Communicating An Offensive Gospel Without Being Offensive

Romans 9:33 just as it is written, “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE.“(1 Pet 2:8)  

I Cor 10:32  Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God;

2Cor 6:3  giving no cause for offense in anything, so that the ministry will not be discredited.

We know that the Gospel message is ” foolishness to people perishing,” and has elements in it that are offensive. 1 Cor 1:18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.   Jesus Himself is the “rock of offense” (Rom 9:33, 1 Pet 2:8).  Unfortunately, I have observed over the years that much of what is considered offensive or foolishness isn’t as much about the Gospel as it is about the people communicating it.

What I have observed over the years is that much of what is considered offensive or foolishness isn’t as much about the Gospel as it is about the people communicating it.

We must understand that when we’re talking to people, we’re called to be gracious, kind, and full of His lovingkindness.  If not we will add personal offense to an offensive Gospel.   

Our Annual Example

We make an annual shopping trip to an area of Kansas City the day after Thanksgiving.  Every year a street preacher, complete with microphone and speaker is there yelling at people about the judgments of God. The whole area is packed with shoppers.  He yells at them about their sinful condition by shouting the demands of the law.   There is usually about a 20-30 yard vacant (no go) area around him, kind of like a killing zone.  I have never seen anyone in the kill zone.  Most of the people walking by trying to ignore him or pretend he isn’t there. I have never seen anyone even pause to listen to him.  

I admire his courage and am inspired by it, but every time I hear him I wonder about the offensive nature of the Gospel.  The Spirit spoke to me once as I passed by, “most people’s offenses aren’t with the gospel but with the way it is presented and the lives of the people presenting it.”

God’s people are called to both demonstrate with their life and declare with their mouths the gospel.

God’s people are called to both demonstrate with their life, and declare with their mouths the gospel.  How we demonstrate the gospel with both is where the problem often is found.   Philippians 2:14-16  Do everything without complaining or arguing,  (15)  so that you may be innocent and pure as God’s perfect children, who live in a world of corrupt and sinful people. You must shine among them like stars lighting up the sky,  (16)  as you offer them the message of life.

We mistakenly think they are offended by the Gospel and rejecting Christ when in fact they are rejecting us and our approach.  The “fruit of the Spirit” is very attractive while the “deeds of the flesh” are very ugly.   Religion without Jesus’ life and the Spirit’s fruit will be unattractive.  Galatians 519-23…the deeds of the flesh are…strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, envying…But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  (23)  gentleness, self-control.  People need to taste the life and fruit of the Spirit in the people of God.

How Do We Help Remove Our Offense from the Offensive Gospel?

  • Exhibiting life of God in the fruit of the Spirit (gentleness, patience, love, lovingkindness, and respect).

Titus 2:7-14 In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified,  (8)  sound in speech which is beyond reproach, so that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us… They must not talk back or steal, but must show themselves to be entirely trustworthy and good. Then they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive in every way.

Religion without Jesus’ life and the Spirit’s fruit will be ugly and unattractive. 

Peter said that as we respond to others with “gentleness and respect in a good conscience” people that oppose us will “become ashamed” because of the life observed before them.  As the world gets darker the life of God will become more appealing and get people’s attention.  They may disagree with our words but cannot deny our great attitude and conduct.

1Pe 3:15-16  GNB…Be ready at all times to answer anyone who asks you to explain the hope you have in you,  16  but do it with gentleness and respect. Keep your conscience clear, so that when you are insulted, those who speak evil of your good conduct as followers of Christ will become ashamed of what they say.

  • Love the image of God in people.  

This creates courtesy and respect.  It is rooted in the Imago Dei, the concept that each of us was created in the image of a loving God. That is what gives each person—every person—dignity and makes each of us worthy of respect.  James 3:9-11  With our tongue we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God;  (10)  from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.  

  • Use all the aspects of salt we have been given (Mt 5:13).  

Salt preserves from deterioration and adds spice, but another thing it does, that we often don’t think of, is that salt when it is in water, keeps things from sinking.  It tends to lift things up and cause them to float. We are called to lift up people.  The devil, circumstances, and emotions tend to pull people down into the pits of despair.  Darkness brings death.  God’s people, full of God’s salt look for ways to lift people up by bringing His blessing.  Jesus greeted Nathanael, “behold an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (Jn 1:47).  This brought blessing and got his attention on Jesus.  

Jesus said “Come to Me you who are weary and heavy laden…My yoke is easy and My burden is light” Mt 11:28-30. God’s people should be known as bringing God’s blessing.  The gospel is good news.  Yes, people need to know the bad news that they are separated from God and under a curse, but there is great life and blessing in Jesus.  Let’s not forget to communicate that.  I recently witnessed to a young man who was having problems with his live-in girlfriend and her son.  I was able to share the blessings of 38 years with my life because of the change Jesus brought in us.  Living under His rule helps us daily overcome the things that were destroying his relationship.  Jesus and His kingdom is good news.

When Jesus sent the 12 and 70 out in Mt 9-11 and Luke 9-10 their first order of business was to bring “blessings” into receptive homes.  Mt 10:12-13 “give your blessing of peace.”  Luke 10:5 “first give your blessing of peace.”

  • Remember we were drawn by His loving kindness so make sure we communicate it.  

The prophet Jeremiah was called the weeping prophet because of the failures and judgments he experienced with God’s people.  Those things moved him deeply.  He wrote the book of “Lamentations” which means “a passionate expression of grief, sorrow, and weeping” over the condition of God’s people.  In His prophecies, he presents something of the heart of God that is one of the biggest draws, His lovingkindness.

Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.

Psalms 63:3 Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.

Lovingkindness is an aspect of love, but it has some distinct features.  Love wants the best for the object of love, yet it sometimes means discipline or allowing unpleasant things.  Every good parent has had to discipline and deny their child something that the child would think is not reflecting love.

Lovingkindness on the other hand is evidenced by goodness and charitable behavior, a pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others.  It is a caring heart that wants to alleviate all suffering and lift the other up.  It is faithful feelings from the heart and acts of kindness that are motivated by love.  

I know in my own life I experienced the great drawing of His lovingkindness.  I had been challenged by the fear of God.  I knew I was in trouble because of the way I was living.  In that “severity of God” I also was also made aware of His lovingkindness.  Romans 11:22  Behold then the kindness and severity of God.  In the midst of my mess, He let me know He loved me and wanted me to be saved.  Even in my sin He cared about me.  I was drawn by His lovingkindness.  

His lovingkindness is a fruit of the Spirit that makes the Gospel appealing to others.  We need to embrace this aspect of God’s heart toward people.  Yes if they don’t follow Jesus they are under His judgment but at the same time God loves them and wants His lovingkindness expressed to them through His people. 

Seek God for His heart and attitude toward people.  May we feel for them and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.  It is okay if “Jesus is the stone of stumbling and the rock of offense” but out of immaturity or a wong heart we shouldn’t be.

 

  

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Feelings, Culture, or Scripture Alone

“Jesus of Nazareth always comes asking disciples to follow him–not merely “accept him,” not merely “believe in him,” not merely “worship him,” but to follow him: one either follows Christ or one does not. There is no compartmentalization of the faith, no realm, no sphere, no business, no politic in which the lordship of Christ will be excluded. We either make him Lord of all lords, or we deny him as Lord of any.” Lee Camp 

I remember hearing a story of a dad reading Matthew chapter 7 to his 4-year-old son.  While reading the son began to snicker and then broke out laughing.  The dad was somewhat serious and wondered what was up.  His son imagined in his mind the preposterous picture of a man with a big beam in his eye trying to remove a speck in someone else’s eye.  The little boy instinctively knew a big beam couldn’t fit into someone’s eye and just the thought of it caused him to laugh.

While humor and sarcasm can be hurtful, used in a right way they can make excellent points.  Jesus used both humor and sarcasm.  This is contrary to the picture people often present of Jesus walking on the earth as an emotionless Zombie (except for anger) who lacked any sort of personality.  Jesus often used sarcasm to both offend the self-righteous as well as making points of truth.

I had the great privilege years ago of inheriting a book from my wife’s grandfather that is no longer in print called “The Humor of Christ” by Elton Trueblood.  He did a masterful job of showing both the humor and sarcasm used by Jesus to make important points.  It is a pretty ridiculous picture to see a camel on it’s knees trying to squeeze through a small opening in the city wall of Jerusalem “the eye of a needle” (Lk 18:22-27, Mt 19:24, Mk 10:26).  How about “choking on a small bug while at the same time trying to swallow a camel (Matthew 23:24)?

Jesus also used offensive sarcasm when directly confronting religious people who were trusting in their own version of what it means to be right with God.  He called them names like “brood of vipers, snakes, devils, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, and murderers” Mt 3:7, 12:34, 23, 16:23).

Wisdom from “The Babylon Bee”

A satirical evangelical Christian website, the Babylon Bee, released a humorous article that strikes at the heart of a problem among self-identified Christians.  It was aimed at Christians who think following Jesus and living according to His word is somewhat optional.  Simply believing in Him and living by one’s own version of what is right is good enough. This is in contrast to the 25 clear calls by Jesus in the Gospels to “follow Me and live according to My word.”  He only called people to “believe” 4 times. There is a clear emphasis that real belief entail’s following Him and seeking to obey His word.

John 8:30-31  As He spoke these things, many came to believe in Him.  (31)  So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word (believe and live by it), then you are truly disciples of Mine, and you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

The website reported on a fictitious meeting in which progressive evangelical leaders met to affirm a doctrine of “Sola Feels.”  It was an obvious spoof of the great doctrinal truth that came out of the Protestant Reformation from the Latin phrase “Sola Sciptura.” It means God’s word is our only objective basis of faith and practice above traditions or our feelings.  “Sola feels” means that our feelings are the only proper way to interpret what is true which is how our culture, even many self-identified Christians live their lives.  The article puts it humorously well.  Quite simply, ‘Sola Feels’ means that all spiritual truths only become true once they are filtered through, and accepted by our feelings.

Quite simply, ‘Sola Feels’ means that all spiritual truths only become true once they’e filtered through and accepted by our feels-all the feels,’ popular author and speaker Jane Hansen told reporters after the meeting.  “Thus, things that make us feel bad, those are wrong.  The things that give us all the happy feels, those are true, right, and good.

What is true is what feels right more than what God says is right in His word. This is the current mantra both of our culture as well as many self-identified Christians.  The word of God is optional and subject to what our feelings and/or the culture around us dictate.  Anything that opposes “feels” is seen as oppression.

The movie makes a point 

There was a satirical movie in the late 70s, Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”  that had a scene that was a very revealing about some of the current cultural confusion as well as that among self-identifying Christians regarding “Sola Feels.”  The story line of the movie is almost prophetic as it was about someone who was mistaken for Jesus then attempted to start a Christian movement around this falsehood.  Sounds like believing but not following or obeying Jesus’ word (John 8).  It is an alternative Christianity that often favors things Jesus clearly said He is opposed to.

There is a great scene in the movie called “Loretta” that is eerily similar to some of the confusion today (I don’t recommend the whole movie as it has some bad parts).  The scene is about whether they are going to give place in their movement to a man who wants to be a woman and have a baby.  The point is debated among 4 followers and the last line is prophetic as one person says it’s, “a struggle against oppression,” while another man says it’s really, “a struggle against his reality”  (God’s design).  For disciples, it has to be “Sola Scriptura” (God’s reality) not “Sola Feels” (our desires).

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