The Law of Moses contains the following law: "You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD" (Leviticus 19:14, NASB). This refers to a rather obvious act of cruelty in putting something in the path of a blind person that he/she cannot see to avoid. Here we have a metaphor that is referred to in several places in the New Testament. Jesus referred to it in Matthew 18:5–6, when He said, "And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 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" (NASB). James uses the same metaphor in James 3:2, when he writes, "For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body."
How might one Christian be a stumbling block to another?
Perhaps one of the most extensive uses of the metaphor in the New Testament is by Paul in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. In 1 Corinthians 8:9, Paul wrote, "But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak." He explains the metaphor in Romans 14. Here he is writing about differences in levels of maturity among Christians. As we mature in our Christian walk, we find that there are things that were formerly wrong for us to do that we gain the freedom to do. Earlier in our walk, these things interfered with our relationship with Christ and so were wrong to do. As we mature, they no longer cause our relationship with Christ to suffer and therefore are no longer wrong for us to do. The specific example Paul referred to was eating meat that had been consecrated to idols. To young, immature Christians, eating meat that they knew had been consecrated to idols was participating in idol worship. To a mature Christian, it was just eating food and had no impact on the Christian walk. If a mature Christian, to whom eating this meat was not wrong, encouraged an immature Christian, to whom eating the meat was wrong, to eat anyway, the mature Christian would be putting a stumbling block in the immature Christian's path—encouraging him/her to do something that would negatively impact his/her relationship with Christ. Instead of being a stumbling block to another, we should show love. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 8:13, "Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble." This is not to say that we should cater to the least mature of the brethren, but rather than encourage them to do what they consider sin, we should help them mature so they recognize it for what it is—something with no spiritual consequences.
This does not apply to anything that the Scripture specifically states is sin. For example, Christian maturity never gives us the freedom to hate others. But when there is ambiguity in the Scripture about whether something is right or wrong, such as in playing cards with a standard poker deck (which some see as wrong because of the origins of the symbols on the cards), not becoming a stumbling block to a fellow Christian is an issue. We should be very careful not to cause another's relationship with Christ to suffer.
What is 'causing others to stumble'?
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