17 Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple (Romans 16:17–18, NKJV).
Unfortunately, a significant number of Christians do not like this passage. It seems “too unloving,” “too harsh” to them. Yet, it is exactly the action the Holy Spirit directed us to take when a person is causing “divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine” taught by Christ’s apostles (2 John 9). Failure to do so enables this person to continue deceiving hearts and overthrowing faith (v. 18; 2 Tim. 2:16-18). False teaching and immorality cause divisions and stumbling blocks. Without repentance, spiritual turmoil results. Often, this disruption begins surreptitiously before coming out into the open (Jude 4; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; Rev. 2:14-16, 20-23). So, Romans 16:17 commands two things. (1) Note the divisive, offending person. Some versions translate the word (skopeo) as “mark” (KJV) or “keep your eye on” (NASB). First, the person must be identified. He is sinning by his teaching or conduct (Gal. 5:20). A wolf in sheep’s clothing endangers the flock (Matt. 7:15; Acts 20:29). We identify predators in the pasture, even more so among God’s flock (Acts 20:28). (2) Avoid the divisive, offending person. Second, deny him fellowship (2 John 10-11). Thus his unrepentant conduct is exposed as the darkness it is (Eph. 5:11). It is not a pleasant task to mark and avoid the divisive. But it is necessary to protect God’s people from spiritual danger. And by doing so, the erring Christian is warned to repent while there is still time.
6 “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18:6–7, NASB95)
A stumbling block (Gr. skandalon) is a “trap-stick” (G4625). It is “the moveable stick or tricker (“trigger”) of a trap” (Thayer, 577). Thus, a stumbling block is “any impediment placed in the way and causing one to stumble or fall” (Thayer). It is an enticement to sin. Jesus warned against becoming the “cause” (stumbling block, v. 6) that lures and captures another person in sin. We must not entice others to sin. Solomon warned his son to avoid the enticements of sinners (Prov. 1:10). But today’s passage warns against becoming the enticer of others. The apostle Paul explained that even a sinless act (like eating meat previously dedicated to an idol) becomes a stumbling block when it leads the weak in conscience (toward eating such meat) to eat in violation of his scruple (1 Cor. 8:4-13). Being a stumbling block is a “sin against the brethren” and a “sin against Christ” (1 Cor. 8:12). Therefore, Paul would forego his liberty to eat meat to avoid being a stumbling block (1 Cor. 8:13). Jesus said the punishment for being a stumbling block is worse than being drowned in the sea (Matt. 18:7). Woeful punishment awaits those who are impediments to righteousness and enticements to sin (Matt. 18:7). Love does not harm a neighbor (Rom. 13:10). Therefore, love carefully avoids becoming the cause of someone else’s sin (Rom. 13:8).
1 Then He said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones. Take heed to yourselves.” (Luke 17:1–3a, NKJV)
There is a clear connection between the last two chapters (Luke 15-16) and the warning Christ now gives against spiritual offenses. Jesus had exposed the duplicity of the Pharisees and scribes who complained against His compassion toward sinners (Lk. 15), and then scoffed at His call to serve God instead of riches (Lk. 16). These lovers of money were in positions of religious power, but their teachings and practices were offenses to others. The word “offenses” (v. 1) is the Greek word skandolon, and means “the stick in the trap that springs and closes the trap when the animal touches it” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures on Matt. 5:29). We set traps for animals, but these people set spiritual traps that capture souls. Such offenses can take the form of religious leaders (like the Pharisees) whose doctrines and practices are false, yet who hide their hypocrisy at the expense of others. They are sheep in wolves’ clothing. (Jesus previously warned of their leaven in Luke 12:1.) Leading others into sin is itself a sin that does not go unseen and unpunished by God (Lk. 17:2). Disciples must heed Christ’s warning and not set snares by which others sin (v. 3).
6 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! (Matthew 18:6–7)
Our words and actions affect others. With a life of faith you can positively impact others (Matt. 5:14-16). But, also see in this verse that Jesus said it is possible for you to cause others to sin. Sin is never isolated; it has an evil, debilitating influence. Here, a Christian may set a snare before other believers and thereby helping them to sin. Christ delivers a divine denunciation (“woe”) on the disciple who leads a believer into sin. We expect unbelievers to set stumbling blocks before us. But, a Christian should never lay a snare before another believer. We must be careful to help one another be faithful to the Lord instead of helping each other sin against Him.