Spiritual Self-Condemnation “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchres of the righteous, And say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” (Matthew 23:29-30)
This final “woe” in Matthew 23 is the most awful of all eight of them. Although this builds from verse 25, the conclusion demonstrates the result of such duplicitous behavior—ultimate and eternal separation from the Creator God and His holiness. “Wherefore ye be witnesses unto yourselves, that ye are the children of them which killed the prophets. Fill ye up then the measure of your fathers. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:31-33).
Here is the principle: “For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37). This is no small issue. Our speech is a direct reflection of what is important to us. So much so that we will be held accountable, for “every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36).
Those passages ought to give all of us pause. Just what is it that consumes our conversation throughout the day? Is it sports, movies, shopping, gossip, slander, or sowing “discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:19)? Or is it “whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report” (Philippians 4:8).
Our mouths are connected to our hearts (Matthew 15:18). What we talk about most of the time is a definite indicator of where our hearts are. Perhaps we should listen to ourselves. That is a pretty good marker of what we love most. “Stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh” (James 5:8). HMM III
Freshly-ground coffee brewing in the early morning hours produces a powerful aroma, and I love it. The scent reminds me of childhood, my parents sitting at our kitchen table, leisurely sipping their cup o’ joe, sweetened with sugar and a splash of milk. Content and at ease before their busy day began.
But it’s not just the aroma that I love; it’s everything that I associate with it: contentment, nostalgia, memories. How this particular aroma stirs me is beyond explanation. It runs deep.
It occurred to me that this must be how God feels when our godliness ascends to him. Pleased beyond explanation — a delightful aroma which he could breathe in all day long. In fact, all throughout the Bible, certain scents seem to hold specific meanings for God. While some delight him, others, unfortunately, cause him to recoil.
The Aroma of Our Prayers
In the Old Testament, God commanded the priests of Israel to continually burn aromatic incense — made from a blend of five exotic spices — on the golden altar inside the Holy of Holies. But, like my coffee, it wasn’t simply the fragrance itself that pleased God, but what it represented: the constant prayers of his people.
In fact, the incense, associated with the people’s prayers, was so pure and sacredly sweet to God that any deviation from what God had explicitly commanded was met with swift death, as Nadab and Abihu found out (Leviticus 10:1–2).
Just as God prescribed a specific recipe for the incense, he also prescribes specific prayers for believers today — prayers of:
- Thanksgiving (1 Timothy 2:1)
- Forgiveness (1 John 1:9)
- Intercession (1 Timothy 2:1)
- Praise and adoration (Psalm 148:1–14)
- Utter dependence (Matthew 7:7)
- Seeking wisdom (James 1:5)
- Petitions and supplications (1 Timothy 2:1; Philippians 4:6)
- Seeking peace (Philippians 4:6–7)
- Salvation (Romans 10:9–10)
These particular prayers, in fact, are so pleasant and precious to God that he lovingly collects them in “golden bowls” in heaven (Revelation 5:8). By keeping them close, he can continually enjoy their blessed bouquet.
The Aroma of Our Repentance
In addition to burning incense, Israel was also required to sacrifice certain types of animals to atone for their sins. But, again, it wasn’t the aroma from the sacrifices that pleased God as much as what it represented: repentance, clean souls, changed lives (Leviticus 1:9, 13; 2:2; 23:18). If performed properly, these sacrifices were “a pleasing aroma to the Lord” (Numbers 15:3).
Over time, however, Israel became careless with their sacrifices, for which God sternly rebuked them. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams. . . . Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me” (Isaiah 1:11, 13).
The principle is the same for today’s believers. God doesn’t want “vain” confessions — mere remorse — but genuine repentance that comes from truly humble and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:17).
Martin Luther famously wrote in the first of his ninety-five theses, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” Repentance is not peripheral to a life of worship. It’s at the very heart, which is why God sees repentance as especially fragrant.
The Aroma of Our Witness
In 2 Corinthians 2:14–16, the apostle Paul charges Christians to spread “the fragrance of the knowledge of [Jesus Christ] everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”
The knowledge that we proclaim is that Jesus Christ was crucified for the sins of mankind, and all who repent and appropriate his sacrificial death on the cross through faith will be saved by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8–9). We are witnesses of the knowledge that Jesus died to bring us to God forever, for our greatest joy (1 Peter 3:18).
But, unfortunately, not everyone likes the scent of this truth, even when it’s spoken “with gentleness and respect,” as it always ought to be (1 Peter 3:15). While our witness always spreads the fragrance of Christ, it’s not always received the same by its hearers. To those who are being saved, it is the lovely perfume of life everlasting; but to those who are perishing, it’s the sour stench of death eternal.
Regardless of recipients’ reactions, however, our testimonies produce a powerful fragrance which God delights in, for truth always smells good to God. Nothing pleases him more than to see his Son glorified in the courageous testimonies of those he came to save. And if the Lord is pleased with us, “what can man do?” (Hebrews 13:6).
The Aroma of Our Love
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). The greatest act of love ever performed was when Jesus voluntarily offered up his life for the sins of his people, suffering untold emotional, spiritual, and physical pain on a Roman cross.
“It was the will of the Lord to crush him” (Isaiah 53:10), but Christ gave up his life willingly (John 10:18); and in being crushed, Christ’s loving sacrifice gave off the sweetest, most sacred of fragrances (Ephesians 5:2), for Christ’s death is able to “make many to be accounted righteous” (Isaiah 53:11).
As Christ-followers, we are called to give no less (Ephesians 5:2) — not that we are called to die for others’ sins. But we are called to demonstrate Christ’s suffering and sacrifice through our own emotional, spiritual, and even physical sufferings on behalf of others, however that may look in our daily lives (Colossians 1:24).
It is when we are expressing Christ in this way that we too become a fragrant offering to God. And that, indeed, is an aroma which he could breathe in all day long.
My wife and I just returned from an awesome eight-night holiday in one of our favorite spots in the world — the little village of Iseltwald, nestled on the Lake of Brienz, ten kilometers from Interlaken, Switzerland. No place makes me happier and hungrier for the life we’ll enjoy in the new heaven and new earth.
But as wonderful as it was to celebrate my wife’s “39th birthday” in Switzerland (we’ve been married 46 years), there were moments when the brokenness of my attitude contradicted the beauty of the Alps.
When Life Gets Very Irritating
My capacity for aggravation and irritability and resentment followed me onto our flight to Zurich and then into different scenarios in the land of yodeling and chocolate. What does a follower of Jesus do when:
- Fellow travelers put their oversized carry-on luggage in the overhead bin directly over your assigned seat?
- Flight attendants seem to enjoy attending to the needs of those all around you, but treat you as invisible passengers?
- Free Wi-Fi on your flight faithfully delivers “feedback” emails including “constructive criticism” about your last sermon and preaching attire, your “redneck” sounding accent, and your lack of late-night accessibility?
- Robust young men on a packed bus don’t offer your back-pained wife a seat?
- By happenstance, you run into an old friend in the high-elevation village of Mürren, who mentions the name of another college friend — a friend who has caused you the yet-to-be-healed pain of betrayal?
- A hotel reservation you made months ago, for your last night in Switzerland, suddenly disappears, though you have four confirmation letters, and you have to scramble to rebook in a region of sold-out hotels?
Indeed, what should a follower of Jesus do in response to everything from normal life-in-a-fallen-world brokenness, to encounters with irritating people and provoking circumstances, to intentional insults and mean-spirited slights?
The good news is that the gospel doesn’t make us less human, but more human. As followers of Jesus, we experience the full range of disappointments and emotions common to all image bearers of God. But, by God’s grace, we can learn to steward them rather than live as slaves to them. We can learn to respond as redemptively as possible, as opposed to reacting selfishly and self-righteously. And we can actually find joy when we “overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11).
Five Happy Reasons to Overlook an Offense
Joy in overlooking offenses? Yes. Joy from what? Let’s look at five things the Bible says can give us joy if we’re willing to receive them.
But first, let’s be clear: overlooking an offense must not be confused with submitting to abusive people or morally and ethically unacceptable circumstances. Jesus calls us to be foot washers, not doormats.
However, there are at least five reasons that joy is found in overlooking an offense.
1. Gospel Sensibilities
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we’re growing gospel sensibilities and tasting true glory. The Bible says, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense” (Proverbs 19:11). The shorter our anger-fuse, the quicker we’ll take offense at anything and anyone. “Good sense” is gospel sense.
The more the truth of the gospel renews our minds and shapes our perspective, the quicker and easier we’ll overlook stuff. We’ll care more about honoring Jesus by our reactions to irritating people and aggravating circumstances and give up on the illusion of having a hassle-free, painless life. There is tremendous joy in caring more about God’s glory than our own reputation, convenience, and rights. God will always be most glorified in us when we are most satisfied, joyful, at peace, and free in him.
2. Owning Our Sin
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we’re starting to acknowledge our own sin. We begin to believe that the log in our eye is a bigger issue than the speck in anyone else’s eye (Matthew 5:38–42). The freest, most joyful Christians I know are the quickest repenters. It’s not that they have less to repent of; they’re just faster at owning their sin, humbling themselves, and resting in Jesus.
As the gospel moves us from Satan’s condemnation into the Spirit’s conviction, we become more aware that we need the grace of God as much as anyone who sins against us, and there’s tremendous joy associated with that kind of humility. We take less offense and extend more grace; we are more patient and less petty; we are getting better at waiting than whining. We’re more realistic about life among ordinary sinners who, like us, love poorly — and wiser about what to take seriously, and what to completely ignore.
3. God’s Spirit at Work
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that God’s grace and Spirit are becoming more operative, transforming powers in our lives. As Christians, we are called to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Growth in grace results in our getting to know Jesus better, who desires that we will have the fullness of his joy in us (John 15:11).
And as we surrender to the work of the Spirit in our lives, he grows a vibrant crop of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control” — the very anti-fruit of an easily offended spirit (Galatians 5:22–23). The Holy Spirit also leads us into a greater experience of our sonship (Romans 8:15–17), which gives us even greater joy in seeing our Father at work in all things for our good — even in the most off-putting, irritating, and offensive scenarios (Romans 8:28). God never promised to do all things easy but all things well.
4. Freedom from Approval Seeking
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we’re gaining freedom from living as approval seekers. Christians are a people whose joy need not be connected to what others think and say about us, or how they relate and react to us. As Proverbs 29:25 says, “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.”
To fear people isn’t so much to be afraid of them, but to esteem their approval too much. We look either to God or to people as the fountain and fuel of our joy. People always make poor saviors. We can’t freely or joyfully love anyone whom we’ve given the power to either shame us or exalt us.
5. Forgiving as the Forgiven
When we overlook an offense, we can rejoice that we’re getting better at forgiving others as we’ve been forgiven in Christ. There is no greater non sequitur in the entire universe, or the history of mankind, than for those of us who have been forgiven all our sins — every sinful thought, word, and deed — to withhold forgiveness from others (Matthew 18:21–35).
It was our Father’s kindness that led (and still leads) us to repentance (Romans 2:4). So where do we think our rigid, easily offended, keeping-record-of-wrongs attitudes will lead people? As Paul wrote, we are to “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32). Our joy in forgiving others is directly connected to the unspeakable, glorious joy of God’s forgiveness of us and his great delight in us.
We are often puzzled by Proverbs, wondering not only how to understand them, but also how to apply them. In this lab, John Piper establishes the foundation for approaching all proverbs.
Some questions to ask as you read and study Proverbs 26:7–9:
- Outside of the Bible, where do most people you know go in order to find wisdom? Why might they look there?
- Read Proverbs 26:7–9. How do fools utilize wisdom? List what happens when they engage with a proverb.
- Watch the lab. How might these verses affect how you engage with unbelievers who openly scoff at truth?
Principle for Bible Reading
Understand the Nature of Proverbs
Proverbs prescribe a way to live. Proverbs are not promises, but rather general life principles to be implemented with wisdom.