Author: John Boland
Category: Unreached People Groups, Workplace Ministry, Evangelism Training
Offending Others: Don’t Bruise the Fruit
Don’t run roughshod over the concerns of your brothers and sisters. Their concerns are God’s concerns, and he will take care of them… If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbors; you’re rejecting God. 1 Thessalonians 4:6-8 (MSG)
As a young Christian just starting out in evangelistic witnessing, I memorized the appropriate Scriptures, studied the denominational edicts, knew the team mantra, and put in the required hours to be certified as a “denominational certified Christian witness.” I was ready to change the world for Christ! I had visions of bringing family members, coworkers, store clerks, neighbors, and future children to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I was what you call “sold out!” There was one statement, which the man who lead me to Christ said that I have tried to take to heart. He said, “Don’t bruise the fruit in your enthusiasm.” My enthusiasm was that everyone in my family comes to a saving knowledge of Christ. Being naturally curious, I had to research the meaning of the phrase. I discovered that Christian clichés are not in the dictionary. What I did find was that the urban dictionary defines human bruising as an experience that allows one to overcome adversity by using the difficulty to grow emotionally and spiritually, thus making the previously mentioned situation a blessing. What the dictionary failed to include is the idea that a well-intentioned Christian could say something, which offends another person, thus causing that other person to reject Christ. It will take that person many years to have any meaningful relationship to Christ because of that encounter, if ever.
I further researched the idea of what happens when real fruit is bruised and how that would relate to the human experience. First of all, fruit is bruised when it is dropped or when impacted by other fruit. I know that this is common knowledge but stay with me, because what happens to fruit is the similar to what happens to humans. We are dropped emotionally by insults, slights, put downs, and innuendos. We are impacted by others 1) Brute Force: fights, accidents; and 2) Influence: appeals, persuasion, and bribery; 3) Coercion: intimidation, obligations, and outside pressure
Next, I discovered that every individual fruit can handle being bruised differently based on thickness of the skin, pigment color, and environment at the time it is picked. Again, this sounds like the human condition. Many of us are less susceptible to long-term effects or hurt feelings, because we are thick-skinned or tough skinned. I am sure that different ethnic groups have different emotional levels as well, but whether ethnicity has anything to do with human toughness, I really have not studied so I cannot truthfully comment. Reading on, I further discovered that bruising is minimized through the packing and shipping processes by handlers who are conscious of how they handle the fruit. Applying this to the Christians both in and out of the church assembly, I personally know many a young believer who has left the gathering because of poor handling (insensitive remarks) by the membership. The same idea applies to the workplace when so called church members make “off the cuff” remarks either about the other person, some unrelated person, or someone in their church. Agricultural engineers have learned to reduce bruising by eliminating unnecessary handling and by adding a cushion so the fruit would not be damaged. This relates to the human experience, in the sense that as Christians we must be careful, both in the church and at the workplace, concerning what they say so as to not offend others. Stop being party to rumor-mills (thus reducing the severe impact on others) and, finally, pray before saying or doing anything. Christians could even reduce the negative impact by defending what is right, standing up for what is good, and being the voice of reason in a world of selfishness and greed.
Another thing that fruit growers realized was the effect of reduced bruising through the early packing of freshly picked fruit. If there is anything that the Christian community is failing to do worldwide, its church discipleship training of young converts! To accept a new believer in the church then to simply direct them to a Sunday school class and think that is sufficient to grow spiritually is ridiculous! Only through one-on-one discipleship will a person leave their old ways behind and mature in Christ to a point that they will know what they believe sufficiently in order to share what they believe with others. It is only though this maturity process that the bruising of the young Christian is minimized, and the church will not potentially lose another future leader.
There is another old saying, “Ripe fruit yields to gentle pressure.” This statement was right in line with Jesus’ methodology. He was more about invitation than coercion when He said in several places in the Book of Matthew: “Follow me.” He never put more pressure on his followers than He knew they could handle. He taught them, encouraged them, exhorted them, and built them up. He did not belittle them, scold them without cause, or put them down. As they matured, they were exposed more and more of the truth of God. It is this form of discipleship that the agricultural engineers found effective in reducing the immediate and long-term effects of bruising in fruit. How’s that you ask? Well, in sharing the truths of the gospel, sometimes, people are going to be upset by the very nature and the idea of exclusivity (bruising). As presenters, we are not in charge of the reception (bruising); however, we can control is how it is presented (packing). If you’re attempting to be respectful and sensitive toward people (packing), they will forgive you (short-term effect)! Another thing Christians must be aware of is not to belittle each other’s beliefs in discussions concerning faith, no matter how much we disagree (bruising). This achieves nothing, but it does give nonbelievers a foothold to ridicule the faith (long-term effect), and causes young believers to question their faith (both short and long-term effects). In his evangelism training workshops on How to Share Your Faith, Pastor Kent Tucker warned against overbearing Christians. He implied that if the other person is not ready to hear the Gospel message, accept the Lordship of Christ or convert to Christianity, they won’t respond, and the opportunity to lead someone to Christ will be lost. Not only that, but if they are offended by the strength of your conduct (fruit is damaged), it may never be recovered for use again. If we are sensitive to new believers, our workplace environment, our coworkers feelings, and Gods leading, then, by God’s grace, we should become more effective for Christ both in the short and then in the long-term.
As I write this section, I have become aware of an incident many years ago that applies here. I was a young assistant city manager, just starting out. One of my many jobs was code enforcement. I think this was my first call, because I asked the chief of police to go with me. I had received a complaint from this person’s neighbor about overgrown weeds and the accumulation of “rubbish” in the back yard, making it an eyesore and a health hazard. We found ourselves in a residential neighborhood. The chief knew this individual, so he knocked on the door and started the conversation. It was established early on that this person was a plumber and the pipe, which was strewn throughout his yard, was material he used in his occupation. He was just not the neatest of neighbors. I remember my end of the discussion was repeatedly laced with the term “junk.” He agreed to clean up his yard and cut his weeds. I considered the incident closed.
Two years later I found myself inspecting a construction site across the street from this man’s home. I did not remember him or the case. As I was looking over this inspection site, I quickly noticed I had a shadow following me. When I finished, I asked this person if I could help them. He asked if I remembered him or the incident. I did after he recanted every detail! He also explained how I offended him by my attitude and conduct. He never forgot it! I hurt under the thought of offending him and sought his forgiveness as the Scriptures command. He forgave me, and we had a pleasant visit, although we never became close personal friends. However, I found out later that the offense went further than I even thought. While offended, he had shared his wounds with others in town over those past two years, which damaged both my testimony and witness within the community. None of my friends ever told me about what was being said, but they heard about it, talked about it, and passed it on to others. This undermined my position with the city and any effective witness I’d hope to have within the community.
Conclusion: offending others doesn’t stop with their wounds. We eventually hurt our personal reputation and, more importantly, our testimony for Christ.
[iii] Kent Tucker, Sermon Central