Jesus taught in Matthew 18:6-7:
“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. Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”
For those of us who have been members of the Lord’s body for any amount of time, we have seen offenses happen, and many of us have caused them, even inadvertently, and yes, sometimes on purpose. Offenses are part of our lives because, while the Lord’s body is the perfect body, those that make it up are not. We live in the flesh, and offenses are a part of living in the flesh.
Now to be clear, I am using the word “offense” as Jesus was using it in the above verses -- to cause another Christian (generally a weaker Christian) to sin or to cause them to leave the Lord’s church or even to be a “stumbling block” to another. I realize that many use the word today to describe something that another simply may not like or objects to. This type of offense is not what I am speaking of.
In my mind offenses happen in three primary categories. Some happen inadvertently. A Christian might say something or act in a manner that causes another to sin that was not with purpose. Sometimes we may not know our words or actions will cause a problem with another. This happens, and instances such as these can easily be rectified by an apology or explanation. Reasonable people can easily overcome such offenses with proper spirits and intentions.
However, a second category is when a Christian knowingly puts a stumbling block in another’s path, perhaps out of pride or religious arrogance. These types of injuries can lead to great spiritual harm to both parties involved. They can come from a lack of caring and concern for another for various reasons. When such offenses happen, they can be rectified through humble and forgiving spirits. If we have caused such an offense, this is sinful, and it can be very harmful to an individual Christian or to an entire congregation of the Lord’s people. When people offend in this manner, they might deceive themselves into thinking no one knows what they have done. However, the Lord knows. Or they might think they did nothing wrong, for the one offended should “know better” or some other excuse.
I believe it is this second category Jesus is addressing. Judging by His words in the above verses, He takes such offenses VERY seriously. We can keep ourselves from such offenses by having humble spirits. By taking into account our words and actions. By wanting what Christ wants: the salvation of all souls. By being longsuffering and gentle toward those who are younger or weaker in the faith. It can be very easy to dismiss those weaker or younger than we think we are, and this may lead us to treat others in an unkind manner. And worse of all, it can cause souls to be lost and, yes, even our own.
There is a third category, and we can often do nothing about them. There are some who seem to be “looking” for such offenses. I have known instances where it seemed a Christian was looking for an excuse to be “offended.” Perhaps they wanted an excuse to leave the Lord’s body. I know there have been instances where a person was not content with the body, and instead of simply leaving the Lord’s church as he or she perhaps wished, he or she said or invented horrible things of another Christian that were very hurtful toward an innocent believer. These seem to be instances when the one “offended” uses this as an excuse to do what he or she wanted to do all along. Perhaps he or she simply wanted to appease his or her own conscience and rationalizations. Offenses such as these will also happen and can only be overcome when the Christian humbles himself or herself and repents.
Paul warned of the danger of putting “stumbling blocks” in our brethren’s path in Romans 14:13, “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.” The apostle Paul also wrote of the danger of a Christian purposely using what he or she perceived as a “liberty” that could become a stumbling block in the path of another. He wrote of this danger in 1 Corinthians 8:9, “But beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” Such “offenses” can also lead to a person not becoming a Christian.
As a Christian, there is certainly one thing we can do in regard to our own spirits. We can determine to never be “offended” by another in this manner. In other words, we must endeavor to not allow anything another might say or do to keep us from walking with the Lord and being an active part of His body. If following the Lord is the most important thing in our life, we must make it true.
We can also be attentive to our own actions and words. Even though “offenses” are part of our lives, we should strive to avoid them whenever we can. It is for this reason we should strive for our actions to always be edifying toward others, for we should always act toward others in a manner that will encourage them to follow the Lord. We should act in a manner toward them that will help them want to follow the Lord – not to follow us or our way of thinking or our way of living, but to follow the Lord. For it is in Him from which our salvation comes!