What does it mean to cause someone to stumble? How can I avoid causing others to stumble?
Have you ever heard that phrase used? Don’t cause others to stumble! Don’t make him stumble! But what does it really mean? This phrase comes from two letters written by the apostle Paul in the Bible. In Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is talking about how we should respect others’ personal convictions regarding specific topics, even if our convictions are different.
Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice, we are no longer under the Old Testament law. His shed blood is the New Covenant between us and God (Luke 22:20). Because of Him, we have lots of freedoms now that would not have been possible under the old covenant (See Exodus 34).
Don’t judge someone’s personal convictions.
During the early church days, people were divided about what laws and traditions they wanted to keep following and which ones they were free from. Paul was trying to help them accept each other and not judge one another’s faith or goodness based on differing convictions.
Today, we have the same kind of disagreements, even over the same kind of topics! Under the New Covenant, we are not bound to certain laws about body piercings, tattoos, clothing styles, movies, video games, books, and alcohol/smoking. While the Bible doesn’t give us checklists in these areas, many Christians have still developed their own personal convictions on this stuff. One person might say that wearing shorts is okay, while another might say they’re immodest—and that is perfectly fine.
It’s true that some of these things might lead to worldliness, sin, impurity, or even just obsession or idolatry. But on the other hand, being legalistic by avoiding a checklist of “worldly” things can also become an issue of pride or arrogance.
You can see how this could cause a lot of confusion among believers, because it’s sometimes hard to determine what’s “right” and what’s “wrong"—especially when the Bible doesn’t give specific instructions. But in the end, these kinds of preferences make no eternal difference; all that matters is that a person accepts Christ as their Savior by committing to follow His example in life.
Respect others’ personal convictions.
Here’s where we come to the part about not causing other believers to stumble. The Greek word for “stumble” is defined as sort of like stubbing a toe, which would cause you to stumble as you walk. Spiritually speaking, we should not do anything to "stub the toe” of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are trying to walk in Jesus’ footsteps. “Stumbling” on that path might damage or weaken your friend’s faith.
God wants us to help other Christians stick to their personal convictions—even if we don’t feel personally convicted about that thing being sinful. We should always avoid tempting fellow believers into sinning (Romans 15:1).
For example, let’s say your friend has a problem with a certain kind of music. Maybe that music is not inherently evil. But if it is something that would cause your friend to stumble in his faith, it is your duty as a Christian friend to make sure that you are not responsible for exposing him to that kind of music.
In Philippians 2:15, Paul tells us to be living examples of Christ so “that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” Do not let your actions be the ones that lead another believer to sin. Yes, we are free from the laws of the old covenant, but we still have a responsibility to protect those who have doubts about which freedoms they can enjoy.
In everything you do, “make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19). That means lining up your actions with the goal of glorifying God and helping others, showing the world “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).