A stumbling block in a literal sense is just what it sounds like: a block of wood, concrete or other material on the ground in the path that causes you to trip or stumble. In a figurative sense, a stumbling block can be an event, someone’s behavior or something else that causes your progress to be tripped up intellectually, physiologically, relationally, physically or spiritually.
We don’t want to be the ones to cause others to stumble as they are walking with Jesus.
The first-century followers of Jesus who lived in Corinth had a dilemma. Much of the food that they ate during their meals was prepared by cooks who offered that food to idols as a sacrifice before cooking it for the meal.
Now, Paul knew that those idols were simply false gods without any power, therefore whatever ritual they followed in the sacrifice had no power over the food or over him. Many of the mature believers in Corinth knew this as well. However, some of the newer believers in Corinth were getting tripped up when this food was set before them. They had not yet realized that the false gods were powerless, so they thought it was wrong to eat the food. In their mind, eating that food was in a sense honoring the false god, which they no longer wanted to do since they were now following Jesus.
How does Paul advise the mature believers?
1 Corinthians 8:7-13
7 However, not everyone has this knowledge. Some have been so used to idolatry up until now that when they eat food sacrificed to an idol, their conscience, being weak, is defiled. 8 Food will not bring us close to God. We are not worse off if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat. 9 But be careful that this right of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone sees you, the one who has knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, won’t his weak conscience be encouraged to eat food offered to idols? 11 So the weak person, the brother or sister for whom Christ died, is ruined by your knowledge. 12 Now when you sin like this against brothers and sisters and wound their weak conscience, you are sinning against Christ. 13 Therefore, if food causes my brother or sister to fall, I will never again eat meat, so that I won’t cause my brother or sister to fall.
How does this apply to us today? Certainly there are people we care deeply about who are new followers of Jesus. We need to be aware of things that we may be doing which cause them to stumble in their faith. When we find out about those things, we should take them to the Lord in prayer and ask him if we should stop them, not necessarily because they are sinful but rather because they cause our brother or sister in Christ to stumble. And if we are led to stop doing it so as to not be a stumbling block, we should not become prideful or legalistic, forcing everyone to live out their faith in exactly the same way.
The goal for everyone is holiness and Christlikeness, and to be an encouragement to others in their walk with Christ, never being a stumbling block.