When to be a Stumbling Block

“We must not smoke, or drink, or go to parties because these can cause others to stumble.” Singapore Christians use the term “stumble” as Christian lingo mainly in the sense of not doing things because it might offend another Christian, and secondarily, as something that compromises our declaration of the Good News to pre-faith friends.

There is a danger associated with a poor understanding of what it means to cause others to stumble (i.e. to trip someone up).  Let’s say, I am pre-faith, and I believe that women should not wear make-up. I go to a Christian meeting, and there I see most women wearing make-up.  “Christian people are just like anybody else,” I declare. “And I am out of here.” The Christian women would have tripped me up in my search for truth.  Are they responsible for my rejection of Christ?

Let’s find a more challenging example. Let’s say I believe smoking or drinking moral failures of some sort. One fine day, I discover that some Christians smoke and/or drink.  I decide, “Christians are like anybody, it’s no use becoming a Christian.” Have they caused me to stumble? Are these Christians responsible for my not coming to faith?

On the other hand, Christians who smoke or drink can try not to be seen doing so. Then I can say, “Christians are hypocrites and smoke and drink but dare not let others know.  Non -Christians are more honest.”

What I am trying to point out is that certain things seem so clear to us because we don’t put it to the test. We think we know what it means to cause another to stumble.  But if we scratch the surface and ask harder questions, we may discover we are not as clear-minded as we first imagine.

First let me bring out a less affirmed truth: It is not always wrong to cause another person to stumble in their faith journey!

John the Baptist is in prison.  He has declared that Jesus is the one who comes after him, and Jesus will usher in the Kingdom of God.  Then John finds himself imprisoned by Herod Antipas with Jesus making no attempt to rescue him. He begins to wonder if Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Jesus is in danger of tripping John up because Jesus is not doing what John expects. Jesus points to a different Messiah and declares blessing on the one who does not stumble over what they see in him.

It is clear that Jesus does not meet the expectation of John the Baptist, and it is John who has to change his expectation, not Jesus to change his action. Right does not always reside with the person who has expectations.  If our expectations of Jesus or other Christians are wrong, they cannot accommodate our expectations.  We have to modify our wrong expectations to make them right.  Then would we be among the blessed.

stumbling-blockMatthew 11 2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. 6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

On another occasion, Jesus tells his disciples that unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood, they will not share in the resurrection, and will not have life everlasting (John 6:53-59).

John 6 60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? … 66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. (NASB)

Again, Jesus insists on something that the people cannot accept, and these people leave him.  Jesus causes them to stumble.

Not only is Jesus a stumbling block, he is also a crushing block.

Matthew 21 43 I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. 44 Anyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”

Luke 20 18 Everyone who stumbles over that stone will be broken to pieces, and it will crush anyone it falls on.”

There can be a truth from Jesus that is so culturally unacceptable that people reject Jesus on the basis of their cultural assumptions. There is only one solution. The people have to change, their culture has to change.  Stumble over the stone at our own peril, and that stone over which we stumble will eventually fall on us and crush us.

The Apostle Paul explains that Jesus is a stumbling block to the nation of Israel. The Jews just cannot accept the grace of God and insists salvation must be by the law.

Romans 9 31 But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. 32   They stumbled over the great rock in their path. 33 God warned them of this in the Scriptures when he said,

“I am placing a stone in Jerusalem that makes people stumble, a rock that makes them fall. But anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”

(Greek translation of Isaiah 8:14; 28:16)

Paul maintains the claims of Jesus as Messiah through his crucifixion is just not acceptable to the Jews.

1 Corinthians 1 23But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness (KJV).

The Apostle Peter says Jesus is a stumbling block to the Jews, and to those who perish

1 Peter 2 8 and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

The people stumble over Jesus because “they disobey the message.” Their disobedience causes them to stumble.

What does this mean?  We can understand that Jesus is a stumbling block to Israel, in that he does things, makes claims, and demands that cause Israel to reject him. And in rejecting him, Israel as a nation does not receive God’s salvation. To be a “stumbling block” is not intrinsically wrong. Jesus is a stumbling block. He has to teach truth, and does so gently and patiently.  But that does not change the reality that Jesus does not fit the expectations of those who cannot accept his teachings. They stumble over Jesus because they would not obey the truth Jesus teaches.

Today, people continue to stumble over Jesus. Many today cannot accept Jesus’ teaching that he is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one goes to the Father except through him. They stumble at this “narrowness.” It is contrary to our Zeitgeist. So rather than change our thinking, many simply reject Jesus. To this day, the teachings and claims of Jesus continue to trip people up. Interestingly, exclusive salvation through Jesus is not a point that would trip Muslims up. They too assert exclusive salvation and can accept that there is one way to God. They claim they have that way.  That is where we differ.  But they understand that there is no issue in claiming exclusivity in salvation. For Muslims, the stumbling block is the deity of Jesus Christ.  Jesus as God in human flesh is their stumbling block.

The world stumbles over the claims of Christ, and in many of these, there is only one solution.  They need to accept the truth found in Jesus. Some Christians try to compromise what is culturally difficult to get across, and in their desperation to convert people or make the Christian faith more acceptable to our culture, we fudge the truth.  One example is that Christian morality does not regard our sexuality as a private matter. The standard of the world is that two consenting adults justifies almost everything.  This is just our modern foolishness. The Greeks used to advocate men to take young boys as lovers and consider this homosexual union to be noble.  Today we call them pedophiles and regard this action as depraved. The world seems to think they have the last word on sexual morality, when, in reality, the sexual mores of today can become the taboos of tomorrow. The Greeks would have found the Christian teachings on sexuality a stumbling block. Today we wonder how the “enlightened” Greeks can stoop so low as to practice homosexual pedophilia openly.

There is a stone that marks the edge of the road.  If we wander off that road, the stone that marks the edge becomes a stumbling block.

We must conclude at this terminal point that the one who stumbles is not always right and the one who causes the stumbling is not always wrong. When it comes to people stumbling over what God tells us about himself and what he expects of us, our stumbling is the result of our disobedience to his revealed truth. God does not change, we have to change. We trip up not because what God says is bad, but that we reject  God’s clear voice. PE

[Next: When not to be a stumbling block”]

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