed, yet we never see him take offense at it. We never see him stand up for himself. We never see him attempt to secure more honor and glory for himself.
He adopts a position of humility and servitude, even when his enemies abuse him. The apostle Paul calls us to join him.
“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave.”
As a Christian, I’m called to empty myself and adopt a position of servitude. And if I’m empty of myself, I won’t be all that worried when my self is taken advantage of or belittled.
But that’s just one kind of offense? What about being offended on behalf of others? What about being offended when someone insults or belittles God or Jesus?
That’s not our problem.
God and Christ are both bigger than we are. They’re perfectly able to defend themselves if they want to. Which means if they aren’t defending themselves, they probably don’t need us to do it for them.
Christ willingly adopted a position of lowliness in the world, but so often it seems like Christians want to force Christ back into a position of power and dominance. But Christ never speaks up for himself. The power of Christ’s humility is that he remained lowly, even when there were real consequences. It wasn’t an episode of Undercover Boss where Jesus stopped playing games as soon as things got dicey. He carried the burden of being the lowest of the low until it killed him, and then he called us to do the same.
If we’re going to be followers of Christ, we have to partake in his humility, rather than trying to force him out of it. The old song reminds us that Jesus could have called 10,000 angels, and chose not to. We don’t get to reverse that decision for him. We only get to join Christ in carrying the cross.
But there are a a few instances in the text where God and Jesus do get offended. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus goes off on the moneychangers in the Temple, lamenting that they have turned the Temple into a Den of Robbers. They moneychangers have turned the Temple of God into a place for profit. In the Law, God made provisions for the poor to be able to make sacrifices, and in the Temple. The moneychangers have turned God’s care for the poor into a business to make themselves rich.
What offends Jesus isn’t that they see a business opportunity. It’s that they portray God as uncaring about the poor. It’s that they use the grace of God to take advantage of the very people God is most gracious toward. Jesus is offended by the exploitation of those he came to serve, and so he rectifies the problem. Jesus so embodies the role of servant, that even when he’s offended, he’s a servant to the poor and lowly.
Which is why I think it’s completely acceptable and righteous to be offended and indignant when we hear about injustice, as long as that leads us to be better servants. It’s good for us to stand up on behalf of those who cannot stand up for themselves. It’s important for Christians to reject racial discrimination, to advocate for refugees, to rescue and protect women from sex slavery.
But if our outrage doesn’t compel us to lower ourselves and love our neighbor better, then it’s just pride, and pride is a sin.
So rather than being known for being offended, the Church should be known for being servants. Rather than expecting a certain level of respect, the Church should embrace the pain that comes with being a servant and a follower of Christ.
We will never draw closer to God by being offended. We will never show another person the love of God by demanding to be treated fairly. But by joining Christ in his service, we can make a real impact in the Kingdom of God, by choosing to love, even when we’re insulted and hated.
After all, God describes himself as slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Maybe God’s followers ought to try to be that way too.