Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 18:6b (Holman) “It would be better for him if a heavy
millstone were hung around his neck and he were
drowned in the depths of the sea!”
The millstone referred to here weighed hundreds of pounds, and had to be turned by an animal. It was the huge upper millstone, the top-stone of two stones between which grain was crushed. It had a hole in the center of it to pour grain into. Through this hole a person’s head could protrude.
This punishment pictured utter devastation. The body, buried in the part of the Sea farthest from shore, could never surface again to be buried.
Greeks and Romans used this punishment for their worst criminals. The Jews, deeming it too inhumane, would not use it. Jews feared the Sea. For them Heaven was a place where there would be no more Sea (RV 21:1).
Causing a believer to stumble into sin should make the perpetrator tremble. Jesus said death would be advisable to escape a crime as heinous as this. Better to die ignominiously than to drag someone down spiritually.
We are responsible for how our actions affect others. Luther, in one of the most memorable theological paradoxes ever, said a Christian is free lord of all, subject to none; yet also a dutiful slave of all, subject to everyone.
Paul dealt with this in his famous behavioral trilogy in First Corinthians. “All things are permissible for me, but not everything is helpful” (I Cor. 6:12a). In things not specifically forbidden by law, we have freedom to the limit our actions are helpful, and don’t hurt us spiritually.
“Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be brought under the control of anything” (I Cor. 6:12b). In matters lawful, we are free, up to the point of addiction. Paul used food and sex as two illustrations of this truth.
“Everything is permissible, but not everything builds up. No one should seek his own good, but the good of the other person” (1 Cor. 10:23b-24). This accountability for how our deeds influence others is the point Jesus emphasized in our text.
The Twelve’s argument about which of them was the greatest in the kingdom would inevitably cause anger and resentment to flair, not only among them, but also in others. This would help no one. The Twelve would be guilty of not only their own sin of pride and bickering, but also of the pride and bickering they incited in others. Our racing for pre-eminence causes moral failure in us and others. The result is double guilt for us.
By our deeds, one who is weaker in the faith than we are can easily be detoured from holiness. This is a serious affront to God. Jesus did not ask Saul why was he persecuting Christians. He demanded, “Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (AC 9:4). Harm done to them had been done to Him.
Beware undermining a person’s faith or morals. It is a dangerous act. Cynical skeptics in high schools, colleges, and seminaries sometimes delight in undermining a student’s faith. They often relish the opportunity.
Some sinners deem it exciting sport to cause a believer to fall. In a former church, one of my close friends switched to the midnight shift to confront a man who boasted of his ability to bring down any believer’s faith. I was uneasy about this, and as I feared, my friend fell away. He will answer for his own sin. The other man will have double guilt to pay for. It is a serious offense to entice, trap, allure, seduce, or cause one to stumble.
Matt. 18:7a “Woe to the world because of offenses. For offenses must
come, . . .”
Pity people. Our world is full of “offenses.” The word refers to stumbling-blocks in people’s lives that hinder spiritual progress in others.
This is a sinful, temptation-filled planet. Unable to avoid being tempted, we travel a dangerous road covered with obstacles to spiritual progress. Beware the landmines. To know this fact is to be better armed.
Stay alert. Obstructions to spiritual growth abound. The devil is let loose in this world. Temptations are strong. Sin’s pleasures are temporary, but alluring. People’s hearts are bent on sinning. The result is disaster.
The Bible never explains the origin of evil. We don’t know where sin came from, what spawned it in Satan’s heart. Scripture deals with sin realistically, not philosophically. The Bible merely states the fact it exists.
Obviously, this is all we need to know. If we knew more, it would not help us in our Christian walk. Be wise. Where God is silent, don’t try to pry.
Don’t focus on an unknown past. Concentrate on current reality. Depravity is alive and well, the one Christian doctrine obviously proven true every second of every day, yet one of the ones most often denied. “You are good, exert yourself, find your innermost ability, be true to yourself, develop the angel within you.” Once we accept the truth about depravity, the world suddenly makes sense. Once people believe it, it’s like the light comes on for the first time and people can say, “Oh, I get it now. Wow.”
Matt. 18:7b “ . . . but woe to that man by whom the offense comes.”
It is impossible to end all temptations, but God can keep each of us from being one of the tempters. It is extremely important for us to do this.
We want to avoid this woe. The “Woe” in the first of our text was a cry of compassion and pity. This second “Woe” is a curse, a denunciation.
We know the sin of causing another to stumble is dangerous because it is the mother of every sin, the sin that brought all evil, pain, suffering, and death into the world to start with. Satan cast history’s ultimate stumbling-block in front of Eve. In Eden, temptation was the big bad. It still is.
Obstructions to spiritual progress are, in a general, cosmic sense, a necessary, unavoidable grief in this world, but do not necessarily have to flow through us as individuals. We don’t have to be part of the problem.
The fact sin is prolific, flowing like a flood, does not absolve any of us from personal guilt. Sin’s abundance doesn’t make individual sin less sinful. Our duty is, in our little part of Earth, to stop this flood as much as we can.
Beware being a stumbling-block to others. If we drive people away from Christianity or church, we exile them from their only hope of being able to improve themselves spiritually. We don’t want to carry this burden.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” is a bad question. It was first asked by a murderer (GN 4:9). We are all each other’s keepers, and are required to help everyone’s spiritual forward progress. Do nothing to set anyone back.
We can, by God’s grace, be a help not a hindrance, a blessing not a burden. We make our own bad choices. Sin is either voluntary or not sin.
Without freedom of choice, we would be robots, automatons, unable to love. Sin is our own fault. We cannot pass the buck on this one.
We sinners want to shift blame from ourselves. “I inherited it. It’s in my DNA”—as if the rest of us weren’t born with sin natures. Unbelievers blame hypocritical believers. People say they can’t help what they’re doing. “God made me this way”—thereby blaming God for their anti-God actions.
“Everyone does it”—as if majority vote determines morality. “I grew up in the wrong part of town, had a hard home life, suffered abuse.” I do not minimize these struggles. They are serious considerations, but we can seek help for them from others. Even if our circumstance is partly responsible for our spiritual weaknesses, we are responsible to get fixed from it.
We are not victims. Only by accepting this fact can we become victors. Ultimately, there is no legitimate justification for our sinful behavior.