How Do We Deal with the Things That Cause Us to Stumble?

How Do We Deal with the Things That Cause Us to Stumble?

Jesus is the most important and influential person who has ever lived. No one has so affected art, literature, music and drama, as much as Jesus. No one else has attracted such a multitude of followers and worshipers, from every nation, tribe and tongue (as well as critics and enemies) as Jesus.

Many believe that His teachings and the record of His ministry reveal He is also the most loving, selfless and compassionate person who ever lived. But what if I argued He was also one of the most offensive people to ever live? That He was one of the most shocking speakers to ever live?

It’s not something that normally comes to mind, but I contend it is still very, very true! Jesus was far from the smiling, unoffensive milk toast religious figure that many people hold in their imaginations. The truth is, He was often offensive to those listening to Him teach.

“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do” (John 8:44).

“Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ‘We see.’ Therefore your sin remains’” (John 9:41).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

Even Jesus’ loyal followers found Him, at times, thoroughly disconcerting.

“I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53).

“And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).

“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22).

He upset all established notions of religious propriety, and kept socially questionable company. He spoke of Almighty God as father, a term of intimacy, which sounded like blasphemy to the religious elite. Contrary to popular belief, Jesus often said things that were shocking, surreal and unimaginable in the culture of His day. And because His words are often so puzzling, the temptation for most of us, even today, is to just skip over them quickly.

Jesus Said What?!

One of the most shocking statements Jesus made to his disciples is found in Mark 9:43:  “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.” And everybody said, “What?!”

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43).

Can you imagine what went through the minds of those men? Uh, Jesus… I could never do that! Clearly, not many disciples – then or now – have followed that admonishment literally. 

But here we see the mastery of Jesus. With this shocking statement, He was trying to get us to view life from the right perspective – the higher perspective of God. Indeed, sometimes we must be jolted in our thinking to be able to change and correct our perspective. Look at what James says:

"My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:2-5).

Why are trials so overwhelming? Because we usually see only the bad things that come from the trials of life. 

That’s why we must ask God for wisdom during our trials. This is the Greek word sophia, and it describes an aerial shot of circumstances, or the higher perspective that God has of a situation. 

The Right Perspective

It’s the key to overcoming in life. And that’s what Jesus is essentially doing when He said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.”

I doubt anyone believes Jesus was speaking literally here. Rather, Jesus was making a statement that we must not get comfortable and ignore sin in our lives. In fact, He expects us to judge ourselves, repent and turn away from sinful things (and “cut it off”). And to properly judge ourselves, we must have God’s perspective on sin, which begins with an understanding how we stumble in the first place. Notice again His words: 

“If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:43).

“And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off” (Mark 9:45).

“And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out” (Mark 9:47).

Now the word sin used in this NKJV verse, is translated “stumble” in other translations, and it means to betray, to entice, to trip up and to cause to stumble. But how can our body parts cause us to stumble?

When it comes to our hands, aren’t there things that we grip too tightly in life, that we hold a bit too selfishly, which cause us to stumble?

When it comes to our feet, aren’t there paths we take in life that cause us to wander off gradually, and end up far away from God?

And just like the things we clutch with our hands and the paths we go down with our feet, when it comes to our eyes, aren’t there certain things we focus on, while ignoring the truth of God’s Word, which also cause us to stumble?

When Jesus said cut it off (or pluck it out) He was saying, if you get God’s perspective in life, you can avoid the stumble. But you also need to know, what kind of things was Jesus referring to?

What kind of things are we clutching onto, what kind of paths are we taking, and what kind of things are we focusing on, that can cause us to stumble?

We All Have Things That Cause Us to Stumble

In this life, I have stumble buttons that may not be stumble buttons for you; you have some stumble buttons that may not be stumble buttons for me. That is, my “thing” may not be your “thing”, but we must understand that we all have things!

What is your thing? Well, it’s likely the “thing” that popped into your mind as soon as you read it.

It’s the thing that is in the forefront of your heart and mind.

The thing you know has been dogging you.

The thing that is “your” secret.

Maybe it’s the thing that stands in the way of necessary quality time with your spouse to make your marriage strong (like golf, work, or web surfing).

Or it’s the thing that is standing in the way of your financial peace and stability (overspending, consumer debt, shopping, or work ethic).

Some of these things aren’t necessarily wrong, bad, evil or sinful in and of themselves, but for you personally, it may cause stumbling. Successfully dealing with our personal “things” is of utmost importance, because what we do today will affect our tomorrows.

For me, my thing is cookies.

If I am in the company of a tray of cookies, I’m eating the whole tray. Now that’s my thing, but my wife has no problem with cookies. 

She can be sitting next to a tray of homemade chocolate chip cookies, fresh from the oven, still warm and gooey. She breaks off a piece of one, and says…they are so good! But she never finishes the other half. She’s satisfied with a taste, because that’s not her thing.

Meanwhile, I’m like the cookie monster! It’s best to avoid cookies all together. Probably, I should run out of the house when I smell cookies baking.

It’s radical, but that’s my thing, and in order for my thing not to cause me to stumble, running is the logical decision I need to make.

Your thing may not be my thing, and my thing may not be your thing, but we’ve all got things that we must rule over.

“But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14-15).

That’s what Jesus was talking about – if your right hand causes you to stumble, don’t mess around. Cut it off.

Get radical about it!

Don’t Make Your Thing My Thing

We all know people who try to superimpose their convictions about something on everyone else, and they can get quite self-righteous about it. But if the Bible doesn’t call it sin, and it’s just your thing, then, it’s something you need to get radical with, but not everyone else does. Indeed,

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

Work out your own salvation, not your neighbor’s, not your spouse’s, not your friends’, not your co-workers’, not your political leaders’.

Your own salvation.

What We Do Today Affects Our Tomorrow

In life, there are no isolated incidents.

Life is not like a cafeteria-style lunch tray where everything has its own box. I can’t put the marriage thing in this box, and the work thing in that box, and the God thing in another box, and the financial thing in its box. 

What we do today, the choices we make regarding things like our marriage, work, spiritual growth and finances, affect where we wind up tomorrow. 

“If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43-44).

Our choices now affect our experience then; the temporal affects our eternal.

Jesus wants us to have an abundant life, which is a life lived God’s way, under God’s authority, with Godly order and God’s blessing. It’s a rich, satisfying life, full of joy, peace, prosperity and health. But that life is dependent on our choices.

“If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land” (Isaiah 1:19).

Jesus’ statement may seem shocking when He said cut it off, but Jesus understood what was at stake: our now affects our tomorrow.

“Then he said to them all: ‘Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow Me’” (Luke 9:23).

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29).

Cut it off… because radical actions create radical rewards. What things will you cut off in your life, so that you can fully live the life, and receive the rewards, that God has designed for you?

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/ilkercelik

Frank SantoraFrank Santora is Lead Pastor of Faith Church, a multi-site church with locations in Connecticut and New York. Pastor Frank hosts a weekly television show, “Destined to Win,” which airs weekly on the Hillsong Channel and TBN. He has authored thirteen books, including the most recent, Modern Day Psalms and Good Good Father. To learn more about Pastor Frank and this ministry, please visit Photo by Michele Roman.