THE CONCEPT OF OFFENSE
What is an offense?
The Lord Christ - glory be to Him - said about offenses,
"Woe to the world because of offenses... Woe that man
by whom the offense comes!" (Matt. 18:7), "But whoever
causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it
would be better for him if millstone were hung around
his neck, and he drowned in the depth of the sea" .
If offense is so serious in the punishment it entails, what is an offense?
An offense causes a person to fall.
An offense may be intentional when it causes another to fall. The punishment in this case is more serious than that in the case of unintentional offense.
The first offense in man's history was introduced through the devil.
He caused our first parents to fall; for they were simple, knowing
no evil and he intended on making them fall through
deceit and temptation. By this offense, death
entered into the world and the devil caused the corruption of human nature.
Offense comes through various means: when a person
causes offense to another through making him familiar
with sin, facilitating sin to him, letting him taste sin or
introducing it under a false concept, such as giving it the
name of a virtue or telling him about the benefits and
advantages of sin!!
Knowledge of sin:
This means that a person is aware of the things which harm him spiritually.
Thus knowledge which defiles his thoughts is introduced into his mind.
This knowledge may arouse lusts within and make him
fall into sin. Perhaps this was in the mind of Solomon the
Wise when he said, "For in much wisdom is much grief,
and he who increases knowledge increases sorrow"
Eve fell through the knowledge that came to her which
was false; for the devil lied when he said to her, "your
eyes will be opened, and you will be like God... " (Gen.
3:5). However these words changed Eve's sight, thought and emotion: "So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate..." (Gen. 3:6).
So a person who encourages a friend with harmful information, is offending him.
Such is the case, for example, of a person who gives his
friend information falsely about another person,
condemning him, or introduces some ideas that may
corrupt him morally, or suspicions which may shake his
faith. The friend after such meeting will say, 'Oh I wish I
had not met him or heard what he had to say!'
Another example is the evil environment and the thoughts introduced in it.
About this the Apostle said, "Evil company corrupts good habits" (1 Cor. 15:33).
Thus, with the offense on one side and the bad example
on the other side, a person becomes aware of deceit.
For example, the pupil who learns to miss school or to
cheat in exams, or children and youth who become
involved in gangs for the purpose of learning how to pick
pockets, or some youth who gather together and teach a
new friend drug addiction or gambling, all these are
stumbling blocks, and the Psalmist said concerning this :
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful" (Ps. 1:1).
A stumbling block also is the person who introduces to you to a wrong thought without refuting it.
He may introduce to you all evidences of the wrong
thought and stop at this point without commenting on it
or giving refutations destroying that thought. And when
he is attacked for what he said, he replies. 'I did not say
that these are my views, but I just mentioned them for
Such people may have followers, disciples and lovers who repeat and teach the same ideas and they become stumbling blocks.
Evading such a person is chastity not contention
Evading them is avoidance of causes of offenses and
avoidance of knowledge of offense; for a person who
causes offense leads his friend to lose the simplicity and
innocence he had before. It seems as if he is saying to his
friend the same words which the devil said to Eve, "your
eyes will be opened". The eyes become open to know
It is another kind of offense; for it is probable that a
person knows sin but does not practice it as long as the door is closed before him. So, whoever facilitates the matter to him is offending him, as for example when a person makes another familiar with places and means of sin leading him to those places, removing fear from his heart and removing obstacles from his way.
An example is the behaviour of Jezebel by which she facilitated King Ahab to take possession of the vineyard of Naboth the Jesreelite (1 Kin. 21), and also the purpose of Ahithophel's counsel to Absalom to enable him strike his father David (2 Sam. 17).
All this is more serious and dangerous than mere knowledge of sin; for remedy of sin is much easier than remedy of the taste of sin.
It is the first practical step towards
committing sin, such
as when a person offers a cigarette to someone to smoke,
or a rose containing heroin to smell; or lets him win in
gambling to continue playing; or gives him a glass of
wine to taste; or opens for him the door to practice the
sins of youth.
Giving another name to sin:
It is an offense to give sin the name of a virtue, or another acceptable name.
For example, when a person spreads some
heresy, he says
that it is the right concept of religion. The person who
teaches his friend gambling calls it a kind of amusement
or entertainment. The person who causes another to
commit adultery, says that this is a cure for repression
and its harmful effects. The person who assists someone
to evade taxes, says that this is mere avoidance of the
exaggeration and oppression of the tax-assessing
commissions... etc. The devil - in the offense - does not
Kinds of offenses:
Not all offenses are in the field of youth sins as some may think.
There are offenses in the field of religion as in the case of heretics and those who spread suspicions concerning religion or spread atheism or deny the resurrection and miracles of Christ.
There are also offenses in the field of philosophy and
ideology where principles and values are shaken. This is
the case of the heretics who introduce new ideas to
destroy the established ideas under the name of science
The Arians were more dangerous than Arius
they offended Athanasius more. So, it is well said by St.
James the Apostle, "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1).
But, what is the reason? "For we all stumble in
things". It is the stumbling block of teaching, when one
stumbles by himself, seeing himself right, wise in his own
eyes (Prov. 3:7).
Moreover he makes others stumble through spreading his wrong teaching.
Do not, then, accept every new thought that destroys what you have previously received.
Such thoughts may be a stumbling block for you, for
some would try to present something new by abolishing
old traditions to prove themselves more knowledgeable .
Some of those work in Biblical criticism. They are clergymen and professors of Theology in foreign universities. However they are stumbling blocks and according to the words of the Apostle "they shall receive a stricter judgment," being condemned for their errors and for spreading such errors.
This is an offense; for others fall in errors
due to imitating
those examples, who - whether being leaders or
colleagues - do not intend to make others fall, but they
become a cause. Others may learn from their routine, coming late to work, justifying errors, mistreating the public and delaying their work, low production, writing false or forged reports ... etc.
A person absorbs from society many things. He may absorb habits and offenses.
In this regard, we see parents and the influence on their children; for children see their fathers and mothers examples to be followed.
A stumbling block for the simple who have no
discernment are those who are more experienced, more
knowledgeable or higher in rank; for the simple stumble
not because they criticize them but they imitate them.
Employees of low rank, when being promoted, may
follow the example of his precedent and thus stumble.
Culture and the Mass Media:
All audio visual media might be a stumbling
block, if the
programs presented are offensive to the audience; for
they will have their impact on the personality, whether on
thinking or behaviour or on the interior feelings and
Likewise, all sources of thought, whether books,
magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, leaflets etc... These
might be a stumbling block if they have a bad effect on
people's thoughts, feelings and behaviour and lead them
onto a path which is harmful to them and to the community.
Someone once said: 'Tell me what you read, and I'll tell you who you are.'
To these words I add; the matter is not
confined only to
what you read, but it extends also to what you see and
what you hear. Cassettes, television and video may have
a dangerous effect on people, as well as cinema films and
plays, most of which may be a stumbling block.
We should then be careful regarding all this whether with respect to ourselves or our children.
The adults and the young:
A adult should be very careful in his words
lest he should offend the young or the weak, as the
Apostle says, "But beware lest you become a stumbling
block to those who are weak" (1 Cor. 8:9). And he
repeats, "the weak brother... for whom Christ died..."
(1 Cor. 8:11), and says also, "Therefore, if food
my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I
make my brother stumble" (1 Cor. 8:13). The Apostle
says concerning conscience, "Conscience, I say, not your
own, but that of the other... not seeking my own profit,
but the profit of many, that they may be saved" (1Cor.
The Lord Christ spoke about offenses and
offending the young, saying, "But whoever causes one of
these little ones who believe in Me to sin... Woe to that
man by whom the offense comes!" (Matt. 18:6,7).
The strong may be able to resist the causes of offense, but what about the weak?
By the strong we mean the person who is spiritually
strong, who has self control and maturity. Such a strong
person can discern what is wrong and can resist it.
However, he may fall in condemning its doer. But the
problem is that of offending the weak, the young or the
A weak person may say: If the adult falls,
what can I, the
weak person, do? He may yield or fall out of despair or
A weak person stumbles when he sees the ideals fall before him.
Therefore St. Paul the Apostle reprimanded
St. Peter the
Apostle before the others, saying, "If you, being a Jew,
live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why
do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?" (Gal. 2:14). St.
Paul said this because he found, "that even Barnabas was
carried away with their hypocrisy" (Gal. 2:13). Barnabas
was thus offended by them.
Adults should hence be careful in their behaviour; by this I mean the parents in the family, the teachers towards the pupils, the ministers towards those whom they serve, the priests towards the congregation and the guides towards those who seek their counsel.
They ought not be a stumbling block with their
conversation, behaviour, movement and features.
They should be keen about keeping order, obeying the
law and keeping the commandments. When deacons, for
example, are careful not to talk during prayer, and are
careful to respect the altar and the prayers, they can be an
example to the congregation. Likewise when they behave
in a wrong way, they will be an offense to the
congregation who may follow their example.
The person who talks in church during prayers commits many faults:
First : Not respecting the church,
not respecting the
prayers, and lack of God's fear in their heart.
Second : He becomes an offense to others, who will
either imitate him, or commit the sin of condemning him.
The same may be said about a person who keeps looking at his watch during a meeting or a sermon, or who leaves church before the final blessing or dismissal.
A person should avoid being a stumbling block, even if his behaviour is not wrong.
When the Lord Christ was asked to pay tax,
tax was only to be taken from strangers, said to Peter,
"Nevertheless, lest we offend them, go
to the sea, cast in
a hook and take the fish... you will find a piece of
money; take that and give it to them for Me and you"
In order not to offend them also, He went to be baptized by John the Baptist to set the example for repentance, though He needed no repentance.
The Lord Christ obeyed the law in many things
which were not necessary for Him, and St. Mary also
did the same so that they might not be an offense to
Some have a strict conscience that doubts everything and thinks that right is wrong, and others have free conscience that justifies many actions.
Conscience also has a relation to offense, as the following examples will show:
Is beauty, for example, a stumbling block?
Suppose there is a beautiful girl: some look at her and lust for her. Is she considered a stumbling block for them? And if so, what is her guilt?
She is not a stumbling block. The
stumbling block is in
the hearts of those who lust for her. It is their fault not
hers. Take for example St. Justina who was very pretty
and when someone lusted for her he resorted to magic to
be able to have her. Was that saint an offense to him?
No, but the offense was in the heart of that impure man.
And what do you say about the two angels whom the people of Sodom lusted for?
Were the two angels a cause of offense? God forbid. It was the fault of those deviant people. Therefore, the two angels struck them with blindness as a punishment for their impure lust (Gen. 19:4-11).
The scribes and Pharisees criticized the Lord Christ
because He worked miracles on the Sabbath. Was the
Lord Christ an offense to them? God forbid. It was lack
of understanding on their part a lack of purity in their
The offense came from within them.
Many saints were accused unjustly by people,
such as St.
Macarius the Great, St. Marina, and St. Aphram the Syrian. These saints were not stumbling blocks and so
God revealed their innocence. Hence, let us contemplate
on the words of the Apostle, "To the pure all things are
pure" (Titus 1:15). The impure are offended by many
things, for they think in an impure way, whereas the pure
think with purity and so they are not offended by the
things that offend others.
Only a pure conscience can judge justly on these matters.
The Lord commanded us to conceal our virtues. But if
we conceal our prayers, our fasting and our almsgiving
according to the Lord's command (Matthew 6), will this
offend people in that they will think we do not pray or
fast? Or should we reveal our virtues in order not to
offend them even though we break the Lord's
commandment by this? It is a matter of conscience.
The important thing is that we do not provide a cause for offense.
In this case if someone is offended because of us - though we do not mean it - it will be his guilt.
Can we say that David the Prophet was an offense to King Saul, when he defeated Goliath?
Undoubtedly not. David could not have left Goliath
defy the armies of the Lord, and he attributed the
victory to the Lord, saying to Goliath, "This day the
Lord will deliver you into my hand, for the battle is the Lord's, and He will give you into our hands"
What offended Saul was the jealousy in his heart when the women sang, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1 Sam.18:7).
David the Prophet said also in the Psalm: "Those who hate me without a cause, Are more than the hairs of my head" (Ps. 69:4).
Had David offended them, so they hated him? No, for he said they hated him without a cause. The cause was malice they bare in their hearts, the jealousy of his godliness and victories or their desire to usurp his power as they had done with Absalom.
Some people - in order not to offend - become
They pretend righteousness in order not to offend others by their sins.
They may also pretend fasting so as not to offend people while in fact they are not fasting. In this way, they fall into two sins: breaking the fast and hypocrisy.
One should not feign righteousness to avoid being a cause of offense! The right thing is to behave well and be actually righteous in order not to offend people.
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