In the first part, we saw that Christ was called a stumbling block and that He indeed offended people, and He was still without fault or sin.
On the other hand, as we will show, the Bible tells us that we are not to cause offense. How is this to be understood in light of the fact that Jesus Himself did offend people?
We read in Luke 17:1-2:
“Then He said to the disciples, ‘It is impossible that no offenses (Greek skandalon, which means stumbling block) should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea, than that he should offend (Greek skandalizo, which means, cause to stumble) one of these little ones.”
The following words by Jesus are added in Matthew 18:6-7:
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin (Greek: skandalizo), it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of offenses (Greek: scandalon)! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!”
The Authorized Version states: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones…” The kind of offense Jesus is addressing here is in the context of committing sin.
Note how Jesus continues in Matthew 18:8-9:
“If your hand or foot causes you to sin (Greek: skandalizo; lit.: cause to stumble), cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (compare Mark 9:42-47).”
Again, the Authorized Version renders consistently: “… if thy hand or thy foot offend you… if thine eye offend you…”
Let us also note the concept of offense in the context of committing sin in Matthew 5:27-30:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin [Greek: skandalizo], pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin [Greek: skandalizo], cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”
The Authorized Version translates again: “If thy right eye offend thee… if your right hand offend thee.”
Here, the context is obvious. Offense or causing to sin or to stumble is addressed in the context of committing adultery. Our own members (eye or hand) should not “offend” us in causing us to sin; in the same way, we are not to offend others by causing them to sin.
Paul admonishes Timothy in the same way in Philippians 1:9-11:
“And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.”
In the Greek, the word for “without offense” is aproskopos, which means literally, “not causing to stumble.”
So, Paul told Timothy to make sure he was without offense; that is, that he was without sin against God.
Let us also note Christ’s words in Matthew 13:38-43 in explaining the parable of the wheat and the tares:
“The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend (Greek: skandalon; lit., offense or stumbling block), and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!”
Those who are offenses and stumbling blocks in the parable are equated with those who practice lawlessness. The context is sin, which is lawlessness or the transgression of the Law of God, must not be overlooked. Christ, even though He was a stumbling block to people, NEVER sinned. The people mentioned in the parable of the wheat and the tares were unrepentant sinners, however.
Also notice Matthew 16:21-23:
“From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense [Greek skandalon; a stumbling block] to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”
Peter, although meaning well, tried to convince Christ not to fulfill His God-given purpose. This was tantamount to temptation inspired by Satan, and this is why Christ answered so strongly, as He would have sinned if He had followed Peter’s “advice.”
We are not to consciously “offend” people in the sense that we cause them to sin. Christ never did this; He acted and taught God’s Word in the letter and in the spirit, which included deviating from human customs and practices, which were not taught in God’s Word. In some cases, they even violated the letter and, in other cases, the spirit of the Law of God. In doing so, He became an offense to others, but this was quite all right. Christ did not react by saying: Because I offend someone, I will no longer do what I am doing or say what I am saying.
The context between offending people and sinning against them by transgressing God’s law in the letter or in the spirit is also shown in the following passages:
Romans 16:17 states:
“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses [Greek, skandalon] contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”
Those who offend or cause divisions and thereby create stumbling blocks for others, by teaching wrongfully against God’s Word, are to be avoided.
2 Corinthians 6:3 adds: “We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.”
Here, the Greek word for “offense” is proskope, which means a stumbling block.
We are not to offend by sinning against God’s Word. In other words, sin constitutes offense against God and man.
James also equates offending or stumbling with sinning against the Law of God.
James 2:10 reads:
“For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.”
The Authorized Version says: “yet offend in one point…”
The Greek word is ptaio, meaning to stumble or to fall.
James 3:1-2 continues:
“My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment. For we all stumble (Greek ptaio] in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.”
The Authorized Version renders it: “… we offend all. If any man offend not…”
Again, we offend when we sin.
In Acts 24:12-16, we find Paul’s words recorded, as follows:
“And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me. But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust. This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense [Greek aproskopos; literally, not causing to stumble] toward God and men.”
The same thought is expressed here: We sin against God and man when we transgress His Law.
2 Corinthians 11:29 states:
“Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble [Greek skandalizo; i.e., to cause to stumble], and I do not burn with indignation?”
The Authorized Version reads: “…who is offended, and I burn not.”
Paul echoes what Christ said earlier: If we cause someone to stumble and sin by transgressing God’s Law, then we are guilty. That is, we must not encourage or even teach someone to sin. That would be an offense against God.
In light of the foregoing, let us explain how we are to understand the following passage in Matthew 17:24-27, which reads:
“When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, ‘Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?’ Peter said to Him, ‘From strangers.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Then the sons are free. Nevertheless, lest we offend [Greek skandalizo; i.e., cause to stumble] them, go to the sea, cast in a hook, and take the fish that comes up first. And when you have opened its mouth, you will find a piece of money; take that and give it to them for Me and you.’”
Christ explained that He, as the Son of God (the Owner of the Temple), was not really obligated to pay the temple tax. But He said to Peter to pay it for the both of them lest they offend the tax collectors. This “offense” by not paying the temple tax would not have been sinful per se, but Christ wanted to avoid in this case an unnecessary confrontation, so that later, the accusation that He did not pay taxes at all was clearly unfounded.
Quite to the contrary, He had stated that we should give Caesar what is Caesar’s (taxes) and to God what is God’s (tithes and offerings). (Of course, the temple tax was not owed to the Roman government, but it was paid to those who were in control of the Temple). In addition, Peter had already stated to the tax collectors that Christ was paying the temple tax, so Christ did not want to make Peter out to be a liar.
On one occasion, Paul circumcised Timothy, even though he had clearly explained that circumcision was no longer necessary. But he did so to avoid an unnecessary confrontation with the Jews as he wanted to use Timothy to help him preach the gospel to them. On the other hand, he steadfastly refused to circumcise Titus as those insisting on it were teaching that circumcision was necessary for salvation. Paul did not say that he had to circumcise Titus as to not create a stumbling block or an offense to those false teachers. He did not teach that we must give in to those who disagree with us when their conscience, which is based on wrong teachings, is “defiled.”
(To Be Continued)
Lead Writer: Norbert Link