The Forgotten Beatitude: Part I

 “Blessed is the person who is not offended by me.”

~ Matthew 11:6

To be offended means to stumble or trip. The Scripture tells us that Jesus is a rock of offense . . . or a rock of stumbling . . . to the disobedient (1 Peter 2:8). In His earthly days, the Lord Jesus was constantly offending the religious establishment.

But in the above text, Jesus has someone else in mind. He’s speaking to His followers: “Blessed are you, my followers, when you are not offended by me.” The context bears this out.

John the Baptist was utterly loyal to Jesus. He walked a life of total self-denial. He gave everything up for his God. And now he finds himself in a cold prison.

We have no record that the Lord ever visited him there. So John is questioning and doubting. He’s probably thinking, “Was it really worth it? I lived my whole life to pave the way for the Messiah, and now I’m in prison. The kingdom hasn’t yet come.”

John is wondering and wavering; he’s tempted to stumble at his Lord. So he sends word to Jesus asking, “Are you really the one who was to come? Or should we expect another?”

Again, Jesus doesn’t visit John. He instead sends this answer to him via his disciples:

“Go back and report to John what you’re seeing. The deaf hear; the blind see; the lepers are cleansed; the dead are raised; the good news is being preached to the poor . . . and happy is the person who is not offended in me. Peaceful is the man who doesn’t stumble over me. Blessed is the person who doesn’t fall away on account of what I do or not do.”

Over the years, I’ve watched Christians take offense with the Lord. Some of them were passionate followers of Jesus in their youth, but later ended up renouncing Him. Why? Because they chose to be offended by Him.

“Blessed is the person who is not offended by me.” This is the forgotten beatitude.

In this post, I want to share three reasons why Christians become offended by their Lord. In part two of the series, I want to discuss the issue of Christians being offended by others. The two are distinct, but not separate.

Reason 1: He demands too much. In John 16:1, Jesus tells His disciples that He’s sharing “all these things” so they won’t be offended by Him. Some of those “things” were stern warnings that they would be hated by the world and persecuted (John 15:18ff.). Jesus made clear that following Him won’t lead to a bed of roses. Suffering and loss are involved.

Unfortunately, some present a gospel that leaves these parts out. The result: Christians get offended when they realize what they’ve gotten into. But Jesus lets us know up front what following Him entails. Even in His own day, some of His followers stopped walking with Him because they regarded the cost too high (John 6:53-59).

Reason 2: He doesn’t meet our expectations. The Lord often works in ways that we don’t understand. I’ve heard some Christians say, “My life would have been much better today if I didn’t follow Jesus in my youth. Look where it’s gotten me.” In Finding Organic Church, I talk about the Catch-30 crisis. There comes a point in all our lives where we reassess the major commitments we’ve made in early adulthood. And we either dig in deeper or we abandon ship.

Isaiah says that God’s ways are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9). The Lord works on levels that we cannot fathom. Paul says that God works all things for our good (Romans 8:28). “Why hasn’t God answered this prayer? Why didn’t He fulfill this promise? Why did He let this happen to me? Why did He let this happen to him/her? Why is God silent when I need to hear Him most?”

These are the questions that plague the mind of the serious believer. If you’ve not yet met the God who refuses to meet all your expectations, you will. And how you react in that day will reveal whether you are worshiping Jesus Christ or Santa Clause (see John 6:26). It will show whether or not you love God more than His promises (or really, your interpretation of those promises).

Jeanne Guyon once said, “I will still serve Him, even if it sends me to hell.” Job said, “Shall we receive good from the hand of the Lord and not evil?” Recall the three Hebrew children. They had lived a life loyal to their God. And the pagan king said to them, “Worship my golden image or else you’re going to die in my fiery furnace.”

Their answer is telling: “We’re not going to worship this image or serve your gods. The Lord is able to deliver us, and He will deliver us from your fiery furnace. But even if He doesn’t, we’re still not going to bow down to your false gods.”

What an attitude. What a posture. What faith. “God will deliver us. But even if  He doesn’t, we will still follow Him.”

Those words contain thunder and lightning for every child of God.

If I can use an illustration, we mortals are living on pages 300-400 of a 2,000 page book. Only God can see the whole book. And He’s only given us the ability to see pages 300-400. We have no capacity to understand what’s in pages 1-299 or pages 401 to 2,000. We can only speculate and assume what’s in them (hence we create all sorts of intricate theological systems to explain mysteries we don’t understand).

Here’s a lesson to learn: Life always comes down to trusting in the Lord rather than trying to figure out His ways via our finite, limited understanding. Yet together, we can better discover and understand what’s in pages 300-400, and thereby learn to live more effectively within them. (I hope blog posts like this contribute to that goal.)

Reason 3: He doesn’t show up on time. He works too slowly. He reacts too late. His deliverance takes too long. God’s clock is a lot slower than ours. We can text or email our prayer to God, and He doesn’t text or email back when we expect. In fact, sometimes we never hear back from Him at all. The screen is blank.

Sometimes we’ll pray for an important matter in our own lives . . . . or we’ll pray for someone else . . . for years. And the dial doesn’t move. Waiting on the Lord can become weary. And it can lead to offense. But God always keeps perfect time.

To sum up, here’s how NOT to offended by the Lord:

  • Remember that He demands everything, and He has promised suffering and tribulation along with blessing and eternal life. So don’t sell out for a cheap, easy gospel. Such is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. He told us what we were getting into and exhorted us to count the cost ahead of time (Luke 14:26ff.).
  • Remember that His ways are higher than ours, and He doesn’t always show us what He’s doing or why. We may not always understand what He does or allows, but He can still be trusted. This is the nature of walking by faith rather than by sight. Even when His grace isn’t sufficient, it is always sufficient.
  • Remember that God is always on time, but His clock ticks differently from ours. He’s a Lord who sometimes shows up long after the hour of healing has passed and we are dead for four days. Just ask Lazarus.
  • Being offended by God is a choice. You can choose to take offense at the Lord and stumble over that which you don’t understand. Or you can “trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5).

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33)

The Forgotten Beatitude: Part II - Being Offended by Others

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Comments

  1. nunu nsiima says

    Thank you so much for this post Lord & for your servant. Thank you for bringing me here on this day on which you are delivering me from the pile of offences that had chocked your love in my heart, till it was cold; your wondrous grace is sufficient even for offendedness! I praise you Lord & thank you because it is you who will bring me back to you, my first & true love. Thank you my King!

    Thank you Frank, may the Lord continue to make you a blessing!

  2. Alex says

    Hi,

    Thanks for this reminder. My Dad indicated to me last Sunday that he regretted being baptized. After so much struggles to get to know Christ, he has been ‘stumbled’. Please extend a prayer for him to return to his first love.

    God Bless everyone!

    Alex

  3. Matt says

    Thank you, this post has made a lot of things come clear to me now. You have restored my faith in Jesus!

  4. John Wilcox says

    I just got turned on to your blog by another subscriber. Excellent!

    I would just add that I see #1 and #3 as being merely subsets of #2. God not meeting one’s expectations in the big stumblingblock over which many have tripped, even apostasized. God didn’t fit into their box, so they threw God away and kept the box. To dictate expectations to God is to set oneself up as God’s god; that’s never going to end well.

  5. EA Bussey says

    Frank, I clicked into this post from the link at the bottom of today’s. As I read it the tears pressed and are still lingering in the lump in my throat.

    In reading the comments I was shocked to run into my own words from back in February. Only God could have known how much I would need this post today and be reminded of my own words from months ago as I now struggle through all the whys and curl into His lap once more.

    How thankful I am for my family in Christ and His faithful servants.

  6. Ken Pattison says

    I think the post is great and in line with scripture. There is just one comment in the summary that I have trouble with. You state that we should remember that God “demands” everything. Somehow it doesn’t seem right. Does he demand anything of us or does he really offer us everything? Is it not really up to us to accept and receive ALL that He has so freely made available to us? In your other writings you make the point that without Christ we can do nothing. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then it seems inconsistent that He would demand something that we cannot do.

    • Frank Viola says

      He demands all . . . but He supplies that which He demands. Jesus said, “Apart from me you do nothing.” Paul said, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Like so many other things in the NT, it’s a paradox.

      • Devan Safer says

        As a Christian, I feel like God can be heartless. Just take, take, take and smite, smite, smite. I get he’s not Santa or a genie. But I wish he was. He seems more of a tyrant. Every time people hear your laments, they simplify them. “Oh you are just saying that bc God is not giving you what you want, he can do whatever he wants, etc.” I hate the fact that he does whatever he wants. I feel a relationship with God is not a relationship, but a one-sided tyrannical rule where I can either smile at whatever he does or he gets mad. Help. I am offended by God right now

  7. Jared Gustafson says

    I especially think that first reason is really true. I’m finding out more and more how much Christianity has somehow become all about us…For many believers it seems like church, bible study, and even service as somehow become about meeting their own need for a spiritual experience or spiritual growth…. What it look like to pick up a cross, or live your life as a living sacrifice? That’s a huge call!

  8. Pete N. says

    Thanks Frank, I recently discovered your blog and this post (as well as others) have really been speaking to me. Thanks for your dedication in this venture.

  9. Kyle says

    I think the Lord engineers situations like this according to His timing to cause us to have a fundamental shift in our experience of Him, to know Him as the God of resurrection and not merely as the God of prevention. I don’t think John was truly doubting whether Jesus was the Christ, but was attempting to provoke Him to act on his behalf. The Lord indicated that although He was doing a lot for others, no miraculous prison escape was coming for John. Paul describes a similar shift in his experience in 2 Cor 1:8-9. For the divine life to grow properly in us, we need to experience daily growth AND occasional crisis. Without these crises, we will remain superficial and always appeal to God for intervention.

    So to not be stumbled at the Lord I think we need a vision of God’s eternal purpose that governs us, we need to realize that God always gives us exactly what we need, and we need to pray prayers such as “Lord grant me the grace to never be stumbled by You my entire life.” Surely He will answer such prayers. What verses have you found to be sustaining in these times? Thanks for the encouraging post.

  10. kenneth dawson says

    I’m so thankful, after reading that post that my relationship with the Lord continues by his faithfullness to me and not my faithfulness to him.

  11. Rob Fisher says

    Thanks for your thoughtful and timely post. I am left wondering the difference, if there is one, in offended in and offended by.

  12. Pat Shepherd says

    Dear Frank,
    Thank you for this very wonderful post. It is really the right time for me to hear this as I can easily myself in all the category of offense. Like you said it is all in the choices you make and you have to make them daily.
    Appreciate it, God bless.
    Pat

  13. rachael says

    so encouraged by your blog. found you through Rick Warren’s twitter this week… I’ve spent a lot of time reading your posts and now I’m gonna need to read your books. My husband and I are in ministry work and God is so faithful to send wonderful (shepherding) reminders to us as we shepherd. (worshiping pause) He is such a Good Shepherd! SO ENCOURAGING. thank you!

  14. Michael King says

    Thank you Frank! I am going through some surprising offense in my own life.

    I attended seminary and was training to be a member of the “clergy” class in the greater part of my twenties. While I’m still just 29, I’m realizing the bruises that are left after I spent the normative “skill-building” years in an institutional setting. After my wife and I left that setting – we found that the time and money we spent amounts to very little in the “real world” in regards to landing a career that might support the life we want in the body.

    This has lead me recently to experience some real bitterness and offense towards the Lord. I’m still struggling with it and was brought to tears while reading this. I don’t want to be offended at the cost. I want to say with Paul that all things are meaningless in comparison to knowing Christ. Thank you for spurring us on to deeper intimacy with our Lord.

  15. Kevin says

    Frank,

    Thank you for the thought provoking post.

    I would like to respectfully disagree with you however on your comment about John the baptist. To understand what John meant by his question, you must look at it in its cultural context. One of the prevailing beliefs at that time was that there would be TWO Messiahs… one a suffering Messiah and the other a King Messiah. John already knew Jesus was the Suffering Messiah who would take away the sins of the world. What he didn’t know was whether Jesus was also the King Messiah. That’s why he asked whether he should look for another.

    So John wasn’t having doubts about Jesus. He was asking for clarification on whether there would be one Messiah or two.

    I’ve found that putting the Scriptures in their cultural context is the best way to correctly understand their meaning.

    Thank you for an inspiring post.

    • Frank Viola says

      Kevin: Thanks for the kind words. As to your other comment, you’re posing a theory about what John had in mind and stating it as if it’s a certain fact in a rather dogmatic way. There are plenty of reputable scholars who disagree with you on this, including N.T. Wright. Jesus’ words back to John make much better sense with the scenario that John was doubting if Jesus was the “one who was to come” and was being tempted to be offended in Him. Either way, the point remains, John was tempted to stumble at his Lord.

      • Kevin says

        Frank,

        Thank you for the thoughtful reply. I did not mean to imply that my comment about John was the only possible interpretation of the passage…only an alternate one. I am in no way trying to be dogmatic and I’m sorry if it came across that way.

        Actually, the answer Jesus gave to John reinforces the idea that John was asking about the possibility of two Messiahs. All the things Jesus said were considered to be things the suffering Messiah would do, except for the last one. The King Messiah would preach the gospel to the poor.

        Thank you for an excellent post.

  16. mark says

    Number 2 really hits home. I’ve learned over the past few years that it is counterproductive to live with specific expectations for others. My expectations create a legalistic environment for others, and it sets all the focus on me getting what I want. I haven’t seen relationships thrive in that environment. It is when I lay down my expectations of others that the relationships blossom and others feel free to express themselves. And I think it is the same with Christ. It’s hard to find a place in the NT where Jesus does what is expected.

    I’m finding that life in Christ is quite often being ready to receive the unexpected, and not to be offended by Him when He moves in His own way and not mine.

  17. Nate B says

    Frank

    Thank you so much for this timely post. The topic has really hit me right in the heart. If I were honest I would say that over the past year and a half I have chosen to be offended at Jesus mainly because of #2-unmet expectations (although I feel #2 and #3 blur together for me). Many believers tell me that God heals, that He can heal and that His will is to heal everyone. So we pray, anoint with oil etc but my 3 year old daughter stay unwell. Some have said that we don’t have enough faith, have not prayed correctly, have not had the right people pray…but I know Christ can do it without a magical formula, yet He chooses not to.

    Thank you for showing me that I have chosen to be offended…it was not the natural result of my circumstances.

    Thank you for your ministry of writing.

  18. EA Bussey says

    Much needed words as I have recently told Him I am so weary. Been here before and will certainly be here again on this journey.

    Yes, God has a perfect will that grants man free-will. I am glad He loves us enough to allow choice – without it there would be no love. Loving Him is also a choice and deep is that love when given freely even in adversity.

    I think some of the most intimate moments with the Lord are when in the midst of our brokeness and lack of understanding we can curl up with Him and say, I love you anyway Daddy.

  19. J says

    What a much needed post Frank. I wish I would have heard and received this many years ago. It would have saved me much heartache and sorrow in relation to some adversity we have been enduring recently.

    Following our Lord will cost each one of us. The cross is real. It is at the center of all he is doing. As you state, he is quite clear about this. Thankfully, he is serious about his business. He isn’t playing games. With his purpose in mind, nothing will stop him. And if that means for some of us to suffer for awhile as he gains what he wants, then so be it.

  20. Courtney Cantrell says

    Frank, if I may, I’d like to sum up the three reasons in one: We followers of God so often find him offensive because he doesn’t do what we want.

    It’s no accident that throughout scripture, God reveals himself to us as our Father and considers us his children. Indeed, we are his children, adopted into his family and adopted into brotherhood with his magnificent, incomparable Son. (Which is just mind-numbingly, incomprehensibly amazing.)

    The problem is that we actually do act like children. We want our way. We want God to make things easy for us. We want him to play by our rules. We want him to do it all when we decide it’s right. We want, want, want.

    If only we can grow into the godly maturity that recognizes he gives us what we need in his Son! What are our humans wants compared with that?!

    Thanks for the inspiring thoughts. : )

      • Courtney Cantrell says

        Granted! : ) But I also think there are seasons during which each of us is immature in this way. That might not be the general orientation of our faith, but there still might be moments when that aspect of the “old man” rears its ugly head. Thank God we have a Christ whose grace covers us even then.

        • Frank Viola says

          Yes, every Christian is tempted. But not all are tempted in the same areas. Many believers are past being offended at God, for example, having come to solid grips with His sovereignty and having been put through the wringer of His dealings in life. But they struggle in other areas. I know some Christians writers use “we” when they are referring to themselves or to people they know. I just think it’s better to use “some” in such cases when referring to a specific weakness, simply because not all specific weaknesses or struggles apply to everyone. That’s all. Hope that helps clarify. :-)

          • Courtney Cantrell says

            Ahhh, okay, I see what you mean now! Thanks for clearing that up — and I’ll try to be more clear in my own expressions in the future. I didn’t mean to imply that every Christian experiences the same temptations as others do. That would be to ignore the wide and beautiful variety of God’s creations…as well as the many, many facets of his grace.

  21. Kevin says

    Oh, I’m not sure about this…. I do fully agree that Christians should expect persecution, and in fact if we aren’t facing opposition then perhaps that means we’re not really taking our place in the battle that God calls us to.

    But you seem pretty close to saying that everything in the world is God’s will, that God causes all the tragedies and atrocities in the world. I really struggle with that verse in Isaiah (55:9 – God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, his ways are above our ways), which can be used to explain why God does stuff that seems, just barbaric.

    I’ve seen this called the ‘Blueprint Worldview’ – with the idea that every detail in history happens in strict accordance with an eternal blueprint that resides in the mind of God. I can’t harmonise that with a God who promises that, at the end of the age, there will be ‘no more death or sorrow or crying or pain’.

    • Frank Viola says

      God is sovereign. He has a perfect will (how He desires all humans to live) and a permissive will (what He allows to happen in the world of space-time-matter). But in the mystery of God’s eternal counsels, the two converge. The specifics of how that all works are outside of pages 300-400. In short, God is God. We trust Him or we don’t. And “blessed is he/she who is not offended in me.” Of that we can be sure of. Selah.

      • Greg says

        Word! I don’t understand it all, and admittedly there are times when I don’t always like it all, but there is comfort in His sovereignty.

  22. Jim Caldwell says

    Thanks Frank. As always, this is great input.

    I would offer one thought about the statement: “And He is in control.” I wonder if many are “offended” by God because of a misunderstanding of control. Some see control as if our lives are like the second, minute and hour hands of a watch (think analogue not digital), which are controlled by the inside mechanism of the watch. Each movement, every tick forward is controlled by the unseen inner workings of the watch.

    I prefer to see “control” more like a king’s reign over a country. The king rules as he sees fit and right but he does not control every action of his subjects. His reign is established but all that happens in his country is not by his decree or command.

    I know this stir up a storm but this is why I have decided to not use the control language anymore. I think it gives a bigger and clearer picture of the true King.

  23. Michele says

    Without an accurate understanding of Who Jesus is, Sovereign, Amazing, Faithful, True, Merciful, Glorious, Just, Master, Lord, Mighty, Powerful….. to name just a few. Absolutely Wonderful, even in the things He allows. As one who has experienced struggles and questioned Him… Why…. why…?? And then to be comforted by His Amazing Love and coming to the revelation that He, His Person, is enough…. infinitely more than enough!! Is He our first love and do we trust Him, no matter what? If so, then we will not be offended by Him.

    Thank you, Frank, for sharing this with us today!

  24. Fred says

    Thank you for this. I’ve been going through some tough times the past couple of months, and I’m finding all of those things to be true. I’m trying to trust God and not be offended. It’s hard.

  25. David D. Flowers says

    Hey Frank,
    I would say that folks are often offended by the Lord because of bad theology. You may have been saying something like that with reason #2–it certainly fits there. I want to believe that I passed through the “Catch-30 Crisis” because I was willing to let the Lord rock my world with some new theological ideas that made room for an understanding of the Lord that fit much better with the God we see in Jesus. And it’s because of this shift in my theology that others are now offended by me. That’s OK. I made it through the valley of the shadow of catch-30 and I’m still loving the Lord. ;-)

    I look forward to part two. Thanks, Joey!

    • Frank Viola says

      Right on. Bad theology often accounts for #1 also . . . a “no suffering/no cost” gospel leaves some Christians bewildered when they realize that life often gets more difficult after trusting in Christ rather than easier.

      • Michael says

        Is it no possible though, once you push through that it gets much better, for the Joy that is set before us. I feel that it is both and? To be truly set free by His Spirit, I believe He can save us and came to give us life, Paul rejoiced in prison for the light that He had seen years before, I believe the Lord is shinning forth the same light.

          • Michael says

            Thanks, I agree. Over the years it has gotten much easier and also in some ways it has gotten so much harder, and it is these things that you are discussing. Keep bringing up the hard stuff, it is beautiful and much needed. The best thing you said in this is that we must trust the Lord and lean not on our own understanding. That has been going through my mind all day

  26. Kat Huff says

    Frank,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. A few thoughts came to me while reading.

    When we stumble on the path, it is because we were not looking where we should; our attention, our focus, has strayed. When we are offended, it is because our pride has taken over our hearts. Does our temporary suffering matter? Do we not realize that if Christ be in us that whatever we suffer He knows? Do we not realize that if Christ be in us that He experiences our pain along with us? Christ lives in us and we Him.

    When we say, “Father take all of me, I am yours, have your pleasure with me in your Son,” we never know what He will do, but we know that He will do. There is no measure to that, no limitations, no boundaries. We are not to put our limits, the measure of our minds, into that.

  27. rgale says

    My experience with GOD through my life has made Him more real to me and as the details of His character become exposed and His personal encounters with me continue to be specific…my commitment to Him depends less and less on what He “does or does not do” and more on the absolute reality of who He is and how He loves, which in turn creates my love for Him…and love is not easily offended. The salvation born of love, creates love back to Him. Relationships that are overly sensitive to offenses lack a love relationship.

  28. Josh says

    Whoa whoa whoa… Wait a second. This is really too deep for a Monday. I’d like to recommend future Mondays be filled with fluffy non-thought provoking, non-tear producing, non…now I have to spend the next 15 min forwarding this to everyone I know and writing a lengthy paragraph about how it will totally jump start your work week and refocus our eyes on Jesus. My work load is simply too full on a Monday for that Frankie V. Next week, how about a nice childhood story about a pony or something??? :)

    - Your little Brother in Christ.

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