“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. 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!”
This powerful scripture regarding our treatment of ‘little ones’ ( young or new believers in Jesus, not just children but adults as well) is very sobering. Verse 7 states there are ‘things’ in the world which people will use to cause a person to stumble. The connotation here is falling into sin and walking away from their faith. Jesus doesn’t clarify the specific method that is used to cause someone to stumble, but in other places in scripture where the topic of ‘causing someone to stumble’ is referenced, there is a particularly clear theme. Paul talks in Romans 14 about placing obstacles in front of people that cause them to stumble in reference to food they were eating and how some ate both meat and vegetables and others just vegetables. More than likely the meat in question was meat offered to idols and then sold in the local markets. However, when you boil it all down, the issue in question is, are we doing things that may be within our ‘rights’ to do (meaning they are not a sin) but yet may cause others who may be weaker in their faith to stumble? Let me illustrate with a real-life example.
A pastor recounted an experience where he innocently caused a person to stumble. He and his wife were at another couple’s home enjoying a very relaxing dinner. The host asked if they wanted a glass of wine with the meal and they said yes. They all enjoyed a bottle of nice wine together with the dinner. A photo taken at the dinner by their host was posted on their Facebook page, and in it, the pastor was sitting at the table beside his wife and in front of his place was a half-empty glass of red wine. The picture was intended as a great memory; nobody thought anything about the glass of wine. About 3 days later a letter addressed to the Pastor came to the church from a woman who had only attended his church a couple of times in the past year. He really didn’t know her well at all. In the letter, the woman angrily and indignantly questioned how the Pastor could drink alcohol and think it was okay! She went on to state that it was alcohol that ruined her marriage and it was alcohol that caused the death of her only son in a traffic accident. She questioned his ability to lead the congregation and his salvation. It was a very harsh letter.
Now, truthfully, what first came to your mind when you read the story above? Do you think the Pastor was at fault for drinking wine? Do you think he should have been more careful about the picture taken of him? Or, are you of the mindset that it is virtually impossible in today’s society to not offend someone so therefore you can’t live your life being paranoid about offending people? Do you feel this lady was out of line to call out the pastor for something so trite?
I will address these questions with the Apostle Paul’s words in the first letter to the Corinthian church when referencing a similar issue that was going on where some of the members of the church in Corinth eating meat they bought at the markets which had been offered to pagan gods:
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.
1 Corinthians 8:9-13
Did you catch that? Paul was literally saying that he would NEVER eat meat again if it would guarantee that not another brother or sister in Christ who was weaker in their faith would be offended and stumble. If you think about this concept, it is un-American, isn’t it? In America, we believe in our rights! We have a Bill of Rights that guarantees us specific rights such as the freedom of religion, the right to bear arms, the freedom of speech, etc. We have different lobbies that fight for our rights. Now, I’m not saying these rights are bad. However, this culture of ‘rights’ easily begins to seep into our psyche and into our belief system as well. We begin thinking that as long as it isn’t a sin against God, we have a ‘right’ to do it. But do we?
My point here is that this isn’t about right or wrong; rather it is about loving your brother, even your weak-in-the-faith brother, so much you would give up your right to do specific non-sinful things in order to ensure you would not cause him or her to stumble. It is what Jesus taught us in John 13:35 where he says: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
If you want to know what that type of love looks like, just turn in your Bible to 1 Corinthians 13 and read. The one quality of love that really applies to this discussion of rights is found in verse 5 where it says love is not ‘self-seeking’. It sounds like the person who possesses this kind of love would not insist on his or her rights but rather focuses on others and helps them in their walk with the Lord.
Let me finish the story of the Pastor and the letter. At first, the Pastor was indignant. The language of the letter was very hurtful, and caused his initial response to be defensive. After all, he only had one glass of wine, and it wasn’t a sin in the Bible to have a glass of wine. Where did this woman get off calling his character and his integrity into question over one glass of wine? However, the Pastor read the letter over and over again, and his heart began to soften. Here was a woman whose life was destroyed by alcohol! She had seen alcohol become her husband’s mistress and had to deal with the pain of losing her son to a drunk driver. He began to empathize with her and realized that as her frame of reference the wine glass in front of her pastor could indeed illicit such a response. The Pastor didn’t have a phone number for the woman but had her first name and her address, so he decided to write her a letter in response. In that letter, he apologized for causing her any pain. He told her he understood why she would have been offended and expressed sadness that alcohol has caused so much pain in her life. He also suggested some excellent female counselors he knew, both within and outside of the church, who had gone through similar hurts and been healed. In essence, he responded with love and understanding. Not defensively stating his rights and that alcohol wasn’t a sin.
My fellow believers, we do indeed have rights as children of God. We have the right to love one another in sacrificial, unselfish ways and that means sometimes we may need to give up a right in order to accommodate a weaker brother or sister in the faith. I encourage us all to consider that unselfish love and sacrifice our rights for others. If we do this, we can rest assured there won’t be a millstone with our name on it. And that is a good thing!