Beginning part five of his sermon series, Pastor Phyl spoke of the song “Suspicious Minds”, made famous by Elvis Presley. This song is about a couple who can no longer go on as they are due to the woman in the relationship having a suspicious mind. They have been caught in a trap.
Pastor Phyl then asked us if we had a suspicious mind. It is easy for us to get offended by the slightest thing. He then talked of an illustration that he heard years ago, in which people used a coconut to trap monkeys. In order to do this, they made a hole in the coconut just big enough to fit a piece of fruit in. The monkey would smell the fruit and put it’s hand in to pick up the fruit, but then it couldn’t get it’s hand out. The thing is, that the solution to getting out of this trap was amazingly simple. All the monkey needed to do is to let go of the fruit, and it would be able to escape.
This is so like the situation that we can find ourselves in. We often get involved in things that can land us in the trap of offence, and we could quite easily escape this, if only we let go of what is causing us offence, but we don’t, instead, choosing to hold on to it, causing ourselves to remain trapped.
Pastor Phyl then gave us three things that we need to do if we are to escape and avoid the trap of offence. How can we tell if we’re trapped. Traps come from the tongue. James 3:2-5 tells us that the tongue makes great boasts. It also warns us about the consequences of the tongue’s actions. The truth is that offence is something that can catch fire.
Proverbs 4:23 tells us that we must, “Above all else, guard your heart”. Pastor Phyl encouraged us to give our heart a health check. The first thing that we must do, is to Identify the trap. There are five signs that we can use to identify if we are trapped.
The first is that we resent someone else’s fruit. Jealousy and envy, creep in when we see someone else who is more successful than we are, or who have things that we would like to have, and this can make it difficult for us to be happy for them.
Secondly, we can speak negatively about someone. We might describe them in certain negative ways, and find fault with them. We might even compare ourselves with them, but this is not the way of perfect love. True love overlooks failings, usually with an attitude of “I’ll overlook yours, while you overlook mine.”
In Ephesians 4:9, it says “Do not let any unwholesome talk out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”
If we are speaking negatively about people, then we are acting in total opposition to this scripture, and are not behaving in a way of perfect love.
Thirdly, we find that we love hearing about someone’s misfortunes. Perhaps we hear that someone has split up with their partner, or they’ve had a prized possession stolen, and we feel happy about this.
Fourthly, we might hang around with offended people. In the August 2018 issue of the National Geographic magazine, there is an article (this can be found here). It talks about our complicated society, in which we are becoming more divided and segregated than ever before. We live in a society where social media is used to air grievances and offence can so easily be taken at what is being written. People are more likely to speak unkindly online as they don’t actually see the person behind the screen. The truth is that anonymity removes a crucial equivalent of human interaction. “Keyboard warriors” act with more aggression, but this is not what we are called to do as followers of Christ. We are called to speak kindly, and to speak to others with compassion.
Pastor Phyl’s fifth point was that we can become offended because of someone else’s offence, whether this is family or friends. There is a prime example of this in scripture, in Mark 6:21-28, where the daughter of Herodias impressed King Herod so much that he offered to give her anything, up to half if his kingdom, and yet, even with all of that wealth on offer; wealth, which could have changed her life, but she listened to her mother, and took on her mother’s offence, and as a result, an innocent man lost his life.
Pastor Phyl then gives us three ways in which we might Escape the trap. The first thing that we need to do is realise what can cause us to become offended. We need to identify the triggers, and things that can set us off. We will often overlook the failings of the people we love, but we aren’t so quick to do that with other people, but as followers of Christ, we are called to love everyone.
We must then recognise that an offence has been caused, and work to make the commitment to let it go, because, like the monkeys, if we let go of the offence, then we can escape the trap. When we stop using those words, and stop behaving in a defensive way, then we give ourselves a chance to escape the traps of offence that come all too readily to us.
We must then refuse offence the access to our hearts. Pastor Phyl repeated the passage from Proverbs 4:23. “Guard your heart”. If we do this, then we are preventing offence from having access to our hearts, meaning that we make it far more difficult for us to become trapped in the first place.
Pastor Phyl then gives us three ways that we can Defend against the trap. Firstly, we must abide in His word. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart.” According to Dr Caroline Leaf, it is a scientific fact that God’s word changes our brains.
Secondly, we must exhibit the fruits, explained to us in Galatians 5:23, “but the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.”
Thirdly, we must choose our friends wisely. 1Corinthians 15:33 tells us that bad company corrupts good character. Do we have friends that criticise our values, or who tempt us into negative actions. We must perform a health check of people who might be a bad influence, and look to address this.
In closing, Pastor Phyl encouraged us to be “teflon”, so that offence will not stick to us, and that we will be able to avoid the risk of falling into the trap of offence to start with.
Scriptures: Proverbs 4:23, Ephesians 4:9, Mark 6:21-28, Psalm 119:11, Galatians 5:23, 1 Corinthians 15:33