the shape of leadership

Four Ways to Guard Your Heart Against Offenses

Don’t let bitterness damage your relationships or your ministry

Ruth Puleo on July 20, 2018

I was walking a trail through the woods in the dark when suddenly my foot hit a rock, and down I went — flat on my face in the dirt. It took me a moment to grasp what had just occurred as the throb of an injured toe and scraped elbows became painfully evident. I had stumbled upon a stone, and it took me down hard!

Personal offenses can trip us up just as easily. As ministry leaders, we all stumble across people who scuff our feelings and bruise our egos. If we don’t protect our hearts from an accumulation of offenses, they will build to a point that it will damage our relationships with God, our family, and our friends, and spill over into our ministries.

Emotional wounds can cause us to react — even overreact — when a person or situation reminds us of past hurts. In turn, we may offend others.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” There are four things we can do to prevent offenses from taking root in our hearts.

Acknowledge That Offenses Happen to Everyone

Offenses are part of living as imperfect people, among imperfect people, in a fallen world. The person offending you has likely experienced offenses from someone else.

You must also admit that you have done or said things that offended others. If you are asking God to extend grace toward you for your actions and words, you must likewise extend grace and forgiveness to those who fail you.

Recognize the Destructive Power of Offenses

Satan intends to use offenses to destroy lives. In Matthew 18:7, Jesus cried, “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” (NKJV).

If you are asking God to extend grace toward you for your actions and words, you must likewise extend grace and forgiveness to those who fail you.

The Greek word here for “offenses” — or “things that cause people to stumble” (NIV) — is skandalōn. This was a stick on which people placed bait to trap or snare animals. The English word “scandal” derives from this term. How many believers have become ensnared in bitterness, doubt, and misery because of offenses, slights, and scandals?

Scripture tells us to forgive one another — quickly (Ephesians 4:26) and repeatedly (Matthew 18:22). Jesus prayed that we would live in unity (John 17:22-23). Satan’s goal is to cause division between friends, church leaders and congregations.

Practicing forgiveness is the best way to keep the enemy from luring you into a situation that will hinder your relationships and ministry.

Invite God to Work in Your Heart

God can use offenses to develop your character and spiritual maturity. A natural response to an offense is to pull back and set up a wall of protection so that you will not be vulnerable the next time. However, if you are going to allow Christ to use this experience to grow you spiritually, you must put your ego aside.

Ask yourself these questions: Do I have to be right? Do I have to get my way? Can I set aside my feelings and make the other person’s best interest my priority? Is my ultimate desire to see our relationship strengthened and for Christ to receive glory from my actions?

Proverbs 19:11 says, “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

Remember That You Get to Choose Who Wins

When encountering an offense, it’s easy to think that only one person can win or be right. However, the battle of offenses is not a battle between people, but rather between God and Satan.

You are never powerless, because you can choose how you will respond. If only one person wins in a conflict, you have not fulfilled the heart of the Father for everyone’s ultimate spiritual growth and character development.

Honor God in your relationships by choosing to express the value of the other person, choosing to listen and not interrupt, choosing to love unconditionally, and choosing to seek a resolution that will be beneficial to all.

This is my prayer: Lord Jesus, I bring this hurt to You today. I cannot heal my own heart, but You can. I want more than anything to be the person You use to reveal Your character and love to others through forgiveness and restoration. Please help me overcome my natural desire to fight for my way and help me to seek instead Your will for this situation and relationship.


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