February 22, 2017
Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
In my personal observation of others and of myself, I come to realize that we are all prone to take offense at what I call “subjective sin”. It is subjective, because we label what someone else did or said as sin, based on our feelings about it, not on whether God’s Word actually calls it a sin. By contrast, objective sin is “every thought, desire, word, and deed that is contrary to God’s Law” (question 78, Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanation.) That definition of sin has nothing to do with our feelings.
For example, if you take offense in a sermon when I truthfully speak God’s law to you, I am not sinning against you, no matter how you feel about it. Likewise, if you speak truth to someone that needs to hear it, it may be taken as an offense, but you have not given offense. The Proverb above recommends having the good sense not to get easily offended or to be quickly angry. Consider whether the words were true and if so, the motive behind speaking them. By doing that, we may realize that while we took offense, no offense was given.
However, that does not take the “truth” teller off the hook. He or she has the Christian responsibility to speak the truth in love and with gentle humility. (Galatians 6:1-2) This month’s character theme for Faith School is “Sensitivity”, described as “being aware of the true attitudes and emotional needs of those around me”. So yes, again, the hearer is to be sensitive to the “true attitude” of the speaker, not attributing to the speaker unkind motives that are not there. But the speaker is to be sensitive to the emotional needs of the hearer. That means we speak with consideration to the meaning of our words, the tone of our voice, and the motive of our heart.
Still, no matter how careful the speaker may be, he or she may still commit subjective sins, unintentionally causing offense. At such times, the offended hearer would do well to acknowledge the feeling without ascribing an unkind motive to the speaker. “I felt offended,” rather than, “you offended me” is more likely to result in a humble apology from the one guilty of the “subjective sin”.
Whether a sin is subjective or objective, love and forgiveness is the best Christian response. Christ himself forgave those who sinned against him by having him nailed on the cross, “for they knew not what they did”. He daily forgives us our sins as well. Seek reconciliation whenever you can, but understand that is to His glory that we overlook an offense.