1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. (Acts 16:1–3, NKJV)
Are we willing to follow the example of Timothy? Some debate whether Jews would consider Timothy to be Jewish or Gentile (New American Commentary: Acts, Polhill, 343). Regardless of that, as the uncircumcised son of a Jewish mother, Timothy’s gospel influence among Jews would be diminished if not nullified (v. 3). His circumcision was not compulsory; it was voluntary for the progress of the gospel. Paul did not want uncircumcised Timothy to be a potential barrier to the spread of the gospel and the salvation of souls. Neither did Timothy. His willingness to become “all things to all men” and be circumcised is an example of not becoming a stumbling block by refusing a personal right or liberty (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Timothy did not have to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15). But, as a companion of Paul and Silas, it was expedient for him to do so. Are we willing to accept pain and forego our “rights” for the sake of the gospel? Or, are our personal liberties more precious to us than trying to save some? Timothy continues to be “an example to the believers” (1 Tim. 4:12).
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. 1 Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1, NKJV)
With these summary remarks, Paul brings into focus his earlier statement, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:23-24). We have the right to do many things, but given a certain set of circumstances, we are taught to forego our liberty for the sake of another’s conscience (1 Cor. 10:25-30). We cannot simply say, “I have the liberty, and therefore I will use my liberty regardless of how it affects others.” Or again, “I’m not going to be told what to do by someone else’s conscience.” These are the attitudes of a person who becomes a stumbling block to others (an “offense,” v. 32; 1 Cor. 8:9-13). Paul would seek the well-being of all men – even at the cost of foregoing his own liberty – so that he could help and not hinder their salvation (v. 31). This is what Jesus did when He sacrificed Himself, and Paul was imitating Him (v. 1; Rom. 15:2-3). Let us imitate Paul and seek the spiritual profit of others, and so imitate Christ, too.
12 But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble. (1 Corinthians 8:12–13, NKJV)
Paul has just described imperiling the soul of a Christian with a weak conscience. We have sinned against Christ if, by using our liberty, we embolden a brother with a weak conscience to violate his conscience. A liberty is not our excuse to use it regardless of whether it persuades another to violate his conscience. Paul applied this principle to eating food previously offered to an idol, but the principle continues to have application today. For example, a Jew who is converted to Christ may have a conscience against working on Saturday, not because it is forbidden by Christ, but because his conscience has been trained to be guilty for doing that. If I use my liberty to work on Saturday in a way that emboldens this brother to violate his conscience, then I have sinned against Christ. The solution is for me not to work on Saturday if, by doing so, the weak brother is prompted to violate his conscience. (Remember we are discussing liberties – the right to do something. We are not discussing things Christ has obligated us to do.) Paul would forego eating meat so that his brother would not stumble. Like Paul, we must use our personal liberties in ways so that we do not become stumbling blocks to others.
9 But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. 10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? 11 And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? (1 Corinthians 8:9-11, NKJV)
A liberty granted us by the Lord does not mean we must always use it. Indeed, whether or not to use a liberty is regulated by how its use impacts the faith of others. Its use it regulated by love (v. 1). (Paul will apply this principle to himself in 1 Corinthians 8:13 and 9:14-23). Today’s passage warns us not to have a boastful approach to a liberty that diminishes another person’s conscience toward that liberty while elevating ourselves above him (because his conscience is weak toward the liberty). For example, we must not say, “I have this liberty and I am going to use it regardless of how it affects others.” We become a stumbling block (cause of offence) when using our liberty emboldens one with a weak conscience to participate in that liberty (in violation of his conscience). This is how our liberty contributes to another person’s sin. Such a display of arrogant knowledge disregards the soul of another, and is exactly what Paul warned against in verses 1-3 of this chapter. Beware, lest your knowledge (and the liberty it affords) causes a brother to perish.
13 Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And He laid His hands on them and departed from there. (Matthew 19:13–15, NKJV)
Children provide a beautiful portrait of those to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs. Children are open, honest and enthusiastic. They are trusting, humble and innocent. So, it is not surprising that Jesus said unless we are “converted and become as little children” we will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3). Yet, here we find His disciples rebuking people for bringing children to Jesus for His blessing. With a gentle reminder Jesus reinforced that we must never hinder those who come to Him for His blessing. Just as Jesus readily received the children, God readily receives every sinner who comes to Him with a child’s heart of faith, anxious to please Him with humble conversion and obedience (Acts 3:19; Matthew 7:21). It is completely out of character for a Christian to become a stumbling block to someone seeking Christ’s blessing (Matthew 18:4-6). Let us be sure we are always helping people come to Christ and never hindering them.
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Romans 14:13, NKJV)
Understanding the context of a passage of Scripture is crucial to making proper application of it. Without respecting context, Scripture is twisted and perverted (2 Pet. 3:16). For example, some believe one should never render a judgment concerning another person. One appeal made to support this conclusion is today’s verse . Yet, Jesus said we are to “judge righteous judgment,” and, “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” (Jno. 7:24; Lk. 12:57). His inspired apostle said the local church must judge “those who are inside” it (1 Cor. 5:12-13). So, there are judgments we can and must make. The context of today’s verse concerns how to treat each other when differences arise over matters that make no difference to God (Rom. 14:1-5). It addresses matters that are not sin and error, since whether one practices it or abstains from it, God equally accepts both (Rom. 14:3, 6). This text concerns things over which God allows us to exercise personal liberty, since no sin occurs in such things (like eating meat or not, 1 Cor. 8:8). In context, Romans 14:13 forbids the critical condemnation of one another’s personal liberties. We must not demand that others conform to our own conscience when that matter makes no difference to God. To do so puts a stumbling block before another. It is binding where the Lord has not bound.
But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak. (1 Corinthians 8:9, NKJV)
Having the liberty to do something does not automatically mean it is the right thing to do. Paul had the right to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols, but under certain circumstances, he refused to exercise his liberty (1 Cor. 8:4, 13). If the use of Paul’s liberty led a Christian (whose conscience was weak concerning eating such meat) to violate his conscience (sin) by eating such meat, then Paul would forego his right to eat meat (1 Cor. 8:10-13; 10:28). He choose not to be a stumbling block instead of use his liberty (1 Cor. 10:32). The demands of love, not the selfish desire for a personal liberty, define and decide whether one uses a liberty (1 Cor. 8:1). Just because you have a liberty does not mean you must exercise it. Will your use of a liberty influence another Christian who conscience is weak toward that liberty to go ahead and violate his or her conscience? If so, then do let your liberty to become a stumbling block to another. Forego your liberty for the sake of your fellow-Christian. Such is the decision of brotherly love. The apostle reminds us, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify” (1 Cor. 10:23).
Whoever causes the upright to go astray in an evil way, He himself will fall into his own pit; But the blameless will inherit good. (Proverbs 28:10)
Even the upright can go astray into evil (1 Cor. 10:12; Gal. 5:7). Those who lead Christians into error are not guiltless before God. Jesus said the person who becomes a stumbling block , thereby causing a believer to sin, is better off being cast into the depth of the sea (Matt. 18:6-7). Even if one who teaches error is sincere, he still leads people away from truth. He not only endangers them, but himself; he will fall into the hole he dug. Being blameless, then, includes not hindering the spiritual life of others by giving them wrong advice, counsel and teaching. Be cautious where you lead God’s people so that you may inherit a blessing.
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.