The world in which we live today is full of people who are easily offended. From “safe spaces” at universities to unconstitutional attempts to tear down free speech because of what is being said, the world wants us to know something: they’re offended. And being offended is the new virtual signal.
I get why they’re offended because I know the message we preach—the gospel of Christ—is inherently offensive. People who don’t believe it will take issue with its message. Part of the problem, of course, is that nowadays people think if we disagree with you then we hate you or are attacking you. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth. But like Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing…” To those who don’t follow Christ, the message of the gospel is absolutely stupid.
John MacArthur once said:
If the truth offends, then let it offend. People have been living their whole lives in offense to God; let them be offended for a while.
When we evangelize, the last thing we should worry about is having the gospel offend people. Because of man’s inherent nature and what the gospel message implies, people will get offended. Let them be offended. Of course, we don’t want them to be offended, but we need not be surprised when they do get offended.
However, that is not the point of this piece. My point here is that sometimes—unfortunately, a lot of the time—instead of letting the gospel offend, we ourselves do the offending by how we speak and interact with others.
When You’re Just Being a Jerk
We must stand behind the fact that the gospel will offend. We must not cower in fear of being offensive. However, sometimes we fall into the trap of being offensive ourselves. That is, we sometimes add to the offensiveness when we act like jerks in the process.
Trip Lee echoes this sentiment:
So the gospel itself is already offensive enough. We don’t need to add offense to it by being jerks about everything. We don’t need to add offense to it by being very condemning and self-righteous. We don’t need to add offense to it by being incapable of actually loving and being in relationship with people. We really want to show people the compassion of Jesus even as we say very hard things.
One of the many reasons we fall into this trap is when we take our eyes off of who we used to be. We used to be the other person. We were the one getting offended by being told that we were dead in sin and couldn’t save ourselves (Eph. 2:1). That was once us.
When we lose sight of our past, we lack empathy. We aren’t able to say, “I know what it must feel like to hear this. I was once where you are.” We lose any sense of compassion and become too focused on truth, and in the process, lose love. We’ve all heard it and said it: we need to speak the truth in love.
A Balanced Witness
As Christians, we have the responsibility in our witness to speak the truth about Jesus. We must speak this truth, however, in love. If you have one without the other, you won’t be an effective witness; even worse, you might be a bad witness.
We need truth. This truth is Jesus. We must witness faithfully to the reality of Christ’s perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. He crushed sin, Satan, and death. It is part of our duty to show them their sin through the law and call them to repentance and faith (Mark 1:15). So we need truth. However, truth without love leads to abrasiveness and a lack of compassion (among other things). Though you may have said the right things, your attitude and smugness will turn off any unbeliever because you didn’t convey the truth with love.
We need love. God is love (1 John 4:8). If we do not have love, we have nothing (1 Cor. 13:1-3). In our evangelism, we need to show the love of God by how we speak and interact with people. Yes, preach the truth! Do not compromise on the message of the gospel. However, in the process, do not lose love. Be compassionate. Plead with sinners out of love. Show them the truth of God primarily through what He has revealed in His Word, but also through your words and actions. With that being said, don’t forsake truth in the process of trying to love correctly. Love without truth leads to compromise and enablement. It is a lie from the pit of hell that loving somebody means enabling them in their sin. The most loving thing you can do is call them to repent and believe–but don’t do it in a jerkish way.
Church, we must be balanced in our witness. One without the other—the majority of the time—will lead to disaster. Stand firm on the truth of the gospel. Preach it! But don’t forget to truly love sinners in the process.
Soli Deo Gloria
Author’s note: this blog post was originally published in 2019. Since then, I have changed the name of the site so it does not appear in my posts, so I decided to republish it with a few updates.