Christian morals



5. Could you write for me a biblical teaching about scandals and the attitude we ought to have toward those believers who cause offenses?




A scandal is a wrong behaviour or speech which disturbs people and is able to cause people to sin. The Oxford English Dictionary defines scandal as ‘an action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage’.

Among the people of the world, scandals occur frequently; they are very numerous and are caused by civil authorities (such as government ministers, majors, etc.) as well as by religious authorities (such as cardinals, bishops, priests, etc.) and by many other people. Scandals are of all kinds, and when they are reported by the media, most people get angry and condemn the offence, which can be a fraud, a sexual crime committed against children, an outrageous speech, etc. Jesus said that it is impossible that no offenses should come; here are His words: “Offenses must come” (Matthew 18:7 - NKJV), “It is impossible that no offenses should come” (Luke 17:1 – NKJV). And we see with our eyes the fulfilment of His words. However He said also: “But woe to him through whom they do come!” (Luke 17:1 – NKJV).

Therefore, to cause offenses is a serious sin in the sight of God. Jesus said the following words about anyone who offends a little child who believes in Jesus: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).

However, there are offenses which are caused even by some Christians, who steal, cheat, take advantage of the brothers, use coarse language, lift their hands against other brothers or the children of other brothers, commit adultery, give themselves over to vices against nature, who have become covetous, who get drunk, etc. I am speaking of believers who take pleasure in doing evil things, who have no intention of pursuing holiness, who have become corrupted to the point that their heart has become hard and callous so they reject every reproof and admonition. And among these people are many pastors as well, that is, believers who hold a particular position in the Church because they are called to shepherd the flock of the Lord and they are a continuous point of reference for the sheep, so they must be an example to the sheep both in their words and in their acts, as it is written: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, …. Nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3 - NKJV). A pastor’s conduct, therefore, should be blameless: a pastor should be able to say: “I give no offense in anything, that my ministry may not be blamed ….’. However, many pastors cannot say these words because their obstinate and rebellious conduct witnesses against them.

What attitude should we have toward those who cause offenses in the midst of the Church? We find the answer to this question in the epistle that Paul wrote to the Romans: here is what the apostle wrote: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. For your obedience is come abroad unto all men. I am glad therefore on your behalf: but yet I would have you wise unto that which is good, and simple concerning evil” (Romans 16:17-19). Concerning these words, I would like to point out that those who take pleasure in causing offenses, that is, in offending people, oppose the sound doctrine; moreover, Paul says of them that they don’t serve the Lord (even though outwardly it may seem to somebody that they serve the Lord), but their own belly because they are greedy for money. Paul also says of them that they deceive the hearts of the simple through smooth words and flattering speech; so their talk is not harsh, nor cantankerous, nor rude, but smooth and flattering. Therefore their lips drip honey and their mouth is smooth, but their purpose is to deceive the simple, that is, the ingenuous believers; their words are deceptive, and as Peter says: “Through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you” (2 Peter 2:3).

Paul says to the Romans that we must avoid these people who cause offenses, that is to say, we must keep away from them. This is confirmed by Paul in the epistle to the Corinthians when he says: “But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person” (1 Corinthians 5:11 - NKJV). Why must we avoid such people?

First of all, because the Scripture says that “evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Corinthians 15:33 - NKJV) and that “a companion of fools suffers harm” (Proverbs 13:20 – NIV), that is, he becomes evil, so if we associate with them, we will become corrupted and evil to our own destruction. Do not be deceived, if those who fear God associate with those who don’t fear God, they will not remain upright; sooner or later, if they don’t make up their mind to have nothing to do with these evil people, they also will forsake the holy ways of God.

Secondly, because the conduct of such people, being foolish, make unbelievers blaspheme the truth and the doctrine of God; Peter says that because of these persons “the way of truth will be blasphemed” (2 Peter 2:2 – NKJV). So their conduct causes a bad thing, which is the exact opposite of what we must make people do through our conduct. For we who are disciples of Christ are called to honour the Word of God, that is to say, we are called to keep the commandments of God so that people, by our conduct, may glorify our God and honor His word, when they observe our holy and upright conduct; we are not called to dishonour the Word of God by causing people to blaspheme it. So we cannot associate with people who, not wanting to do good works nor to deny worldly lusts, prove that they don’t want to honour the Word of God; I say it again, they don’t want to honour the Word of God. According to these people, ‘the end justifies the means’, and I can tell you that they use all kinds of means in order to achieve their aim. What is their aim? They want to become rich and powerful according to the flesh. However, the day is coming when God will return on their own heads all the evil done by their hands and mouth, and all men will see that God is just and there is no unrighteousness with Him.

Thirdly, because those who cause offenses, by their evil conduct cause the people to whom they preach the Gospel to stumble, that is to say, they keep the people of the world from believing in the Gospel. Therefore, if we associate with some believers who cause offenses, the unbelievers to whom we proclaim the Gospel will not be willing to listen to us. There are many people who are of this world that point out that they don’t go to a certain place of worship to hear the Word of God because that place is attended by believers – whom they know personally – who steal, are violent, mistreat their wife, commit adultery, are covetous persons, etc. ‘They call themselves Christians, yet they do this and that!!’, these unbelievers say continually about some Christians, and I have to admit that these words are irrefutable because I have noticed personally that not a few Christians evangelize and scandalize people at the same time, and by behaving in this way they cause people to stumble. This is the reason why Paul said: “Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks” (1 Corinthians 10:32 - NKJV), because he knew that Christians, through their evil conduct, could keep unbelievers from being saved. Therefore, if we walk with these believers who cause offenses, we will see that those people to whom we speak of Jesus, who know personally those who cause offenses, will refuse to believe the Gospel because of the offenses caused by these believers. Moreover, I have seen that if a believer who loves and fears the Lord associates with such believers who cause offenses, his work in the Lord will be destroyed, and so he will labour in vain, in that these so called brothers will sooner or later give offense to the new converts, who have believed through your testimony! These people are really a cancer in the church.

I conclude by saying this: we must see to it that we do not give offense either to believers or unbelievers, because if we behave badly we will cause them to stumble. The believers will be wounded and saddened by our conduct, and they will be led to cast away their faith in God; while the unbelievers will not believe the Gospel, for we will keep them from believing. Our attitude should be the same as that of the apostle Paul, who loved so much the brethren that he said: “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13 – NKJV).

Now consider the love of this servant of God toward the saints; it was a love that prompted him to give up eating meat in order not to give any offense to those brothers whose conscience was weak. Paul did not want his weak brother to perish because of his (of Paul) knowledge. Paul did not want his brother, for whom Christ died, to perish; he was ready to give up eating meat lest he made a brother forsake the Lord. However, Paul loved also the people of the world to whom he preached the message of the cross, and his love toward them compelled him to give up many things lest he should make them stumble, so that he might win them to Christ.

Paul is really an example for all of us, and we should imitate him. When we read his epistles and we consider his life, we can’t help but notice that Paul had a strong desire to honour at all costs both the Word of God he preached and the ministry he had received from the Lord. And that desire prompted him to live soberly, righteously and godly. And today those who have the same wish as Paul had follow his steps. While those who don’t want to honour the Word of God, which has saved them from sin, will not take heed to themselves and will cause endless offenses, doing harm not only to themselves but also to many other people.