Have You Stumbled at What Others Have Done?
HE HAD been a zealous Christian minister for many years. Also he had seen to it that his children were reared “in the discipline and authoritative advice of Jehovah.” Then one day he quit associating with his fellow Christians and wrote to the Watch Tower Society giving his reasons. What had caused him to stumble? He felt he had been wronged by certain ones in his congregation.—Eph. 6:4.
Then again, there was a ministerial assistant in a large congregation who suddenly lost all interest in Jehovah’s work and severed his connections with Jehovah’s people. He stumbled at the course of his own father, who had been his overseer, the father being disfellowshiped because of adultery.
Among those stumbling and losing all interest in Jehovah’s work was also an elderly couple. Why? Because a business transaction with a fellow Christian seemed to them to be “sharp.”
And too, there was a young Christian woman who had dedicated her life to Jehovah God but who now hesitated to get baptized. What caused her to be in danger of stumbling? The unwise conduct of a servant in her congregation.
What do these experiences and others that might be given have in common? They all show persons making the mistake of letting the more or less unwise or wrong course of another stumble them to the point of losing out on the hope for everlasting life.
True, we all have feelings. When someone wrongs us or keenly disappoints us, it is but human to feel hurt, even as we feel pain when we stub our toe or hit a finger with a hammer. But is it wise to lose our temper and kick or smash something just because our feelings have been hurt? So we may well ask, Is it wise to let ourselves be stumbled out of the way of life just because of the unwise or wrong course of others, even though it brought us keen disappointment or suffering?
Rather than stumble out of God’s truth due to a deep hurt, it would be better to remind ourselves that none of God’s earthly servants today are perfect. Because of imperfection they will at times act ill-advisedly. (Gen. 8:21) Pressuring them to act in such ways are the world and its ruler, Satan the Devil. In view of these facts, should we not view our Christian brothers realistically and with mercy?—John 12:31; 1 John 2:15-17.
That the mistakes and sins of fellow servants of God are no valid grounds for being stumbled out of God’s service the Scriptures make clear. The Israelites during their wilderness journey complained, rebelled and at times even engaged in false worship. But would their deflections have been a valid reason for any Israelite to stumble and sever his association with Jehovah’s people? Not if he wanted eventually to reach the “land flowing with milk and honey.”—Ex. 3:8.
Even King David, whom Jehovah termed “a man agreeable to his heart,” made serious mistakes. His grossest one was in regard to the wife of Uriah, for which God severely punished him. But would any or all of these shortcomings on the part of King David have justified any Israelite’s becoming stumbled and separating himself from Jehovah’s nation? Would God hear his prayers if he did? Could he offer sacrifices for his sins apart from the Levitical priesthood?
And then there are the examples of Jesus’ apostles and other disciples. The ten apostles were deeply hurt when they learned that James and John, together with their mother, had asked Jesus for the chief seats in his kingdom. But were they stumbled? Did they bear against James and John a grudge and quit associating with Jesus? Or did Jesus himself become stumbled and quit serving his heavenly Father because one of his apostles became a traitor, another denied him three times and all of them fled at the time of his arrest? Their course did not spoil his relationship with God.—Matt. 20:20-28; 26:20-75.
The inspired Record also tells us that Paul and Barnabas had a serious disagreement over taking John Mark along with them, and because of this they came to the parting of their ways. But did either of them quit serving God on account of it? By no means! Rather, we read that years later the apostle Paul asked that John Mark come to him because of his usefulness.—Acts 15:36-41; 2 Tim. 4:11.
O yes, there were some of Jesus’ disciples that did stumble. When he told them about their needing to eat his flesh and drink his blood, they exclaimed: “This speech is shocking; who can listen to it?” and as a result they no longer walked with Jesus. But how unwise their course! As Peter said on that occasion, there was no one else to whom to go: “Lord, whom shall we go away to? You have sayings of everlasting life.”—John 6:53-69.
And so it is today. Jehovah God and Jesus Christ make allowances for the imperfections of their human servants and representatives. God is using ‘Christ’s brothers,’ also termed collectively “the faithful and discreet slave,” to do His work in the earth. The ones comprising this group are imperfect, make mistakes, and yet are being used and blessed by God. And Jesus said that whatever was done to them he counted as done to him, and that in spite of their imperfections.—Matt. 24:45-47; 25:31-46.
NO GROUNDS FOR STUMBLING
When we begin to reason on the subject we find that to let oneself be stumbled out of God’s service by what others do is unwise, unjust and, above all, it is unloving. The Word of God tells us that joy is the lot of God’s servants. (Isa. 65:14) Why let what someone else has done rob you of your joy? Well does God’s Word counsel us: “Do not hurry yourself in your spirit to become offended, for the taking of offense is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones.” If it is unwise to let another rob you of your joy of serving Jehovah, and it is, then it is downright folly to let another rob you of your prospects of everlasting life in God’s new order of things. Is not allowing oneself to be stumbled like that tantamount to committing suicide?—Eccl. 7:9.
To take such a course is also unjust. How so? In that one is taking a course of action contrary to Jesus’ instruction. He commanded that we first go to the one who has offended us personally, all alone, in an effort to straighten out matters. If that fails, he commanded that we take one or two more along with us. And if that fails, he commanded that it become a congregation matter. And if that fails? Then the offender, not the one who was wronged, was to be separated from the congregation.—Matt. 18:15-17.
When you have stumbled at the course of another you proclaim that you are not forgiving that one. But can you afford not to forgive? Jesus said that God would judge us with the same severity that we judge others, that he would not forgive us if we did not forgive those who transgressed against us. And we are to forgive, not only once or twice, but as Jesus told Peter, “Up to seventy-seven times.”—Matt. 6:14, 15; 18:21-35.
Not only that, but for you to become stumbled and refuse to forgive another would be presumption on your part. How so? In that you presume to take the role of God in judging your brother. As Joseph, the son of the patriarch Jacob, noted when his brothers feared what his course would be upon the death of their father: “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God?” Yes, though they had sold him as a slave and he had suffered many years as such, he did not hold it against them. He did not harbor a spirit of revenge but freely forgave them.—Gen. 50:19-21.
Nor is that all. If you withdraw from association with Jehovah’s people because of what one or several have done, are you not showing a lack of love for all the rest? What you are, in effect, saying to them is that all their loving association is not worth as much as your personal feelings. But is that really so? More than that, if you let what another does stumble you out of Jehovah’s service, where is your love of neighbor? Where is your love for those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, those sighing and crying for all the disgusting things they see taking place, particularly in Christendom? The only way you can show love to them is by persevering in the Christian ministry regardless of what another may have done.
Moreover, when you stumble at what others do you also betray a lack of love for Jehovah God. How so? In that he has permitted it. Jehovah God is long-suffering. He permits many things that he does not approve of as a test upon his servants. Look what he permitted Job and His own Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer. However, He has promised that we will not be asked to endure more than we can. (1 Cor. 10:13) If you let anything that He has permitted stumble you out of his service you are in effect finding fault with Jehovah God and betraying a lack of love for him. What it amounts to is that you dictate the terms under which you are willing to serve God. Does that make sense? Can you dictate to him? Can you set terms for him to meet? Does he need you, or do you need him? What does the psalmist say? “Abundant peace belongs to those loving your law, and for them there is no stumbling block.”—Ps. 119:165.
WHY HAVE YOU STUMBLED?
If you have been stumbled it would be well for you to ask yourself, Why have I been stumbled? Superficially you may feel that it is because your sense of justice has been outraged, or you have been wronged or have been disappointed in another. But God’s Word makes provision for serious transgressors to be dealt with and for personal wrongs to be righted. Could it be that you tend to be governed by emotion rather than by reason? Emotion often leans to self-interest. Or could it be that you tend to be introverted and so are more likely to take too seriously what others say and do?
Remember, the human heart is treacherous and desperate. (Jer. 17:9) Could it be that unconsciously you were seeking an excuse to quit? So when one has stumbled at what another has said or done one may well ask oneself: What was the real reason for my having stumbled? Is the wrong or grievance so great, or is there some hidden motive or reason in back of my being stumbled? God knows the answer.
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
The answer of the apostle Peter that there was no other place to go, that Jesus alone had the words of everlasting life, is one to keep in mind when you tend to stumble because of what another says or does. Where else is there to go? Is not the privilege of serving Jehovah God second to none? Is it not the most honorable activity in which anyone could engage, to be an ambassador or an envoy of the heavenly government, in Christ’s place to be asking people to be reconciled to God?—2 Cor. 5:20.
And in what more rewarding work could one engage? It brings honor to Jehovah God and works to the vindication of his name. By means of this work you offer to people the prospect of everlasting life in God’s new system of things after Armageddon. And because his is an unselfish work you reap great happiness from it, because “there is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
Since God’s Word assures us that God is not unmindful of our faithful service and that our work for him is not in vain, you may be assured of a future reward. What? Either that of ruling with Christ for a thousand years or gaining entry into the post-Armageddon “new earth” in which God will wipe out every tear from human eyes and there will be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying nor pain. Why let what someone else did rob you of all this?—1 Cor. 15:58; Heb. 6:10; 2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:4.
Let us face the facts. The dedicated Christian witnesses of Jehovah have a well-earned record or reputation of being outstanding for their honesty, their peace and unity, their joy. They are people who love Jehovah with all their heart, mind, soul and strength and who love their neighbors as themselves. (Mark 12:29-31) Were you to separate from them, could you expect to find another group of people trying harder to live by Bible principles than they do? As already noted, they do not tolerate those practicing wickedness but remove these from their midst.—1 Cor. 5:13; 6:9-11.
WARNING NOT TO STUMBLE OTHERS
However, the fact that the Scriptures do not justify anyone’s being stumbled at what another does is not to be taken to mean that a Christian can be indifferent or view lightly the causing of another to stumble. Not at all! Stumbling another is a most serious offense. Jesus Christ left no doubt about that matter, for on one occasion he said: “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.”—Matt. 18:6.
The apostle Paul also appreciated the seriousness of stumbling a fellow Christian and so repeatedly warned against it. He showed that even if a thing is perfectly right in itself, if it would cause another to stumble we should not do it: “It is well not to eat flesh or to drink wine or do anything over which your brother stumbles.” And Paul not only preached this but he also practiced it: “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble.”—Rom. 14:21; 1 Cor. 8:13.
If we are not even to do things perfectly right in themselves if they would stumble others, how much more careful we should be lest some wrongdoing on our part stumble others! With this in mind Paul prayed for his brothers in Philippi: “That your love may abound yet more and more with accurate knowledge and full discernment; that you may make sure of the more important things, so that you may be flawless and not be stumbling others up to the day of Christ.” In admonishing them in this manner he was but asking them to imitate him, for as he wrote to his brothers at Corinth: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with.”—Phil. 1:9, 10; 2 Cor. 6:3.
The work that Jehovah God is having done at the present time is a cooperative affair. Like the members of the human body, each contributes to the welfare of the rest and each has need of the rest. Can a hand or toe keep on living apart from the body? Can it serve any useful function if severed? Even as each member of the body is concerned for the welfare of the rest, so should Christians be. (1 Cor. 12:12-26) Each Christian should be careful therefore not to stumble a fellow Christian. When having to do with fellow Christians of a different race or nationality, take into consideration their sensitive areas and avoid giving offense. Are you a mature minister? Exercise care that you do not stumble the young and new ones who are likely to expect much from you.
At the same time each one must recognize that no one is perfect, and that when others transgress, whether against Bible principles or against oneself, such is no valid reason for being stumbled. To allow oneself to be stumbled by others is neither wise, nor just, nor loving, even as we have seen. Is the transgression a serious one? Then it is for the congregation to take action. Is it against you personally? Then proceed according to Jesus’ instructions found at Matthew 18:15-17. Is it some other matter? Then dismiss it from your mind, exercising the love that covers a multitude of transgressions.—1 Pet. 4:8.
When you let others stumble you out of God’s service you displease Jehovah God. You make others unhappy as well as yourself. The only one you make happy is Satan the Devil, because he delights in seeing discord and unhappiness among God’s people. Surely that is not what you want!—Prov. 6:16-19.
Yes, let no one rob you of your joy. Hold firmly to your hope of eternal life. Count the many blessings that come to you as an active sharer in preaching this good news of God’s kingdom to all who will hear. See the good in your fellow servants and realize with them the greater happiness that comes from giving!