(aka, “Don’t Gossip about Offenses”)
The “Someone Offends Me” Chart
Some time ago, the Victory Today Facebook page posted someone’s Bible study notes without context. As of this writing, 2.5 years later, it has been reposted (Shared) 88 THOUSAND times.
The original author said that in her original context, she was only talking about small things, and she was sorry this was shared without her context. So with that disclaimer I’ll proceed, because Victory Today gave only this chart, and this is the only context that 88,000 people had for reposting it.
You can see that post here, but this is basically the way it went:
SOMEONE OFFENDS ME
This concept of “not talking about offenses against you” is a huge one in the Christian world. So let’s think about it.
There are times when going only to God is exactly what we need to do. There are times when ignoring an “offense” is the right thing.
But there are times when we need to do more than that. Scriptural figures set the example for us.
Problems with this Plan
What are the “offenses”?
It’s important to clarify what it means to “be offended.” Does it mean being irritated by something minor? Does it mean being wounded by something harmful?
There are so many degrees and kinds of “offenses.” It could be childhood sexual abuse. Then on the other hand, it could be smacking when he eats. No context is given in this chart for the degree or kind of “offense.”
Does it mean seeing problems and feeling concern for those who will be adversely affected? I believe this is what Jesus meant when He said in Luke 17 that offenses must come, but woe to them through whom they come.
Tell no one?
According to a private conversation with the original author, she didn’t intend for people to assume there were only two choices, but this is the way it has been taken.
“Tell others indiscriminately” or “tell God only.”
But of course there are more than these two choices.
For instance, you could tell a trusted counselor or friend. That person might even say, “Let’s talk to the Lord about that together.” And in that “togetherness,” you might be able to hear from the Lord more clearly.
You could speak to God about it and then sense from the Holy Spirit that you should tell someone else, possibly even the police, depending on the severity of the “offense.”
If it’s safe to do so, you could follow Matthew 18 and talk to the offender.
There are different ways of telling people. There is the genuine gossip way, belittling and feeling superior.
And there is the way that says “I’m confused and need some help understanding. I don’t know what to do. Is this troubling behavior or am I making too big a deal of this?” And many other possibilities.
Wisdom can encompass both telling God and telling someone else.
In what ways can one “tell” and yet avoid sin?
This chart says that if I tell others, I’ll succeed in creating divisions in relationships. But if someone is sinning in egregious ways, there should be a division in relationships.
In fact, we’re told that Satan has ministers of darkness that disguise themselves as ministers of light. Those relationships should be divided.
“Rehashing” the details over and over can certainly make a person more upset, yes. This is where wise and compassionate friends can be helpful.
It’s important for the listener to be a person of wisdom and discernment who can help the one who was offended take proper steps toward getting the help he or she needs. But telling the story of offense doesn’t automatically mean you’re simply “rehashing” without purpose.
Sometimes you’re simply trying to make sense of things that seem senseless, and wise friends can help with that. Sometimes you’re trying to looking for good ideas as to how to respond better next time. This is one thing that mentoring and discipling should be about.
If you tell someone about an offense against you, this does not mean ipso facto you’re “reacting according to the flesh rather than according to the Spirit.” You may be trying to get help in a confusing marriage that turns out to be abusive. You may be trying to understand what happened to you. You may be wondering if it was your fault. You may just need help, someone to listen and validate rather than telling you you’re in sin by gossiping.
Going directly to God in prayer is excellent and desirable, but it doesn’t have to be done in isolation—it can be done with the wise person you go to with the “offense.”
Is staying silent righteous?
One does not necessarily feel peace after going to God about an offense, especially if it an egregious offense that is continuing.
Talking about an offense is being equated to gossiping. No, no, no. There are several very valid reasons to talk about an offense.
Not talking about an offense does not equate to valuing unity. We can value true unity in the body of Christ while exposing the sins of others.
Who are those friends of yours anyway?
Your friends beginning to speak negatively about your offender isn’t necessarily a given. Maybe your wise friends will help you have a better perspective. If you have friends who only gripe about petty things, then you might consider the need to change your circle of friends.
But on the other hand, what if they do “join you in speaking negatively about your offender”? What does it mean to “speak negatively”? To say, “Yes, that was sin and it wasn’t your fault”? To help you go report the offense to the proper authorities?
If your listener begins to think less of your offender, it might be because your offender has sinned in an egregious way. Everyone deserves to have a reputation that matches with his or her character.
Have you really succeeded in causing others to sin? Is that to be assumed? If your friend hears about the offense and helps you have appropriate, God-ward perspective on it, he or she has not sinned, but acted righteously.
And “taking up offenses for others” is one of the topics I address in the first Untwisting Scriptures book. I do my best to make a compelling case that sometimes taking up causes for others is one of the most Christ-like things we can do.
Thoughts from Shannon Thomas
Thank you to Joel Horst for sending me this quotation from Healing from Hidden Abuse:
“In the early stages of a relationship, there might be an awareness that something isn’t quite right. A survivor will have a few pebbles in their fictional bag. The bag isn’t very heavy and only holds a couple of weird or hurtful moments with the abuser. Certainly not enough evidence of toxicity to cut a family member from your life, quit a job, break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, leave a church, and most definitely not enough to end a marriage. They are only a few negative moments, right?
“At this point, survivors will rationalize that nobody is perfect, and everyone has character defects. Good days and bad days. It is human nature to look at one, two, three, or four unpleasant moments with people and not take them too seriously. We often shrug off these moments and move on. Over time, recognizing the pebbles (hurtful moments) causes the bag to become very heavy—too heavy to carry anymore. Many survivors describe being crushed under the weight of the abuse and the chronic dysfunction of the abuser.
“However, toxic people like to isolate one incident at a time. They argue that what they said, or did, was not that big of a deal. They want to deal with one pebble at a time and not look at the entire weight of the abuse. They accuse survivors of ‘focusing on the past’ or they say things like, ‘The problem is that you won’t forgive me for my mistakes.’ No, the problem is that psychological abusers keep making the same ‘mistakes’ or choices to harm other people. They may want to focus on one incident at a time but it’s impossible; just like one cannot separate out a single raindrop while in a thunderstorm.”
Small offenses can be overlooked and overlooked and overlooked, but what Shannon Thomas calls “collecting pebbles” is the same thing Leslie Vernick describes as bee stings—one is manageable (if you’re not allergic), but when it’s a thousand, you’re dead.
So a woman might say to her pastor’s wife, “My husband gets upset over small things.”
The pastor’s wife might say, “Go to the Lord about it and let it roll off. Just forgive these offenses and you’ll be blessed. You don’t need to gossip about it and harm his reputation.”
So the woman tries to follow that advice. But she never got to describe what the “upset” looks like, and she hasn’t talked about how often it happens.
The husband’s anger continues to increase in frequency and severity, but the wife still tries to follow the same advice, going to the Lord only, and forgiving.
Eventually her life and the lives of her children are in danger, and she has to flee, as David did from King Saul. I can’t even count how many times I’ve seen this.
The problem with the pastor’s wife? She gave pat advice instead of taking time to listen and find out what was really happening.
She could have listened to how he threw the phone across the room the other day, punched his fist into the wall last week, kicked the baby’s high chair over last night, and how he can go from 0 to 60 in anger in a few seconds when the wife and children don’t even know why.
These are all “offenses.” They need to be dealt with instead of ignored.
Who are the people who loved that post?
I looked through a few of the 88,000 shares of the Victory Today post and saw all the lauding comments. Like this one, for example:
“I heard a pastor say one time…Don’t take on your brothers offense. So, when someone wants to speak poorly of someone, quickly share something about that person that you think is great. They’ll hush real fast.”
A friend said to me in response to that comment, “So someone tells you her dad raped her, and you say, ‘Let me tell you all the good things I know about your dad.’”
Which in some cases could be many—you know, choir leader, deacon, Sunday school teacher, youth leader, and on and on.
This is exactly what’s happening in our churches in cases of abuse. This example isn’t even far-fetched.
A Bible verse
One of the verses used to support this way of thinking is Proverbs 10:12: “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.”
It is simply assumed that “covering” means “not talking about.”
But the New Testament sheds some light on this.
James 5:20, which alludes to Proverbs 10:12, says, “. . . whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
So we see from the Scripture (which interprets Scripture) that “covering a multitude of sins” is accomplished not by shutting down into silence, but by bringing a sinner back from his wandering.
THIS is the very best way for sins to be “covered”—for sinners to repent and be transformed by the love and saving grace of the true Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the Most High God.
Is this impossible? Some would say yes. But I continue to hold hope, because I see the Lord at work in the lives of many, those who are not hard-hearted and are willing to listen to Him.
It takes wisdom to recognize offenses that can be overlooked. It takes wisdom to understand when offenses need to be confronted, and when they need to be escaped.
I heartily recommend going to the Lord about these things, but often in the company of wise others in our lives. May we all be growing in the wisdom that will help us, and others, sort them out.
What Biblical examples do you believe pertain to this discussion?
WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Rebecca, this is so very full of Biblical Truth!!! …and thank you again for busting hurtful and harmful misconceptions “floating” around among Christians! So much advice given to victims is based on the dangerous misconception that “we just need to be more understanding of others and their offenses; after all, we all sin,” with no consideration to the seriousness of the offense… what a huge disservice to others, and to our selves. I feel passionately about this because I gave this kind of advice to others and to myself for decades… I had no clue that I was disobeying God instead of obeying Him! Jane
Praise God for the untwisting He accomplishes for us.
Do you think Abigail, naming Nabul’s character fits in this discussion?
Yes, she certainly named him as a fool.
That erroneous teaching did so much damage. The truth of scripture, what God intended, is a healing balm.
Well said, Rebecca!
Yes, there are many kinds of offense. While counseling about this matter, I find it helpful to distinguish between taking offense (such as the woman who was offended when she visited our church and discovered I was not R.C. Sproul) or truly being offended (such as by someone’s sinful comment or action).
We then work through this.
(1) Was the offense a violation of God’s moral law or biblical principle? If so, then the offense was a sin.
(2) Or, was the offense a violation of my personal expectations, wants or preferences? If so, then the offense was not sinful. It could not be properly and biblically classified as a sinful or even a wrongful offense.
So, there is a difference between being offended and taking offense.
Should we never say anything about those who truly offended, even sinfully offended us? That’s nowhere to be found in the Bible.
The idea of “never giving a bad report” has been a weapon in the hands of those who claim to be pious in order to shut the mouths of those who know the truth about sins, sinful offenses, and abuse. I’ve even heard and been told in several instances that telling what someone did that was sinful or evil was even more sinful or evil than the original offense!
In one case, a fellow pastor told me I should not be saying anything at all about an egregious matter. “What about Matthew 18, where we are to tell it to the elders?” He said to do so was probably a sin of gossip or slander.
Mind boggling how far off from real Christianity some of these church leaders are. Thank you, Don.
I love this post, Rebecca!! And it is SO needed!
Good examination of the issue. I have noticed that abusers DO focus, all too often on how the offended is ‘withholding forgiveness’ without ever addressing the issue of their actions that strain or damage the relationship. In other words, the abuser has the expectation that the abused will simply ‘forgive’, with the true issue of the abuse taken off the table. The abuser never seems to understand, or willfully ignores the fact that relationships are subject to being damaged beyond any reasonable expectation of repair. Put another way, forgiveness and fellowship/relationship are at times necessarily separate entities for emotional or physical survival.
Yes, good thoughts.
[…] For further reading and reflection, Rebecca Davis has written extensively about the topic in pieces such as If Someone Offends Me, Should I Not Talk About It? […]