“If Any Man Offend Not,” Ensign, Aug. 1998, 46
When my sister was in the Young Women program, she, like many girls then and now, enjoyed talking with her friends and being silly whenever she had a chance. On one occasion a teacher finally got fed up and told her, “Leave the class and don’t come back until you can behave.” My sister left and never did come back. That was 30 years ago.
As Proverbs 18:19 [Prov. 18:19] reminds us, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.” It is so easy to offend someone—and so dangerous! The Apostle Paul, knowing how a thoughtless action or comment could affect a member’s attitude about the Church, urged us to give “no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed” (2 Cor. 6:3).
It often seems difficult to offer suggestions or opinions without being pushy, even insulting to an extent. When I was a young mother, someone recommended a gospel-oriented music tape to me. Her words were, “If you love your children, you’ll get them this tape.” I interpreted this to mean that, in her opinion, if I chose not to get it, I must not be a good mother. This was insulting to me, and I deliberately and spitefully avoided getting the tape, which I later found to be quite good.
Some years ago a college student who was an acquaintance of mine joined the Church over the objections of her parents. They had threatened to disown her, but she was patient and loving and continued in the family tradition of wearing a small cross necklace. When a Church member sternly corrected her for wearing it, the comments brought her to tears.
Counsel can be given with gentleness and tact. Phrases such as “I have found that … ,” “I believe that … ,” or “Some people find it helpful to …” may be useful or appropriate. Contrast these phrases with expressions such as “Anyone with any sense knows …” or “Good Latter-day Saints always do it this way.” How true is Proverbs 21:23 [Prov. 21:23]: “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles”!
James expressed it well when he wrote, “For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body” (James 3:2). We may all nod our heads at his insight, but what are we to do? Even though we may try our best, we are not perfect, and from time to time we may offend someone, despite our well-intentioned efforts. Because of this, I am so grateful for repentance. Through it the Lord will forgive us for our mistakes, and we can ask for forgiveness from others as well.
This leads us to the other side of the issue: we have a responsibility to avoid taking offense and to freely forgive, even when we have not been asked to do so. One of the most frequently reported reasons for Church inactivity is “Someone offended me.” We need to exercise patience with others. If we allow ourselves to be offended, any excuse will do. This calls to mind the Lord’s words, “They … make a man an offender for a word” (2 Ne. 27:32).
Even though most of us do not look for offenses, we are likely to get our feelings hurt at some time. I recall a painful incident many years ago when I had two of my children, one a toddler and the other an infant, with me during Relief Society. At one point in the meeting my baby needed my attention, and the toddler, too young for nursery, became jealous. He started pestering and then hitting me. I felt frustrated but tried to deal with him quietly.
A few days later the bishop spoke with me privately. One of the sisters in Relief Society had come to him, concerned because I wasn’t controlling my children properly, and had cited the previous incident.
My face turned red, and my heart pounded. How dare she! I thought. What right does she have to judge me? If she didn’t like what was going on, why didn’t she offer to help? Mentally I went on and on. I didn’t know who the complainer was, but my mind searched for someone to blame. I pictured various people who might have been the cause of my embarrassment and then concluded, If that’s how they feel, I just won’t go to Relief Society.
I soon recognized Satan’s tool for what it was and remembered a statement I myself had repeated to others: “The Church is true, even if the members sometimes make mistakes.” Although my embarrassment and resentment lingered for a few weeks, I didn’t miss any Relief Society meetings.
If you feel offended by another’s words or actions, you might try to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. Did he or she really mean to hurt, or was it a mistake with innocent motives? Forgiving the other person at this point will save much pain and worry. I have adopted the philosophy that usually people try to do what is right. They should be given credit for their intentions, not for the unintended outcome.
Regrettably, there are times when others’ motives are not entirely innocent. This may particularly cause pain and confusion when the offender’s actions seem to contradict the religion he or she espouses; yet even in these difficult situations we are not justified in nursing our anger or turning away from the Church. President Stephen L Richards, First Counselor to President David O. McKay, said, “Does one offense wipe out another? Does weakness in one, even one who has been given a testimony of the truth, justify transgression of the law or failure to listen to its precepts?” (“Encouragement for Repenters,” Improvement Era, June 1956, 398). Our testimonies must be based on Jesus Christ, not on imperfect and fallible individuals.
In the scriptures the Lord provides counsel on the subject: “And if thy brother or sister offend thee, thou shalt take him or her between him or her and thee alone; and if he or she confess thou shalt be reconciled” (D&C 42:88).
Because we live in a mortal world, not every situation may be resolved satisfactorily, even after we have done all we can. Perfect justice is not always to be found in this life, yet it will be found in the next. In his Sermon on the Mount the Savior instructed, “And him who taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also. For it is better that thou suffer thine enemy to take these things, than to contend with him. Verily I say unto you, Your heavenly Father who seeth in secret, shall bring that wicked one into judgment” (JST, Luke 6:29–30). This counsel does not absolve us of our responsibility to take appropriate action when action is needed, but it assures us that the Lord is perfectly aware of every situation and that ultimately justice lies in his hands.
Certainly the Lord does not wish us to harbor grudges. The unforgiving soul suffers more mentally, spiritually, and even physically than the offender and is unable to progress in these circumstances.
I found myself in this situation one day several years ago. My attempts to see the other person’s point of view had not succeeded, and I was still feeling bitter hours later as I went to bed. I did not feel like praying or reading the scriptures and decided to go right to sleep. But even though I was tired and the hour was late, my mind would not slow down, and I kept reviewing my injury. I also felt guilty for not reading and praying, so I decided to open the Book of Mormon at random and read a scripture. My eyes went automatically to verses 46–48 of Moroni 7, which I had previously shaded with a red pencil. There was the answer to my problem:
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail—
“But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen.”
I had to say “Amen” with Moroni. I understood his message to me, and the problem was resolved. I was then able to sincerely pray for charity, give thanks for the scriptures, and forgive the offender.
I know from my own experience that it is easy to give and take offense, despite good intentions. But when such offenses occur, we need not let them stay. Kindness, repentance, forgiveness, and charity can help us over the rough places in our relationships with our brothers and sisters.