When you first read Luke 17:1-2, those memories may rise to the surface. But is that what Jesus was discussing? With his eager disciples drinking in every word, was our Lord teaching the proper way to avoid hard feelings? I don’t think so. The word he used has also been translated as “things that cause people to sin” (NIV), “stumbling blocks” (NASB), and “temptations to sin” (ESV). The Greek word is skandala which is defined as “a trap, temptation to sin, or enticement” (BAGD 753). The Lord Jesus was talking about actions which serve as a temptation for someone to sin. This is much more serious than hurt feelings. As we examine this passage, keep in mind what our Lord was addressing.
We will always face temptation (1).
No matter how hard we try to avoid temptation, it will always be around. The world, the flesh, and the devil are all against us and it would seem that these three are trying their best to overcome anyone who wants to please God. This was evident Friday night while I was watching the NBA playoffs. I was watching a portion of game six of the Miami Heat vs. the Detroit Pistons when a silly commercial came on the air. I was laughing at the silliness of the actors when my father-in-law changed the channel. He explained that the commercial was insinuating something bad. I didn’t see enough of the commercial to catch that, but no doubt he was right. The world system is the enemy of God (James 4:4) and will be a constant temptation for believers.
The flesh is something that haunts us as well (Gal. 5:17). We all know how strong the desires of our flesh are. Take for instance the desire to eat. I can walk by the snack cart at school and suddenly get hungry enough to buy something I don’t need. The pull of my body’s appetite is strong. How much more the sinful nature which resides within me? Thankfully, the fruit of the Spirit includes self-control. As I yield myself to him, he will help me to resist the urge to do what displeases God.
The devil is also against us (1 Pet. 5:8). He is the mastermind behind many of the temptations we face. With the means at his disposal, he does his best to turn our minds away from God. And, as you well know, his temptations are specifically designed to fit our weaknesses. What might appeal to your flesh may not appeal to mine (James 1:14-15). So, let’s guard ourselves against those things that we know are a problem for us. Temptation happens, but with God’s help, we can be ready for it.
We must keep ourselves from tempting others (1-2).
All of that is true about temptation, but our Lord’s main point was not that temptation happens. He was really trying to address those who are the cause of someone being tempted. Notice what he says about those who tempt others. “Woe” is the transliteration of an “interjection denoting pain or displeasure” (BAGD 591). In other words, he is saying, “Oh, this is terrible! Can’t you see how bad this is?” As the Scripture says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). There is great tragedy reserved for the lives of those who follow the paths of sins. But make no mistake, there is a greater tragedy that results from the life of one who tempts others to turn away from God’s ways.
Our Lord says that it would be better for such a person to be drowned by tying a mill stone around his neck and throwing him into the sea. That’s pretty strong language! Have you ever seen a mill stone? I saw one this weekend. On a back road near Meadville, Pennsylvania, someone had erected a mill stone in his front yard. This particular stone was about four feet tall. No doubt it would weigh enough to keep a person submerged under the water with no hope of him swimming to the surface. What exactly was Jesus saying? He was attempting to communicate the seriousness of causing others to sin. If someone is determined to lead others away from the Lord, it would be better for him to be dead than to allow him to affect other people.
Our attitude about temptation should not be, “Well, it’s gonna happen anyway!” Instead, we should keep a constant guard about our lives so that our actions and speech do not cause another person to sin. This is especially important when working with children. In a parallel passage (Matt. 18:1-9), Jesus had a child with him as he was addressing his disciples. This underscores how impressionable children are. We who work with children (whether parents or teachers) have a great responsibility. We are teaching with our lives. They watch our actions and reactions. They hear our words and see how we respond to every situation. How easily we can cause our children to become like us. So, be on your guard and pray that God would keep you from leading anyone toward sin.