Last week, there was a great blog by Matt Walsh about “microaggressions” and our perpetually offended culture. As great as that blog was, I thought we should dig into an often misquoted or misinterpreted passage regarding offense.
2 Corinthians 6:3 (KJV) Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:
Whenever this verse is quoted, much of the time it is presented as a command or a rebuke against someone who offended another person. It is used to prohibit Christians from disagreeing with questionable teaching, or practices, or even to suggest that we cannot point out out-right false teaching if doing so might offend the person. This verse is also sometimes used to justify the false notion that “we need to earn the right to speak truth” to those who are lost. Telling someone they are in sin, have sinned, or are teaching falsely might offend them or someone who believes in them; therefore, we dare not do that. But is that what this passage is about? Is that a notion that Paul taught elsewhere? Let’s take a look at the text.
The end of the verse isn’t the end of the thought. So, our first goal should be to complete the thought. We’ll do it in KJV and then transition to ESV.
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (KJV) 6 We then, as workers together with him, beseech you also that ye receive not the grace of God in vain.
2 (For he saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.)
3 Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:
4 But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, 5 In stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings; 6 By pureness, by knowledge, by long suffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, 7 By the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, 8 By honour and dishonour, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true;
9 As unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; 10 As sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.
2 Corinthians 6:1-10 (ESV) 6 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says,
“In a favorable time I listened to you,
and in a day of salvation I have helped you.”
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. 3 We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, 4 but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, 5 beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; 6 by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; 7 by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; 8 through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; 9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
By simply switching to a good translation that uses more modern English, we see a different meaning being conveyed by this verse. Now, placing a stumbling block before an individual does fit within the definition of “giving an offense” to that individual, but we don’t usually hear that meaning in common English. The Greek word being translated “offense” or “cause for offense” here is proskopē. Here we see a real problem with the English word “offense” shifting a great deal from it’s KJV use. In fact, if we look up the term “offence” in the Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, we see that every definition of the word relates to either a stumbling block, an occasion for sin, or a trap of some sort. Nowhere do we see the modern-day reference to “hurt feelings”.
Let’s also look beyond the word translations and finish the thought. In the KJV it ends in a colon, and in the ESV there is a comma. Clearly, Paul wasn’t finished with that thought, and if we trace the punctuation we see just how much he is packing into this idea. The ESV inserts a period in the middle of verse 8, but it seems to help to break up quite the run-on sentence. Notice the “but” immediately following the verse 3 punctuation… everything that follows serves as the antithesis of “giving offence” or “putting an stumbling block”. In that list we see many things but I underlined things that caught my eye: Knowledge, Genuine Love, Truthful Speech, and Weapons of righteousness. Everything on the list is important, but when this verse is invoked to silence Truth, Knowledge (from the Word of God), genuine love (I really like the KJV’s “love unfeigned”) there is a major problem. The problem that arises is the notion that the truth, knowledge of Scriptures, might be the stumbling block. That is not what Paul is sharing here. The reference to weapons of righteousness in the right hand and left is very interesting. Later on in his letter, Paul comes back to this thought in an interesting way.
2 Corinthians 10:1-6 (ESV)10 I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ—I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!— 2 I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete.
We see here that Paul clarifies what it is we do with our weapons of righteousness. While he doesn’t use the full phrase again, he specifies that our weapons (hoplon) are not of the flesh before detailing what it is we do, which is to destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God. We take every thought captive to obey Christ and ready to punish every disobedience. To the individual is who is found in error, all of this might indeed “offend” in the modern-English sense, but none of it counts as “a stumbling block” in the Biblical sense to those who are in Christ.
Now, there are occasions in Scripture where “a stumbling block” is a good thing, in that it causes the wicked to stumble. Here, the Apostle Paul uses a different Greek word skandalon.
1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (ESV)| Christ the Wisdom and Power of God
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,
“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”
20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age?Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
That seems an odd distinction between the reaction of the Jews and that of the Gentiles toward the Word of the Cross. He says twice that the Gentiles regard it as folly, and yet for the Jews it is a stumbling block, or trap. Thankfully, we see in Scriptures some reactions to the Gospel that agree with the distinction Paul makes here.
Acts 5:17-33 (ESV) | The Apostles Arrested and Freed
17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people allthe words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. 25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.”26 Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit,whom God has given to those who obey him.” 33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.
What is so cool about this exchange is that the Sadducees rightly identified the message of the cross but completely missed it’s meaning. In their pride and arrogance, they missed the fact that the miraculous was pointing to Jesus as the Messiah, and they were trying to avoid being made guilty of putting Him to death. For it was the religious leaders who sent Jesus to the Romans for crucifixion, they paid blood money to Judas for the betrayal of Jesus, and yet the very message of the cross on which was prepared a way of salvation for them caused them to stumble for their sin. As for the folly to the Gentiles, we see this clearly when Paul taught in Athens and at the Areopagus.
Acts 17:18 (ESV) 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said,“What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
Acts 17:32 (ESV) 32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said,“We will hear you again about this.”
The Word of the Cross is both a stumbling block to the Jews, and folly to the Gentiles. In closing out this thought, let us turn to 1 Peter 2.
1 Peter 2:1-12 (ESV) | A Living Stone and a Holy People
2 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone,
a cornerstone chosen and precious,
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling,
and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
As Christians, we have plenty of warning and exhortation to speak in love, humility, meekness, and patience so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ might not be hindered by our lack of love and self-control. However, nowhere can we say that we should remain silent in the face of wrong, or sin, or false teaching for the sake of not “offending anyone”. As Brad Stine said in one of his comedy skits, “if you’re offended by something I said, then I apologize, but if you’re offended by the TRUTH… well… that’s between you and God.”
I pray that you have a wonderful week. Do spend some time in God’s Word this week. May the Lord Bless and keep you firmly in His Will,
in Christ Jesus,