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 crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. (Matthew 18:8-9)
We rightly interpret these words of Jesus as a stern warning to stay away from things that cause us to stumble and to sin. The consequence of stumbling can be eternal: being thrown into the eternal fire of hell. What can cause us to stumble?
Stumble (in Greek skandalizō): To scandalize; to entrap, that is, trip up (figuratively stumble [transitively] or entice to sin, apostasy or displeasure): – (make to) offend.
Scripture tells us that our hand, our foot, or our eye can cause us to stumble and that if they try we should deal with them very forcefully. Of course this is to be taken figuratively only. Addiction to gambling, online games or pornography can only be dealt with by repentance, turning to Jesus Christ, and resisting the sin by saying “absolutely NO” to it.
Now if we take a close look at the context of these verses, we can see more clearly what it is that causes believers to stumble and about which Jesus warns us sternly.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!
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 crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 18:1-10)
It becomes clear that what causes believers to stumble is other people. Jesus says that the things which cause people to stumble must come, but woe to the person through whom they come.
It’s the people around us which cause us to stumble—those whom we have chosen as our friends and acquaintances who lead us to drink, take drugs, gamble, engage in fornication, and other forms of sin. There are consequences when we as believers stumble. But the consequences for those who cause us to stumble may be even worse. “Woe to them!”
For our own sake as well as the sake of those around us who might cause us to stumble, we would do well to distance ourselves from them. Light cannot have fellowship with darkness.
“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:12-14)
Having warned us of the terrible consequence of stumbling, Jesus then comforts us. Our Father is not willing that any of us “little ones” should perish. He will come looking for us when we have wandered off and stumbled into sin.