Not wanting to wake my husband, I tiptoed in the dark to bed. Unbeknownst to me, our 84-pound standard poodle had wadded up the rug beside my bed. I stumbled and hit the floor — hard. I don’t think Max set out to make me fall when he attacked the rug. But his fun left me with an aching back and twisted knee.
Have you ever considered that our careless behavior can cause people to trip in their faith? Jesus said, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:1-2 NASB).
What Is a Stumbling Block?
Blue Letter Bible defines a stumbling block as “any person or thing by which one is (entrapped) drawn into error or sin.” We may not intend to cause someone to stumble in their faith, but our actions, or lack of, can lead others into error or sin.
In Galatians, Paul confronted the Apostle Peter for causing believers to stumble. His hypocrisy led even faithful Barnabas astray.
“When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray” (Gal. 2:11-13).
Like Peter, the pressure to conform or not call attention to ourselves may cause us to compromise our faith values. We may think our actions don’t matter. But our actions impact others as well as ourselves.
In this day and age, we are constantly bombarded with different opinions and agendas, many that are in direct contrast to the teachings of the Bible. The pressure to conform to a world culture that is against Christ is intense.
Sometimes when I see someone publicly stand up for what’s right, rather than conforming to the popular opinion, I think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three young men who stood when everyone else knelt before a golden idol (Daniel 3). Their stand caused them to be thrown into a fiery furnace.
It costs us to resist the culture and stand for our faith. But Jesus warned that going with the flow and being a stumbling block that leads young believers into error costs more. Jesus said, “It would be better … to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Luke 17:2).
In the furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego met the pre-incarnate Christ. Their miraculous protection gained the attention of the pagan ruler. Not even a hair was singed! And their courage still inspires us today. Jesus rewards those who stand with Him, whether in this life or throughout eternity.
Don’t Stumble Over an Offense
After telling the disciples to watch themselves, Jesus talked about dealing with those who wrong us. Was He changing the topic? I don’t think so.
“So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them” (Luke 17:3).
When a fellow believer sins against us, Jesus doesn’t say to overlook it. He says to rebuke them. Why would He say that? I believe He wants to protect us from resentment and from passively becoming an accomplice to their sin. This also gives that brother or sister the opportunity to repent. If they are wronging us, they’re probably wronging others too. Rebuking sin protects both of us. We don’t want to enable sinful behavior.
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Forgive Them — Over and Over
“And if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Luke 17:3-4).
The number seven often represents completeness. It means we keep forgiving, no matter how many times they repeat their wrong (Matt. 18:21-22).
If someone came to me seven times in one day saying, “I repent,” I wouldn’t trust them. The good news is, Jesus doesn’t say to trust them. He says to forgive them.
To forgive means “to let go, let be.” It also means “to cancel a debt.” In Matthew 18:23-35, Jesus told the parable of a king who forgave a servant’s huge debt against him. The forgiven servant then went out to collect lesser debts from a fellow servant. When the man couldn’t pay, the forgiven debtor threw his fellow servant into prison.
After having been forgiven so much by his king, you’d expect this man to be eager to forgive those who owed him far less. His unforgiveness shocked all who saw it.
Of course, the king represents Jesus, the King of kings. We are the servant who was forgiven much. To not forgive a lesser sin after receiving so much grace — after all, our sin crucified the Son of God — is wicked and appalling.
When the king heard of this man’s unforgiveness, he turned him over to be tortured. Anyone who has harbored bitterness in their hearts knows those torturers. Every time you think of that person or how they wronged you, you suffer.
When we refuse to forgive those who wrong us, we trip over their offense and others topple over us. Forgiveness protects our hearts from bitterness. Hebrews 12:15 says bitterness can defile many. When young believers see us holding a grudge after God has forgiven us, we become a stumbling block that can lead them into sin.
Increase Our Faith
The disciples responded much like you and I would, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).
How much faith does it take to forgive a repeat offender? Not as much as you might think. Jesus tells a story to illustrate that forgiveness doesn’t depend on the size of our faith, but the object of our faith.
“He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you” (Luke 17:6).
Perhaps He’s saying that a mustard seed of faith can uproot a tree of bitterness. He goes on to point out the difference between doing something because we feel like it and doing it because Jesus tells us to.
“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty’” (Luke 17:6-10).
A servant carries out his responsibilities, not because he feels like it, but because it’s his duty. Even when a servant returns tired and hungry from working in the field, he prepares his master’s dinner before his own.
When Jesus tells us to forgive, we forgive, not because it’s convenient or because we feel like it. We forgive because He is our master and we are His servants. We do it to please our Master.
Forgiveness is a matter of duty. We don’t wait until we have more faith to obey. We choose to obey, and He supplies the strength to let go of the wrongs we’ve suffered.
When we’re tempted to compromise, may we remember Jesus’ warning and watch ourselves. Jesus said stumbling blocks will come into the world. May we be careful not to be one.
Photo credit: ©Getty Images/ArisSu 4
Debbie W. Wilson is an award-winning author, Bible teacher, and former Christian counselor who speaks and writes to connect fellow sojourners to the heart of Christ. Her books include Give Yourself a Break, Little Women, Big God, and Little Faith, Big God.
She and her husband lead Lighthouse Ministries, a non-profit Christian counseling and Bible teaching ministry. Despite time in Boston, the Midwest, and Southern California, Debbie still says y’all. Her family, which includes two mischievous standard poodles, calls North Carolina home. Connect with Debbie, find free resources, and learn about her books at debbieWwilson.com.