Personal Christian Conduct and “Occasions of stumbling”

by Steven Chan

We need to conduct our lives with an awareness of the impact or influence on others as they see our lives. In Matt 5:16, Jesus exhorts us all: “Even so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Our lives ought to be lived in such a way that men who see our good works will give glory to God. The corollary to this is that our lives may also cause the “way of truth to be evil spoken of” (2 Pet 2:2)

In Rom 14:7-8, the apostle Paul reminded us: “For none of us liveth to himself, and none dieth to himself. 8 For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s.” We need to realize that we do not live just to please ourselves – and yet, many seem to think and act in a manner that suggests that they do not give any consideration to the feelings and needs of others.

The seriousness of the conduct of our lives impacting our fellow brethren/believers was emphasized by our Lord in Luke 17:1-2:  “And he said unto his disciples, It is impossible but that occasions of stumbling should come; but woe unto him, through whom they come! 2 It were well for him if a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to stumble.” Matthew 18:6 said the same thing: “But whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.”

The apostle Paul emphasized the same thing when he wrote that in as much as “each one of us shall give account of himself to God, let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumbling-block in his brother’s way, or an occasion of falling”… and that we ought to “follow after things which make for peace, and things whereby we may edify one another” (Rom 14:12, 13, 19). He outlined this very important general principle of personal Christian conduct: “It is good not to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor to do anything whereby thy brother stumbleth.”(Rom 14:21).

Paul was not restricting that principle to only the matter of eating meat or vegetables (Rom 14:2-3), or that of eating food offered to idols (I Cor 8:8-13) but he was articulating a general principle of Christian conduct, as repeated in 1 Cor 10:31-33: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God 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 warning by Jesus about those whose personal Christian conduct “stumbles or offends” fellow believers is described in a very graphic manner: “it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea.”

Of course, the matters to which the principle of “offending or stumbling” others apply only to matters of “indifference” or “permitted matters – the principle is not applicable to matters required/commanded by God, or prohibited/forbidden by God. Jesus was a stumbling block to many – as Paul wrote in I Cor 1:23: “but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews a stumbling-block” because He taught the truth and they were disobedient: “For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner; 8 and, A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence; for they stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.”(I Pet 2:7-8). Jesus did not stop teaching the truth even though many religious leaders were offended by Him: “Then came the disciples, and said unto him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, when they heard this saying?” (Mat 15:12)  In preaching the truth, we face a similar risk as that felt by the apostle Paul in Gal 4:16: “So then am I become your enemy, by telling you the truth?” But we must still preach the truth in love (Eph 4:15).

The question for us is this: “Are we bothered or concerned with what others think of us or of what we do or don’t do?” Some say: “I don’t care! I do what I believe. If you don’t like it, tough! I don’t live my life for you or to please you!” But what about the teaching in Rom 15:1-3: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

So, will we resolve within our hearts to reflect on how our words, actions, attitude may affect how others view our Lord and our faith?

For example, if we fail to attend our regular assemblies, what message are we conveying to our brethren? If we ignore the feelings or faith of our brethren, are we doing right? If we are careless with our words and actions, what are we telling our brethren? What about our lack of considerateness in living with our spouses –when the Bible exhorts us in I Pet 3:7: “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way” The NIV renders this verse: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”

Brethren, let’s be reminded by this exhortation as stated in 1 Cor 10:31-33: “Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God 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.”

Let’s be warned that our lack of considerateness may have dire consequences for us (akin to a millstone being tied around our neck and being thrown into the deep) if it results in our brethren being stumbled. Are we concerned about our personal conduct?

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