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John Calvin on Offenses

John Calvin

When we think of John Calvin, our minds may immediately conjure up this image of a towering theologian who explored, addressed, and sought to explain the depths of God’s revealed character as set forth in the Holy Scriptures. And while this is true, Calvin was at heart very much a pastor to those entrusted to his charge as their minister. He was very practical in the application of spiritual truth to the lives of his people. One example of this can be found in his great work, Institutes of the Christian Religion (III.19.11) where he offers us some very helpful advice on offenses, as he addresses “how they are to be distinguished” in our interpersonal relations with one another.

I have found this to be a wonderful insight in ministering to people in a congregation who are at odds with one another, and how offenses are to be understood in order to avoid them, and how to maintain peace and loving relations with each other. He states he favors “that common distinction between an offense given and one received, inasmuch as it has the clear support of scripture.” As redeemed men and women who are members one with another in the body of Christ, it is incumbent upon us to pursue peace and unity one with another.

And so Calvin explains to us this difference between “giving an offense” and “receiving or taking an offense.” He reminds us, “to be sure one speaks of an offense given in some matter when its fault arises from the doer of the thing itself,” that is, when we actually say and/or do something that is harmful or hurtful or unkind. But many times we tend to “receive or take offense” when in reality no offense has actually been given. And Calvin offers biblical caution not to give offense but also warns us against “ill will or malicious intent of mind” whereby we wrench something “into occasion for offense,” when no offense has been given. Brethren, let us pursue love with one another, and avoid walking around with a chip on our shoulder looking to construe the speech or actions of others into an offense when such an intention was never in the mind of our brother or sister. Let us remember Paul’s admonition regarding the love we are to exercise . . . "love suffers long and is kind . . . does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil . . . bears all things, believes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor. 13:4,5, 7).

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