Have you noticed this phenomenon? You get offended by someone’s character defect. Maybe it isn’t a show stopper, like robbing banks or shooting up saloons, but in your book the person has now become someone who needs correction (for their own good, of course). At first you try to overlook these blemishes, but something needs to be done, so eventually you are “at the ready”—ready to pounce on them and correct them.
They don’t respond to treatment! So, there’s nothing left to do but accept them as they are and learn how to live with it, right? Only here is where the fun begins (for the enemy). Every time you are around them now you always notice that thing they do. And it really begins to steal your peace, get your goat and drive a wedge into the relationship.
What’s going on? Whenever we get controlled by offense and develop an adversarial stance towards someone, determined to correct or change them, the trait that we like least about them will be the trait that we see the most. The reason, I believe, is twofold:
1) We all tend to see what we are inwardly focused upon and since we are at full alert around them, watching for any possible sign of that trait in order to combat it, then
a) Either we see it even when it isn’t really happening, or
b) We don’t see all the other traits about that person which are good and which—in our eyes—used to cancel out this one.
2) Our focus on a certain trait tends to draw it out. We pull out or provoke from people the very characteristics we are looking for.
Don’t believe me? Just look and listen. That’s what I do for a living. As chaplain at a residential program for men coming out of addictions, this is one of their primary struggles in living with a bunch of guys who rub them wrong at times. They get offended, develop an adversarial stance towards that person, then get continually re-offended. They seem genuinely surprised that other people can find a way to like that person. I’m sure it’s pretty widespread in the general population.
Here are two principles that I believe apply:
1) Grow Wheat! The Lord Jesus has called us to grow the wheat, not pull the tares (see Matthew 36). In His parable He encouraged the farmer to let both grow and make sure that the mature wheat was harvested first before going after the tares. People have to reach a certainly level of maturity in some areas in order to deal with weaknesses and character defects in other parts of their personality.
How do you know the timing? It’s easy: if you try gently to remove a tare and it comes out by natural grace, then both you and the person you just helped can praise the Lord; but if it just seems to dig its roots in deeper, you are not in God’s timing. Go back to growing the wheat! How do you do that? Love is the sunshine spiritual wheat needs in order to grow. Love, love, love the person in genuine Christian fellowship and warmth. Got a problem with that? This is where principle two kicks in.
2) Look in the Mirror: Paul states in Romans 2:1 that the very thing that offends us about a brother (or sister) is a trait that is already in us. It seems so unfair, but the finger we point at another person’s weakness or defect is actually targeting our own hidden sin. I have seen this in spades when it comes to pride: people who get really steamed up about the pride that they see displayed by the person they are offended with, invariably never see their own great pride displayed by the level of offense they are taking! Sometimes, I grant you, it is hard to see how what I am offended with in the other person is my own secret fault. It is a hidden thing, but this principle will clue you in.
Here is the way Romans 2:1 benefits us: it helps us take better care of God’s heart and our own by recognizing some of the “irritants” we had been overlooking. Just because Jesus really does love us and accept us the way we are, doesn’t mean our ways aren’t causing Him some pain. Even earthly parents put their own comfort aside to care for their kids. How much more (and more often!) does our heavenly Father do the same?
I saw this recently when someone kept irritating me by injecting an opinion about something I was working with when it should have been obvious to them that this was a situation they couldn’t possibly have any knowledge about. I came away exasperated from the experience! In seeking to release the feelings I felt a bit stuck and asked the Lord why. He said “Romans 2:1. You know—what you were just writing about on the blog.”
I immediately took my frustration over unsolicited advice to be a mirror of my own ways with Him! Wow. He seems far too kind to speak to me about His own pain over my ways, but by this subtle means He could call attention to it, if I wanted to know. So what did I do? I repented and cast the care on Him, asking Him to mend that way (after all it is an ingrained way and only He can free me, though now He has my invitation and pledged cooperation) and then went back merrily to loving Him!