It is an all too common scenario. Someone commits an offense against a friend of ours, we hear about it and we take up the offense as well - harboring ill will toward the one who hurt our friend, and even on occasion speaking ill of them to others.
Taking up the offense of others is a sign of poor emotional intelligence and is a destructive practice. In getting sucked into this practice we often cause relational breakdown with the one who we believe hurt our friend, are guilty of hurting their reputation through gossip, and in a ministry setting, hurt the cause of Christ - without any first hand knowledge of the facts of the matter.
Let me give a first hand example. Years ago, a colleague who worked in the same organization as I decided that I was a "bad" person (I think the actual description on their part could have been stronger than that). They shared their opinion of me with others, most of whom were healthy enough to figure out there was another side to the story. But a few, without any firsthand knowledge took up their opinion and felt free to harbor both animus against me as well as share that animus with others.
Interestingly, those who took up the crusade had no first hand knowledge or interaction that would back up the "charges" and "opinions." Yet they took on an offense and have lived with that offense for years.
The sad thing is that there is no way I can develop a healthy relationship with those individuals or colloborate with them for the cause of the gospel. Their decision to take on the offense of others has built a wall between us that I cannot remove (and did not build). In fact, they have never talked to me personally about their animus toward me but have felt free to talk to others.
It is not about my reputation, that is in the hands of God. It is about healthy relationships, healthy emotional intelligence and the impact those have on Kingdom work.
It happens to many of us but it is a highly unproductive and unhealthy practice. Each of us is responsible for our relationships with others, for keeping short accounts, and for treating others with dignity. If I violate those principles I need to make it right.
But, I am not responsible for the relationships of other people and if there is relational disconnect between others, I can encourage them to make it right, offer to help make it right but what I should not do is take on their offense. It is their issue, not mine. In fact, to believe as "fact" negative information about another without any first hand knowledge is sin: It is not "thinking the best of others," and when we share our negative opinions in the absence of first hand knowledge it is nothing more than gossip.
I wonder how much relational destruction has been done in the Kingdom by people taking up the offenses of others - and in many cases assuming facts and spreading information that has no real basis in fact. It is simply second hand information that may or may not be true
When tempted to take on the offense of others ask yourself:
- Do I have first hand information that the information is true?
- Have I tried to help solve the relational disconnect?
- Have I inquired of the one under indictment whether my understanding is a correct one?
- Is the issue one that is any of my business?
- Do I want to take the chance that by taking on the offense I may be guilty of attitudes and words that are untrue, hurt others and ultimately hurt the work of God?
- Might there be another side to what I have heard?
We have enough challenges in our own relationships to take on the issues of others - which are not our issues.