Offending People Well

I find that my preaching grace alone offends more people than do most forms of legalism.  I don’t mind offending others; I simply hope that I do so from a position of love and care in order to build up rather than tear down. My preaching and teaching does not agree with most human religion, even most forms of Christianity. I know that. Outwardly and obviously religious people are often those most offended because of what I have to say—both conservative and liberal, Calvinist and Arminian, Reformed and Evangelical and Dogmatic. I feel I am an equal opportunity offender and am fairly lonely in ministry because I choose to side with Christ rather than with the traditions, cultural movements, philosophies, or progress of people.

Jesus also offended people because He taught a very Old Testament Gospel beginning with God’s Law. He offended many Jews and Romans. He offended the Pharisees and Sadducees. He offended the Zealots and Conspirators. He offended the Sanhedrin and the Commonwealth. Even His disciples did not normally understand what He was teaching or doing during the course of His ministry. Jesus was, for all intents and purposes, lonely in ministry because He stuck with the Old Testament message even though popular religion was built upon the Jewish oral traditions that would later be written in the Mishnah (Cf. Matthew 15:1-11).

How did Jesus treat outwardly religious people who were offended by the Bible’s message? How does the Christ-follower think about those offended by the message of the Bible he or she preaches?

Matthew 15:12-20

Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?”

But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.”

Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

Pharisees offended (v. 12)

Then the disciples came and said to Him, “Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this statement?”

It is not surprising that the Pharisees were offended. Jesus told them explicitly that they were breaking God’s Law in order to keep the oral tradition of the elders, which would later be written in the Mishnah. Notice, the Pharisees are not the ones telling Jesus they were offended. It’s not the Pharisees who desire to continue the conversation or have a reasonable dialogue with Jesus. Instead, Jesus’s disciples come to Him and tell Him that the Pharisees were offended.

We see the Pharisees’ action, here, play out in modern outward religion, academia, and general social interaction. If someone is offended by something someone says, whether or not that person is correct, they distance themselves from that person instead of opening a reasonable dialogue. I have seen people leave churches because they heard something they did not like or were not having their own preferences met. I have seen university professors and students alike distance themselves from those with disparate views on any given topic instead of engaging in intelligent conversation or debate. Instead of asking questions and bringing up ideas, most people distance themselves from, unfriend, or unfollow those they disagree with. They don’t even provide the opportunity to increase understanding, pursue truth, or grow in knowledge. This, I suspect, is the actual reason many self-proclaimed Christians forsake the gathering together of believers. It has little to do with the excuses they use and much to do with the fact that they love their own thoughts and practices—their desire is not to conform to Christ but to have the church body conform to them and their religions. Some churches are filled not with the lambs of Christ but the sheep of a cult leader who is, like the Pharisees, unwilling to be sincerely and Biblically questioned.

Wheat and tears applied (v. 13-14)

But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted.”

As Matthew quotes Jesus, he is building on the previous discourse. Jesus taught that He sowed good seed in His field—the elect, spiritual descendants of Eve. The enemy sowed tares among the wheat—the reprobate, spiritual descendants of the serpent (Cf. Genesis 3). Jesus taught that both the wheat and the tares should grow together until the time of their harvest (13:24-30). Jesus identifies these Pharisees as the bad seed, the reprobate spiritual descendants of the serpent.

 “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.”

Jesus instructs His disciples to leave them alone. They don’t have eyes to see; It has not been granted them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven (Cf. 13:10-17). There are and will be false teachers, false religions, and false Christianities everywhere until the last harvest. Instead of instructing His disciples to uproot them, Jesus instructs them to leave the Pharisees as they are. Notice, Jesus does not instruct His disciples not to address the false teaching. His disciples are to leave the false teachers themselves alone. They don’t have to go apologize for offending them. They don’t have to go persuade them to attend their gathering. They also don’t have to go slander or attack their opponents personally. The New Testament consistently teaches us to treat false teachers in the world and in other local churches this way (2 Thessalonians 3:14; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; 2 John 10-11). The Christ-follower does address false teaching as he or she considers God’s word—thus we interact with people’s ideas and popular teaching in our own society. It is not our responsibility, as is the habit of so called discernment blogs, to hunt down and uproot the ministries of false teachers. Nor do we need to bend over backwards in order to persuade someone who is offended by the Bible’s message to attend our gatherings. Our objective is singular—seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness and all else will be added. God will uproot the false teachers in His own good timing. Wolves hunt; sheep follow their shepherd. Jesus has sent us out as sheep among wolves (Cf. 10:16). Those who hear Christ’s message through our lowly ministries and are not offended are blessed (Cf. 10:12-15).

Why does Jesus instruct His disciples to leave false teachers, those who are offended by Jesus’s teaching the Law instead of human tradition, alone in this way? Should we not be intimidated and so try to uproot the false church so more people can hear the correct Gospel? Should we not host campaigns against false teachers so people know who they should and should not listen to? Should we not do everything possible on our campus to show that we are better than the churches down the road? Should we not seek to be attractive to worldly people and teachers? Should we not bend over backward to keep attendees in church? If we could only get people in the doors and attract them to stay and hear the correct Gospel, would they not hear and be converted to Christ? How can Christ say, “Leave them alone”?

Once again, we must face the doctrine of human depravity. False teachers don’t have eyes to see; It has not been granted them to know the mysteries of the kingdom of Heaven (Cf. 13:10-17). Those who follow them are blind, not having eyes to see. Their only hope is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, not the attractional ministry of a healthy local church (as if we actually need to compete with the world) or a witch hunt designed to tear down false teachers. Blind men and women run from healthy local churches that preach God’s explicit Law and Gospel, they attach themselves to false teachers or no teachers at all, and they are destined to fall into a pit. As a result healthy local churches are full of regenerate people who seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, and false local churches are full of unregenerate people seeking first their own kingdoms and righteousness and devouring those they perceive as dissenters. Christ is building His true church. We can leave false churches alone to build their own kingdoms and righteousness—Jesus will do the uprooting in His own perfect time. If it so happens that a false teacher is rising up in our local congregation, which might otherwise be healthy, the false teacher in this particular circumstance, which is not in view of the current passage, is to be rebuked publicly (Cf. 1 Timothy 5:19-20).

Jesus explains (v. 15-20)

Peter said to Him, “Explain the parable to us.”

First, Jesus’s teaching was not a parable. That is one reason Jesus replies, “Are you still lacking in understanding?” Jesus’s teaching was explicit. He literally meant that the elders’ hand-washing tradition was not authoritative like the Law was. Second, Jesus’s teaching was difficult to understand because Jews were raised up hearing that one thing was a sin and it wasn’t. Peter’s inability to understand is not surprising. Even in our own time, many people who have unrestricted access to the Bible believe certain things are sins even though they are not. They have been taught the precepts of people as if those precepts were sound doctrines.

Jesus said, “Are you still lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.”

As a reminder, It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the person, here referring particularly to food eaten with unwashed hands—mere religious ritual or outward religious works. What proceeds out of the mouth defiles the person, here referring particularly to the Pharisees judgment and teaching that is based on their own traditions and philosophies rather than Scripture. Jesus’s teaching, here, is consistent with His teaching throughout Matthew’s Gospel (Cf. 7:1-6, 15-23). He proves to be more concerned about the condition of our hearts (Cf. v. 18) than about our outward religiosity. The sins Jesus mentions—evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders—proceed from the condition of the human heart. Root produces fruit. We sin because we are unrighteous; We are not unrighteous because we sin. Peter struggled with this teaching for most of his Christian life (Cf. Acts 10:14).

By our words and actions, we prove our hearts. In order to produce good fruit, we must be planted by the Father. Those who are not planted by the Father will be uprooted. This statement is offensive to those who are merely outwardly religious or who feel as though they earn their righteousness. Seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness. Plug into a local church that is doing the same. Ask difficult, sincere questions. Address false teaching, but leave false teachers and their false churches alone. They serve a sovereignly ordained purpose, and Christ can be trusted to uproot them at the appropriate time.

Jesus’s Identity According to Matthew 14-17:

Who Jesus is:Who Jesus is not:
The expected Messiah (Isaiah 35:4-5; 61:1-2):
The one who would heal His people, take their infirmities, raise the dead, and restore justice to the earth.
John the Baptist; the new Elijah (Cf. Malachi 4:5-6):
Not merely a prophet, teacher, or good person.
Compassionate provider; Israel’s Messiah (Cf. Exodus 3:6-9; 34:6; Psalm 78:38-39; 2 Kings 13:23; Isaiah 14:1; 49:13; Lamentations 3:32; Zechariah 10:6).Not merely  an inspirational figure or brilliant strategist. Not limited by human means.
The Son of God; the king who perpetually sits on the Messiah’s throne prepared through King David (2 Samuel 7:14-17; see also Proverbs 30:4; Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7; Daniel 3:25; Micah 5:1-3 concerning the “Son of God” motif in the Old Testament). Israel’s deliverer.Not a wish-granter or halfway savior.
The one who upholds God’s Law and justifies the Father’s people from the inside out (Cf. Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 29:13-14; Jeremiah 23:5).Not the one who abolishes God’s Law according to people’s preferences, traditions, or philosophies (Cf. Matthew 5:17).
The one who engages and uproots false teachers, churches, and religions in His own perfect timing.Not the one who instructs his people to attract the world into the church no matter the cost or hunt down false teachers and their ministries.

Questions:

  1. What is the mark of a false teacher or false Christian?
  2. Christians are symbolized by sheep, not wolves. What does this mean about the way we engage the world and false teachers?
  3. What dangers are there when we try to be attractional in our ministry or tear down false teachers and their ministries?

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