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. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! 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. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Hardly a creature exists that is as helpless at birth as a human baby. In significant ways this helplessness extends through childhood and even into early adolescence – not just physical weakness, but also moral and emotional weakness. We need to be protected, to be loved, to be taught, to be encouraged, to be led, and even to be rebuked. We need to see good examples lived out before us, and the absence of these leaves us vulnerable to misconceptions of life and of God’s rule in the universe.
The Principle: Christ espoused a principle of responsibility and accountability of leadership on this earth. Those in our charge, our “little ones,” whether large or small, are ours to influence, but we must give an answer to God as to how we do it. In a fallen world it is certain to happen that some will fail their responsibility for positive influence, and others will negatively influence the vulnerable. The weak are not to be despised in the Christian’s life, but are to be helped and lifted up, redeemed and made strong.
The Picture: Death by a millstone being tied around one’s neck and tossed into the sea was a form of execution of many pagan nations in the ancient world. To cut short one’s life was preferable to sinning and influencing others more vulnerable – especially the young – not that suicide is recommended here, but that a comparison is drawn. To die by drowning with a millstone was to forego a funeral and burial, to be forgotten, with no grave to serve as a memorial. That is preferable, Jesus was saying, to having sinned like this and then stand before holy God. “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
The Practice: We put these principles into practice by first taking responsibility for our actions, and focus our time, thought, and energy on those pure things that build up our faith. Paul wrote,
…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice…
Second, we should also separate from those that are negative influences. One of the lies most often told by the devil is that if we do not engage in some type of sinful behavior we have not truly experienced all of life. Some have engaged in sexual sins just on this argument alone, but others have gone farther into sin – such as Emperor Nero who subjected people to tortures out of his own morbid curiosity.
Christ was not saying that in the resurrection our bodies will have the same defects as here (see 1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Rather He was making a comparison: the joys of holiness only partially enjoyed are infinitely more fulfilling that the so-called thrills of sin even if fully engaged in.
We are missing nothing important if we do not engage in unholy behavior. We are gaining everything important if our thoughts are pure and holy. This is the blessed life.
Lord, forgive us for succumbing to the influences of the world, the lures of our lusts, the advertisements of a fallen society. With You is life! Let us live in You for in Your light, we see true light! Amen.