The Joy of Overlooking an Offense
My wife and I just returned from an awesome eight-night holiday in one of our favorite spots in the world — the little village of Iseltwald, nestled on the Lake of Brienz, ten kilometers from Interlaken, Switzerland. No place makes me happier and hungrier for the life we’ll enjoy in the new heaven and new earth.
But as wonderful as it was to celebrate my wife’s “39th birthday” in Switzerland (we’ve been married 46 years), there were moments when the brokenness of my attitude contradicted the beauty of the Alps.
When Life Gets Very Irritating
My capacity for aggravation and irritability and resentment followed me onto our flight to Zurich and then into different scenarios in the land of yodeling and chocolate. What does a follower of Jesus do when:
- Fellow travelers put their oversized carry-on luggage in the overhead bin directly over your assigned seat?
- Flight attendants seem to enjoy attending to the needs of those all around you, but treat you as invisible passengers?
- Free Wi-Fi on your flight faithfully delivers “feedback” emails including “constructive criticism” about your last sermon and preaching attire, your “redneck” sounding accent, and your lack of late-night accessibility?
- Robust young men on a packed bus don’t offer your back-pained wife a seat?
- By happenstance, you run into an old friend in the high-elevation village of Mürren, who mentions the name of another college friend — a friend who has caused you the yet-to-be-healed pain of betrayal?
- A hotel reservation you made months ago, for your last night in Switzerland, suddenly disappears, though you have four confirmation letters, and you have to scramble to rebook in a region of sold-out hotels?
Indeed, what should a follower of Jesus do in response to everything from normal life-in-a-fallen-world brokenness, to encounters with irritating people and provoking circumstances, to intentional insults and mean-spirited slights?
The good news is that the gospel doesn’t make us less human, but more human. As followers of Jesus, we experience the full range of disappointments and emotions common to all image bearers of God. But, by God’s grace, we can learn to steward them rather than live as slaves to them. We can learn to respond as redemptively as possible, as opposed to reacting selfishly and self-righteously. And we can actually find joy when we “overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
Five Happy Reasons to Overlook an Offense
Joy in overlooking offenses? Yes. Joy from what? Let’s look at five things the Bible says can give us joy if we’re willing to receive them.
But first, let’s be clear: overlooking an offense must not be confused with submitting to abusive people or morally and ethically unacceptable circumstances. Jesus calls us to be foot washers, not doormats.
However, there are at least five reasons that joy is found in overlooking an offense.
1. Gospel Sensibilities
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we’re growing gospel sensibilities and tasting true glory. The Bible says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). The shorter our anger-fuse, the quicker we’ll take offense at anything and anyone. “Good sense” is gospel sense.
The more the truth of the gospel renews our minds and shapes our perspective, the quicker and easier we’ll overlook stuff. We’ll care more about honoring Jesus by our reactions to irritating people and aggravating circumstances and give up on the illusion of having a hassle-free, painless life. There is tremendous joy in caring more about God’s glory than our own reputation, convenience, and rights. God will always be most glorified in us when we are most satisfied, joyful, at peace, and free in him.
2. Owning Our Sin
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we’re starting to acknowledge our own sin. We begin to believe that the log in our eye is a bigger issue than the speck in anyone else’s eye (Matthew 5:38–42). The freest, most joyful Christians I know are the quickest repenters. It’s not that they have less to repent of; they’re just faster at owning their sin, humbling themselves, and resting in Jesus.
As the gospel moves us from Satan’s condemnation into the Spirit’s conviction, we become more aware that we need the grace of God as much as anyone who sins against us, and there’s tremendous joy associated with that kind of humility. We take less offense and extend more grace; we are more patient and less petty; we are getting better at waiting than whining. We’re more realistic about life among ordinary sinners who, like us, love poorly — and wiser about what to take seriously, and what to completely ignore.
3. God’s Spirit at Work
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that God’s grace and Spirit are becoming more operative, transforming powers in our lives. As Christians, we are called to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Growth in grace results in our getting to know Jesus better, who desires that we will have the fullness of his joy in us (John 15:11).
And as we surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives, he grows a vibrant crop of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” — the very anti-fruit of an easily offended spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). The Holy Spirit also leads us into a greater experience of our sonship (Romans 8:15–17), which gives us even greater joy in seeing our Father at work in all things for our good — even in the most off-putting, irritating, and offensive scenarios (Romans 8:28). God never promised to do all things easy but all things well.
4. Freedom from Approval Seeking
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we’re gaining freedom from living as approval seekers. Christians are a people whose joy need not be connected to what others think and say about us, or how they relate and react to us. As Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
To fear people isn’t so much to be afraid of them, but to esteem their approval too much. We look either to God or to people as the fountain and fuel of our joy. People always make poor saviors. We can’t freely or joyfully love anyone whom we’ve given the power to either shame us or exalt us.
5. Forgiving as the Forgiven
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we’re getting better at forgiving others as we’ve been forgiven in Christ. There is no greater non sequitur in the entire universe, or the history of mankind, than for those of us who have been forgiven all our sins — every sinful thought, word, and deed — to withhold forgiveness from others (Matthew 18:21–35).
It was our Father’s kindness that led (and still leads) us to repentance (Romans 2:4). So where do we think our rigid, easily offended, keeping-record-of-wrongs attitudes will lead people? As Paul wrote, we are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Our joy in forgiving others is directly connected to the unspeakable, glorious joy of God’s forgiveness of us and his great delight in us.