DON’T BE A STUMBLING BLOCK TO FELLOW BELIEVERS OR TO YOURSELF
John MacArthur: in Matthew chapter 18 a most-interesting thing is going on. The disciples, children of God, who belong to Jesus Christ, are provoking one another to sin. By arguing and hassling and debating about who is the greatest in the kingdom, they are provoking each other to bitterness, to rivalry, to ambition, to pride, to envy, to jealousy, to self-seeking. In other words, they are mutually causing each other to sin. And our Lord takes on this matter by instructing them as to the importance of not causing one another to sin. . .
Jesus brings up this whole matter of our responsibility in regard to each other. Most people, and I suppose we could say this hoping that it were true, most people that call themselves Christians have some concern for their own holiness. Most people who really are Christians certainly are concerned about their own purity of life. But I wonder if we really ever stop to think about the purity of the lives of other people. Maybe we’re sort of content if we can just take care of ourselves and we don’t worry about how we affect anyone else. That’s quite contrary to what God is saying and what Christ is teaching in this passage. We must not only do no evil in our own lives but we must never cause another Christian to sin. That is the specific message of this passage.
J. Ligon Duncan; All temptation is a challenge to God’s lordship in our lives. And we can ask these two questions: Do I want God more than I want this forbidden pleasure? That’s the sinful temptation. Or do I want God more than I want this gift that I know that comes from him? Do we want the gifts that God gives more than we want God Himself? If we are succumbing to either of those two temptations, either following after forbidden pleasures, or loving God’s gifts more than we love the giver, we have already lost the battle of temptation. And Jesus is saying there are dread results from losing that battle. Jesus speaking of hell, of eternal fire, in this passage, is an argument, an inducement for us to mortify sin. He is saying, “If your heart follows the way of your desire in temptation, then you will be separated from Me eternally.” Why? Because to sin once causes you to lose your salvation? No. But because your temptation and your incessant following of that temptation reveals your heart. It reveals that you love something else more than you love God. And that is why it is such a danger.
Charles Swindoll: It may seem that Jesus’ teaching had gotten off track. Didn’t He start by scolding His disciples for arguing over who was the greatest . . . then veer off into valuing children . . . and now wander into a discussion about the seriousness of sin? Actually, Jesus was setting up a contrast between the self-centered life and the other-centered life. Craig Blomberg notes, “A stark contrast thus remains between those who recognize their complete dependence on God, and who therefore welcome other believers in humility and service, and those, including professing believers, who lead themselves and others to sin.” Two paths stood before the disciples —one of selfishness, pride, and a spiraling into sin that would destroy self and others; the other of selflessness, humility, and leading even the weakest believers into righteousness.
I. (:5-6) DON’T BE A STUMBLING BLOCK TO FELLOW BELIEVERS
What is the connection of vv.5-6 to what went before? Our view of the greatness of Christ must be demonstrated in how we treat the least significant of Christ’s followers. Humility eliminates favoritism in how we treat other believers.
J. Ligon Duncan: one way you can see this kind of true humility manifest is in your attitude towards others. And He begins to stress to the disciples how important it is that they not become obstacles to the faith of others, even those who are considered least and weak in the eyes of the world. They are to be concerned for those who are unimportant, for those who are marginalized, for those who are not powerful, for those who are least. Their concern for just those kinds of people manifests the fact that they do not think of themselves as high and exalted. And so in their very treatment of those who are least, they show that their heart attitude is, ‘No Lord, I am least. And so I must serve my neighbor first.’ And Jesus says that is a sure sign that you have grasped kingdom humility.
A. (:5) Encouragement: Helping (Receiving) Fellow Believers – Meeting Their Needs
“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;”
In fact we should seek out opportunities to care for those who are the most needy = Reverse Favoritism; James 2:1-17
Hiebert: There is a spiritual unity between the humble believer, Christ the sent one, and the Father who commissioned Him.
Donald Hagner: Receiving a disciple here, as there (where the same verb, δέχεται, “receive,” is used), apparently means showing hospitality and consideration to disciples in pursuit of their calling, and hence especially in missionary work.
Grant Osborne: “Receive” (δέξηται) involves welcome, loving reception, and acceptance. Hagner takes it especially of hospitality shown to disciples in missionary work (cf. 10:42), but more likely it is intended of community life in general. A good example would be Rom 14:1–15:13, where Jewish and Gentile Christians in conflict are told to accept one another. This is to be done “in my name,” i.e., as part of his community and under his authority (cf. 7:22; 10:22; 18:20; 19:29; 24:5, 9; 28:19). To do so is to receive Jesus himself and to experience his blessing. Since Jesus is one with each of his followers, the one showing mercy experiences Christ’s presence in the one they are helping.
John MacArthur: It is impossible to separate the Lord from his people. The prophet said, “He that toucheth Israel toucheth the apple of my eye.” Now the apple of his eye isn’t out here some apple, the best-looking apple in the bunch. That was the Hebrew way of saying the pupil of the eye. God says when you touch Israel, you jam your finger in my eye, and that irritates me. You’re taking a poke at God’s eye, the most vulnerable part of the exposed anatomy, the most sensitive thing to be wounded or injured. You are poking God in the most sensitive area when you touch his people; that’s a basic principle. Why? Because when you receive his people, verse 5, you’re receiving him. The implication is he’s bound up with his people as one. Now this is a favorite teaching of the Lord, the concept of the believer’s unity to him is really in many ways the heart and soul of Christianity. We’re not people who believe in a system; we’re people who are united with God, aren’t we? We are one with Jesus Christ. We don’t just follow his teachings, we’re one with him. And the Lord taught using this principle again and again. One of his favorite truths in Matthew 10:40 we saw that he said, “He receiveth you receiveth me, he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” (cf. Mat. 25:34ff)
William Barclay: To teach unruly, disobedient, restless little children can be a wearing job. To satisfy the physical needs of children, to wash their clothes and tend their cuts and soothe their bruises and cook their meals may often seem a very unromantic task; the cooker and the sink and the first-aid kit have not much glamour; but there is no one in all this world who helps Jesus Christ more than the teacher of the little child and the harassed, hard-pressed parent in the home. All who take on these tasks will find a glory in the grey, and discover wonder in the ordinary, if in the child they sometimes glimpse none other than Jesus himself.
Thomas Constable: The child in view in these verses is not a literal child, but the disciple who has humbled himself or herself, and in so doing has become childlike (vv. 3-4). Jesus was speaking of receiving a humble disciple of His in verse 5. (Jesus taught the importance of receiving a little child in Mark 9:36-37 and Luke 9:48.) Whoever receives a disciple in Jesus’ name welcomes the disciple because he or she is one of Jesus’ disciples, not because that one is personally superior, influential, or prominent. The person who welcomes one of Jesus’ humble disciples, simply for Jesus’ sake, virtually welcomes Jesus Himself (cf. 10:42; 25:34-46). In this context, as well as in chapter 10, Jesus was speaking of welcoming in the sense of extending hospitality—with its accompanying encouragement and support. To receive (Gr. dekomai) means to receive into fellowship.
B. (:6) Warning: Hurting (Rejecting) Fellow Believers – Causing Them to Stumble
“but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble,
it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck,
and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
“little ones” — Piper: emphasizes that they are not great in the eyes of the world. They are not strong. They are not self-sufficient. Instead, what marks them is that they “believe in me.” That is, they trust not in themselves but in Jesus.
Jeffrey Crabtree: Offend (v. 6, Greek skandalizō) here means to “cause to stumble in faith or entice to sin” (Grimm’s 576). Jesus, then, in this discussion was not speaking of personal offenses as in 17:27 but of occasions to sin (Hagner 33B:522). To offend or cause to sin in verse 6 is the verb form of the word translated offences in verse 7.
Both the word “depth” (Evans, Matthew 341; Ex. 15:5; Neh. 9:11; Ps. 63:9) and the size of the millstone intensify through hyperbole (Wilkins 614) the image of judgment. “Depth” (Greek, pelagos) speaks of the open sea (Acts 27:5), that deep part of the sea where ships travel (Grimm’s 499). The millstone was the size and kind turned by a donkey, not the hand mills women normally used (ISBE III:356). Donkeys pulled this wheel-shaped stone around a center pole over a flat bottom stone to crush grain. The millstone was so heavy and the water so deep that a person could not possibly free himself. Jesus’ point was God’s judgment against those who lead others to sin should be feared more than inescapable death by drowning.
Robert Gundry: Such a stone, hung by rope around the neck, would not only ensure drowning but also kill all hope of the drowned body’s rising to the surface and floating ashore for burial, especially since “the depth of the sea” refers to the open sea far from shore. People of the Bible looked with horror on any kind of death that precluded burial. The un-Jewishness of execution by drowning intensifies the horror. But if such a fate is advantageous as compared with causing a fellow disciple’s apostasy, how much more horrible must be the judgment of the disciple who causes the apostasy!
William Hendriksen: The millstone is the top-stone of the two between which the grain is crushed. The reference is not to the hand-mill but to the much heavier stone drawn by a donkey. In the middle of the top-stone, whether of a hand-mill or of a donkey-drawn mill, there is a hole through which grain can be fed so as to crushed between the two stones. The presence of this hole explains the phrase “that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck.” . . .
However, it is not merely the lesson of trustful humility that the Master is here teaching his disciples. The sinful yearning to be greater than one’s fellowmen and to rule over them is not a merely passive attitude. It is a very active drive. Therefore also its opposite and antidote can be nothing less than the similarly active effort to love all, that is, not only to become like the children but also to love them and to protect them; indeed, to exercise this same loving attitude toward all, gladly forgiving all.
S. Lewis Johnson: The best example of the application of this truth of not offending one of these little ones is the Lord Jesus himself. And we have seen in the preceding incident, last Sunday, in the miracle of the tribute money, that the Lord Jesus claimed that he did not have to pay the temple tax, as a matter of fact the whole temple belonged to him. But he stated in the 27th verse of chapter 17, notwithstanding, lest we should offend them, and he went ahead and did that which was which it was unnecessary for him to do. So he beautifully illustrates the fact that one should not offend one of these little ones.
Ray Fowler: (19:13-15) People were bringing their little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. The disciples tried to stop them. They obviously thought Jesus was too busy or the children were not important enough to interrupt his schedule. But Jesus said let the little children come and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.
Dan Brooks: How do we cause others to sin?
- Eve offered Adam what God has clearly forbidden; outright transgression and inviting others to participate; Gen. 3
- Passively consent in what is wrong; Aaron – while Moses is on the mountain; Israel decides they cannot wait and indulge in idolatrous worship; forgiveness of God = ended up anointing Aaron as first high priest
- Careless exercise of liberty – things that are truly indifferent; matters of conscience; Rom. 14:20-21
John MacArthur: How do we cause others to sin?
- Direct temptation – Eve is classic illustration
- Indirect temptation by provoking people – Ephes. 6:4
- Setting a sinful example
- When we lead people right into sin
- When we abuse our liberty
II. (:7) DANGER OF STUMBLING BLOCKS
A. Stumbling Blocks Present a Real Danger – Caveat of Temptation
“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks!”
Thomas Constable: Jesus pronounced woe on the world because it is the source of opposition to Him and His disciples, and the source of much stumbling and many stumbling blocks. “Woe” announces judgment (cf. 11:21; 23:13-32). It is inevitable that the world will reject Jesus’ disciples, but God will hold those who do reject them responsible (cf. Isa. 10:5-12; Acts 4:27-28).
David Guzik: The first woe is a cry of pity for a world in danger of offenses. The second woe is a warning to the one who brings or introduces evil to others.
Grant Osborne: Jesus is saying that divine judgment will fall on the world because its system is the true source of the stumbling that will destroy the faith of too many “little ones.” This also means that the false teachers [cf. Jewish religious leaders] and others who cause such spiritual catastrophes are truly of the world.
Stu Weber: Woe means that God’s judgment is about to fall. It is as though God had his hand raised, ready to come down in wrath at any moment. Jesus pronounced impending judgment on the world for things that cause people to sin. The secular world is filled with temptations for believers. One day this world will be destroyed. The inevitability of temptations in the world does not excuse one’s sin.
B. Stumbling Blocks Are Inevitable in This Sinful World – Certainty of Temptation
“For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come;”
Charles Swindoll: Jesus condemned the world for its plethora of temptations that coax the weak, the innocent, the unlearned, and the naïve down a path of sinfulness. The word “woe,” which Jesus expresses toward the world, suggests a strong exclamation of deep emotion —either sorrow or anger. Though these snares are inevitable in a fallen world, those who perpetrate the wickedness are called out and will suffer dire consequences.
R. T. France: “The world” (kosmos) here refers especially to the world of people, rather than the physical creation as a whole; for this sense of kosmos cf. 4:8; 5:14; 13:38; 26:13. People in general are bound to be confronted by stumbling-blocks; the world is a dangerous place. The “necessity” of such problems (anankē speaks of inevitability) springs not from a specific divine purpose but from the nature of things in a fallen world; cf. 13:37–43 for this acceptance that evil (including “stumbling-blocks,” 13:41) will remain in the world until the final consummation. Discipleship was never going to be an easy proposition, but that is no reason for anyone to make it harder by irresponsible behavior toward fellow-disciples. The idea that people are responsible for their actions even though these are “necessary” is one which runs through both OT and NT (most notably in the story of Judas Iscariot; note a similar “woe” specifically directed at him in 26:24). The fact that a person is operating within a determined structure does not excuse them for their personal choices and decisions.
Albert Barnes: That is, such is the depravity of man that there will be always some who are attempting to make others sin; some people of wickedness endeavoring to lead Christians astray, and rejoicing when they have succeeded in causing them to fall. Such, also, is the strength of our native corruption and the force of passion, that our besetting sins will lead us astray.
Gill’s Exposition: Considering the implacable malice of Satan, his unwearied and indefatigable pains, the malignity of the men of the world, their aversion and enmity to the Gospel of Christ, and all good men; it cannot be thought, God suffering such things for the trial of such as are truly gracious, and for the discovery of hypocrites, and for the manifestation of his grace, power, and faithfulness in the preservation of his dear children, that it should be otherwise, but that such offences should be. . .
C. Source of Stumbling Blocks Liable to Severe Judgment – Culpability of Temptation
“but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!”
J. Ligon Duncan: In that little verse (:7) the Lord Jesus stresses two things. First of all, that temptation is going to be a certainty in this life. The Lord Jesus wants you to know that there is never going to be a day in this life when you’re not going to face temptation. But along side of that, the Lord Jesus also wants us to understand though we are going to live in a world fraught with temptation, He does not want us to be contributors to that problem. On the one hand, there is the certainty of temptation. But on the other hand, in verse 7, there is the culpability for temptation. He says that temptation is certain, but let me tell you this, if you become a tempter, you will be held responsible for it. And in verse 7, as He pronounces a woe against the world because of stumbling blocks, He is teaching us as His disciples, as His followers, that we are not to become stumbling blocks. We must determine not to be stumbling blocks. Jesus, when He pronounces a woe against the world is using the world in the sense of that system which is allied and united against God; mankind alienated from the life of God; mankind opposed to the life of God. And He pronounces a woe against those who are part of that world system.
And His purpose in pronouncing this woe against world while He’s talking to His disciples is precisely this: He is warning His disciples not to act as if they were part of the world in opposition to God. And you notice the juxtaposition here: Jesus’ disciples and the world. Now let me tell you that understanding that juxtaposition is a key to understanding temptation, because as we heard from Thomas Watson in the beginning of the service, all temptation is a test of sincerity. All temptation, all temptation invites you to, believers anyway, to put one foot in the church and the other foot in the world. All temptation invites believers to try and be partially loyal to God and partially loyal to the desires and the system of the world. And the Lord Jesus immediately says to His disciples, “It’s got to be one way or the other. You are either under the pronouncements of woe that I have pronounced upon the world, or you are part of My disciples.” And so He’s making it very clear to the disciples that being part of the world will involve judgment.
Daniel Doriani: The Bible often teaches the importance of leading and nurturing young believers; this passage, conversely, tells us we dare not mislead them.
D. A. Carson: Implicitly, the offense is gravely magnified when, with particular perversity, some wicked people self-consciously try to entice Christ’s “little ones” into sin—but the evil is broader than that. Because it signals a rejection of Jesus as well as damaging his people, drowning at sea before the evil was committed is much preferable to eschatological judgment, the eternal fire of hell (vv.8–9) that awaits the perpetrators. Drowning was a not uncommon punishment in Greek and Roman society.
III. (:8-9) DON’T BE A STUMBLING BLOCK TO YOURSELF – DEAL DRASTICALLY WITH YOUR OWN SIN
Charles Swindoll: In 18:8-9, Jesus leveled the same severe warning against those things in our lives that lead to personal sin and transgression. After all, those who cause others to stumble began by stumbling themselves, and those personal patterns of sin develop for us when we allow stumbling blocks in our own lives. This brings up an often-neglected dimension to sin: Succumbing to temptation is never personal and private. The consequences always affect others in ways we can’t necessarily predict. If we let stumbling blocks into our own lives, eventually a chain reaction will ensue that causes others to stumble as well.
Richard Gardner: Here Matthew is drawing on Mark (cf. the three parallel sayings in Mark 9:43-47), using sayings cited earlier in the discussion of adultery in the Sermon on the Mount (5:29-30). In the context of chapter 18, the sayings can be interpreted in two different ways.
- According to some writers, cutting off and tearing out refer to excommunication: The church must remove those members whose behavior endangers the faith of others and the life of the community (cf. 1 Cor. 5:2, 13, and Dietrich Philips in Williams:-246).
- It is more likely, however, that the sayings call for self-examination on the part of each believer: If any part of our life causes us to stumble, and therefore makes us an obstacle to the faith of other Christians, we must do whatever it takes to correct the situation (cf. the comments on 5:29-30).
Grant Osborne: εἰ is a condition of fact and assumes that such false teachers (the leaders in Jesus’ day, heretical teachers in Matthew’s time) are present. Yet this is strongly debated, for the majority of scholars take this in the same sense it had in 5:29–30, namely, sinful parts of the disciples’ own “body” or self that lead them into sin. In 5:29–30 it was temptation to sexual lust, while here it is sin committed in the Christian assembly.
However, Thompson argues
(1) that the causative force of the key word “stumble” (σκανδαλίζω) must be respected, so that it means “cause others to stumble,” and
(2) that the condition of fact in “if” (εἰ) implies a real situation in the community.
Moreover, the context is corporate, and vv. 6–7 have warned the church against this very activity, namely, individuals who cause “the little ones” to fall spiritually. Thus the terms “your hand/foot” are personified to depict false teachers and others who are detrimental to the life of the church. . .
So Jesus takes the personal metaphors of 5:29–30 and applies them corporately here to life in the church. The imagery of amputation parallels 18:17 and refers to the excommunication of offending members. As such this is a call to church discipline.
A. (:8) Sin Involving Your Hand or Foot
- Dangerous Offense
“And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble,”
- Drastic Response
“cut it off and throw it from you;”
- Dread of Eternal Hell Fire
“it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame,
than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire.”
Matthew McCraw: Jesus is using hyperbole to make this point: we must take our sin very seriously and we must be totally committed to defeating it. Jesus says that it’s better to sacrifice in this life than to go into hellfire without sacrificing. Listen, church, hell is real. We don’t know exactly what it’s like, but it’s described as a place with great evil, tortuous fire, great agony, great suffering, and terrible judgment. We don’t want to find out what it’s really like. Sacrificing in order to avoid sin and follow Jesus is worth it every single time. Do whatever you can to avoid sin and pursue holiness. Don’t ask yourself how close you can get to sin, ask yourself how close you can get to Jesus.
B. (:9) Sin Involving Your Eye
- Dangerous Offense
“And if your eye causes you to stumble,”
- Drastic Response
“pluck it out, and throw it from you.”
- Dread of Eternal Hell Fire
“It is better for you to enter life with one eye,
than having two eyes, to be cast into the fiery hell.”
David Turner: Failure to deal radically with sinful proclivities indicates that one is in danger of punishment in hellfire (cf. 3:10–12; 5:22; 25:41). As grotesque as these images of amputation and gouging are, the prospect of eternal punishment is far worse. This language is hypothetical as well as hyperbolic (cf. 5:29–30). Ridding oneself of one’s hands, feet, and eyes would not reach the root of sin, the heart (15:18–20). The point is, rather, that one must deal radically with one’s sinful tendencies (cf. Prov. 4:23–27; Rom. 13:11–14). This is necessary before one attempts to correct another member of the community (Matt. 18:15; cf. 7:3–5; Gal. 6:1).
Warren Wiersbe: Humility begins with self-examination, and it continues with self-denial. Jesus was not suggesting that we maim our bodies, for harming our physical bodies can never change the spiritual condition of our hearts. Rather, he was instructing us to perform “spiritual surgery” on ourselves, removing anything that causes us to stumble or that causes others to stumble. The humble person lives for Jesus first and others next – he puts himself last. He is happy to deprive himself even of good things, if it will make others happy. Perhaps the best commentary on this is Philippians 2:1-18.