Saturday, April 26, 2014

More on “Stumbling”

One of the comments on my post asking your “Biggest Scriptural Challenge,” a fellow using the name “Puddlejumper” offered this pair of questions:

Hello Matthew, I really appreciate your blog, it has been a big part in God freeing me from pornography addiction. One comment my wife often replies with when I talk about getting involved in social naturism is "I do not want to make another stumble". You have already addressed some of this in your comments on Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 but not (as far as I recall) the Matthew 18 vv6-7 and parallel passages. My own feeling is that these gospel passages are talking about non-believers who deliberately cause believers to sin rather than Paul's writings addressed to believers' freedom. I would appreciate your thoughts on these verses from the gospels and also what you understand from Paul's comment in 1 Cor. 8 v.13 where he says "..he will never eat meat again..." rather than qualifying his argument with something like "...I will not eat meat in a weak brother's presence...".

Thanks again for all your blog posts.

Puddlejumber (There has to be a story behind that handle… can I call you “PJ”?),
Thanks for writing. I am thrilled to hear that God is renewing your understanding of the human body with truth and it has liberated you from the bondage to pornography!
You’ve asked for comments on two different passages of Scripture, so I’m going to tackle them separately.
Causing a Child to Stumble
To be very honest with you, I never considered this passage with reference to the kind of “stumbling” that most Christians talk about when they say we’re not to “cause a brother to stumble.” Paul’s teaching in Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8 are much more central to those ideas. And as we’ve seen in my treatment of those passages, we cannot be held responsible for the sinful responses people have when they see us living our lives in righteousness, else we would have to conclude that Jesus was responsible for the Pharisees’ wicked response to Him.
But let’s look at what this passage says… in context:
“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 
Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 
If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (Matthew 18:3-9 NASB)
You can see first of all that Jesus is talking about how we need to come to Him… with the faith of a child. He’s talking about faith for salvation. A child easily and simply believes in Christ’s love and forgiveness. But then Jesus transitions to talk about “Stumbling Blocks,” but remember that the context is still salvation. Unlike Paul, Jesus is not referring to the “stumbling block” of a questionable activity.
Let me show why I say that in this case, “stumbling” means “keeping someone from making it to heaven.” Jesus’ next paragraph states that you should not allow your eye or hand to cause you to “stumble.” The consequence if you do not guard against that? “Eternal fire.” Jesus said it would be better to have only one eye or hand than go to hell.
This is not about “I just committed a sin with my eye or my hand.” This is about the importance of entering heaven and avoiding hell… and if you “stumble,” you’re on your way to hell.
Causing someone to “stumble,”—according to Jesus’ use of the word—is to cause them to “be cast into fiery hell.”
Doesn’t that fit the context of Jesus’ warning about causing a child to stumble? One who causes one of these “little ones”—children, or anyone prepared to response with childlike faith—to “stumble” is one “bad dude.”
This makes perfect sense… if someone interferes with a child’s opportunity to express saving faith, or who dissuades that child from expressing saving faith, that person has just put a “stumbling block” between that child (or any person) and their salvation. This explains why Jesus metes out such a severe curse on that person.
Misguided Definitions
Paul used “stumbling” one way. Jesus used it another. It might be tempting to assume that they were using it the same way, but the context makes it clear that they were not. Sadly, however, many people hear the word “stumble” in the Bible and they assume a meaning that does not match how Paul used it OR how Jesus used it. Instead, they assume a definition that is foreign to both texts but they use it to interpret both texts. Their interpretation in both cases is wrong, and so their application is also wrong. Instead of submitting to God’s Truth, they find themselves laboring to submit themselves to a lie… to a man-made rule.
It is critically important that we understand the actual meaning of the words we read in Scripture. When we don’t, we risk missing something that God intended for us to know, or—worse—believing that God has said something that he really hasn’t.
I’ll Never Eat Meat Again.
Let’s look at your second question… the passage is 1 Cor 8:13.
Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble. (1 Cor. 8:13 – NASB)
The context is about being careful for brothers with “weak consciences” so that—even though the meat offered to idols neither hurts nor helps the one who eats it—if they were to eat it, they would be drawn in their hearts back into idol worship, or at least they might feel like they were. In that case—when we can discern that weakness in a brother—we should abstain from eating the meat, harmless though it may be in itself.
So is Paul saying that he simply will never eat meat no matter what because someone might have a problem? I don’t think that’s the force of his words. I believe that he’s saying two things:
  • I don’t mind giving up the meat for a brother with a weak conscience.
  • If that were to mean that I’d never ever get to enjoy a steak on the grill again, I’m still ok with that!
Note the word “IF” in Paul’s words. His decision to not eat meat is—and always will be—conditional. It is not a once-and-done decision to go vegan.
I Hope This Helps…
Thanks for writing, PJ. I hope you’ll write again if you have any more questions.
— Matthew Neal