Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.
It has been one of my greatest fear to ever stumble others, in the things I say, in the words I write, in the actions and behaviour of my daily life, and in the decisions that I make. Sometimes, it seems as if whatever I decide, people will be stumbled. Often, I find myself possibly stumbling others when I never had the intention to do so. It is one thing if I failed to lift anybody up, or if I failed to inspire them or enlighten them. It is a totally different thing if I became a stumbling block to them. If anything, I don’t think I can bear the responsibility of being a stumbling block to others. In this study, we will examine what it means to stumble, and try to picture the gravity of stumbling others.
Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come – In other words, as it was rendered by several other versions – temptations to sin are bound to come. There is no ‘if’ about this. It is a certainty. Christianity does not mean you are free from the temptations to sin, but Christianity do provide you with the freedom from the yoke of sin.We’re told, from the Lord’s Prayer – And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one [Matthew 6:13].’ that temptations exist, and it is from God that we find the strength to resist them. We’re told to pray – Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak [Matthew 26:41] – pray so that we may be able to draw strength from the Lord and resist temptations. We’re told that temptations lead us into ruin and destruction – Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. [1 Tim 6:9]. Yet we can have hope, because we’re told that no temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it [1 Cor 10:13].
I like to use the term stumble – because I feel it offers a very powerful graphic image of what temptation really is – a stumbling of faith. If we are tempted into sinning, we have stumbled in our faith. If we tempt others into sinning, we become stumblers of faith. There are many stones, hurdles and obstacles to our faith in our lifelong race as a Christian. Many of them will cause us to trip, some will cause us to fall – especially if we’re not alert. We’re not promised a smooth racing track without any banana skins. It is on rocky ground that we race on. But isn’t it scary if, the people whom you’re racing with suddenly pokes his elbow in your face, and you tumble? Isn’t it scary if the one who is just running beside you has a loose shoelace, and you trip over it? Isn’t it scary if you are the one who, whether intentional or not, stumbles others?
but woe to anyone through whom they come – Do not be naive to think that ultimately, whether others sin or not is their decision and not your responsibility. As a communion of saints, as a body of Christ, we are One, and it is naive for the mouth to scoff at the eye when the eye has gotten hurt, because the mouth will be affected as well. Jesus does not mince his words in this subject – the word ‘woe’ was used to suggest the gravity of the offense. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! [Matthew 18:7] Turning back to the Bible, there have been many cases of stumblers – people who lead others into sinning. Most famously, Eve in the Eden of Garden, when she gave the fruit to Adam to eat [Gen 3:6]. Sometimes it’s unintended, like in the case of the Jews and the Gentiles, where cultural differences may cause one another to stumble [1 Cor 10:32]. Peter is an example of that – The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray [Gal 2:13] – out of fear of the Jews, Peter withdrew from his intimacy with the Gentiles, going against his own teaching. That’s one thing – personal stumble – sometimes we do trip on our own shoelaces – but more often than not, when you are a leader, your stumble has a domino effect – other fellow leaders and your followers tend to be stumbled as well.
As we understand more and more about the Bible, and about the Kingdom of God, we understand, believe and apply more of those ‘hard truths’ in the gospel – those that ask us to deny ourselves and take up the cross daily, those that ask us to be willing to sacrifice, to be willing to do things that people of the world view as stupid. Yet, as we learn more and more, it is crucial that we discern in which occasions we discuss about these doctrines. Talking to a new Christian about the certain concepts may scare them away from the faith. “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. [Mark 9:42, Matthew 18:6] Not that we should lie to them, or keep things from them, but let us learn to have gentleness and discernment, and ease them into this faith. It’s not easy, especially when transitioning from a non-believer to a follower of Christ. I’m a second generation Christian, so it’s not like I’ve experienced it before, but I can only imagine. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak [1 Cor 8:9]. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. [1 Cor 8:12].
The Christian race is not a solo-race. It’s not one in which you have to kill or kick down all of your competitors in order to win. Let us learn to do what’s right with God. Sometimes whether we like it or not, people will dwell on our words and nitpick on them and get uncomfortable with them, even if we have absolutely no intention to harm them. Along the way, in our own race, we’ve probably stumbled a few people, like it or not. Do not assume that you are not responsible. If it is within your capability, stop, and give a hand to the ones whom you’ve stumbled. If it’s beyond your capability, then seek help, and pray for that person – and for yourself, because you’ve done a misdeed against him. So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God [Romans 14:12].