Posts Tagged ‘causing someone to stumble’

Series: Be at peace with one another!

We are continuing on in our series from Mark 9:33-50 on relationships among disciples in the church, and Jesus’ instruction to us to “be at peace with one another” in v. 50.

First, we learned that we are not to seek out status, you know, arguing over who is the greatest, or competing with each other in various subtle ways. Rather we are to lower ourselves to serve. We are to give up status to help others.

Last week we learned that we are not to reject other Christians who are doing work for the kingdom, just because they are from another group or just because they are different than us. Jesus taught us that if they are not against us, we are to see them as for us. We are on the same team.

Today we learn about how to treat “little ones” in our community. If in our previous two lessons there was something the disciples did or said that Jesus responds to as a way of teaching them something important about relationships, our lesson today has no such prompting. Jesus simply takes the initiative here to give us –

A word about causing “little ones” to stumble

(In the other two examples Jesus concludes by giving a “whoever” saying. Here we only have a “whoever” saying.)

v. 42 – “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

This short verse raises three very specific questions. And the first is who are these “little ones”? The full phrase is, “one of these little ones” and Jesus uses this several times. [Although the “these” does not always have an antecedent (Luke 17:2)]. In line with its use in Zechariah 13:7, where “little ones” refers to God’s people, Jesus uses this as a way of talking about his disciples. (And Jesus alludes to this verse in Mark 14:27, making the 12 the “little ones.”)

Jesus calls his disciples children in other places (Mark 10:24, Matthew 11:25) and this is another, similar way a referring to them.

As we see in our verse, these “little ones” are people “who believe in” Jesus. Again, he is talking about disciples. [More: The phrase “who believe in me” points toward disciples, not simply children. In Matthew 10:42 they are called disciples. Matthew 18 points to a disciple who has joined the community and made commitments of accountability. It is a church discipline context.]

But this phrase also seems to focus on a certain subset of disciples – those who are new, weak, immature or unlearned, and thus vulnerable. That’s why there’s such a concern about their well-being in our verse, that they not stumble. (The 12 are seen in this light as they scatter when Jesus is arrested – Mark 14:27/ Zechariah 13:7)

This same special concern is found in Matthew 18:10 where Jesus tells the apostles, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” God has a special concern for them.

In our Scripture today, the phrase most likely refers to the one who gives the 12 a cup of water to drink. Jesus had just talked about this person in v. 41. This person is “little” because he only gives assistance to those who are out proclaiming the Kingdom, as opposed to being an apostle, following Jesus around, knowing more or being more gifted.

The second question is what does it mean to stumble? Some translations today render it as “cause to sin.” But the word does literally mean “to cause to stumble.” It can also be translated to cause someone’s downfall or to trip someone up so that they fall.

The picture is of someone who is walking along and then trips over an obstacle and falls. It is seen metaphorically as applying to the Christian life. You are walking with Jesus on the path, but something trips you up and fall – and stop following Jesus. [Perhaps this is rooted in the literal command about stumbling blocks in Leviticus 19:14; Deuteronomy 27:18.]

The end result is that the person falls into sin or gives up their faith in Jesus. In Matthew 18, where Jesus talks about this, it is connected to a little one “going astray” or “perishing.”

The third question is how do you cause someone to stumble? Let’s take the hypothetical situation that I think Jesus is working with – someone offers an Apostle a glass of water because they want to support their ministry of preaching and healing.

But the apostle, because he thinks he is so important, and this person so insignificant, communicates condescension and contempt through his words and actions and makes the person feel inadequate, discouraged and shamed. The little one is crushed. He thinks, “One of the 12 thinks I’m not good enough to be a disciple of Jesus. The best I can do isn’t good enough.” And so the little one gives up following Jesus. The apostle has caused this little one to stumble.

You can see the core issue here, a disregard for the well-being of those who are not as mature or knowledgeable or gifted, or experienced as you are. You aren’t concerned with how your words and actions affect them. And this comes from a sense that you are better than these little ones.

This is why Jesus tells the 12 in Matthew 18, “do not despise one of these little ones.” Don’t look down on them, don’t treat them like they are worthless or expendable. [Not only are we not to cause them to stumble, when they do go astray for whatever reason, we are to go after them Matthew 18:10-14.]

Just because you are an apostle, or whoever, does not mean that you are more important than one of these little ones.

The last part of our verse shows us that this is really serious! This is a stern warning to the disciples and to everyone, to be careful how they treat little ones. If you cause one of these little ones to stumble, Jesus is saying, “. . . it would be better for you if a great millstone were put around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

A millstone is a rock that was used to grind grain, so that you can make bread. There were two of them together and they grind against each other. There was the hand-held kind and then there was the much larger kind that required a donkey harnessed to it to make it work. Here, Jesus is referring to this second kind. One of these stones could easily weigh several thousand pounds. It would be similar to having “cement shoes” as we say today. You would go straight to the bottom of the sea. Not a pretty way to die.

But the point here is that this would be better than the judgment you will receive, if you cause a little one to stumble. This is how important “little ones” are to God.

Now let’s shift the focus to us and how this applies to us –

Who are “little ones” among us?

It certainly applies to new Christians who have just begun walking with Jesus. Also immature Christians, who are older in years, but haven’t grown much. Also to unlearned Christians, who still don’t know much about the Bible and the Christian life. And it applies to weak Christians. We can all fit under this category because we all have specific weaknesses and under the right pressure might stumble.

But let’s also stretch this out a bit to cover Christians with mental health issues, who because of this are more fragile and thus vulnerable. And perhaps we can also include here Christians with developmental disabilities, whose faith is sometimes more elementary, and children with childhood faith, who are still coming to an adult faith.

This category really covers everyone whose faith is more weak and thus more susceptible to being tripped up.

How can we cause little ones to stumble?

This can happen in many ways, here are just two examples.

1) Use of alcohol. You feel comfortable drinking wine in moderation. You know that people drank wine in the Bible and that the line the Bible draws is drunkenness.

But there’s a new Christian in your church who has struggled with alcohol addiction. And you have him over for dinner. And even though you have heard of his struggle, you serve him wine to drink. Why not, you are free to drink it? And God can help anyone overcome temptation.

Well, he sees you drinking and even though he knows it is very dangerous for him to drink, he thinks, “Well you are a mature Christian who knows the bible well so it’s probably all right.” And so he partakes.

And sure enough his resolve is weakened by this and he begins once again a pattern of alcohol abuse. For you drinking wine is not an issue of sin. But for this person drinking any alcohol leads to sin. Instead of thinking of his need, his weakness, instead you are focused on your freedom and strength in this area. But you have caused him to stumble into sin. What is the obstacle that tripped him up? You, your words and actions.

2) Church snobbery. A new believer comes to church and is eager to learn. She is full of questions and is curious about a lot. Well, you are the Sunday School teacher and are get annoyed after a while. She never seems to shut up. And she don’t understand the most basic things. You are frustrated because you can’t get through your lesson plan.

One day you complain to a friend at church, “Did you hear that she asked today? She wondered where they put the 10 commandments on Noah’s ark! Can you believe it? She doesn’t know the differenced between Noah’s ark and the ark of the covenant! She’s so ignorant she should just keep her mouth shut. How embarrassing!”

Well the woman overheard this and she was crushed. She looked up to you as the teacher and thought you liked her curiosity as a new believer. She thought Sunday school was where you come to learn about the Bible. But she clearly heard your contempt and condescension. She was so upset that she never came back to church. And when others later tried to get her to return she said that she would never go to a place that would say something like that. She stopped following Jesus. What is the impediment that tripped her up? You, your words and your actions.

Again, this kind of thing can happen in many different ways. Anytime the weak and vulnerable are looked down on, instead of being helped there is an environment where this kind of thing can happen.

Let’s listen now to –

Jesus’ word to us

“Be at peace with one another – Mark 9:50. If you are strong, mature or a leader, don’t see this as an opportunity to look down on little ones and act in ways that have no regard for their well-being; that cause them to stumble. See it as an invitation to care for the weak, the fragile and the vulnerable. If you are strong, if you are gifted, if you are knowledgeable use these things to help the weak to grow and be strong. This is why God has given you these things.

An important part of what Jesus is teaching us in this verse is that every disciple of his is important. The 12 are important, but so is the one with the cup of water. Leaders are important, but so are those who are brand new Christians. Those who have much knowledge are important, but so are those who barely know anything yet. Those who are gifted are important, but so are those who don’t have flashy gifts.

All disciples of Jesus are important and we all need to live in peace with one another acting in each other’s best interests. We need to love and care for one another.

William Higgins

Read Full Post »