What Does the Bible Say About Being a Stumbling Block?

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A person walking around a large obstacle in their path

The concept of a stumbling block is deeply ingrained in the tapestry of Christian theology. For generations, scholars, and believers alike have wrestled with this concept, seeking to understand its biblical contexts and implications for modern living.

Understanding the Concept of a ‘Stumbling Block’ in Biblical Context

The idea of a stumbling block derives its roots from biblical language, with cultural nuances that have evolved over time. But what exactly is a stumbling block? The following sections delve into its origins and interpretations according to the scriptures.

Origins of the Term ‘Stumbling Block’

The term ‘stumbling block,’ or ‘scandalon’ in Greek, originally referred to the trigger of a trap. It was something laid in someone else’s path to make them fall. It was later employed metaphorically in the scriptures, bestowing upon it spiritual and moral dimensions.

In the Bible, a stumbling block could be any behavior or attitude that tempts another person to sin or leads them away from their faith. Essentially, it symbolizes an obstacle in one’s spiritual journey, impelling one to falter or sin.

For instance, in the book of Matthew, Jesus warns his disciples about causing others to stumble, saying, “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, NIV). This vivid imagery emphasizes the seriousness of being a stumbling block to others.

Biblical Interpretation of a ‘Stumbling Block’

In biblical exegesis, the concept of a stumbling block is usually understood in two distinct ways. First, it can be seen as a spiritual hindrance that leads another person or oneself into sin.

For example, the apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall” (Romans 14:21, NIV). Here, Paul urges believers to be mindful of their actions, avoiding behaviors that may cause others to stumble in their faith.

Secondly, the concept of a stumbling block may apply to anything that hinders the faith of a believer or causes them to deviate from the righteous path. Consequently, the notion of a stumbling block invites all believers to reflect upon their actions, imperiling themselves or others in their shared spiritual journey.

Jesus himself warns about the dangers of stumbling blocks, saying, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8, NIV). This strong language underscores the importance of removing anything that may hinder one’s spiritual growth.

Ultimately, the concept of a stumbling block serves as a reminder for believers to be mindful of their words, actions, and attitudes, ensuring that they do not become stumbling blocks to others or allow stumbling blocks to hinder their own faith. It calls for self-reflection, accountability, and a commitment to nurturing a strong and unwavering faith.

Biblical Passages Referring to ‘Stumbling Blocks’

The Bible, both in the Old and New Testaments, contains references to the concept of stumbling blocks. Let’s explore these references for a deeper understanding.

Old Testament References

In the Old Testament, stumbling blocks are mentioned in several different contexts. For instance, in Ezekiel 14:3, God rebukes the Israelites for setting up idols in their hearts and ‘putting the stumbling block of their iniquity before their face.’

This passage serves as a powerful reminder that when we allow sinful desires to take root in our hearts, we are essentially placing stumbling blocks in our own path. These stumbling blocks hinder our spiritual growth and prevent us from fully experiencing God’s love and grace. It is a call to examine our hearts and remove anything that hinders our relationship with God.

In another instance, Leviticus 19:14, the Lord commands Moses to tell the Israelites not to ‘place a stumbling block before the blind.’ This is interpreted metaphorically, encouraging the faithful not to lead others into sin unknowingly.

This commandment highlights the importance of being mindful of our actions and their potential impact on others. We are called to be considerate and compassionate, especially towards those who may be more vulnerable or easily influenced. By avoiding actions that could cause others to stumble, we demonstrate our love for our neighbors and our commitment to living a life that reflects God’s teachings.

New Testament References

The New Testament also presents several scenarios where the concept of a stumbling block is invoked. In Romans 14:13, Paul implores believers not to judge each other but instead determine ‘not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.’

Here, Paul emphasizes the importance of unity and mutual respect within the Christian community. By refraining from judgment and being mindful of our actions, we can avoid becoming stumbling blocks to our fellow believers. Instead, we should strive to be a source of encouragement and support, helping one another grow in faith and love.

In 1 Corinthians 8:9, Paul warns about the danger of our liberty becoming a ‘stumbling block to those who are weak.’ It is a reminder that our actions, even when permissible, may adversely affect those around us if not judiciously considered.

This passage encourages us to exercise wisdom and discernment in how we exercise our freedom as Christians. While we may have the freedom to engage in certain activities, we should always be mindful of the impact it may have on others. Our primary concern should be the well-being and spiritual growth of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

These references to stumbling blocks in both the Old and New Testaments remind us of the importance of self-examination, compassion, and responsible use of our freedom. They call us to live in a way that honors God and uplifts those around us, ensuring that we do not become stumbling blocks in the spiritual journey of others.

The Consequences of Being a Stumbling Block

Undeniably, the implications of being a stumbling block permeate various spheres of life, both spiritual and social.

Spiritual Implications

Spiritually, being a stumbling block is a serious offense. It not only hampers one’s personal relationship with God but also deters others from their faith journey. The Bible warns believers strictly against such behaviours, emphasizing the responsibility held for each other’s spiritual wellbeing.

Moreover, being a stumbling block demonstrates a lack of godly love and reverence for God’s holy standard. One’s spiritual growth could be significantly hindered, leading to consequences that ripple through the communities of believers.

Social Implications

On a social level, being a stumbling block can sever relationships and sow discord. Unchecked actions and attitudes may negatively impact those around us.

Creating an environment of mistrust, it fosters division and alienates members within a community. Moreover, being a stumbling block hinders the witnessing power of Christian love to non-believers, which can stifle the expansion of the kingdom of God.

How to Avoid Being a Stumbling Block

The crucial question is then, how can we prevent ourselves from being stumbling blocks?

Personal Reflection and Self-Awareness

The first step is personal reflection and self-awareness. Self-examination under the light of God’s word is vital for identifying any actions, behaviours, or attitudes that may be a stumbling block to others.

Mindfulness and prayerfulness can help foster such self-examination, allowing believers to align themselves more closely with Christ and his teachings. They enable us to live out our Christian witness, mindful of the potential impact on others around us.

Fostering Empathy and Understanding

Developing empathy and understanding towards others is another vital step. It helps to view others not as a means to an end, but as fellow pilgrims whom we are called to love, uplift, and help on their spiritual journey.

By incorporating empathy in our interactions, we are better equipped to consider the potential impact of our actions and decisions. It helps us to be mindful and respectful of the unique faith journey of each believer, positively contributing to the community’s spiritual growth.

Real-Life Applications of the ‘Stumbling Block’ Concept

How do we apply these insights to our lives? How does the concept of a stumping block play into real-life scenarios?

In Personal Relationships

In personal relationships, being a stumbling block could manifest in different ways such as manipulation, dishonesty, gossip, and betrayal. We can avoid this by treating each other with kindness, respect, humility, and love – principles that Christ himself embodied and advocated.

Additionally, being mindful of personal boundaries and being sensitive to other people’s feelings and beliefs can go a long way in preventing ourselves from becoming stumbling blocks.

In Community and Church Life

In community and church life, a stumbling block could be anything from divisive talk to favouritism, from judgmental attitudes to lack of support during times of need. We address this by remaining committed to unity, inclusivity, understanding, and mutual support as these are the pillars of a healthy Christian community.

No one is perfect, and we all fall short sometimes; the knowledge of what a stumbling block is, its harmful effects, and ways to avoid it is a crucial first step towards promoting spiritual growth and fostering harmonious relationships in our communities.


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