As a leader, you are going to draw fire. People will criticize you. Some will second-guess your decisions. Others will impute motives that aren’t there. A few will falsely accuse you.
For example, just a few weeks ago, someone wrote a blog post, publicly calling me a hypocrite. I won’t lie: it stung. I was tempted to respond in kind. Thankfully, I didn’t.
But that doesn’t mean it was easy. It never is for me. I often have to remind myself of three great truths I have learned—and am still learning—about offenses.
- Offenses are inevitable. Jesus Himself said,
Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” (Matthew 18:7)
According to the Dictionary.com, woe means, “grievous distress, affliction, or trouble.” Anyone who has been offended understands woe. And, in my experience, it doesn’t get much easier with age.
But as Jesus also notes, offenses must come. People offend us by what they do (sins of commission) and, sometimes, by what they don’t do (sins of omission). Either way, life affords us daily opportunities to be offended.
Note that while offenses may be inevitable, Jesus doesn’t let the offender off the hook. They, too, are accountable and will experience their own level of woe.
- Offenses can be good for us. This is a hard saying. In the midst of being offended, it is difficult to believe that any good could come out of it, let alone that God might have a bigger purpose in mind. But consider two examples from the Bible.
The patriarch Joseph was ridiculed, kidnapped, and then sold into slavery by his own brothers. He was later falsely accused of attempting to seduce the wife of a high-ranking, Egyptian official. He spent several years in prison, and it was years before he was vindicated.
He could have been very angry with his brothers. Years later, when he finally meets up with them again, he is in a position of tremendous power. He could easily have had his revenge. Instead, Joseph said to them,
Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19–20)
Or consider King David. In the latter part of his life, he was chased out of Jerusalem by his treasonous son, Absalom. If that weren’t bad enough, a character named Shimei meets him on the road and starts throwing rocks at him. He curses the king and reminds him of all his sins. He says,
Come out! Come out! You bloodthirsty man, you rogue! The LORD has brought upon you all the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has delivered the kingdom into the hand of Absalom your son. So now you are caught in your own evil, because you are a bloodthirsty man!” (2 Samuel 16:7, 8)
Abishai, one of King David’s servants, said, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Please, let me go over and take off his head!” But note how David responded:
Let him alone, and let him curse; for so the LORD has ordered him. It may be that the LORD will look on my affliction, and that the LORD will repay me with good for his cursing this day.” (2 Samuel 16:11, 12).
It’s easy to resent those who offend us. But what if God has a deep and important purpose for sending them—something that He intends for our good because He truly loves us (see Romans 8:28).
- Being offended is a choice. Every leader should memorize this verse:
The discretion of a man makes him slow to anger, and his glory is to overlook a transgression.” (Proverbs 19:11)
There are certainly times when it is legitimate to be angry. The Apostle Paul says, “Be angry, and do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Anger can be a valid response to something that is wrong. But it can quickly become toxic—not only for those to whom we direct it but also for ourselves. This is why the Apostle James admonishes us to be “slow to anger” (James 1:19, 20).
Between the stimulus and the response is the power to chose. This is precisely what makes us human. We don’t have to respond in kind.
The greatest leaders I know are not easily offended. Instead, they practice the habit of overlooking offenses. They take the high road, give the offender the benefit of the doubt, and move on. What about you?