*What did Jesus say about offending others?
*How far should one go in forgiving others?
*Why did Jesus not condemn the adulterous woman?
*What does becoming a Christian really require?
*How broad does God’s kindness reach?
A part of the Christian experience, Jesus said, would be the problem of offenses-that is, Christian brethren would get their feelings hurt or become upset over one matter or another. Jesus warned His disciples not to be the cause of offenses. He said, “Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matt. 18:7). Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and philosopher, once wrote, “Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill will, and selfishness-all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good and evil.” Marcus Aurelius certainly knew what he was talking about. Christians can expect inconsiderateness, criticisms, persecutions, etcetera, from the world, but these things should not be occurring within the church. So, the admonition here for Christians is to keep these things out. There will be offenses enough from the world; there should be none in the body of Christ. But what if someone in the church offends a brother? What did Jesus say then?
Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire” (Matt. 18:8-9).
What did Jesus mean by this remark?
Any stumbling block or hindrance that stands in the way of spiritual development for oneself or any other party must be expunged. Sometimes radical changes are required to accomplish this, so radical they could be likened to excising a limb or an eye. We must get rid of those things in our lives that cause us to offend. For further elaboration on this principle see Number Four, page one, of this series. The major consideration for the Christian should be concern for “spiritual babes” in Christ. A Christian should make every effort to set the right example. He should never cause someone to stumble by being offensive. “Take heed that ye despise [disdain, disregard] not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10). Babes in Christ are likened to children. They should not be treated in some offensive, pompous manner. Why? “For the Son of man is come to save that which was lost” (v. 11).
An example of God’s concern is as follows:
How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray? And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish (Matt. 18:12-14).
But, how far should one go in forgiving an offending brother? “. . . Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” (v. 21). Surely, Peter thought, seven times should be sufficient. But, what was Jesus’ reply? “Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven” (v. 22). Bible commentators take this figure to represent an unlimited number of times. It takes an incredible amount of love and mercy to accomplish this. Most of us would fail miserably, but it is a goal we should strive for. It is quite unlikely we would ever experience 490 offenses. There may be, however, situations that develop where we are severely tested to see how much we can apply this principle. One must develop great tolerance and understanding for the shortcomings of others. Let us be willing to try. It is very difficult for many to be forgiving and understanding of the mistakes of others. Some find it impossible to do so. These teachings of Jesus demonstrate how difficult it is to really put Christianity to practice in one’s life.
Jesus, then, gave an example of what forgiveness is all about.
Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, which would take account of his servants. And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, which owed him ten thousand talents. But forasmuch as he had not to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Then the lord of that servant was moved with compassion, and loosed him, and forgave him the debt. But the same servant went out, and found one of his fellowservants, which owed him an hundred pence: and he laid hands on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. And his fellowservant fell down at his feet, and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. And he would not: but went and cast him into prison, till he should pay the debt. So when his fellowservants saw what was done, they were very sorry, and came and told unto their lord all that was done. Then his lord, after that he had called him, said unto him, O thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee? And his lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses (Matt. 18:23-35).
The lesson here is that if one is unforgiving of the faults and offenses of others, he will receive no forgiveness for his own trespasses from the heavenly Father. It is important to learn to be forgiving.
An example of God’s forgiveness is found in John, chapter eight. People who are too quick to condemn others often fail to see their own shortcomings. “. . . The scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?” (John 8:3-5).
The scribes and Pharisees thought they had Jesus trapped. If He answered yes, they would accuse Him of usurping their office. If He said no, they would accuse Him of refusing to uphold the law, and was, therefore, a false prophet. “This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. . .” (v. 6). How did Jesus respond?
. . . But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground. And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst (John 8:6-9).
Whatever Jesus wrote really got to these accusers. He obviously knew they had been guilty of the same sin or a similar sin. They left in embarrassment. “When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (vv. 10-11). Jesus did not condone her sin. In effect, He told her to repent. If she did, she would not stand condemned in the sight of God. The solution to the problem was to repent, to stop sinning. Then, God’s mercy would be greatly extended. The key is repentance.
People often think of the prestige and recognition they may receive by becoming followers of Jesus. They often make commitments regarding matters of which they have little understanding. They often fail to count the cost. Notice this example. “And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head” (Luke 9:57-58). Jesus did not promise prestige. Rather, He demonstrated that to become a Christian often requires sacrifice. If those who desire prestige realized the price they may have to pay, many would have second thoughts. The price would be too high. The lavish comforts of life and the prestige of great recognition are not to be found within the pale of true Christianity.
Jesus looked at a man who displayed an interest in following Him. “And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (vv. 59-60). In practice, Jewish funerals took place on the day of a man’s death. It is unlikely, then, the man intended to bury his father on that day. In all likelihood his elderly father would die in the not-too-distant future and the son wished to be present in order to receive his inheritance. The time period could mean months or years. What was Jesus’ reply? “. . . Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God” (v. 60). That is, let those who are spiritually dead bury the physically dead. You come with me and preach the gospel. To preach the gospel is far more important, Jesus said, than to wait for one’s father to die.
Another example is a man who said, “. . . Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house” (Luke 9:61). What was Jesus’ reply? “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (v. 62). What was the problem here? The man obviously had divided interests. He was not fully dedicated to God’s service. Jesus could see this. In returning to his home and family, he most likely would have remained there. Jesus made it plain that in order to follow Him, one cannot have it both ways. Either one serves God entirely or he serves his own interests. Under these circumstances such a man could not profitably serve either one well.
When it comes to practicing Christianity, it is not a matter of agreeing with a few principles for a time and then letting down. Believing in Jesus means continually practicing what Jesus taught. “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed” (John 8:31). The Christian calling is a lifetime commitment. Some of Jesus’ disciples could not accept certain things Jesus said. We read, “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). But, what was the response of the twelve? “Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (vv. 68-69).
Peter and the other disciples knew salvation was the result of remaining faithful to God’s truth the entirety of one’s life. A number of Scriptures illustrate this. Notice, for example, Hebrews 10:38. “Now the just shall live by faith: but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” And, “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). “. . . We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Salvation will be granted to them “who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life” (Rom. 2:7). “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off” (Rom. 11:22). “Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). Those who keep Jesus’ sayings are keeping what Jesus taught. His sayings are His teachings.
In Jesus’ day, as in ours, people concerned themselves with the question of eternal life. “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). This lawyer was not really sincere. He was trying to trap Jesus. Versed in the law, the lawyer was hoping Christ would make a mistake regarding the law. Then he could accuse Him. Jesus answered, “. . . What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live” (vv. 26-28). But this wasn’t good enough for the lawyer. Jesus’ answer was too broad. To the Jews in that day another Jew only was one’s neighbor. So, to substantiate this viewpoint he tried to limit Christ’s answer. “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” (v. 29). Notice Jesus’ answer:
. . . A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise (Luke 10:30-37).
What could the lawyer say? To have disagreed would have made him look inhumane. The teaching here is that Christians are expected to be kind and helpful to those in need regardless of who they are. They are not to close their hearts to love and mercy. The Samaritan had a better understanding of kindness and mercy than did those who were supposed to represent God as religious leaders. God is no respecter of persons and does not limit His kindness to a certain people or to any class within that people.