“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said: Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day. And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth,” (Acts 23:1-2).
“And herein do I exercise myself to have ALWAYS a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men,” (Acts 24:16).
Anyone who endeavours to study the life of the Apostle Paul may at first, have a misinformed impression about the man. In sharp contrast however, as we look deeper into his lifestyle, we shall come to discover in him a very humble servant of God who lived all his life and worked tirelessly to reduce every source of friction and misimpressions which regularly surrounded his person.
In pursuit of this noble quest, he made the following statement in 2nd Corinthians 1:12, “For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation (lifestyle)in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.”
This shows us that the man lived a life characterised by sincerity of purpose, integrity of heart, frugality of existence, and simplicity of lifestyle. The Apostle Paul also recognized the inevitability of offences and their severe consequences which are abundantly evident in the normal cause of everyday human interpersonal relationships. He also realized that one of the potent weapons that Satan could use to eliminate him (and indeed, any one of us) from the heavenly race was through the obstacle of offence.
The texts of Scripture also make it very clear to us that our Lord Jesus Christ Himself fully recognized the inevitability of offences and its dare repercussions, (Matthew 18:7).
In Greek lexicon, the word ‘offence’ is known as ‘skandalidzo’, (which stands for obstacles that cause one to trip up and take a bad fall. It also stands for hurdles, obstructions, impediments, obscurants, distractions, detractors, setbacks and stumbling blocks).
Incidentally, another similar, but a slightly variant word for offence is ‘skandalizo’, (which is to beat something or someone almost to the point of stupor, incoherence, insensibility or even death. It is also for one to accidentally bash or dash their toes against objects of stone or others, and to stumble or stagger drunkenly.
Paul’s life mission was therefore, aimed at striking a perfect harmony of balance, which is – to give no offence, and to take no offence, (not just towards God, but also towards his fellow mankind). His work-out exercise for dealing with offences was to realize the dual effects of offence – namely, we can be the recipients of offences, in the same way that we can also be the cause, source or object of offences.
All said and done, God’s word cautions that unless we treat offences squarely for what they are, and with the appropriate gravity of response and maturity, they almost always end up disqualifying us from the heavenly race; delay the answers to our prayers; stall our desired breakthroughs in life, and even consign us to a barren life devoid of God’s lovely presence.
One other painful consequence of not handling offences properly is that it will not only cause the heavens over our lives to become indefinitely sealed up against us, but can also destine us to an eternity to be spent outside of heaven – that is, if we fail to properly deal with them.
Offences have wrought havoc on many saints of God. It has led to the disintegration and split of numerous churches; led to the dissolution of several marriages, and imposed much untold calamities on mankind – and yet, offences can be positively welcomed as the essential catalysts that serve some three principal purposes:
• It reminds us of our limitations as humans. Unless offences come our way, we may never come to accept our frailty or vulnerability to some of the most debased human conducts ever imaginable; and without them, we may never realize that we are utterly weak, depraved, and morally bankrupt without the help of God;
• It exposes the fallacies of our hearts, and shows us our elasticity strength and/or resilience. With each offence that we successfully defeat, our resilience quotient increases; but with every offence that we mishandle, it shows that we are not truly growing in grace as saints of God. Resilience also speaks of how shock-proof we are, that is, how much shock we can absorb, and how easily we can rise and bounce back to life after we might have been dealt some hard and merciless blows; and
• It is an accurate barometer by which we can gauge the pace of our spiritual development and progress. Unless offences come our way, our faith may never be adequately exercised nor put on trial. The Bible made emphatic references to the trial of our faith as believers, (James 1:3-4). It also speaks of the persecution that must be raised by hell against us on account of God’s word which we have received into the good ground of our hearts, (Matthew 13:20-21).
In conclusion, James admonished us to understand that the trying of our faith, (which may often come in the form of offences), all works patience into our character as believers, (1:3-4). The Apostle Paul also exhorted us on the several procedures to be followed on our roadmap towards godly perfection. It begins with various tribulations assailing us, and progresses through the school of patience, resulting in the formation of sound character or maturity within us, and then births within our hearts the sort of Abrahamic hope which can never know the scornful scourge of shame, reproach nor humiliation, (Romans 5:3-5). When offences are properly handled in this way, the foregoing are the expected positive end-results!
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