Do You Stumble over Imperfection?
WHEN someone says or does something that you do not approve—something that affects you personally—do you become offended? If that person claims to be a Christian, do you perhaps take even greater offense than otherwise because you expected better things from him? There are many who find themselves in this position, stumbling over the imperfections of others. They may even find themselves drawing back from the service of God. Is their reaction right?
They may feel that a Christian should have known better than to act as that person did. They may expect perfection from him because Jesus told us to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48) But Jesus was not speaking of perfection as to mental and physical capacities, nor was he referring to perfection as to sinlessness. On this earth only Adam and Christ had that kind of perfection. As shown by the preceding verses, Jesus meant that we must be faithful, of a sound and complete heart, not easily offended, but delighting in mercy, even as Jehovah does.
The Scriptures show that no follower of Christ is free from imperfections. For example, Peter asked: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him?” Evidently Christians were sinning against one another then or Peter would not have asked that question. In replying, “Up to seventy-seven times,” Jesus also showed that our brothers may sin against us frequently, and we against them. (Matt. 18:21, 22) In fact, Jesus’ brother James states emphatically: “We all stumble many times. If anyone does not stumble in word, this one is a perfect man, able to bridle also his whole body.” (Jas. 3:2) Where among the ranks of Christians since the death of Christ has such a perfect man been found? Are you perfect? Certainly not. Neither is your brother.
If you have been offended, very likely what you are stumbling at is not some great moral offense, for if that were the case, the Christian congregation would have dealt with the offender in a disciplinary way. No, your stumbling block is probably some personal, petty action that reflected the thinking of an imperfect individual. It was not Jehovah or Christ who moved the other person to do or say what offended you. But you may be curtailing your relationship with God and Christ because they did not send fire down out of heaven and discipline the offender. You may, even without being aware of it, feel that you cannot associate with Jehovah’s organization if this sort of imperfection is going to be tolerated by God. But is this reasonable?
What if the guardian angels of Jehovah’s earthly people said: ‘Jehovah, we cannot associate with these imperfect men and women that you are using on earth to do your will. Either they go or we do’? No, you cannot picture the angels taking that position, but is that not the position you are taking if you stumble over your brother’s imperfection?
Really, it is to the advantage of all of us that Jehovah is long-suffering with his people. If he has long tolerated the world that opposes him, should he be less merciful to the imperfect men and women who are earnestly trying to do his will? Never forget the patience and mercy that God has shown you in forgiving your debt of sin. It is not just on your part to withhold forgiveness to your brother for a much smaller debt, is it?—Matt. 18:23-35.
Rather than stumble over imperfection, copy the wise course of Jehovah’s faithful servants in earlier times. When Jesus’ disciples abandoned him, he was not stumbled. John says that he “loved them to the end.” (John 13:1) When John and James permitted their mother to seek a favored place for them in the Kingdom, the other apostles were indignant, but they did not stumble over this imperfection. They did not threaten to leave Jesus or slow down in their service to God. When Paul refused to take Mark along on a tour and a burst of anger flared up between Paul and Barnabas, they did not stumble over each other’s lack of self-control. While taking different assignments, they all continued in Jehovah’s service. (Acts 15:36-40) Surely it would be wrong to maintain that Jesus, the apostles, Barnabas and Mark should have stopped serving God because of their brothers’ imperfection or disagreeable actions. When confronted with similar situations, follow their example.
This is not to say that a Christian has the right to offend you or anyone else. He does not, nor does he imagine so. He is aware that Jesus told his disciples: “See to it that you men do not despise one of these little ones.” (Matt. 18:10) Very likely your brother tries to follow Paul’s counsel: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” (Rom. 14:21) He will not intentionally stumble you. He knows that he must strive to abound in love and discernment, that he “may be flawless and not be stumbling others up to the day of Christ.” (Phil. 1:9, 10) That is the perfect standard at which he aims—and which he never quite makes as long as he is in the imperfect flesh, any more than you do. If you make allowances for yourself, why not make them for him?
Actually your brother’s imperfection is a test of your love and devotion to Jehovah God and his Son. Are you out to vindicate Jehovah’s name and righteousness or your own? If you sincerely want to uphold God’s name and Word you will not view your brother’s faults as a license for you to hold back from paying your vows to God. Your life depends on your continuing to associate with Jehovah’s people and to have a part in the final witness. (Heb. 10:25; Matt. 24:14) No less does deliverance into God’s new world depend on your continuing to love Jehovah with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. This love “does not keep account of the injury.” (1 Cor. 13:5) Love will keep you from stumbling over imperfection. “Above all things,” then, “have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”—1 Pet. 4:8.