You really shouldn’t watch that movie or get that tattoo or smoke that cigar. Oh, why not? It might be a stumbling block to someone.
You really shouldn’t listen to that music. You really shouldn’t read that book. You really shouldn’t drive a car that expensive. You really shouldn’t wear a purse like that. You really shouldn’t allow your kids to read Harry Potter. You really shouldn’t go to that bar to eat wings.
Oh, I didn’t realize. How come?
You might cause someone to stumble.
Because other people think it’s wrong.
And you know how the Bible talks about causing people to stumble? Well, you might be a stumbling block to them. You wouldn’t want to be a stumbling block, would you?
This kind of exchange happens pretty often between Christians. We tell other Christians not to do certain things because they might become a stumbling block to someone else. Or we refrain from doing certain things because we are afraid we might become a stumbling block.
The only problem is most of us aren’t exactly sure what it means to be a stumbling block. I mean, it gets kind of confusing. Am I supposed to avoid any behavior that other people think is wrong, even if the Bible doesn’t talk about it?
If a song has a curse word in it, should I avoid it altogether because someone else might stumble (whatever that means)? What about smoking cigars? Or what about that new movie coming out? Can I go to the theater to see it?
It seems like we need to break down exactly what scripture means when it addresses the issue of stumbling blocks.
What Does It Mean To Be A Stumbling Block?
Let me start by saying what it does not mean. Doing something other people think is wrong does not necessarily make you a stumbling block.
Did you catch that? You’re not a stumbling block just because you’re doing something that others believe is wrong.
I’m NOT talking about areas not clearly spelled out in scripture. Lying, cheating, slandering, stealing, and sexual immorality are all clearly sin. If you do those things, you’re straight up sinning.
I’m talking about gray areas here.
Paul clearly addresses the idea of being a stumbling block in 1 Corinthians 8. The issue at hand is food offered to idols. The Corinthians, with their “superior” knowledge, knew that idols were not the true God. This knowledge led them to insist that it was perfectly fine for them to eat food offered to idols.
Paul, however, was concerned for those who had been saved out of idol worship. For these people, eating food offered to idols was akin to idol worship itself. They closely associate eating food offered to idols with worshiping the idols themselves.
And so Paul says to the Corinthians:
But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. (1 Corinthians 8:9-11)
Paul’s concern IS NOT that someone may see the Corinthians eating meat offered to idols and then assume the Corinthians are in sin.
Paul’s concern is that a fellow believer may join the Corinthians in eating food offered to idols even though it goes against his conscience. Paul is ultimately concerned that the Corinthians will encourage fellow believers to act against their consciences.
This is the issue at the heart of the stumbling block issue. It’s all about other believers. It’s NOT about what people will think about me. If I do something that’s clearly not a sin, and a self-righteous person judges me for it, I’m not being a stumbling block to them.
Let me put a modern day spin on it. Generally speaking, I don’t think it’s wrong to smoke cigars (within reason, attending to all the appropriate health concerns, making sure you don’t get addicted, etc.)
You however, are convinced that smoking cigars is wrong. Maybe it’s due to your family history. Maybe you were brought up within a certain church tradition in which you were taught that smoking cigars is categorically wrong.
But no matter how much you search the Bible, you’re not going to find anything about cigars (or any kind of smoking, for that matter). It’s simply not there.
Do I have to stop all cigar smoking because I know you think I am doing something wrong? No. Scripture doesn’t forbid smoking cigars. My liberty in Christ is not restricted simply by what other people might think of me. If my behavior causes you to judge me, that’s not creating a stumbling block. That’s something you need to deal with before the Lord.
But (and this is really important), if I smoke a cigar around you and that, in turn, leads you to smoke a cigar even though you think it is sin, then I have become a stumbling block. My liberty in Christ has actually encouraged you to sin against your conscience. When our “rights” lead others to act against their consciences we have become stumbling blocks.
This is why Paul says:
Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:13)
This fits perfectly in line with the commands of Jesus. He calls me to love others more than I love myself. To lay down my life for my brothers and sisters in Christ. To die to my own preferences.
And so love for my brothers in Christ guides and restrains my liberty in Christ.
If smoking a cigar or watching a movie or listening to an album or reading a book will lead you to violate your conscience then I will cheerfully give up that right when I am with you. Love always triumphs over liberty. Unity always triumphs over personal rights.
If I adamantly insist that I have every right to do something, even if it causes you to sin, I’m laying a stumbling block before you. I am prizing my rights in Christ more than your relationship with the Lord. This isn’t pleasing to God in any sense.
We are free to enjoy whatever scripture does not forbid. If a person thinks we’re wrong, so what? However, our freedom must always be wrapped in concern and care for others. If our freedom actually leads someone else to violate their conscience then we have become a stumbling block.
So let’s eat and drink and not eat and drink for the glory of God.