These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.
The intent of Christ in His teachings in John 15 was that we might not stumble in our hearts toward Him, that we might not become ensnared in temptations and in our lusts or pride, that we might not be caught unaware of the spiritual dangers that are around us.
The word translated “stumble” is skandalizo, from which we get our English word “scandal.” It means to put a stumbling block in someone’s way, to corrupt someone’s loyalty to God, to plant distrust and doubt. It could also mean to be offended, to see in another something negative and, in our relationship with God, it would mean to find something that would hinder our obedience, that would discourage us and influence us not to obey His authority.
The Primacy of Life in Christ: Christ’s teachings are fundamentally positive and the primary message is life in Him. Christ’s words about not stumbling related to the statements about persecution He had just uttered, because the following verses pick up the same theme. But, yet, He used them also to remind us of the strength of the presence of the Spirit. He said: “These things I did not say to you at the beginning, because I was with you” (John 16:4). While He was with the disciples in the flesh, there was no reason to talk about the hard days to come. His main purpose was not to prepare His disciples for persecution but to introduce them to true life.
He was with the disciples for three years and the focus of His time with them was righteousness and the kingdom of God. Yet He did not avoid the subject of persecution either. He knew that in times of persecution – no matter how fleeting they may be, especially in light of eternity – they can be very intense and cause a believer to feel completely abandoned by God. And we often will “feel” abandoned, and question where God is and what has He left us all alone, even when we deal with minor frustrations. The psalmists were quick to complain when they felt that God was no longer with them,
Psalm 28:1: To You I will cry, O LORD my Rock: do not be silent to me lest, if You are silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
But the focus of Christ’s teaching here and throughout His ministry is positive in nature. He assures us that the blessings of faith and obedience to Him far outweigh the difficulties of persecution. So He spoke these principles of spiritual life – He is the Vine and we are the branches – so that we might know that our strength is not in our circumstances but in the spiritual life of the Spirit of God.
The Fellowship of the Spirit: Christ also did not teach them about persecution from the very beginning because when He was with them the persecution fell mainly on Him. “Strike the Shepherd and the sheep will scatter” was the thinking of the opposition to Christ (Matt. 26:31). But He left them after the resurrection and ascended on high, and the Spirit of Christ came to indwell the church and to empower us. So His teaching of life also prepared the disciples and us to realize that the Spirit of God will be with us in all of our challenges.
Christ said, “It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Our pattern of life is the same as that of Christ during His life. The Spirit of God has now come into the world and just as Christ lived by the strength of the Spirit, now we His followers also live in the same way.
Hebrews 12:3-4: Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
The Spirit guide us into all truth and applies in our lives the spiritual riches of Christ (John 16:13).
We have an enemy. The word in John 16:1 above, “be made to stumble,” is in the passive and this fact points out that there is some one in this world who seeks to cause us to stumble and fall away. Christ did not belabor this point in these verses, rather He only mentioned this reality – “I do not pray that you should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15).
There are two extremes we must avoid – denying the existence of Satan and attributing to him too much power. Both of these perspectives are lies. Satan does exist and we do battle with him. He is a force to be reckoned with, one that we should respect in terms of his power. Jude 9 points out that even Michael the archangel was careful in dealing with Satan and “dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!'” All our power against Satan and his kingdom comes from God.
But neither should we give him more power and more attention than he deserves. Christ mentioned the evil one in His prayer, but His prayer was not directed against the devil so much as it was directed to the Father. And this is the secret of life and of victory – praying to God, trusting in God, drawing near to God, and resisting or rejecting the devil. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God and He will draw nigh to you” (James 4:7-8).
Therefore: We are confident in Christ and in the presence of His life and His Spirit within us. We have a divine Source of life in our souls and we will always be with Him and He will be with us. Nothing can separate us from Him. We also have an enemy who will try to cause us to stumble, but we need not fear. Trust and receive God’s life, and do not worry about the devil. The Lord will strengthen us.