Question: The Bible mentions that we should not be as stumbling blocks to others. Does that mean what we do with or around others can affect them to a point where we will be held accountable?
Matthew 18:7 (NASB)
“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!”
This is a powerful set of scriptures that I think are commonly mistaken. The word stumbling block is sometimes translated offense. It is also understood as the trigger on a trap. What does it mean to cause a stumbling block or an offense? Let’s take a look.
In context, the Bible here is talking all about how our actions affect others. This is the very nature of the love walk that Jesus talked about. So many times people have tried to make these about the person “offended” but that is simply taking scripture out of context. What Jesus was talking about is being the offender, not the offended!
When Jesus said, “Woe to the one through whom the stumbling block comes,” He’s referring to the one who causes the stumbling block or, in other words, sets the trap. We have to be wise about not causing others to stumble. Many times in church history, pain has been caused because of those who should know better yet don’t do better. I can’t tell you how many “former believers” I have met who are that way because of the hurt that other believers have caused. The ones who have caused it will often justify it but it will not be so easy when they give account to the Lord!
Look at Colossians 4:6 (NASB). “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” Now look at Matthew 5:13-16 (NASB). “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” In all of these scriptures and in fact, many, many more we are told to focus on what we are doing and consider if it helps or hurts others.
Now look at this proverb. Proverbs 18:19 (NASB) says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.” Here again, the brother offended is not the point. The urging is to not offend so that you can win them over. The word offended here means to be trespassed against. What we do that causes hurt and or offense to others, will be dealt with when we stand before the Lord. Over and over throughout scripture, the Lord rebukes the offender. So much so that in Matthew 18 the Lord Himself says that it would be better for the offender to have a millstone tied around their neck and thrown into the sea! Wow!
One of the earliest things I learned as a Christian was how my sin directly affects so many others. It is a sobering and sometimes scary realization. I can forgive anyone, I truly can. However, will everyone I have offended be able to forgive me? What negative reactions toward faith and to God will what I do cause in others? I have seen so many parents not really consider how their actions affect their kids. There are many parents that will stand before the Lord and realize how their actions led their children right to hell. I cringe at the thought. This is why I do my best to stay humble before my family, quick to repent and apologize if I know I’ve wronged them.
As a pastor I’ve seen this as well. Once I was preaching and I allowed myself to get on a soapbox that was more personal than it was spiritual. When I said what I was saying, it wasn’t technically wrong, however it was said, not considering my audience. I’ll never forget the look one lady had on her face, I knew she wasn’t happy. As I left church that day, I heard these words in my spirit, “I hope your opinion was worth not seeing her in your church again!” I was instantly convicted and very sorrowful. That was the last time that I saw that woman, she left offended, not to return.
My heart still breaks for that moment, because though I felt justified and again was “technically right,” the offense I caused was horribly wrong. What an effect our words and actions can have on people weaker in the faith! Romans 14:12-13 (NASB) instructs us soberly, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.” Our job first is to walk in love and at the highest priority, as much as up to us, not cause another to stumble.
There will be many things in this life people will stumble over, Jesus Himself being a stumbling block. If they stumble over righteousness, so be it. If they stumble over unrighteousness, may it never be! The law of love demands us not to cause another to stumble. Rest assured if we do, we will answer to the Lord about it.
Romans 12:18 (NASB)
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.