It is the stuff of nightmares, you’re unable to breathe, the pressure is closing in and your last thoughts reflect on what you wished you had done. Regrets fill your mind, if onlys become your focus and as the darkness increases your struggles decrease until what was you has departed and what is left is held firmly beneath the surface by the weight of the millstone tied around your neck.
I can’t even begin to imagine a death more frightening than being drowned, of knowing the ultimate outcome but being unable to do a thing about it. The panic, the sense of helplessness and doom. And Jesus told us that would be preferable to leading a believer astray.
In the context Jesus is referring to the little children who were listening to him preach but the warning is reiterated in Matthew and Mark and the implication is that we have a responsibility not only for our personal salvation but also for our influence on other believers around us.
This summer at Cornerstone we’ve been looking at everyday phrases that either had their origin in the bible, or came into common usage because of the bible. So over the past two weeks Pastor Rob looked at You are the Salt of the Earth and You Reap what you Sow.
This week the phrase we are looking at is “A Millstone around your neck.”
According to Collins English Dictionary, the phrase is defined this way., A millstone around your neck: a very unpleasant problem or responsibility that you cannot escape from.
Long-term illness can make you feel like a millstone around your family’s necks.
This is a word picture that seems a little at odds with the picture that some people have of Jesus. You know the picture of a Jesus who is always loving and kind and never says a mean or condemning word and is never judgemental.
So let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier Luke 17:1-2 One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin. So watch yourselves!
Wow, that doesn’t sound like the softly cuddly Jesus that some people love so much.
And some of you might even be thinking that this only applies to how we treat and act around children, little ones. But the meaning is anyone you have a spiritual influence over, anyone who looks to you for an example.
There is a warning here, a warning that tells us that we are not only responsible for our own salvation but to a certain degree we are responsible for the salvation of others. And sometimes that is hard to get our head around.
And that isn’t a new difficulty, if we go back to the very start of the story of man, in the book of Genesis, which is the first book of the Bible. There we read a story of how Cain, who was the son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother in a fit of Jealousy.
And when Cain was confronted by God, after murdering his brother Abel, Cain asked God that infamous question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” That was actually the first message in this series.
And while God didn’t respond directly to his question, the implication was “Yes Cain, you are responsible for your brother.”
Today if you talk to people about their behaviour and how it might or might not affect a fellow believer you get the same type of response as God got from Cain, “Am I my brother’s Keeper, seriously?” and the implication is still clear “Yes you are.”
Paul told the believers in the early church in 1 Corinthians 8:9 But you must be careful so that your freedom does not cause others with a weaker conscience to stumble.
Christians often spend a lot of time worrying about the actions of the world and how corrupt the world is.
But seriously, Christ followers will not be held accountable
for the actions of society. Jesus called us to be salt and light, but he never
called us to legislate Christian behaviour to an unchristian world. And ultimately I will never be held to
account for the behaviour or misbehaviour of other Christians.
So, while we are not responsible for the actions of our brothers and sisters, we are responsible for our actions. We may not be responsible if they stumble, but we are responsible if what we do causes them to stumble. I am a world class klutz, I can trip over a line painted on the road. And that really isn’t your fault. If I would pick up my feet and pay attention to where I walk I’d be a lot better off. But if you intentionally lay something in my path and I trip over it, then it’s a different story.
And most of us have no problem with that. But I believe the implication is also that if you, through carelessness, leave something in my path and I trip over it you are still responsible even though your intent was not to hurt me. And that’s a little tougher.
So how can Christians cause others to stumble?
They Can Stumble Over Our Behaviour. You realize of course that the depth of your spiritual commitment will be measured by your behaviour? That how you act, what you do, how you behave in certain situations will be the measuring stick that people will use to determine your relationship with Christ.
Now anytime you talk about behaviour in referring to a person’s relationship with Jesus, you are immediately accused of being a. Judgemental or b. a Legalist. And I say yes, exactly. Don’t try to browbeat me with those words. Listen to what Paul wrote in
1 Corinthians 5:12 It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church who are sinning.
That is really important, but it’s not fun. It’s a lot easier to judge “Those people” out there who are doing really horrible things, whoever “Those people” might be, then it is to judge the people who we interact with every week. The people we have relationships with.
But, the scriptures are clear that we have a responsibility to say to other Christ followers “That is wrong behaviour.”
And as for a legalist, if that means that I want people to obey the bible, then go ahead and stick the label on. I get so tired of seeing people who profess to be a Christian, but you’d never know it by their behaviour. And that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
Jesus told us that as Christians we would be light and people shouldn’t have to say “Look, I’m a light.” Their actions should prove that. Lights don’t have to define themselves. All they have to do is to be what they are supposed to be, a light. Jesus told his followers in Luke 11:36 Jesus said, “If you are filled with light, with no dark corners, then your whole life will be radiant, as though a floodlight were filling you with light.”
But the flip side of that is also true, it doesn’t matter how strongly you announce that you are a light if it’s not shining you won’t be believed. Nowhere are the words truer “What you are doing speaks so loud I can’t hear what you are saying.”
At the same time Jesus told his followers that they were to be the salt of the world. Pastor Rob spoke about this two weeks ago. In the same way that you don’t have to define light, you don’t have to define salt. If salt is salt, then it tastes like salt.
Throughout the Bible, we are told that there is certain behaviour that is not consistent with Christianity. You know what those behaviours are, and those around you in the church know what those behaviours are,, and even those outside the church know what type of behaviour a Christian ought to exhibit and ought not to exhibit. That’s why people feel free to say: Really, you do that, or watch that, or listen to that . . . And you call yourself a Christian.”
Paul told early believers what type of behaviour wasn’t acceptable in the life of Christians the lists haven’t changed. Ephesians 5:3-8 Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.
Another list is given in Galatians 5:19-21 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
And I know that some folks think lists like this are really negative and that we should focus on the positive side of Christianity. But if there was a bottle of liquid that was poison you’d want to know that, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t care that there was a negative skull and crossbones on the bottle, you really wouldn’t care about all the positive things the liquid could do, even if it was pretty and tasted nice. If it could kill you you’d want to know: If you drink this, then bad things will happen.
If a bridge was out on a road that you were driving on, you would want to know that. Even if the sign seemed a little negative. You wouldn’t care if there was a great view, or that it was a shortcut if the bridge wasn’t out. You would want to know that if you kept driving that you might die. You want to be warned: If you continue on this route, bad things will happen.
Listen to that last verse again: Galatians 5:21 . . . Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. That is a warning saying, if you continue to act like this, a bad thing will happen.
I didn’t have to show you those lists, you knew what was on them. It wasn’t a surprise. What is a surprise, is how people justify behaviour that is on the list. Ralph Waldo Emerson said “That which we call sin in others, is experiment for us.”
And Peter Marshall said, “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it.”
A number of years ago, we were at a wedding and during the reception we struck up a conversation with a couple we knew. He had been a pastor; she had been the piano player in the church. Without getting into a lot of detail, they had left their respective spouses and were living together. At that point, they weren’t divorced, they were still legally married to other people, but they were living together. We used to call that living in sin, but that isn’t considered politically correct anymore.
During the conversation, we got talking about television and she made the comment that they didn’t let her children watch the Simpsons because of the morals that were communicated through the show. Excuse me? My dear wife said she had to bite her tongue so she wouldn’t say, “Well, at least Marge and Homer are married.”
I really wanted one of my points to be Keep Your Pants On but decided that wouldn’t be appropriate, so forget you saw it.
Whether it was the pedophile scandal that the Catholic Church has been through or the various celebrity Christians that have blown it through the years or when a local pastor or spiritual leader is involved in sexual misconduct, major damage has been done to people’s faith because some Christians haven’t been able to keep their pants on.
And from this scripture, I would suspect that they will be judged not only on their sexual sin but also on the result their sexual sin had on others.
People are watching how we live, and when we blow it there is the possibility of someone saying “Well there must not be much to this Christianity thing.”
But what type of behaviour should we be exhibiting? Read the book, check out: Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
Or Philippians 4:8-9 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.
But it’s not just our behaviour, or what we do that can cause people to stumble, they can also stumble over what we don’t do.
They Can Stumble Over Our Lack of Love The day before Christ was crucified, he set out a litmus test for those who chose to follow him. This is the way that people will recognize you, he said, and it wasn’t by how you dress, or how long your hair is, or whether you are pierced or tattooed. Jesus didn’t say that people would know that you were his disciple by your church membership or political affiliation, instead what he said was recorded by John 13:35 “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
Of course, the converse of that is true as well. If you do not have love for one another it will prove to the world that you are not his disciples.
St. Augustine made this statement “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”
Paul defined love in the book of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
And when you show love like that, people know it has to be supernatural.
And so when we do not exhibit that type of behaviour, we are setting up a stumbling block for believers and unbelievers alike.
And these two, our behaviour and our love have to go together. We can be completely righteous, but if we don’t show love, it will cause people to stumble. On the other hand, we can love everyone but not be obedient to Christ in other areas and that becomes another block for people to trip over.
They Can Stumble Over Our Words. The way we speak and what we say reveals a great deal about our Christian character or lack of Christian character. The tongue is the most powerful influence in the church and it is able to build people up or tear them down.
When we moved to Australia, the hot topic in the church down under was the issue of speaking in tongues. The Charismatic movement was gaining a lot of traction at the time, and the topic of whether Christians should always speak in tongues or never speak in tongues was causing a lot of strife in some churches. And I remember someone saying “you know brother those unknown tongues will destroy the church. I don’t know about that, but there sure have been a lot of churches destroyed by the known tongue.
I’ve said before, that I feel like John Maxwell when he was pastoring Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego he was asked “Are you praying that your people will get the gift of tongues?” “No” he replied, “I’m praying they’ll learn to control the one they’ve got now.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve had to apologize for something stupid, hurtful or hateful that was said by someone who professed to be a believer.
Earlier we looked at the acts of the sinful nature as defined in Galatians. Did you notice how many of these, for example, hostility, quarrelling, jealousy, anger, divisions and envy are manifested through speech? That is they are all actions that are expressed, enlarged or revealed through our words. And it’s the same thing with the Fruit of the Holy Spirit : love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
More times than not, they are also expressed verbally. And so it’s not just how you walk, but how you talk that will determine the credibility of your Christianity.
And so on a day-to-day basis, you are judged not just on your actions but on your words, and on your tone of voice. And you’re not just judged by the person you are talking to, you are judged by everyone within earshot. Does your speech betray spiritual flaws, or does your speech reveal spiritual strength?
It’s been said that we need to apply a threefold test to what we say, 1) is it true, 2) is it kind, and 3) is it necessary. It would probably help a lot. If we can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.
Let’s go back to In Philippians 4:8 Paul proposes some guidelines for what we think, Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
I don’t think it would do any injustice to the scriptures to read that portion of scripture this way Philippians 4:8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Speak only about what is true, and honourable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Speak about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.
And if we speak on those eight things, then we won’t have time to be malicious and nasty and hurtful.
So, let’s commit ourselves to be careful to not lay obstacles in the path of those who need Jesus. To realize that our behaviour, our words and our lives will either draw people to Jesus or will push them away.
And so our responsibility is to not only invite people to share what we have but also to make it something that they want to share. That is why Paul advised Titus in Titus 2:10 . . . make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive in every way.