By Mike Willis
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that be were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! (Matt. 18:6-7)
A church is privileged to have newborn Christians. They are babes in Christ (1 Pet. 2:2) who are weak and need to grow spiritually (Eph. 4:14). Watching them grow is encouraging to other Christians (1 Tim. 4:12). Having baptized my son Corey last year, perhaps I am more conscious of the spiritual growth of young Christians.
We have a burden of responsibility toward these young Christians to so conduct ourselves that we not be an occasion of stumbling to their soul. We should do nothing to discourage them or otherwise hamper their spiritual growth. We certainly should not place a stone of stumbling in their paths.
Little Ones Can Stumble
The word “offend” (Greek: skandalizo) means “to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall; to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey; to cause to fall away” (Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, p. 576). The warning that we should not “offend” emphasizes the possibility of a Christian’s falling from grace (Gal. 5:4). There is a world of temptation into which many Christians fall. Their fall into sin brings them into condemnation.
The Calvinist doctrine of “once in grace, always in grace” is false. There would be no reason to warn of the danger of becoming an occasion of someone stumbling were stumbling into sin not possible.
Responsibility for Sin
The fact that one can become an occasion for another person falling into sin does not excuse that person from the guilt of his sin. Should I become an occasion for another person stumbling, he still would be accountable for his sin. Nevertheless, I would be held accountable for my sin – my sin of causing him to stumble.
Things Which Cause People to Stumble
As we witness the growth and sometimes the apostasy of little ones who have recently been baptized into Christ, we are able to identify some of the stumbling blocks which threaten their souls. Here are some of them:
1. Evil companions. The wicked are not content to be involved in sin; they must pull someone down with them. “For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some one to fall” (Prov. 4:16; cf. 1:10ff). Unfortunately, some of the wicked who induce young Christians to commit sin have been baptized and attend the services regularly. Sometimes the social activities of “Christians” are the very occasions for worldly “Christians” to cause younger Christians to stumble.
I have witnessed this in different local congregations. A group of worldly “Christians” begin sitting on the back seat, obviously uninterested in the worship and service of God. A new convert begins to sit with them and learns their ways. When he goes with them to recreational outings, he learns to swear, smoke, and any other things in which they are involved. These worldly “Christians” will be held responsible for leading these newborn Christians into sin. Jesus said, “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” than to be an occasion of causing these little ones to stumble.
2. Indifferent church members (Rev. 3:14-15). Another cause of young people falling away from the Lord is indifferent church members. Have you noticed what becomes of the children of indifferent parents? The parents go through the motions of coming to church (at least once a week). They do not prepare for their Bible classes, half attend gospel meetings, seek every excuse imaginable for missing, etc. Sometimes their children obey the gospel. Soon they understand the lack of commitment of their parents and begin walking in their footsteps. When they turn 18 and are allowed to make their own decisions, they walk away from the church never to return. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” than that an indifferent church member become the occasion of someone falling away from the Lord.
3. Church squabbles. Fussing and fighting among the members causes weak and newborn souls to fall away from their Lord. Paul warned, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15). When church fights occur, the members scatter. Some will stay where they are; some will attend another nearby congregation. Unfortunately, some members will quit altogether. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” than for a person to participate in a church squabble and become the cause of a young Christian falling away from his Lord.
4. False doctrine. Young Christians are especially vulnerable to false doctrine. Unlearned in the word of God, they are tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of false doctrine (Eph. 4:15). When a false teacher assaults a church, the young members are his prey. We have witnessed a number of young preachers fall into the grace-unity apostasy. We see the vulnerability of young members to the loose teachings on divorce and remarriage. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” than a man be the bearer of false doctrine which causes a Christian to stumble into sin.
5. Hypocrites in the church. Anyone who has visited members who have fallen away has heard them explain their absence by pointing to the hypocrites in the church. Unfortunately there are some hypocrites in the church – men who serve at the Lord’s table but curse like a sailor, elders who are involved with women other than their wives, preachers who do not pay their bills and lie about it. Young Christians who witness this hypocrisy sometimes quit coming to worship. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” than to be a hypocrite who causes a Christian to stumble into sin.
6. Weak Christians. None of us is perfect. We all fall into sin from time to time. Peter was just such a man. When he fell into sin at Antioch, other Jews (including Barnabas) followed his example (Gal. 2:11-14). He was an occasion for many stumbling at Antioch. A private confession of sin would not correct that situation. A public rebuke of the sin and a public correction were necessary that the truth of the gospel could be preserved (Gal. 2:5).
Becoming the occasion of someone else sinning is a serious offence. Therefore, Jesus said, “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8). Jesus was emphasizing the necessity of giving up anything which might cause us to be lost because we become the occasion of someone else stumbling into sin.
Occasionally our weaknesses cause others to fall into sin. When we recognize that is the case, we need to correct the sin in order that we can be forgiven. However, we need then to become concerned about the impact of that sin on others, making correction to lead them to repentance as well.
There are some Christians who are constantly kicking against the boundaries of God’s word, seeing just how close to sin they can come without actually committing it. They want to go mixed swimming, social drink, attend dances, and other things which they place in a “gray” area. What impact will they have on the young Christian? He will not stop where they stop. He will step further across the boundary, doing things which even they disapprove. Then, he wilHI defend his conduct on the grounds of what he sees in their lives. Would you want to enter judgment bearing the responsibility of leading these newborn Christians into sin by your participation in, at the best, questionable activities? “Woe unto the world because of offences! For it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (Matt. 18:7)
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 9, pp. 258, 278
May 4, 1989