In the midst of a series of laws regulating the treatment of others, we find “Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:14). Obviously, putting a rock or brick in front of a blind person is cruel, but the New Testament takes the practical adage and turns it into a spiritual metaphor.
After Peter rebuked Jesus, denying the crucifixion would take place, Jesus said, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Matthew 16:23). Peter, under the influence of Satan, tried to distract Jesus from what He had come to do. He tried to make Jesus “stumble” in His path to the crucifixion. Paul reiterates the idea: “…but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23). The idea that the Messiah would be crucified was a stumbling block to the Jews—something that tripped up their beliefs of what the Messiah would be like.
But most of the time, a “stumbling block” refers to something or someone who keeps another from a relationship with God. In Matthew 18:5-7, Jesus says, “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. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!” Just as it would be better to chop off one’s hand than to sin (Matthew 18:8), in the Kingdom perspective, it would be better to drown than lead a child into sin. Similarly, in Romans 14:13, Paul points out that God alone judges; we are not to judge others but be concerned that we are not the ones leading them into the sin we’re so concerned about.
Stumbling blocks also arise when the path is a little more ambiguous. The mature Christian life allows some freedoms that seem contrary to an obedient, disciplined faith. The Corinthians were concerned about eating meat sacrificed to idols. Modern issues include drinking alcohol in moderation or dancing. “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9). Our liberty is not worth another’s walk with God. If something God allows would lead another to sin, we need to avoid it. We are given great freedom as Christians, but the greatest is the freedom to consider others’ welfare over our own.
Refraining from being a stumbling block means not leading another into sin. How we accomplish this depends on the situation and the hearts of those around us. The security we have in God’s love and provision, both now and eternally, allows us to show concern to those who are weaker—those who need specific encouragement to understand who God is. In some situations, that means living in those freedoms to exemplify that God is a God of grace. In others, it means disciplining ourselves to building up weaker believers and not pushing them into a liberty they’re not ready for. But, always, it means not encouraging another to act in a way the Bible specifically identifies as sin.