“Yes, but the cross is an offense. So if you’re being true to the gospel, you’re going to offend someone.”
This is one of the more common rejoinders I hear when Christians are accused of being unloving.
(The idea that it’s OK — perhaps even necessary — to offend for the sake of the gospel has come up recently, for example, as a result of the Chick-fil-A debate. It’s implicit in J.P. Moreland’s response to Matthew Paul Turner’s Chick-fil-A post.)
And it’s true. The cross is an offense. It was scorned as utter folly by many in Paul’s day, just as it is by many today.
The way of Jesus is a stumbling block for lots of people.
The question is, what made it a stumbling block in the first place?
“The offense of the cross” is sometimes used to justify any offense we cause, however loosely connected to the gospel it may be. Like our participation in the never-ending culture wars and the “us vs. them” mentality we’ve cultivated. Was that really the original offense of the cross?
Let me suggest the cross is an offense for reasons that have nothing to do with politics, gays, or societal decay.
The cross is an offense because it rejects the world’s idea of power.
By going to the cross, Jesus renounced any claim to power. By staying his hand — by refusing to wield a sword in his defense or summon a hoard of angels — Jesus showed us that the way of the cross is the path of a servant, not a conqueror or a culture warrior.
“My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said during his trial. That’s why his followers didn’t fight to prevent his arrest. The kingdom of God doesn’t play by world’s rules.
To take up your cross, you have to lay down your sword, your placard, and maybe even your chicken sandwich. You have to give up the pursuit of power. You have to give up your “rights” — including the right to fight for your rights.
The kingdom of God comes through a cross. It will not come by any other means. To go the way of the cross, then, is to live like people who actually believe the best way to transform lives is by loving and serving others — rather than fighting, protesting, or waging an interminable culture war.
That is the offense of the cross. That is the “weakness of God” which, according to Paul, many find so laughable. We do not fight the world’s war; we have more important work to do.
I’m not against offending people with the gospel, but let’s not offend for all the wrong reasons. There is only one legitimate “offense of the cross.” And that is when we set aside our agendas and self-interest in order to love and serve our neighbor in ways that baffle a watching world.