The words of life are sweeter than honey from the honeycomb[I] and a savor of life for those who love Christ with all their heart and mind and strength. Paradoxically, the Gospel is at once both a scandal and a savor of death for unbelievers.[ii]
It is difficult to understand how something that tastes sweeter than honey to one person can taste bitter to another or how that which is a sweet perfume for many can smell putrid to many others. Yet, if we are to understand the Gospel and it effects, we must come to grips with the reality that the scandal of the Gospel is not about taste buds and olfactory senses but, rather, about the response of individual souls when their own self-righteousness is confronted by Christ’s.
Inside the Scandal of the Gospel
“Scandal” is a transliteration of the Greek word σκάνδαλον (pronounced skandalon). It is a purely Biblical and ecclesiastical word used 25 times in the Greek Old Testament and 15 times in the Greek New Testament. However, it is generally translated as a stumbling block, a stumbling stone, or an offense. The Apostle Paul specifically calls the Gospel itself scandalous when he proclaimed, “We preach Christ crucified, the to Jews a stumbling block (scandal) and to the Greeks foolishness.”[iii]
In his letter to the Roman Christians,[iv] the apostle quoted Isaiah 8:14, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and a rock of offense, and whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” In this instance, the word “offense” is where the Greek Old Testament used skandalon.
It is abundantly clear that our beloved Jesus Christ himself is the object of the scandal of which Paul speaks. Many religious leaders of the day – as well as many of their followers – rejected Jesus because he did not comply with their standards. At the same time, the truth that He spoke and the authority with which He spoke it offended them and left them perplexed.[v]
The scandal of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but by Him.”[vi] This is not what people want to hear, especially if it offends what ever else they already believe. The Gospel is an offense to those who believe that there is no God, that there is another god, that there are many gods, or that there is any eternal life outside of Christ.
Likewise, those who are Christ followers possess a bitter taste and an appalling aroma to those who are offended by the message of the Gospel. The offense, the scandal, is that the Gospel goes against what they believe. Jesus taught that it is difficult to a self-sufficient person to trust Christ. Those who consider themselves to be self-sufficient, don’t think they need Christ. The Gospel offends their sense of self-sufficiency. On the other hand, people living in loneliness and despair are often much more willing to taste and see that the Lord is good.[vii]
Inside the In Side of the Scandal of the Gospel
Unfortunately, scandal happens within the Christian community. Our old nature is of its own accord, critical and judgmental, but the Lord calls us to become conformed to the image of His Son.[viii] The writer of Hebrews tells us to lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us.[ix]
Once again, the Apostle Paul explained to the Galatians what some of those weights are. Along with adultery, lewdness, and idolatry, he included contentions and dissensions as works of the flesh.[x] Although we typically list the works (weights) of the flesh in contrast to the fruit of the Spirit[xi] (which we should), we must not neglect the context in which Paul describes these polar opposites. “Do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”[xii]
Paul is explaining that Christians can create unnecessary scandal by fomenting criticism and dissension within the body of Christ. He concludes his discussion by pleading for those who are truly spiritual to evidence it, not be criticizing and stirring up strife, but by bearing one another’s burdens – and so fulfill the law of Christ.[xiii]
Indeed, this is what sets us apart from the world! When we are quick to criticize, to judge, to blame, to condemn, and to find fault among ourselves, we are no different than the rest of the world. There lies the rub. The scandal of the Gospel on the inside occurs when, instead of coming to the aid of our brothers and sisters and binding their wounds, our first impulse is to shoot them, to shun them, and to stir up others against them.
We live in an era where society is quick to judge and condemn, where news is not news unless someone is being exposed for their imperfections, whether real or alleged. It is so easy to become like the world that surrounds us. That is understandable.
But the Lord has called us to become like the Spirit who lives within us. He has called us to encourage one another.[xiv] The Scandal of the Gospel within the camp is three-fold. It is the failure to help fellow believers when they need us the most; it is the wounding of the already wounded; and it is the scandal that those sins of omission and commission spread both among believers and unbelievers, thus creating skepticism and hinder the spread of the Gospel.
Father, we pray that the only scandal of which we are a part will be loving You and living for You. We ask You to search and try our ways and show us if there is any wicked way in us. Forgive us and lead us in paths of righteousness for Your name’s sake. Create a right heart within us that does not usurp your role as Judge nor assumes Satan’s role as the Accuser of the brethren. Help us to love all men as You do, even the unlovely. Empower us to win the lost and to encourage fellow believers.