Love Gives No Cause for Stumbling
“In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.”—2 Cor. 6:3, 4.
1. (a) How has love been defined? (b) Why is it worth cultivating?
LOVE has been defined as an unselfish interest in others based on principles. In our previous discussion we observed how the exercise of Christian love will help us to solve personal problems that may arise; however, love can do much more than that. This unselfish interest in the spiritual welfare of others can, in many instances, even prevent such problems from arising. The proper exercise of it may likewise remove stumbling blocks from the paths of others even before such become a cause of stumbling to them. At the same time love for God and for neighbor will enable us to get a proper view of ourselves and others so that we acknowledge that all of us are born imperfect, subject to human weaknesses, frailties and limitations, and this will help us to avoid being stumbled because of what others may do or say. Certainly, then, love as a fruitage of God’s spirit is a quality well worth cultivating, is it not?
2. (a) How can it be said that the conduct of a Christian is bound to affect others? (b) Why is the matter of stumbling others such a serious one?
2 Above all others, dedicated Christians will recognize the need to bring forth in their daily lives this fruitage of the spirit. They are engaged in a worldwide ministerial work that can influence the lives of many persons, and their desire is that it be an influence for good and that it will result in life-giving benefits to those with whom they come in contact. They want their conduct to have a good effect on others, not to cause them to stumble. The apostle Paul, too, realized the importance of this and wrote: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers.” (2 Cor. 6:3, 4) That this stumbling of others is not something to be taken lightly was well shown by the words of Jesus in Matthew 18, a chapter dedicated to a treatment of the relationship between Christian brothers. He said: “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 such as is turned by an ass and to be sunk in the wide, open sea. Woe to the world due to the stumbling blocks! Of course, the stumbling blocks must of necessity come, but woe to the man through whom the stumbling block comes!”—Matt. 18:6, 7.
DO NOT BE STUMBLED
3. (a) What two aspects of the matter of stumbling will be considered? (b) Exercising what quality will help us to avoid being stumbled by others?
3 Of course, this matter of stumbling has two aspects, that of a Christian’s being stumbled by others and that of being a cause of stumbling to others. So first let us consider just how one can avoid being stumbled oneself by what others may do or say. We stated at the outset that the quality of Christian love will help one in this respect by enabling one to get a proper view of the human limitations of others and of the need to exercise forgiveness to them for any minor offense committed against one. Do we not pray in the Lord’s prayer: “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors”? And after giving this model prayer to his disciples, Jesus continued, saying: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matt. 6:12, 14) So, then, our standing before Jehovah God depends upon our ability to forgive others any minor offenses that they may commit against us. To impress this more deeply into our minds Jesus gave a vivid parable on another occasion, as recorded at Matthew 18:23-35.
4, 5. (a) Explain briefly the parable given by Jesus to show the need of forgiving others. (b) What point was he trying to drive home to his hearers?
4 This parable was prefaced by a question of the apostle Peter, a question that many of our readers may have asked at some time in their lives. He asked: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?” Did Jesus say we should be ready to forgive our offending brother even up to seven times? Listen to his reply: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.” Then he added force to his words by giving the illustration of a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. One slave was brought to the king who owed him 10,000 talents (about $10,000,000), but when the slave begged for patience and mercy he not only relented but canceled the whole debt! Imagine the joy of the slave on being forgiven that tremendous debt. But what did he do? Instead of showing the same spirit of forgiveness that he had experienced on the part of his master, he went and found one of his debtors who owed him 100 denarii (about $17), and, “grabbing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back whatever you owe.’” On hearing of this the king became angry and delivered the unforgiving slave over to justice until he should pay back all that was owing him. Jesus concluded by saying: “In like manner my heavenly Father will also deal with you if you do not forgive each one his brother from your hearts.”
5 Are you thinking, “How could one be so harsh as to insist on the payment of a debt of $17 after having been freed from one of $10,000,000”? Then be sure to get the import of Jesus’ concluding words. For no matter what offense our brothers may commit against us, it is as the $17 compared to the debt that God has forgiven us on the basis of the ransom sacrifice of his Son. So in view of this tremendous debt of sin that He has forgiven us, ought we not to be ready to forgive our brother for any minor offense he may commit against us, yes, even to seventy-seven times, rather than to be stumbled by it? “Happy are the merciful, since they will be shown mercy.”—Matt. 5:7.
BY CUSTOMS, HABITS OR WORDS
6. Should the habits and customs of others be a cause of stumbling for a Christian?
6 Do you sometimes feel offended by some peculiar habit, custom, or idiosyncrasy of one of another race or nationality? In some parts it may be the custom to drink wine with the meals, and a stranger might feel offense at the custom. Or the situation might be reversed and the one who is accustomed to wine with his meals may feel that a family is extreme because they do not allow it. What should be done? So long as it is not an unscriptural custom or habit it is not something that should cause you to be unduly disturbed. Certainly in neither case should one allow himself to take offense and stumble over it. Apparently in the first century similar situations arose. Paul mentioned that some ate anything, others ate only vegetables, some considered one day above another and others considered all days alike. So he counseled them: “Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day observes it to Jehovah. . . . and he who does not eat does not eat to Jehovah . . . For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy.” (Rom. 14:5, 6, 17) So these habits of eating, and so forth, are not the important things but are mere side issues. Do not let such cause you to stumble or to interfere with your preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom.
7. (a) What wrong thinking has led to the stumbling of some persons? (b) Wherein is it wrong?
7 It may be that you feel that an individual is following a wrong course of action, say in matters of entertainment, employment or manner of dress, but here again there is no reason for you to get so upset as to be stumbled by it. If it is really a wrongdoing, then Jehovah through his organization will correct it; so do not run ahead on your own or take matters into your hands, but, rather, wait on Him. In such a situation an immature person might take the attitude, “As long as that person is associating with the congregation I am not going to attend any meetings or share in the ministry.” Certainly such an attitude would be incorrect and would be tantamount to stumbling. Neither would it be a solution to the problem. Because another person pursues a wrong course of action is no reason for one to desert the study of God’s Word and God’s organization. Actually one would be serving Satan’s designs, which are to cause us to slacken off or to stumble and eventually separate ourselves from God’s people.
8. How did Peter show the right attitude in order to avoid being stumbled by what he heard?
8 How much better it would be to follow the apostle Peter’s example! On one occasion in Capernaum, Jesus was preaching to a crowd of people and in his sermon he had likened his fleshly body to life-giving bread and said: “He that feeds on this bread will live forever.” Many who heard it said: “This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?” and because of this many left him and “would no longer walk with him.” How foolish to allow themselves to be stumbled just because they did not get the meaning of what was said! So Jesus asked his apostles: “You do not want to go also, do you?” and Peter answered: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.” (John 6:53-69) So even though he did not fully comprehend Jesus’ words either, Peter did see in him a source of wisdom and life. So, when confronted with a similar situation, “do not show yourself heated up at evildoers” (Prov. 24:19), and do not allow yourself to be stumbled.
9. What scriptures will help a Christian avoid being easily offended?
9 It is true that some persons are very sensitive by nature and may take offense very easily. As it were, ‘someone is always treading on their toes.’ Such ones should do their utmost to put on the new personality, which conforms to the example set by their Master, and produce the fruits of the spirit such as mildness and self-control. In the new personality there is no room for letting oneself be overly sensitive or to get annoyed at trifles or to fly into a tantrum or rage at real or fancied affronts. “Do not heave sighs against one another, brothers . . . take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience the prophets.” (Jas. 5:9, 10) Unless it is a serious type of offense that warrants action on your part as discussed in the previous article, is it not so much better to allow your love for your brother to cover over his transgression, real or fancied? Remember how much God’s love for you as expressed through the ransom sacrifice of his Son has done for you. “The one covering over transgression is seeking love, and he that keeps talking about a matter is separating those familiar with one another.”—Prov. 17:9; 19:11; Eccl. 7:9.
NOT GIVING ANY CAUSE FOR STUMBLING
10, 11. (a) What self-examination will aid one so as to avoid stumbling others? (b) Illustrate how one might be a cause of stumbling.
10 Now let us consider another aspect of this matter of stumbling, that of how we can avoid being the cause of stumbling another person. Paul wrote: “Let each one keep seeking, not his own advantage, but that of the other person.” (1 Cor. 10:24) It is appreciated that the very things already discussed above, which the Christian should strive to overlook or pardon in others, are those that, if practiced by him, may be the cause of stumbling others. So, how can these things be avoided so that one does not become a cause “for stumbling to Jews as well as Greeks and to the congregation of God”?—1 Cor. 10:32.
11 At this point it is good to conduct a careful self-scrutiny. You could ask yourself a number of questions, such as: Do I have any unusual customs or practices that might be a cause of stumbling to my Christian brothers, especially new and immature ones? Do I insist that I have a Christian right to certain classes of secular work, entertainment, hobbies or social pastimes so long as they do not cause me to compromise on Christian principles? Could my conduct, actions or words have been misconstrued by an immature person in such a way as to be a stumbling block to him? If the answer to any of these questions is in the affirmative, then we can be sure that we are not ‘seeking the advantage of the other person’ but, rather, our own and we might become a cause of stumbling to someone. For example, you may feel that you have a perfect right to watch a certain program on television or to see a certain movie that is known to be slightly risqué, and that no one has a right to say anything. But the mature Christian will not think about whether he has a right to do so or not, but, rather, will ask himself if it is upbuilding. Might it hurt the conscience of a spiritually weak person who saw me entering the theater to see such a moving picture? Paul said: “All things are lawful; but not all things are advantageous. All things are lawful; but not all things build up. Therefore, whether you are eating or drinking or doing anything else, do all things for God’s glory. . . . 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 Cor. 10:23, 31-33; Rom. 14:21; 15:1, 2.
12. What should be the attitude of the mature Christian to newer, less mature ones in the congregation?
12 One might tend to argue that ‘only a person immature in the knowledge of God’s Word would be stumbled by what I did’; and that might be very true. However, it is that immature person in whom we are particularly interested. The immature ones are the Christian’s responsibility. He does not want them to stumble, but is interested in their eternal salvation, so he will give them kind and loving consideration. Is that not what Paul had in mind when he wrote his letter to the Corinthians? He wrote: “If I have the gift of prophesying and am acquainted with all the sacred secrets and all knowledge, and if I have all the faith so as to transplant mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” Yes, such a one would be like a “sounding piece of brass or a clashing cymbal,” if he did not show that unselfish interest in others, which is love. (1 Cor. 13:1, 2) In the same letter the apostle likened the Christian congregation to the human body and showed how some members of the body, as the eyes, for example, seem to have more importance than others, but this does not mean that the eye can say to another member, say the little toe, that it is not needed. No, for even the small toes on the feet have their function and contribute to the smooth movement and coordination of the whole body. So do not consider the new, weak or immature member of the congregation as one who does not need or merit the attention and honor given to others. Rather, Paul argued: “Much rather is it the case that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary, and the parts of the body which we think to be less honorable, these we surround with more abundant honor.” (1 Cor. 12:19-25) So the weaker members of the congregation require more attention and consideration than do the more mature ones.
13. (a) In seeking to avoid being a cause of stumbling, why is it so essential to guard the tongue? (b) What is meant by having one’s speech “seasoned with salt”?
13 In this regard, too, how necessary it is to exercise proper control of the tongue! For it can easily become a cause of stumbling. Certainly the tongue should be used to build up by imparting to others an accurate knowledge of God’s recorded purposes. The Bible writer James likened the tongue to the bridle in the horse’s mouth, to the small rudder of a large ship and to the small spark that can start a giant forest fire—a small member but capable of accomplishing much, either for good or for bad. Love for your brothers and neighbors will help you to guard against improper use of this tiny member. Any tendency to gossip, which can easily lead to slandering the good reputation of another, should be avoided. At the same time, we are counseled that “neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming,” should “even be mentioned among you . . . but rather the giving of thanks.” (Eph. 5:3, 4) Instead of remarks that might offend, let your speech be upbuilding, inciting others to love and right works. (Heb. 10:24) “Let your utterance be always with graciousness, seasoned with salt, so as to know how you ought to give an answer to each one.” (Col. 4:6) To be seasoned with salt does not mean to be racy, suggestive, or bordering on the obscene, but, rather, to be tasty and appetizing. Salt is a preservative; so, too, let your words, being backed up and inspired by a loving and unselfish interest in others, be the means of preserving alive into God’s new order those who listen to you.
14. What matters of conduct might lead to stumbling others?
14 The Christian will also do his utmost to see that his conduct is in harmony with his wholesome, upbuilding speech. He will be sure that the finger of suspicion does not point to him as being like the Jewish Pharisees of Jesus’ day of whom it was said: “All the things they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds, for they say but do not perform.” (Matt. 23:3) Excesses in drinking, improper associations and entertainment in questionable places can easily lead to stumbling others. Dancing, in itself, is not condemned in the Bible. Nevertheless, improper, sensual dancing goes beyond the realm of entertainment and would not be indulged in by the Christian who lovingly wants to avoid being a cause of stumbling to others. By limiting his associations to those within Jehovah’s New World society and by seeking entertainment that is both relaxing and upbuilding he can be certain that he is following the course suggested by the apostle Paul in Romans 14:19: “Let us pursue the things making for peace and the things that are upbuilding to one another.”
15. How can overseers, too, avoid stumbling others in the congregation?
15 True Christians today are the busiest people on earth, what with their congregational meetings, their ministry and their personal Bible study and reading, besides the many things that must be done in the everyday routine of life. However, never should they be so busy that they do not have time to extend loving assistance to one who needs it. Especially is this true of those who have greater responsibility in the congregational arrangement, such as the overseer. Ignoring the request for help on the part of a member of the congregation, or brushing aside his problem as insignificant or inconsequential, could be a cause of stumbling to a weaker person. So the overseer is always ready and willing to lend a hearing ear and a helping hand to those who approach him with a personal problem. His assignment is to “shepherd the flock of God in your care, not under compulsion, but willingly; neither for love of dishonest gain, but eagerly.” (1 Pet. 5:2) His love for the sheeplike persons placed under his care will strengthen him to ‘bear the weaknesses of those not strong, and not to be pleasing himself.’—Rom. 15:1, 2.
16. What should be the resolve of each mature Christian today, resulting in what benefits as far as his relationship to God and to men is concerned?
16 Like the apostles of Jesus Christ, true Christians today are “on exhibition” and “have become a theatrical spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men.” (1 Cor. 4:9) So it is essential that all walk circumspectly, watching their conduct, their speech and their daily lives so as not to place a stumbling block before others. Sincere love for Jehovah God and for one’s Christian neighbor will enable one to do this. At the same time such love will prevent one from stumbling because of what others may do or say. Constantly, yes, daily, such Christians are called upon to practice in their ministry this kingly law of love. They want to be able to say as did the apostle: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with; but in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, by the endurance of much.” (2 Cor. 6:3, 4) By their diligent efforts, by regular study of God’s Word and by applying its principles in their lives, by continual association with Jehovah’s New World society of witnesses and by constant prayer they examine themselves in the light of the Scriptural requirements so as to bring themselves more in harmony with the perfect example of their Master and Exemplar, Jesus Christ. At the same time they will continue to aid and encourage one another, saying: “Make this your decision, not to put before a brother a stumbling block or a cause for tripping. For the kingdom of God does not mean eating and drinking, but means righteousness and peace and joy with holy spirit. For he who in this regard slaves for Christ is acceptable to God and has approval with men.”—Rom. 14:13, 17, 18.