STUDY | Spend the week studying Proverbs 18:19, Matthew 18:15–35, Luke 17:1–4, 2 Corinthians 2:10–11 and Hebrews 12:14–15. Consult the commentary provided and any additional study tools to enhance your preparation.
DETERMINE | Which discussion points and study questions will work best for your group.
PRAY | Pray for our pastors and this week’s message, the upcoming group time, your group members, and their openness to God’s Word.
LANDING POINT | God, forgive me for being offended and free me from bitterness and being unforgiving.
Remember the 4 Rules for Small Group Discussion
- Confidentiality. What’s said in the group stays in the group.
- No cross-talk. Be considerate of others as they share. Refrain from side conversations and texting during group time.
- No fixing. We are not in the group to fix each other. Jesus does that part.
- Sharing. Be sensitive to the amount of time you share. Don’t talk too much or too little. Every person brings something valuable to the group.
As your group time begins, use this section to introduce the topic of discussion.
CULTURE OF OFFENSE
We live in a culture where many people seem so easily offended. Really, it doesn’t take much to offend someone these days, whether the offense is ridiculous or serious. To “offend” means to cause someone to feel annoyed, upset or resentful. When someone is offended, they may experience hurt feelings, displeasure, distress or anger. We see offense in the news, on social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter and in protests related to a particular issue or cause.
As Christians, we need a better understanding of how offense is shaping our culture. We also need a response to offense that is shaped by God’s Word.
During this series we will answer some very important questions about offense, such as:
- What is an offense? What makes it so dangerous?
- How do I get over an offense?
- Should I try not to offend someone? If so, how?
- Is it ever okay to offend someone?
Q: Give specific examples of where you see offense on the rise in our culture.
Q: How would you describe a response to offense that is shaped by God’s Word? What qualities does that response have?
Select 2-3 questions to discuss as a group.
What does God’s Word say about offense? Let’s look at four passages and see how they help us understand the nature and effects of offense.
OFFENSE IS INEVITABLE (LUKE 17:1–4)
Jesus tells His disciples that temptations to sin are sure to come (v.1). In Greek, “temptations to sin” is translated as “stumbling block.” The picture here is of someone becoming an impediment to another person, causing them to fall. Essentially, Jesus is telling His followers, “Be careful that you don’t become a stumbling block that causes someone to sin.”
Offense is dangerous because it can be a trap that leads to sin. But you can choose to respond to an offense in a godly way. Jesus teaches us to confront the offense and forgive the person. Your hurt and anger over an offense never justifies a sinful response.
READ: Luke 17:1–4. Why do we sometimes feel justified when we respond sinfully to an offense?
OFFENSE MAKES US DEFENSIVE (PROVERBS 18:19)
This proverb tells us that it’s harder to win over a brother who is offended than to conquer a strong city. Offense makes us put up walls in order to keep others out. We make vows to defend ourselves. I will make sure no one ever hurts me like that again, we tell ourselves. But those walls that keep others out also confine us. They lock us in andkeep us from experiencing the pleasures of relationship and community.
READ: Proverbs 18:19. What do we miss out on by building walls to keep others out?
OFFENSE DIVIDES US (2 CORINTHIANS 2:10–11)
In this passage, Paul speaks of Satan’s schemes. Satan knows that a house divided cannot stand. Therefore, his primary objective against God’s people is to divide them. Our enemy knows that allowing anger and resentment over an offense to fester will divide us. That’s why it’s important to deal quickly with an offense.
READ: 2 Corinthians 2:10–11. Recall a time when an offense you experienced or caused resulted in division.
OFFENSE MAKES US BITTER AND UNFORGIVING (MATTHEW 18:15–35; HEBREWS 12:14–15)
The author of Hebrews warns his readers against allowing a “root of bitterness” to grow in one’s heart. Wherever there is bitterness, trouble and defilement are sure to follow. Bitterness, when it takes root, can wreck your prayer life, relationships and health (physical, emotional and spiritual). Jesus tells His followers a parable about an unforgiving debtor to show us that offenses leading to unforgiveness will cut you off from experiencing God’s grace and healing.
READ: Hebrews 12:14–15. How would you define bitterness? How do you let go of bitterness?
Select 2-3 questions from this section to answer.
THE RIGHT RESPONSE TO OFFENSE
What is the right response to offense? How can we guard our hearts and minds from the dangers of offense? R.C. Sproul writes, “We are all called to bear our injuries with joy, patience, love and gentleness.”1 Sproul goes on to explain how responding this way helps us grow spiritually:
This kind of response is required of all of us because the Christian life is about the imitation of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). We are being molded into His image, so we are to strive to live as He lived. Our Lord was slandered and falsely accused of all kinds of offenses, but He opened not His mouth in protest (Isaiah 53:7). Like a lamb, He accepted these vitriolic attacks, and, in the very moment of His passion, He prayed for the forgiveness of those who were attacking Him (Luke 23:34). This is how we are called to react to our enemies (1 Peter 4:13). Therefore, every false accusation, every slander, every ill word spoken about me is an opportunity for me to grow in my sanctification.2
In Jesus we see how to respond to offense with love and forgiveness instead of sinful vilifying or attacking others with our words or actions, being defensive, resorting to self-pity, showing resentment or holding a grudge.
Q: How can you can bear the offenses of others with joy, patience, love and gentleness?
Q: What’s one thing you can do this week to model Jesus’s response to offense?
Self-control is listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23). When we are keeping in step with the Spirit, we are able to exercise self-control over our emotions. Being offended is an emotional response over which you do have control. The way to gain more self-control over your emotions is to cultivate more of the love of God in your heart. How do you do this? By fixing your heart on the love of God that became wrapped in human flesh. You do this by living your life—and every response to an offense—in the context of the gospel story.
Q: What are some practical ways you can exercise self-control over your emotions?
Q: What would it look like for you to live your life and relationships in the context of the gospel story?
Select 1 question from this section to ask your group.
As Christians, we understand that our beliefs and lifestyle can make us unpopular and even offensive to others. Often, we end up flowing against the current of how our culture defines right and wrong, and what is offensive.
How are we supposed to live in a culture like ours? As Christians, we have four possible responses. We can:
- Conform. We compromise our beliefs in order to please culture.
- Check out. We distance ourselves from interacting with culture.
- Fight. We go on the defensive and wage war on culture.
- Counter. We engage culture with God’s truth and compassion.
We must engage culture with a desire for God’s glory and the redemption of our culture. As Ed Stetzer says: “We stand firmly on the truth of God, empowered by the Spirit, to extend the love of Christ to the world. Our desire isn’t to conquer but to redeem. It matters what we do, how we do it and why we do it.”4
Q: Why is it difficult to live as a Christian in a culture of offense?
Q: What can you do to better engage your culture with God’s truth and compassion?
Pray for a heart that seeks love and forgiveness. Ask God to empower you to live in the context of the gospel story in your everyday life. Pray against the resentment and bitterness that leads to division and broken relationships.
Midway through this week, send a follow-up email to your group with some or all of the following:
- Read Galatians 5:16–26 and consider the differences between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
- Ask the group to share any stories or lessons learned where they see God at work in their lives.
Temptation and Sin
“Jesus informed His disciples of the radical nature of following Him. It was a path that led to Jerusalem and the cross. Taking this path is not a life of pious isolation. It remains a path through this world interacting with other people. Such interaction begins with a strong understanding about the nature of people. Onedoes not divide people into two camps—(1) the ritually clean, pious, obedient Pharisees and (2) everyone else, those who are sinners. All people are the same. Everyone sins and stands guilty before God (see Rom. 3:23; 6:23). This means all people face temptations and succumb.”5
Real Effects of Forgiveness
Letting go of bitterness and practicing forgiveness can have enormous positive effects on your mental, physical and emotional health. These effects include:
- Healthier relationships
- Improved mental health
- Less anxiety, stress and hostility
- Lower blood pressure
- Fewer symptoms of depression
- A stronger immune system
- Improved heart health
- Improved self-esteem 6
Context of 2 Corinthians 2:10–11
“If the [Corinthian] church withheld forgiveness when the man [who had committed an offense] was repentant, they would be playing into the hands of Satan, who cunningly tries to create disunity within the church. The [New Testament] teaches that some offenses are serious enough to warrant corporate church discipline, such as open, unrepentant immorality (1 Cor. 5:1–11), actively spreading false teaching (Rom. 16:17), or divisiveness (Titus 3:10).”7
1. R.C. Sproul, “A Charitable Reaction,” Talbetalk Magazine, January 1, 2013, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/a-charitable-reaction/.
3. Ed Stetzer, “4 Responses to Cultural Change,” Christianity Today, April 1, 2016, https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2016/march/4-respons- es-to-cultural-change.html.
5. Trent C. Butler, Luke, vol. 3, Holman New Testament Commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 278.
6. Mayo Clinic Staff, “Forgiveness: Letting Go of Grudges and Bitterness,” Mayo Clinic, November 4, 2017, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/ adult-health/in-depth/forgiveness/art-20047692.
7. Douglas J. Moo, “The Letters and Revelation,” in NIV Zondervan Study Bible: Built on the Truth of Scripture and Centered on the Gospel Message, ed. D. A. Carson (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 2364.