Are You A Stumbling Block?
By: Steve Shirley
(2 Cor 6:3) Giving no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed:
(Rom 14:13) Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.
(1 Th 5:22) Abstain from all appearance of evil.
Today I will be treading on thin ice as far as staying out of controversy. We will be looking at a number of areas that some will consider ok while others will say they are wrong. I suppose my views will be apparent, but I hope to stay on some sort of middle ground in the way I am presenting things.
Let me begin with a question. What are two of the more common reasons why people hate Christians? It has been my experience that they are: #1 Christians are a bunch of hypocrites, #2 Churches and ministers are all out to just make a bunch of money. We will deal with #2 later, but let's look at #1 right now.
Why do so many people call Christian hypocrites? The answer is quite simply this, non-believers (and even some weak Christians) believe that Christians have a set of standards that are supposed to be higher than the rest of the worlds. They have heard Christians and church pastors condemn many different things as being wrong. They then see these same people going out and breaking these standards on a regular basis. What effect does this have? It can cause people to reject Christianity, and therefore Christ. It often causes people to want nothing to do with church since church is seen as a place filled with these "hypocrites."
Are these non-believers and weak Christians right in expecting us to live up to these standards? I believe they are in many respects. God tells a number of times in the Bible the dangers of being a part of the "world" and its standards. He tells us to keep ourselves unspotted from the world (James 1:27), to not be conformed to the world (Rom 12:2), and whoever is a friend of the world is the enemy of God (James 4:4). And He says in (1 Jn 2:15-17), "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (16) For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. (17) And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.
Paul tells us one of the reasons we don't want to conform to the world is so that we don't cause these people to stumble, or fail to live up to what they expect of us. Paul goes into great detail in (Rom 14)(1 Cor 8:1-13)(1 Cor 10:23-33) about how Christians have liberty to do certain things that aren't necessarily sinful, but we should not do them anyway, simply because someone else might believe it is wrong and it will cause them to stumble in their walk. When we do this (1 Cor 8:12) says, "But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, YE SIN AGAINST CHRIST" (caps emphasis mine). Paul uses the example of eating meat that was sacrificed to idols. He said that while they (as Christians) knew there was no other gods and there was nothing wrong with eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols, there WERE people who believed it to be wrong. Therefore, Paul says in (1 Cor 8:13), "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend."
So how does this apply to us now? Let me take three issues that can divide Christians: drinking, smoking, and tattooing/piercing. Are these wrong? Some say yes, some say no. Can a case be made either way, probably so. I do not wish to address the issue of right and wrong Biblically here. What I do want to address is this, do a number of non-Christians and weak Christians believe they are wrong? Do they believe it is not something a Christian should do? Assuming they are all equal to the idol meat Paul referred to above, and we have the liberty to do them, does that mean we should do them anyway? Let us take drinking for example. Let's say that someone knows you are a strong Christian. They are a non-believer or a weak Christian and they believe that Christians should not drink because it is wrong. They then walk into a restaurant and see you drinking. This opens up several possibilities:
#1 Since they see you "sinning" in their eyes it is going to weaken your
#2 They are going to believe Christians are hypocrites.
#3 They are going to think, "Hey, if Bill is drinking then maybe it is ok even if if I am not sure it is." They may even decide to have a drink themselves.
What does the Bible say about this? It says in (Rom 14:23) that if a person does something that is not sin, but they BELIEVE it is sin, it is sin for them to do it. Your action has caused someone to sin!
Do we have the freedom to drink, smoke, or get tattoos/piercings? Maybe. Is it worth doing them if we might cause someone to stumble? I believe the Bible makes it clear it is not.
I know there are people out there who would say doing these things can open a door to reach people others might not reach. Do we need to do things that really don't being glory to God, and might cause others to stumble, in order to reach certain people? Can not the Holy Spirit empower us to reach people without conforming to the world's standards? Did Jesus need to do these things to reach people?
Paul does speak in both (Acts 21:20-27) and (1 Cor 9:19-22) about making himself whatever was needed to win people. However, Paul was speaking about not going against the customs and traditions of the society he was in. He would not go against these customs and traditions, but rather follow them, so that the people would not automatically shut out his message. For instance, if you wish to tell Jews or Muslims about Jesus, you don't sit in front of them and eat pork, which they see as a defilement. I recently heard a guy on the radio speak about this. He said a man used to be a Muslim and became a Christian. His whole family remained Muslim. His family knew that Christians ate pork and it offended them. Every time the man went to visit his family, the first question his dad would ask him when he walked in the door was, "Have you defiled yourself?" meaning had he eaten pork. To do this would have immediately closed the door to his ability to witness to his family, therefore, he chose not to spend his Christian life eating pork so his opportunity would not be closed.
As another example, I know a man who used to work as a waiter. He told me that many waiters hated working on Sunday afternoons because "the Christians" were going to be coming in. Christians had gained a reputation of being the worst tippers of any group of people. He said that in addition to not leaving the customary tip, they would then leave a Bible tract on the table for the waiter. By not following the custom of proper tipping beforehand, however, they had destroyed their witness.
In (1 Cor 9:19-22) Paul uses the example of witnessing to Jews and Gentiles. He said that if he was with the Jews, he would need to keep himself under Jewish law, and when he was with the Gentiles, he would not need to keep the law. Honoring these kinds of traditions is not sinful, nor will it be a stumbling block to others.
Another area I want to address is Christian dress. The topic of the proper way to clothe and adorn oneself is mentioned in a number of places in the Bible, with the focus mainly being on women. Two verses relating to this are found in:
(1 Tim 2:9-10)(NASB) Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, (10) but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.
(1 Pet 3:3-4) Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; (4) but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.
Why does God mention these characteristics as so important? Why does God primarily place the focus on women in this area? Quite frankly, reactions to immodest and seductive clothing are far more of a problem for men than for women. Women in general do not experience very real physical changes such as rises in blood pressure and pulse rate at the site of a male body like males do when they see a female body. Men can control how they respond to the reaction, but they cannot control the reaction itself any more than one could control being scared.
Today's "fashion" is FAR from the godly principles of modesty and decency God wants of His children. It is designed to draw attention to oneself. It seems as if the race is on to see how much of the body can be shown. These new "fashions" bring with them the problem if inciting passions in the opposite sex. They become a stumbling block to another person's walk, causing them to focus on sexual thinking instead of pure thoughts. They also severely damage your testimony. How you dress says a lot about your values and where your priorities lie.
How do you know what is proper attire to wear? Ask yourself these questions. How would you dress if your pastor was coming for a visit? Better yet, how would you dress if Jesus was coming to visit you personally? Another good old standby, ask dad.
Christian ladies, no matter what the "world" tells you is the way to attract men and be desirable, please know that while men may be physically attracted to you because of what you wear, what they really want, and desire, and value, is a woman of modesty. Men may say they "want" a woman who flaunts her body and dresses immodestly, but if you ask those same men if they would want their daughter to dress like that or if they would want to marry a woman like that, the answer is a resounding "NO." Modest dress elicits respect, gives you value, and starts a relationship on the right path. As (1 Pet 3:4) says above, let your inner beauty shine through. Remember, your body is God's temple, dress to please God and not man, so as to not cause others to lose focus on God.
Our lives as Christians are a continual witness to the world. They are watching our actions and listening to our words to see if we are living up to what we teach and what God says in the Bible we should be doing. Sadly... we are failing on nearly every front. Christians have a divorce rate that is nearly the same as non- Christians. Christians are living together and see nothing wrong with it. The entertainment and music we listen to is most often no different from the rest of the world. The words we speak on a daily basis do not distinguish us from non- Christians. Swearing and taking the Lord's name in vain (the common "Oh my ---") are not even thought about twice. We do not distinguish ourselves in our places of employment. We are not doing our jobs "as unto the Lord." Instead of being thankful to God for having a job, many complain and fail to give a full effort. We should be approaching our jobs with the attitude that the Lord is our employer and we are working for Him. Paul gives us some wonderful examples of how to approach work in (2 Th 3:7-14) and (1 Th 4:11-12). Do the people around you see a difference in you? Do your children see a difference in you? Are there things you are doing that you would not want them to do in the future? Are your actions opening doors to things that could be problems for them down the road? Do others want what they see in you? Do they even know you are a Christian?? If they do, and you proclaim it, you better expect that your life might be examined by someone at any moment. I recently heard a Christian radio personality with a very distinctive voice say he was at a store and asked a clerk something and someone beside him said, "Hey, I know you." She recognized him by his voice. He immediately thought, "What if I had been saying something negative to that clerk?" We can NEVER know who is watching!
Let our lives be a light to the world, remembering Jesus words in (Mt 5:14-16) "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. (15) Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. (16) Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
I now want to confront point #2 from above, that churches and ministries are all out to make a bunch of money. This point is bound to create some dissention, but I simply want to express this viewpoint not from what I believe, but what I have heard from others over and over again.
What are people seeing and saying?
They are seeing ministries with extravagant, lavish churches and offices, and people running those ministries living in mansions, driving high priced cars and it galls them.
They are seeing ministries getting rich off of preaching God's word and they want nothing to do with them.
They see churches and ministers promising blessings to people if they will just give a certain amount to their ministry.
They see churches focusing on money, and not on God.
They see some churches out there that publicly announce who gives what.
People are being pressured to give, instead of being told to give cheerfully as the Bible says in (2 Cor 9:7), and it is driving many people out who will never come back.
I recently read a newsletter from a respected pastor who was ministering overseas and had decided to take up no offerings and pay for all of his own expenses. The people, along with the media and other pastors, were stunned. They could not believe there was an American evangelist preaching to them who wasn't trying to sell anything and was asking for nothing. This is sadly what many people around the world are beginning to expect from Christian ministries, particularly American ministries.
Seeing how many in the non-believing world, and even some Christians, view churches as out to just make money, do we really need to put such emphasis on it? If God is behind what we are doing, will He not provide? Do churches and ministries out there that flaunt wealth as a sign of God's blessings realize the damage they are doing? Do they believe people are drawn to Christianity because they flaunt wealth? Based on what people are telling me, it is quite the opposite, it repels them. As a matter of fact, I don't recall ANYONE telling me that the prospect of gaining material blessings was drawing them to Christianity.
Please don't misunderstand, God certainly wants us to prosper as Christians. The problem is, the meaning of "to prosper" has been completely misconstrued. "To prosper" means to succeed or be successful, but being successful does NOT mean we need to have wealth. There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that Jesus was a man of wealth (carpentry was a fairly menial job in Jesus day) but would anyone dare say Jesus was not a successful and prosperous man? His life was a humble one, yet His ministry was unparalleled.
I have heard at least two ministers on t.v. saying that you have to be blessed (have lots of money) in order to be a blessing. I cannot imagine the impact of this on a Christian who heard this and who does not have a lot of money. What a HORRIBLE hindrance to these people to believe that they cannot bless anyone...
The church I have attended for several years now is not the perfect church, as no church out there is the perfect church, but one thing that drew me to this church was the humility of its leaders and the congregation. One of the first things that stuck with me early on was when offering time came and the pastor said, "For those of you who are visiting, please keep your wallet in your pocket, we are just glad you are here." I don't know if it is those words, or any number of other things, but the church has exploded and is making a huge impact in the community. It is not the most wealthy church, but it is certainly prospering.
Another thing I was told about that I thought sounded like a wonderful way to prevent people from thinking the church was just trying to make money was, they would pass out the offering plate and after everyone had put the money in, they would pass the plate back out so those who needed some money could take some out. Radical? Maybe, but what an awesome way to be a witness as a church.
Dear friend, I pray that you see this message as one given in love to help us as a body to win souls and help the lost. As I have stated over and over again, I have truly felt lead to not get into doctrines that divide Christians on this site, but by the same token, I truly felt the call from God burning inside of me to deliver this message for quite some time. Working in this ministry online over the years has really opened my eyes to the problems that have caused many people to stumble over the years with regards to Christianity. I was not fully aware of these problems when I started, and maybe you were not as well. It is my hope that this teaching will allow you to understand and be aware of these problems, and that we can all together live our lives in a way so as to not hinder people from coming to the Lord in these last days. Peace.
(Col 3:17) And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.