“Keep from Becoming Causes for Stumbling”
THE world’s largest circus packed out Madison Square Garden in New York city. Now came the evening’s most breath-taking act. Toward one side two bicycle riders are balancing themselves on a cable that stretches across the Garden high above the crowd. A pole reaches from one rider to the other, resting on their shoulders, and a chair rests on the pole, balanced on its rungs. A man steps out, sits upon the chair balanced on the pole and then a girl climbs upon his shoulders. The two bicycle riders now pedal out to the center of the Garden as several score men with a tightly stretched net move to keep directly under them. As they reach the center the man seated on the chair rises to stand on it and the girl raises herself to stand on his shoulders and then she waves to the crowd below, which keeps holding its breath, for the act is not yet over. Now the girl sits down on the man’s shoulders, the man down on his chair, and the riders pedal back to the side, where one by one they leave the perilous cable and where chair, pole and bicycles are lifted off amid the thunderous applause of the crowd.
That breath-taking and spine-tingling performance required perfect balance and co-ordination on the part of all four performers. But suppose someone had accidentally struck the cable, causing one or the other to stumble, what would have happened to all four? True, there was a net below, but who knows how many injuries would have been sustained if the bicycles, chair, pole and all four performers had hurtled into the net at once? Would any circus hand carelessly have caused any stumbling? Surely not!
Today we are living in critical times hard to deal with. Keeping our spiritual balance might well be likened to what was required of those circus performers. With Satan having great rage because he knows his time is short, he is doing all he can to cause us to stumble, to become offended, to fall into sin and lose out on salvation. If ever the advice to “keep working out your own salvation with fear and trembling” was important, it is now. Since this is so, Christians must be oh so very careful, lest they serve the Devil’s purpose by causing others to stumble, and so causing, not merely some physical injuries, but spiritual ones that could result in everlasting death.—Phil. 2:12.
It is so easy to stumble others. It can be done by what we say or how we say it, by what we do or how we do it, and it can even be done by our failing to speak when we should or failing to act when we should.
None of us may act independently, oblivious to the interests of our brothers or neighbors. We may not take the attitude of the murderer Cain, who hypocritically asked: “Am I my brother’s guardian?” so betraying how hard he had let his heart become, that he had slain his brother with deliberate malice, and that he had not repented of his foul deed. Certainly that is the very opposite of the spirit that we as Christians want to have.—Gen. 4:9.
Yet, according to Jesus, if we are careless and cause others to stumble, we can expect the same fate as Cain: “The Son of man will send forth his angels, and they will collect out from his kingdom all things that cause stumbling and persons who are doing lawlessness, and they will pitch them into the fiery furnace. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.” “But whoever stumbles one of these little ones who put faith in me, it is more beneficial for him to have hung around his neck a millstone . . . and to be sunk in the wide, open sea.” It is indeed a sobering thought that those causing stumbling will be classed with those doing lawlessness and that it would have been better for them first to have perished in the sea.—Matt. 13:41, 42; 18:6.
True, were all Christians fully mature, there would be no danger of stumbling another: “The inclination that is well supported you will safeguard in continuous peace.” “Abundant peace belongs to those loving your law, and for them there is no stumbling block.” But since not all Christians are strong in faith and mature, we must exercise care. The issue really is self-interest versus another’s spiritual interests, or, which is more important, luxuries for ourselves or another’s necessities? “All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful; but not all things build up. Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.”—Isa. 26:3; Ps. 119:165; 1 Cor. 10:23, 24.
In fact, Christians must exercise care lest they stumble “people on the outside.” “Keep from becoming causes for stumbling to Jews as well as Greeks and to the congregation of God, even as I am pleasing all people in all things, not seeking my own advantage but that of the many, in order that they might get saved.”—1 Tim. 3:7; 1 Cor. 10:32, 33.
BY THOUGHTLESS USE OF THE TONGUE
One of the commonest ways in which one might become a cause for stumbling is by the thoughtless use of that “unruly injurious thing,” his tongue. “If any man seems to himself to be a formal worshiper and yet does not bridle his tongue, but goes on deceiving his own heart, this man’s form of worship is futile.” Why? Because he might stumble others by using vulgar, obscene or profane language or by saying things that he ought not. Wisely therefore we are counseled: “Let nothing go forth unrestrained from your mouth.”—Jas. 3:8; 1:26; 1 Sam. 2:3.
Do you freely criticize? True, your remarks may be accurate, but is it really your prerogative to express criticism and do you do so in a kind manner and at the right time? Are you destructive, causing stumbling, or constructive, truly helpful and encouraging as well as enlightening?
Are you prone to gossip? Gossip is small talk and it might be argued that only immature ones would be stumbled by it; but it is the very immature ones that you must consider. Those in Paul’s day who stumbled on account of meat certainly were immature, yet he said that he would never eat meat again if it caused his brother to stumble. So watch even your light, small talk.—1 Cor. 8:13.
Do you betray confidences? To the extent that others consider you mature, experienced, wise, dependable, to that extent they will be likely to take you into their confidence. To betray it reflects unreliability on your part and might easily stumble those looking to you for help.
Do you like to speculate regarding the meaning of certain scriptures or fulfillment of prophecies? To express private, personal opinions that seem plausible to you but for which you have little or no basis, can easily confuse the immature, causing them to stumble. Besides, it tends to draw undue attention to yourself, and so might even cause you to stumble. Instead of seeking glory for yourself, honor God and look to his organization for instruction.
BY THOUGHTLESS CONDUCT
Especially as regards their personal conduct do dedicated Christians need to remember that not all things that are lawful build up. Today we may not have the problem of stumbling others by eating certain kinds of flesh, but let it be noted that Paul added, “or do anything over which your brother stumbles.”—Rom. 14:21.
In certain states of the United States and in certain lands the use of alcoholic liquor is taboo. For a Christian to indulge in liquor in such places may easily stumble a person of good will. Even where it is lawful, frequenting a bar or tavern may have the same harmful effect. Or at a social gathering one may stop just short of drunkenness but still have imbibed enough to create an unfavorable impression. How much better to deny oneself a little and so leave a good impression on others!
You might attend certain moving picture shows or stage plays of questionable moral value and feel that they would not hurt you, but it might hurt others to see you going to such, wondering how you would allow yourself the liberty to do so. Or you might neglect a congregational meeting because you want to see a certain moving picture. You might reason that doing this just once would not harm you, but you might stumble those upon whom you urge regular attendance at Christian congregational meetings and the importance of them.
Then again, you might have an abundance of this world’s goods and because of this manifest poor and careless stewardship of what is yours. True, it belongs to you, but might not your unwise course stumble weaker ones who want to emulate you or who might wonder about the wisdom of your course?
Some, before they became dedicated servants of Jehovah, may have liked to hunt and fish for sport. Still enjoying the sport, they might indulge and salve their conscience because they eat what they catch, even though it might cost them several times as much as it would to buy it. This might easily stumble some who never did indulge in such sports. However, no objection can be raised against those who hunt and fish for the sake of food or to make a living.
Has prosperity caused you to develop a love for money? If so, then you will have to watch that you do not put your gaining of more wealth ahead of the interests of others, showing yourself more concerned with profits than with rendering good service and giving good value.
What about the proprieties between the sexes? One might feel self-confident and allow himself certain liberties or indiscretions, such as flirting with those who are married or engaged to marry. He may never get deeply involved emotionally, but he is playing at something to which he has no right, and he may fall into sin or cause others to stumble. So let all call to mind the advice: “Keep making straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather that it may be healed. Pursue peace with all people, . . . carefully watching that no one may be deprived of the undeserved kindness of God; that no poisonous root may spring up and cause trouble and many be defiled by it.”—Heb. 12:13-15.
BY WHAT WE FAIL TO SAY AND DO
There are times when a Christian might stumble others by failing to speak when he should. For example, when encouragement is needed, failure to manifest love by speaking up in an upbuilding way may cause disappointment and a feeling of failure.
Likewise, when a brother is sick or otherwise in need, do we come to his aid? Failure to do so may stumble him if he is immature. Do we neglect opportunities to be helpful in getting others to meetings or in the field ministry? Do we let the weather keep us from engaging in pure worship, that is, unnecessarily? Failure along any of these lines might well stumble the weak.
Do we have reason to think that we have offended another? Then we may not ignore it, arguing that Matthew 18:15, 16 requires him to come to us with his grievance. No, if he is immature, he might not feel equal to obeying that command and so we must go to him in obedience to the command at Matthew 5:23, 24: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, . . . first make your peace with your brother, and then . . . offer up your gift.” Failure to obey this command may well cause your brother to stumble.
Of course, in all these respects the servants in a congregation and particularly the overseers have added responsibilities to keep from becoming causes for stumbling. By reason of their greater knowledge, maturity and experience more is required of them, both by God and by their brothers, and also by reason of their position they can more easily stumble others. At the same time they must exercise oversight lest others cause stumbling. They must feel like the apostle Paul: “Who is stumbled, and I am not incensed?” They especially must keep an “eye on those who create divisions and causes for stumbling,” lest harm come to the sheep entrusted to their care.—2 Cor. 11:29; Rom. 16:17.
What will help us to keep from being stumbled and from becoming causes for stumbling? Love. Love will make us long-suffering and obliging. It will keep us from being jealous, from bragging, from getting puffed up, from behaving indecently, from looking only to our own interests and from becoming provoked. It will help us to bear, believe, hope and endure all things. It never fails.—1 Cor. 13:4-8.
So in these perilous times let love keep all dedicated Christians from becoming causes for stumbling so that none cause another to lose out on eternal salvation, at the same time remembering that the mature Christian is not easily stumbled by what others say and do or fail to say and do.