Avoiding Millstones

September 1, 2013

It is the stuff of nightmares, you’re unable to breath, 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 to your left ankle. 
I can’t even imagine a death more frightening then 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. 
We are almost to the end of our Red Letter Summer
series.  We started back in June and the
preaching team has focused on the words in the Bible that are printed in
Red.  Those are the words of Jesus and
they weren’t actually printed in Red in the original Greek, instead it was the
brainchild of an editor with the Christian Herald magazine in 1899 who thought
it would be a cool idea to print the words of Christ in Red in Bibles so they
would stand out. 

But red letters have been used for five centuries to mark important words.  They were first used on calendars to mark the
Holy Days, Red Letter Days. 

And these particular Red Letter words seem 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 Paul 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.   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 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?”
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.  I have heard Christians talk about how
shameful Miley’s behaviour was on the MTV award show and I want to ask “What
were you doing watching the MTV award show?” 
Have you stopped and listened to the lyrics in the music they
celebrate? 
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 use to determine
your relationship with Christ. 
Now anytime you talk about
behaviour in referring to a person’s relationship with Christ 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
behavior.” 
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 be
what they are supposed to be, a light. 
Jesus told his followers in Luke 11:36 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 and 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 “And you
call yourself a Christian.”
Paul told early believers what
type of behavior 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!
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 cross bones 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 I it could kill you you’d want
to know: If you drink this bad things will happen.
If a bridge was out on a road
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
great view, or that it was a short cut if the bridge wasn’t out, you would want
to know that if you keep driving you will die. 
You want to be warned: If you continue on this route bad things will
happen. 
Listen again to the last
verse:  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.”
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.  Weren’t divorced, still
legally married to other people, but living together.  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 from Jesse Jackson to Jimmy Swaggart or when a local pastor or
spiritual leader is involved in a 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 honorable, 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
his believers.  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 superanatural.
And so when we do not exhibit that type of behaviour we are
setting up a stumbling block for believer 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 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.  
When John Maxwell,
the founder of Maximum Impact 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 which 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
in 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 being 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 Savior attractive in every way.