Temptations to Sin
And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”
Observations and Reflections
What is interesting in this passage is that 3 of the 4 gospel writers have it in their text yet they are all different. Of the 3 versions, Matthew does the best job of helping the reader understand the context of the passage and who the “little ones” are.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3 and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matthew 18:5-9)
It would seem as though Luke misses most of the context of this passage as does Mark. However, Mark does include to following warning for those who are sinning, who should remove their own body parts that cause them to sin. This at least helps keep the chapter more coherent.
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mark 9:42-50)
The second part Luke’s version also includes a warning about forgiveness. This warning is recorded also in Matthew 18 but not in Mark.
21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
It appears that Matthew and Luke has similar sources for this teaching block, and they both place the teaching near the end of Jesus’ ministry, before entering Jerusalem. It is likely that they either had the same source or one copied from the other, while taking slight liberties to edit the passage.
On the lesson of the passage it seems clear that causing the children to stumble and sin, or walk away from the truth, is a grave thing. It would be better to be dead (via millstone drowning) than to cause the destruction of another. A millstone was a giant disc-shape stone with a hole in the middle. The typical millstone was hundreds to thousands of pounds. If one was tied to a person and thrown in the water, that person would surely go in with the stone with no hope of escape.
However, hyperbolic Jesus’ words might have been, it is clear that we must fight to not be a stumbling block to others, especially the children.
There is accountability amongst those who are called to lead in the Church. If one is being put in a position of leading others and is around those who are still learning new things about the Christian faith, then it is their responsibility to be examples to those whom they are leading.
In the first half of this passage, Jesus is referring to those who are examples to not just necessarily Children but who are newer to the faith. Jesus knows that their will be those who are more impressionable and likely to follow every thing that is taught because they still need to learn how to be discerning and understand the Christian faith on a more deeper and personal level.
It is imperative that we understand that we are examples to those who are around us and if we know that there is something that may cause another to stumble or fall, we are to do everything we can to avoid causing that person to fall into sin. Our actions and words can have great consequence to those who are around us and if we are not careful to live above reproach, then the weight of causing that person to sin immediately falls on our shoulders as well.
Jesus calls us to be the best example we can be to those who are around us and to live our lives as a shinning example of who Jesus Christ is and what the Christian ought to be.
The second half of this passage refers to forgiving those who sin and also holding them accountable for it. When one sins against us, there is nothing wrong with confronting them about it. It is the Christian duty to call out another Christian with Grace when we see them fall into sin. If one is always on the path to asking for forgiveness and repentance, then our response, plain and simple is to forgive them.
Jesus is always teaching us new ways on how we ought to live the Christian life. Being an example and leading others to Christ is the main lesson that is being taught here. Let us pursue this life with the goal if always shinning Christ’s light in and through our hearts each and every day.