Are the Weaker brethren the only ones who can be Stumbled?

by Steven Chan

Oftentimes, we hear someone says that that the brother or sister is stumbled because he or she is the weaker one.  They contend that stronger Christians ought not to be stumbled by the actions or conduct of other brethren. It is therefore said that stronger Christians like preachers and elders cannot claim to be stumbled by the action and conduct of others. What does the Bible say about this?

The Bible says in 1 Cor 10:32: “Give no occasions of stumbling, either to Jews, or to Greeks, or to the church of God: 33 even as I also please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of the many, that they may be saved.”

The apostle Paul reveals to us that the principle of not stumbling our brethren is applicable not only to the “weak” Christians (as in the case of Rom 14:1,2; I Cor 8:7-12) but also to the following classes of people:-

1. Jews

2. Greeks/Gentiles; and

3. the church of God

The principle of acceptable conduct according to Paul is that we are “to please all men in all things – seeking not our own profit but the profit of many that they may be saved”.

So, the guiding principle for Paul is to “do all to the glory of God”  – and not for one’s own glory or for one’s own selfish needs, but always taking into account that which pleases & glorifies God – and that means being considerate towards the sensitivities/ feelings/scruples of others ie. avoid causing “a doubt or hesitation that troubles the conscience”. Paul states it as follows in 1 Cor 10:31: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

From the above scriptures, we understand the following:-

1. It is possible for a Christian to so conduct himself as to “cause offence or stumble” an unbeliever such as a Jew or a Gentile (not just to a weaker Christian) – such that they would not want to become Christians – 2 Pet 2:1: “the way of the truth shall be evil spoken of”;

2. It is also possible for a Christian to so conduct himself so as to “cause offence or stumble” even the church of God as could be the case in I Cor 11:22 (it’s unlikely that the church of God can be regarded as a “weaker” party);

3. This principle of “not offending or not stumbling” another, however, is not applicable to the situation where people are stumbled or offended by the teaching about Jesus Christ (as per I Cor 1:23) or when we preach the truth in love, i.e. the word of God (Gal 4:16; John 17:17) as evidently many of the Jews were stumbled by the preaching of the gospel.

It is applicable to matters which are neither required nor forbidden by God – and are therefore subject to the principle of expediency (I Cor 6:12; 10:23). Expedient towards what? Towards the edification of brethren (I Cor 10:23), towards the salvation of others (I Cor 10:33), or contributes towards peace (Rom 14:19) so that our “good may not be evil spoken of” (Rom 14:16).

It is important to note that what may be deemed to be “good” can be “evil spoken of” if one does it in a way that “offend” or “cause another to stumble”. In other words, the end does not necessarily justify the means.

For example, knowing that some brethren would be stumbled by the eating of food offered to idols, one nonetheless insists on going ahead to organize for children from orphanages to go and eat food offered to idols in the temples. Would the end of feeding the orphans justify the stumbling of brethren as outlined in Rom 14, I Cor 8 & 10?

One example given by Jesus was when the Pharisees claimed that “what their parents would have gained from them had been given to God and so they need not honor their parents” (Matt 15:5-6). The end (i.e. the desire to give to God) should not be done in such a way that effectively contravenes another commandment (i.e. the means).

Another example would be believers being “unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Cor 6:14-18) in a common project – for example, working closely in partnership with an organization that is actively promoting gay marriages or the right to have abortion. This, however, is not to be understood as not having any interaction whatsoever with unbelievers as one would then have needed to go out of this world! (I Cor 5:9-11).

So, let’s consider the question: Can an elder or preacher be “stumbled or offended” by a “non-doctrinal” action of another brother or sister? If the church of God can be “offended or stumbled”, isn’t it reasonable to infer that it is also possible for an elder to be similarly “offended or stumbled” meaning by that he can be “grieved”?

In Heb 13:17, the Bible exhorts us thus: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit to them: for they watch in behalf of your souls, as they that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief: for this were unprofitable for you”.

Elders can be “grieved” by the misbehaviour or misconduct of those who are under their responsibility (I Pet 5:3; Heb 13:17) just as the Holy Spirit can also be “grieved” by the misconduct of Christians (Eph 4:30).

In Rom 14:15, the Bible uses the word “grieved” to describe the brother who is offended or stumbled. “For if because of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer in love. Destroy not with thy meat him for whom Christ died.”

Just as the Holy Spirit is not “weak” just because He can be grieved by the misconduct of Christians, it follows that elders should also not be viewed as “weak’ when they are grieved (i.e. “sighing and groaning”) by the insubordinate conduct of those who have been placed by God under their care and oversight (Heb 13:17), just as any Christian can similarly be “grieved” by the inconsiderate or inexpedient or unloving conduct of another brother/sister (Rom 14:15).

In summary, inasmuch as the church of God can be “offended” or “stumbled” (I Cor 10:32) by the “inconsiderate or inexpedient or unloving” conduct of a member, likewise, an elder can similarly be “grieved” or “offended/stumbled” by the insubordinate conduct of brethren under the charge of the elders. Preachers can similarly be stumbled or “grieved” by the actions of inconsiderate believers.

We therefore ought to walk circumspectly (Eph 5:15) and not be unaware that our action or conduct may cause even strong Christians to stumble or be grieved (grief to elders – I Pet 5:3). Let’s not be inconsiderate or unloving in our action towards all men – and not try to excuse ourselves when we cause others to be grieved or stumbled by contending that they ought not to be stumbled as they are preachers and elders (so they cannot claim to be the weaker brethren!).