Reading Time: 7 Minutes
One of my seminary professors told a class I was in, “Whenever you run into a Bible-thumper watch your wife and your wallet.” Given what has transpired in the ministry since his words were uttered in the early 1970s, that was great advice.
However, Jesus didn’t put the responsibility on the “little ones,” as we will see in today’s Bible passage. He laid it squarely on the part of anyone who claims to follow Jesus and to lead people.
Imagine the scene. It is possible that the small child (Matthew 18.1-5) is still in the middle of Jesus’ disciples. Obviously, there are other people in the gathering, or there wouldn’t be a child present. He may have turned and pointed to a new follower in the band of disciples.
No matter what was the exact scene Jesus said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!” (Matthew 18.6-7).
Let’s ask some questions to better understand Jesus’ message.
— Who are the “little ones?” They are the beginners and those who are not very mature in their faith. They need nourishment and care until they can sink their spiritual roots deep into the life of Christ.
Jesus never demanded his own rights. He was self-giving in every way. However, he always stood up for the “little ones.”
— What is a “stumbling block?” A stumbling block is literally anything we may do to cause someone to lose their faith. Jesus warns against actions of Christians that may cause someone to give up on Jesus and no longer follow him.
— How serious is this? Jesus said that a quick death by drowning is to be preferred over causing a “little one” to stumble. In case we think Jesus is exaggerating the seriousness of the issue, Jesus emphasized the point even further.
He said, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire” (Matthew 18.8-9).
If these words sound familiar, it is the second time Jesus has spoken them. They were also a warning in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5.29-30).
— How serious should we be about being a stumbling block? We are better off with a quick drowning or an amputation than enduring the hell of fire.
Without a doubt, these are some of the strongest words ever spoken by Jesus. Please know, they were spoken to disciples and friends, not his opponents.
One of the most tragic commentaries on church life is how Christian leaders cause “little ones” to stumble. The Spanish Inquisition, the persecution of Jewish people, religious wars, clergy abuse of children, and high profile clergy scandals all leave a trail of lost hope and faith among the “little ones.”
I don’t think Jesus could have stated any stronger the need to protect the “little ones” of our world. I pray that all of us will take his words to heart. I pray that we will make it our mission to build up and strengthen the faith of people.
The Value of the “Little Ones”
There is another way of injuring the “little ones” and that is to not value them. Jesus uses the word, “despise,” to describe this kind of behavior. We often think of hate when the word “despise” comes to mind. However, “to neglect,” or “to think lightly” is also a good definition. When we give little thought or are unfeeling toward people, we display an attitude that is described as “to despise.”
Jesus told us, “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven.
“What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.
“So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost” (Matthew 18.10-14).
What an interesting contrast! People like you and me can disregard, be apathetic toward, and not pay any attention to the “little ones” of our world. At the same time, they seem to have angels paying attention to them.
If angels can pay attention to the neglected and overlooked of the world, can we change our perspective and do the same? Once again, Jesus seems to be passionately on the side of these people and we should be too.
As if we needed more encouragement to join Jesus in his care for the “little ones,” he added some logic. Sheep do not have the same value as a human being. The shepherd would never neglect a lost sheep. Shepherds do all in their power to rescue lost animals. Are not the “little ones,” the vulnerable, and the overlooked worth our effort?
As I have considered the passage for today’s article, I have counseled myself in a few areas. I actually said out loud concerning clergy failures, “But for the grace of God, there go I.”
I also repeated to myself Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “[Love] does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13.6).
Anyone who has been around the church long enough can spot a fake. When their behavior gets exposed, it is easy for me to think, “I knew it would happen.” That attitude is completely wrong. It should be replaced by “Should you not rather have mourned?” (1 Corinthians 5.2).
I was particularly convicted by Jesus’ admonition to not “despise one of the little ones.” I have to take a serious look at how I view people. Are some people more important to me than others? Am I willing to overlook some and give my attention to others? To the extent that the answer is “Yes,” I must repent.
How about you? How do you respond to this passage? What changes are in order for you to align your life with the strong counsel of the Lord?
Dear Jesus, on behalf of the church we say that we grieve with you over the multitudes of people who don’t believe in you because of the actions of Christians. We turn away from every thought and action that may cause a little one to stumble. Please give us the help of the Holy Spirit to always love you and care for those in our lives.