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, NIV). I recently found myself practicing some fervent “name it and claim it” theology with regard to the above Bible passage. Let me explain.

On a chilly October morning, I was jogging along a dark, low-traffic country road before the sun came up. My running partner, Lola, was with me – with a reflective leash keeping her in check, and I was wearing a reflective vest in case any motorist happened by. We were also running against the possible flow of any traffic so I could see vehicles approaching (as if headlights at that time of morning wouldn’t be enough anyway).

Then a car started coming down the road in front of us – no big deal, I just needed to keep to the side of the road and make sure Lola didn’t get distracted into the road. When the car got about 50 yards from us, the driver decided they needed to switch their “high beam” lights on (because our reflective jogging gear wasn’t visible enough???). Those bright lights literally blinded me so that I couldn’t see anything in front of us.

That’s when my feet discovered a football-sized rock that was sitting right next to the pavement, causing me to faceplant right there on the road. If my sight had returned in time, I would have scrambled to get that rock and then used it as the “millstone” (around the driver’s neck) mentioned in Mark 9:42! There were no significant injuries, other than my bruised ego knowing that my dog was laughing her tail off because I couldn’t avoid the only rock along our entire path.

As I continued to brood about that driver blinding me and causing me to stumble, God started using my little episode to highlight some truths for me. An obvious one, as mentioned already, is the warning that consequences await those who cause believers to stumble. However, rather than praying for consequences for the one who caused me to stumble and fall, God showed me that I should regularly pray for wisdom, strength and compassion to never be one who could cause another believer to stumble.

In the early church, Paul wrote many warnings about using our freedoms in ways that could cause other believers to stumble – his letters dealt primarily with food, drink and festivals (see 1 Corinthians 8, Romans 14). In today’s culture we could add other “hot button” issues like body piercings, tattoos, clothing style, movies, video games, books and tobacco. These are all areas (freedoms) for which the Bible does not provide specific instruction and yet are areas in which many may feel conviction.

These things are not, of themselves, “good” or “bad.” And in our post-modern relativistic culture, we are very inclined to say, “It doesn’t matter what someone else thinks about me or what I do!”

But is that what the Bible says?

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble (Romans 14:20-21).

Does that mean I should never (for example) drink any alcohol? No, I think what it means is that I need to be aware of who may be impacted by my drinking alcohol. Are there “weaker” believers (maybe even someone who has struggled with addiction) watching me?

This is not about some kind of “judge not lest you be judged” scenario, and it isn’t about your mother telling you to “be your own person and not be concerned about what others think.” No, this is about others who are still trying to figure out this faith thing, others who struggle with legalistic views of what you may view as freedoms, or those with more immature views of the “do’s” and “don’ts” of the Christian walk. But they are watching you — to inform, validate or potentially confuse their beliefs.

So, I’m not saying “don’t drink in public,” or “don’t get a tattoo,” or “don’t go to R-rated movies.” I am saying, however, that we need to be aware of those who may be watching us and not let our actions be a stumbling block.

Not being a stumbling block often depends on the situation and the hearts of those around us. The security we have in God’s love, both now and eternally, allows us to show concern to/for those who are weaker — those who need encouragement to understand who God is. In some situations, that means living in those freedoms to exemplify that God is a God of grace. In others, it means disciplining ourselves to build up weaker believers and not push them into a liberty they’re not ready for.

Another truth God revealed to me is that I need to be constantly diligent in removing stumbling blocks from my path. In fact, Jesus says we should cut off our hand or remove our eye if it causes us to stumble (Matthew 5:29).

As mentioned, when running I wear a reflective vest; we keep to the side of the road facing traffic; Lola has been a sort of “accountability partner” helping me keep an eye out for dangers like snakes, skunks, or other critters we regularly encounter. However, the rock that precipitated my fall — I had been noticing that rock on the edge of the road for months, often telling myself I should pause and toss it in the culvert.

But I didn’t.

I knew the potential danger of that “stumbling block,” yet I did not remove it when I had the opportunity.

Temptations are so much harder to avoid when we are weak, vulnerable or blinded. However, we often know what those temptations (stumbling blocks) are and we can pre-empt a stumble by removing them ahead of time.

  • Block those channels on your cable now – don’t wait until you are the only one awake late at night with nothing else to watch.
  • Don’t venture to the hotel bar after an exhausting, out-of-town business meeting.
  • Always keep your computer/laptop screen in full view of others – not facing away where your viewing can be hidden.

Finally, God revealed to me that I will have choices when facing a “stumbling block.”

We are all familiar with 1 Corinthians 10:13: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

In my stumbling block situation, I should have stopped. Simple. Running along a dark road and suddenly blinded – I should just stop. Stopping avoids the stumbling block ahead. It gives the chance to regroup, to analyze how to proceed and to avoid the stumbling block.

When we can’t see the safe path ahead, when we are down or weak, or when our partners don’t sense the dangers – do not blindly forge ahead.

Stop.

Wait for the Lord to show up.

He may restore your vision. He may guide you through it. He may provide support or counsel from others. But He will provide the way of escape from that stumbling block.

 

Craig Hollingsworth

 

 

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