Visibly angry, the man with the long dark beard backed away from me as if to avoid catching a dreaded disease. “Get away from me! You are an offence to me!” he sputtered hatefully, eyes flashing with rage, face heavy with indignation. Beside him his approving wife glared at me in agreement, while their two little children looked on, open mouthed with astonishment. A minute later the deeply offended husband and wife were bustling their two little ones out through the store’s automatic front doors like someone had just announced an outbreak of the black plague.
The setting was a large, well known Christian book store in Brisbane, Australia. I hadn’t entered the book store that Saturday morning looking to offend anyone, honestly. With my husband absorbed in a nearby hobby shop, I had wandered in just to kill some time. As usual, the store was bustling with shoppers browsing through hundreds of shelves of books, Bibles and CDs, while busy staff members dashed here and there ensuring everything was running smoothly.
Above the buzz the rising voices of two children in heated argument caught my attention. Left to amuse themselves in the children’s play area a girl no more than five years old was desperately trying to hold on to a toy her younger brother was attempting to wrench from her hands. As the noisy disagreement escalated the children’s father appeared from somewhere, sharply rebuking his daughter for allowing the situation to occur. With hard slaps of his hand, he began to physically correct her until her loud sobs echoed all over the shop. Not content, he then commenced a second round of heavy slapping because she was wailing. The child’s distressed screams were deafening.
I looked around, alarmed, expecting someone, probably a staff member, to say or do something to stop this heavy handed assault on a child. All around me customers chose to be oblivious, burying their heads even deeper into books and Bibles. Staff, eyes to the ground, suddenly found something urgent to do at the far end of the store and scurried away. After all, this was a Christian bookstore, and Christian love means we tolerate all things lest we offend someone, doesn’t it?
As for me, as the scene continued to unfold a few feet in front of me I found myself unable to move. A burning sensation of heat was rising from somewhere deep inside me. Unexpectedly and with calm authority a single word bounced off my tongue: “STOP!”
Wailing daughter still in hand the man stopped his slapping, and lifted his head to see who had dared to interfere with his fatherly duties of correction. “What did you say?” he asked, staring at me in disbelief. “You can stop now. You’ve made your point. There’s no need to punish her further” I said, calmly but firmly. He was clearly unused to being rebuked, not least by a small, insignificant woman. It was at this point he swiftly grabbed his wife and children, sputtered out his hate filled words, and warned me not to come any closer (though I hadn’t moved). As he herded his family hastily through the exit the last thing I saw was the little girl gazing back at me with wide eyed puzzlement on her face.
Holy Spirit gave me a crash course in an important aspect of discipleship that day. He taught me something many years of church attendance had failed to cover: if we are genuine about walking with Christ we’re going to have to come to terms with being an offence to all that is anti-Christ.
In the short time that Jesus ministered on the earth He managed to offend a great many people. And it didn’t trouble Him one little bit. For instance: several disciples were offended when He said they should eat His flesh and drink His blood (John 6:53-61); the good people of home town Nazareth were offended when He refused to behave like a carpenter’s son (Mat. 13:54-57); a whole lot of temple goers were offended when He ran amok with a whip (John 2:15). And to Israel’s religious leaders Jesus was a constant irritating source of unbridled offence (Matt. 15:12). According to the gospels, it seems a good percentage of the population was offended at Jesus most of the time.
Now don’t get me wrong. Jesus didn’t offend people to draw attention to Himself, or to make out He was holier than anyone else. That kind of self-centered behavior would have been a work of the flesh, but Jesus walked in the Spirit. And it was because He walked, lived, spoke and acted only in the Spirit of God that He was offensive to anyone who lived, spoke or acted in opposition to the Spirit of God. We may better know this opposing spirit that works in the flesh of man as antichrist (1 Jn. 2:22).
Now the world hasn’t changed since Jesus walked here as a man, there’s just more of it. And God hasn’t changed, because He doesn’t (Mal. 3:6). So what happened to the church’s power to be the same kind of holy offence in the world as Christ was? The answer has to be that the church has changed. In countries where the church is an offence to the spirit of the world, the church is persecuted but powerful in witness and faith. But in countries where the church has compromised with the spirit of the world, the church is powerless, weak, devoid of faith and lukewarm. And it has to be said that in way too many instances, the church is more an offence to God than the world.
So, at the risk of offending some, let me throw some questions out there for serious consideration:
*When did the church become more concerned about offending the world than offending God?
*How has the uncompromising love modelled by Jesus Christ been replaced by a sickly sweet counterfeit love that tolerates rather than confronts sin, injustice, corruption and oppression?
*Where did the church get the idea that antichrist in the world could be opposed through politics better than through a crucified people living, and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit?
*And if Jesus was called “a rock of offence and a stone of stumbling” are we, His disciples, also prepared to wear that label and bear the consequences……daily? (Rom. 9:33)
We have become too used to being friends with this world. We have craved popularity and taken comfort in approval. We are more concerned with how many ‘likes’ register on our social networks than how well we are representing Christ.
But antichrist doesn’t thrive only in the world. Antichrist is also alive and well in the church today. Those that were most offended at Jesus were those whose religious traditions, complacency and lifestyles were deeply confronted by His simple Presence among them. As it was then, so it is today. The spirit of antichrist manifests within the church as the religious spirit and persecutes all that is genuinely of Christ. We cannot truly follow Christ and expect it to be any other way.
Jesus spoke to His disciples of a day when ‘they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.” (Matt.24:9,10 NKJV). Did you ever read those words and think He was speaking only about those outside the church? Look again. The betrayal and hatred Jesus warned about here is in the context of those who say they are His followers. We can only be betrayed by those we have associated with as friends (Matt. 26:21).
The antichrist spirit of religion is not always going to confront us with open hostility. Sometimes it will present itself with a kiss, a warm smile and smooth, reasonable words. Only by intimately knowing the real Christ can we discern the false christ.
It’s time to decide whether we are ready to walk as Christ walked. And if we are, many around us will be offended. We cannot be offended at those who are offended, but nor can we afford to compromise.
© Cheryl McGrath, Bread for the Bride, 2013 Copyright Notice: Permission is granted to freely reproduce any Bread for the Bride articles in emails or internet blogs, unaltered, and providing this copyright notice is included. To permanently display an article on any static website please contact me for permission.