Getting Safely Around Life's Stumbling Blocks
“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 he 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!”
Two plus two equals four. What goes up must come down. Sooner or later someone will hurt you or disappoint you. There are facts of life that you cannot change -- so you must learn to deal with them. Our text verse assures us that stumblingblocks will come, but woe unto that one that causes God’s children to stumble.
Stumblingblocks are just a fact of life. Every person will encounter stumblingblocks, a person or event that could cause you to stumble in your Christian life. It may be a person that you know, or maybe just someone you know of, their actions, their poor testimony, their hidden sin that is suddenly revealed. It could be the greatest shock of your life. It may be linked to an event that brings great disappointment. It might be something that hurts you deeper than you think you can stand.
But I’m here to tell you that you CAN stand. You CAN deal with your hurt and disappointment. You CAN learn from it. You CAN be better, not bitter, because of it. You can keep going, keep growing and keep serving the Lord no matter what someone else has done. If you don’t need this little piece of encouragement and instruction right now, please keep reading, because someday every one of us will face one of life’s stumblingblocks. I’m here to post a warning that says, “Watch your step! Beware of fallen stumblingblocks up ahead!” I want to do all I can to protect you from that sudden fall.
It may be the person you look up to the most, the one that you have learned from and followed all through your Christian life. You might have considered this person to be the greatest Christian you’ve ever known. But it’s not always someone whom you consider to be above you in authority, in Christian maturity, and in example and teaching.
It could be someone that you’ve loved and cared for and patiently taught and rejoiced as they grew and learned and became more Christlike. It may be your most fruitful convert or even your very own child. I don’t know who it is in your life that will become a stumblingblock, but I know that there will be some.
Consider in your mind for a moment what might cause a person to stumble. You’re walking along, unaware of any dangerous obstacles, one foot in front of the other. Maybe you’re preoccupied about something. Maybe you’re carrying a big load in your arms, and can’t see clearly what’s coming up ahead. Maybe you’re weak, faint, or dazed from something that has already happened to you. Suddenly you trip over something you didn’t know was ahead and before you realize what has happened, you have already taken a fall.
How bad will you be hurt? It could be a minor bruise. It could be fatal. It could be anything in between. That all depends on how far you fall and the position you’re in when you land. You will face a stumblingblock up ahead. Since you don’t know how badly you might be injured if you stumble, your best protection is to keep from stumbling over them.
1. Expect Stumblingblocks.
Our best protection is to be looking for them. I don’t mean being on a witch-hunt, or being skeptical and cynical about every Christian and every preacher that you know. I just mean being realistic. People are human. People fail. If you keep that in mind, it won’t be as likely to knock the wind out of you. There is a stumblingblock somewhere up ahead. You’ll trip over it if you don’t see it. You won’t see it if you’re not watching for it. The time to prevent a nasty fall is before you stumble.
“It shouldn’t happen.” No, but it will. No one should leave a deadly knife laying around in a dangerous place. But if someone does, it doesn’t automatically mean you must be wounded by it. You can learn to recognize and deal with the danger, and come out BETTER for the experience. You don’t have to let it destroy you.
The Bible says that a saved person falling before the unsaved is a corrupt spring; it can poison you if you let it. “A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring.” (Proverbs 25:26) But if there’s a sign posted beside the well that says, “Danger! Contaminated Water! Do Not Drink!” then it’s my own fault if I allow it to poison me. Proverbs 22:3 gives this advice: “A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished.” If you’re wise, you’ll see the danger ahead and protect yourself and others from falling over a stumblingblock.
Some years ago, a person fell into sin and wrecked their ministry. One young lady told me, “So and so sinned and I was hurt by it. Now I don’t believe any preachers are for real, so I don’t feel any responsibility to obey what they preach. I was hurt by that person’s actions, and that’s why I’m not doing right.” In later years she was guilty of the same sin that he had committed.
Another young lady told me, “I was terribly disappointed by what he did. But there was a time when he served God with all his heart. One sermon that he preached was used by God to turn my life around. While I wish he were still pure and serving the Lord, that doesn’t undo how the Lord used him in the past. That sermon’s principles are still an important part of my life.” The same stumblingblock, but far different responses, that resulted in different endings to their stories.
2. Walk in the Light.
In order to avoid tripping on a stumblingblock, you must be able to see it. Walk in light all the time, and you’ll be more likely to see them before you’ve fallen. Be Bible-Centered. “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalm 119:105) If you keep the light of God’s Word shining brightly on your path at all times, it will protect you from the stumblingblocks.
“Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.” (Psalm 119:165) One of the definitions of the word ‘offend’ in Cruden’s Concordance is ‘to be scandalized, or made to stumble by the example of another.’ If you love the Bible, and let it become an integral part of your life and your thinking, it will protect you. Everyone will be hurt sometime in their lives, but it doesn’t have to destroy you. Get in the Bible. Stay in the Bible. Memorize it. Read it. Meditate on it. Let it become a part of you.
3. Let People be Human.
Don’t get caught up in man worship. The best preacher or Christian leader in all the world is still human flesh and blood, still a saved sinner, still vulnerable to sin and temptation. “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.” (I Peter 1:24-25) All men are fallible; only the Bible that they preach is not. “The best of men are still men at best.”
God has given us leaders in His plan. He wants us to follow their leadership. He does not want them to become the God we serve. We should love them, serve with them, pray for them, and do all we can to support them as they follow God. But we should never lose sight of the fact that they are human.
In Joshua 3:7 I learned something about leaders. “And the Lord said unto Joshua, This day will I begin to magnify thee in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee.” God chose to magnify leaders. It’s part of His plan. God has good reasons for doing so. Magnification makes an object look bigger, clearer and closer than it will look without magnification. God wants us to see our leaders that way. But when you magnify an object, it doesn’t actually make it any bigger -- it just looks bigger. Those leaders that God has magnified in our view are just normal people who are serving God, and because of their faithfulness God has chosen to put His magnifying glass on them, so that they stand out from the crowd.
First Corinthians 11:1 is where Paul gives us some good advice about following the leadership of a man of God. “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” Look to the leader, but don’t stop there. Look beyond the leader to Christ. When a leader steps out of line and is no longer following Christ, you keep following the Lord. Don’t go off in the direction that man or woman has gone. Don’t go off in your own wrong direction in self-pity. Just keep following Christ and His Word and His will for your life. Paul didn’t say, “Be ye followers of me,” and stop there. He put this condition on it, “...as I also am of Christ.” He only wanted them to follow him as long as he followed the Lord.
Man-worship puts you off balance. You get to leaning too far in some man’s direction, and you’ll be in a precarious position. Being off balance just means it will take less force for the devil to knock you off your feet. But you keep drawing closer to God, and you will be standing tall with your feet planted firmly on the ground. You’ll be much less apt to take a fall.
There are some preachers and Christians who will disappoint you. “For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they should seek the law at his mouth: for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But ye are departed out of the way; ye have caused many to stumble at the law; ye have corrupted the covenant of Levi, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 2:7-8) There have been some people in the Gospel ministry who weren’t for real, and misused God’s church and God’s people. But they are few, thank the Lord, and God can expose them for what they are.
There have been many others who ‘did run well’, but got side-tracked in sin and hurt those that they had loved and never dreamed they’d ever hurt. That’s who the devil is after, and he is relentless in his efforts to cause real men and women of God to fall into sin, and become a stumblingblock that will cause others to fall. I truly believe that the devil works harder to destroy the lives and homes of preachers and their wives than anyone else on earth. I’ve seen a lot of havoc that he has created. It’s not just bad people who wreck their lives. There are some good people who got off-track somewhere along the line. It might not have come to light immediately, but sooner or later those chickens come home to roost.
Pray for your preacher. Pray for each other. We’re all in need of God’s strength and God’s armor in order to stand against the attacks of Satan.
4. Differentiate between People and the Lord.
“So and so hurt me so I’m just going to quit!” When you got saved who did you receive into your heart? Has the Lord ever let you down or hurt you or disappointed you? Tell me, why would you sin against God because of what a person has done to hurt you? God didn’t hurt you, did He?
Someone told me that several years ago. “This thing happened and I just quit. I’m not going to take any more of this.” I said, “Is that person who you were living for? Is that who saved you from hell?” Why are we so dumb? Don’t blame God for what people do. If you are serving the Lord, make up your mind that you’ll never quit because of a person. I didn’t start serving God because of them. I’m not going to stop because of them.
You do need to realize that when you’re hurt, you’re in danger of making impulsive wrong decisions that haven’t been thought through and have no rational basis. Don’t make decisions when you’re hurting. Don’t quit what you’re doing. Don’t start doing something else. Just keep on keeping on and give yourself time to recover from the wounds that you’ve received. God will bless you for your faithfulness, and He will reward you for it.
5. Keep a Balanced Attitude.
There are two sides to every coin, and there is a balancing that we need to do in our attitude concerning people who have become stumblingblocks. Side one -- Remember that when someone has preached the Gospel and then sins, the good they have done in preaching, teaching, soulwinning, serving, exhorting, and comforting does not excuse their wrong. “But they’re winning souls.” That doesn’t justify dishonesty and theft and adultery. “But he’s a great preacher” Not unless he’s at least trying to live what he preaches. “They were there for me when I needed them.” Don’t ever forget how God used them to be a blessing to you in the past, but that doesn’t justify sin. The right that he preached did not justify the wrong that he practiced.
Flip side -- Neither does their wrongdoing nullify the truth they once preached. God’s Word is still true and powerful and it’s principles of right and wrong are still the same. Don’t just throw away all the good things that God used that person to preach or accomplish if they line up with Bible. I know of a pastor in a southern state who once lived and preached the same convictions and standards that we have. But he felt that he was done wrong by the man who first taught him those convictions. So when he threw that friendship out the window, with it he threw out every conviction he had ever preached.
That makes me wonder if the man ever really had any convictions of his own, or if he was just mimicking what he heard somewhere else. You need to establish your own convictions. Don’t ignore the preaching, but find out why the preacher says that and believes that. Study it in the Bible and settle it for yourself. If your standards don’t become your own, they will be the first thing to go overboard in a storm.
The right that he preached doesn’t justify the wrong that he did. That wrong that he did doesn’t nullify the right that he preached. Though all flesh is as grass, “the word of God liveth and abideth forever.”
6. Guard Your Heart.
Proverbs 4:23 says, ”Keep thy heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” If there’s ever a time you need to put some extra emphasis on guarding your heart, it’s when you face a stumblingblock. Don’t become bitter. Don’t become cynical. Don’t become suspicious of everybody and everything. Don’t become judgmental. “If that’s what Christianity is, then I don’t want any part of it.” How many times have you heard those kinds of statements before?
Don’t write off God and the Bible based on one act of a mere mortal. Don’t even write off that person’s whole life. Good people fall into sin. Good people get backslidden. That’s who the devil is working the hardest on. Most of all, don’t stereotype all Christians or all preachers into one category. Let each person rise or fall on their own merit. Don’t suspect everyone of what one person did.
7. DON’T QUIT!
Even if you can’t keep from being knocked down, don’t be knocked out. Don’t be devastated by it. When someone hurts or disappoints you. Don’t let the devil tell you that you can’t cope with it and learn from it. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (I Corinthians 10:13)
I heard a touching illustration of that verse, likening God to a pharmacist who carefully mixed medicine into capsules, watchful to put in just the right dosage so that it will not harm the person that it is meant to help. God wants to use this experience in your life. He is able to make all things work together for good in your life. He is very careful not to give you more than you can bear. You can do it!
7. Don’t Let it Make a Stumblingblock Out of You.
Just because that person becomes a stumblingblock to you, doesn’t mean you have to become a stumblingblock to others who love you and look to you. Don’t face God at the judgment with a destroyed life based on someone’s else’s Christianity or lack of it. “If a hypocrite is what stands between you and God, it just means that the hypocrite is closer to God than you are.” There’s some truth to that statement.
“Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another... It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.” (Romans 14:19,21) Be careful after you have faced a stumblingblock, that you don’t become one in the path of someone else. If you quit, you’ll cause someone else to stumble. If you get bitter, you’ll cause someone to stumble. If you use this as an excuse to do wrong, you’ll cause someone to stumble. It might be someone that you love very much and would never want to hurt. Instead, become an edifier, a builder, a strengthener. Follow after that which edifies and builds and strengthens.
I hope that this will be the encouragement you need to get through a tough spot in your life, whether you face a stumblingblock today, or it still waits in the future. There are stumblingblocks up ahead, but you don’t have to fall. You don’t have to let it destroy your life. You can protect yourself from a fatal fall at one of life’s stumblingblocks, and walk carefully around them ‘considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted’. You can also post the warning sign for someone else.
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry;” (I Timothy 1:12)