The Bible teaches that the Gospel—that is, the Good News that Jesus lived for you the obedient life that God requires of you, but which you cannot live for yourself, and that Jesus died in your place, thereby taking on Himself the just consequences of your sin, which you would not want to take on yourself–is a “stumbling stone” or a “rock of offense.” In other words, the Good News is built upon the Bad News that God is holy and you are not, that you are accountable to Him, and that you must trust in Him for salvation, not in you. You must, in fact, acknowledge that He is right to condemn you, that you cannot save yourself, and that you are helpless apart from His work, through Jesus, to rescue you. And THAT is offensive. It strikes at our pride, and our “I’ll do it myself!” attitude, and requires that we humble ourselves before God, admitting that He has the right to make demands of us and tell us what to do.
The Bible therefore expects that people will have negative reactions to the Gospel. They will, in reality, havespiritual reactions to it, for the Scripture teaches that men are fundamentally at enmity with God. Men therefore stumble in hearing the Good News. It requires a humility that is foreign to us, a confession of sin that takes personal responsibility for our actions, and a recognition that I cannot do this salvation thing myself.
Too often, however, non-Christians stumble over the wrong offense. They do not stumble over the Gospel; they stumble over Christians who are, in themselves, so offensive that the non-Christian never really gets to experience the offense of Christ. Imagine it this way: You are on a track, and ahead of you is a hurdle. It is too high for you, or anyone else, to jump. You cannot go under or around it. This hurdle WILL cause you to stumble as you try to leap it. Some men, as they hit their knees in front of the hurdle, will cry out to God, asking for His assistance, acknowledging that no one can do this, and that God must do it for them. Others will hit their knees in anger, curse the hurdle, and shake their fists at the sky, deciding to tie their fate with all those who remain on this side of the hurdle.
When Christians are, in themselves, offensive in their presentation of the Good News–when they point to the hurdle in self-serving or self-righteous ways–it has the effect of placing another hurdle directly in front of the hurdle of the Gospel. It is a false stumbling stone ahead of the true stumbling stone. This new rock becomes the “rock of offense” that prevents men from ever encountering the true Gospel. It sets up a rival offender, and thereby offers an excuse for people to avoid dealing with Jesus Himself. The offensiveness of Christians actually serves to interfere with the process of a man having to attempt the true hurdle, encounter Christ, and fall to his knees.
The truth of the matter is that the way we speak matters. Maybe it does not matter as much as what we say, but it matters more than we often think. So if you’re a Christian, and if you want to see your friends and neighbors and co-workers come to Christ, ask yourself this question: “Are they offended by the Gospel or only by my offensive presentation of it?” Let them meet the hurdle, the true Rock of offense, for while many will remain angry or indifferent or rebellious, many others will rise to new life in Christ, but only if the hurdle they’ve tripped over is Christ and not you.