One of the most difficult teachings in the Christian faith is that regarding what we must do to not be a stumbling block to our weaker brothers. The New Testament tells us that even if our conscience is clear with something, we should be mindful of those around us and honor their consciences, as well, so that we do not put any obstacles in the way of their faith.
The primary example of this is the eating of food offered to idols. For some, they were able to recognize that since the idols are powerless and false, the food is just food; it isn't anything special. And so, they should eat it as an act of fellowship with those to whom they might then demonstrate the Gospel of Christ. But for others, they could not get past the illusion of false worship, knowing that to the idol worshiper, there was power in the offering and so believing the food tainted. The first, we are told, should not eat in the presence of the second, for it would raise a stink.
Notice that we are not told that the second should eat on account of the first, so as not to cause a division. This is an important part of this teaching. The burden always rests on the one who can choose not to do something that he believes is permissible for him to do and never on the one who would have to choose to do something he believes is not permissible. In a world like ours, this could not be more pertinent.
But the teaching of the stumbling block principle goes all the way back to David in the Psalms, and he puts it much more simply than Paul does; there's less to dissect and play around with.
David simply declares this: do not let my sin affect the righteousness and faith of others who might see it or hear about it.
In other words, David was keenly aware of two things at all times: his own tendency toward sin as a fallen human being and the fact that others would be watching him.
Somehow, I think, most of us often forget both. We are stumbling blocks to one another by our sheer neglect of attention to these very simple things.
We consider ourselves primarily good persons and think that anyone who knows us or comes into contact with us incidentally probably realizes this about us, too. Oh, sure, in a moment of faith-filled passion, we might confess that we are sinners, but we don't spend too much of our lives feeling like sinners. We're basically good persons living basically good lives with basically good intentions, and there's not a lot about ourselves that we're worried about.
And we assume that not a lot of persons are paying attention to us anyway. It's interesting, isn't it, that in a society obsessed with celebrity and with everyone getting their 15 minutes of fame, we're actually a people who feel generally isolated from one another, generally cut off from relationship, generally unnoticed by the world. We could go into all kinds of discussion on that, but that's a distraction for another day. The point is - most of us aren't aware of who is watching us, of who might be hearing about what we do. So even if we do mess up from time to time and shatter the illusion of our general goodness, nobody's really going to notice, so it doesn't much matter.
Then we wonder why the world seems to be judging us.
We are stumbling blocks to them. And we are stumbling blocks to ourselves. For no other reason than our own simple neglect, our failure to recognize the two most basic things about our existence: we are fallen human beings whom others are watching.
What would it change for you if you remembered this? How would you be different if you knew that your sin might actually affect someone else's righteousness and faith?
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