In the Old Testament, God had warned His people to “…not curse the deaf, nor put a stumblingblock before the blind…” (Leviticus 19:14). God made provision in His law to protect those who were most vulnerable in society by warning His people to care for the blind and the deaf. Caring for the blind included not putting a “stumblingblock” before them. It would be of the utmost cruelty to put something before a blind person that would cause them to fall. Most people would understand and agree with this truth in the physical realm. However, God also applies this truth in the spiritual realm.
In the New Testament, God reminds us of the importance of living our lives in such a way that we do not become a “stumblingblock” to others. In Luke 17:1-2, Jesus said “…unto the disciples, It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come! It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and be cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.” In this context, the word “offences” is a reference to a stumblingblock- that which is placed in the way over which people stumble.
This is not referring to the fact that people will be offended by the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 1:23- “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greek foolishness”. People being offended by the truth of God’s Word should not hinder us in our proclamation of the truth. We are called to proclaim the truth of God’s Word regardless of how people respond. Oftentimes in the early church (and throughout church history), the proclamation of the truth has brought persecution. We ought to boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word- “…speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15) recognizing that God is the only One whose approval ultimately matters.
Luke 17:1-2 is not speaking of offense because of the truth. Rather, it is speaking of becoming a spiritual stumblingblock in the life of another person that keeps them from the truth. Verse 1 reminds us that “offences will come”. However, the Bible warns against being the one responsible for laying an “offence” (a stumblingblock) in the path of someone’s life that causes them to fall spiritually. The Bible states that the better alternative to being a stumblingblock in someone else’s life would be to have a millstone hung about one’s neck and to be cast into the sea.
There are many ways in which our lives can become a stumblingblock to others. Consider the following:
- False teachers became a ‘stumblingblock’ to the spiritually naïve who are “…tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine…” (Ephesians 4:14) and who are “…ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7). That is why we must be “rooted and built up in [Christ], and stablished in the faith” (Colossians 2:7) and why we must speak out against false teachers and their teaching.
- Worldly ideology/living can become a ‘stumblingblock’ to those who are allowing the world (rather than the Word) to inform their thinking and living. Christian parents must beware lest they allow the world that is opposed to Christ to capture the hearts and indoctrinate the minds of their children. The Christian is called to “not be conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2) and to “keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27) lest the world system become a stumblingblock in one’s life.
- Christians who abuse their liberty in Christ can become a ‘stumblingblock’ to other Christians. We ought to have the attitude of Paul who said in Romans 14:13: “Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” Paul said: “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:13). Paul was willing to forgo things that were spiritually lawful for the sake of spiritually edifying fellow believers in Christ.
- Some parents become a ‘stumblingblock’ to their children through living a double-life (by acting ‘saintly’ at church but sinful at home). That is why the book of Ephesians places the exhortation to bring up one’s children “…in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” with a warning to “…provoke not your children to wrath” (Ephesians 6:4). More is caught than taught in child-rearing and it is important that parents provide a godly example to their children both at church and at home.
- Those who claim the name of Christ but who live a sinful life can become a ‘stumblingblock’ to unbelievers. In his book The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes one the characters named Talkative as “a saint abroad, and a devil at home”. Talkative is a character who talks the talk but doesn’t walk the walk. May we strive to be Christians in both word and deed remembering that we have been called to “…be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
The question is:
Are we being a ‘stepping-stone’ helping others get to Christ?
Or are we a ‘stumblingblock’ keeping others from getting to Christ?
May God help us as we strive to be ‘stepping-stones’ helping people get to Christ and avoid being ‘stumblingblocks’ that hinder people from getting to Christ!
~Pastor Aaron Francis