Stumbling Block

 

As I researched the characteristic of a mature Christian as being one who is prepared I was struck by a passage from Isaiah 57:

Build up, build up, prepare the way,

remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”

 

The passage reads: (God speaking)

 

14   It shall be said,

“Build up, build up, prepare the way,

remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”

15   For thus says the high and lofty one

who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:

I dwell in the high and holy place,

and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit,

to revive the spirit of the humble,

and to revive the heart of the contrite.

16   For I will not continually accuse,

nor will I always be angry;

for then the spirits would grow faint before me,

even the souls that I have made.

 

The passage tells us we prepare the way for the Kingdom of God by removing all obstructions from God’s people. It tells that God revives the spirit of the humble and contrite, that he will not continually accuse or continue to be angry. 

And he gives the reason for not accusing or being angry as being that if he did so, even his most devout followers would grow weary and faint, i.e. would fall away.

The word that comes to mind with this term ‘remove every obstruction’ is the word stumbling block

Mark 9:42 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 hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

Matthew 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

1 Corinthians 8:9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

If God is interested in reviving the spirit of the humble, reviving the heart of the contrite and not being accusatory or angry, then we need to imitate those traits as well.

I have just started reading a biography of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great Baptist preacher from the 19th century.  His grandfather emigrated from Holland to avoid persecution in 1677 but England was no better and he was imprisoned for 6 years and all his assets seized because he attended a worship service that was not sanctioned by the Church of England. And when he was released, he was re-imprisoned because he did it again.

Charles Spurgeon himself attended Oxford University but was not allowed a degree because he was not attending a Church of England church.

The history of the church is beset with similar (and far worse) atrocities inflicted by Christians on fellow Christians.

And even today, we need to be conscious as to whether our actions or words are a stumbling block for people coming to faith or remaining in the faith.

The worst thing we can do is to return to the kind of legalistic righteousness of earlier generations. God expects real righteousness and justice in our lives…That righteousness, instead of having the stink of pride, will be a gentle fragrance…[1]

In the times that Isaiah was written, the people went to the temple, obeyed God’s laws, fasted, and appeared eager to seek the Lord; but their worship was only an outward show. Their hearts were far from God. But even now, when we worship because it is the popular thing to do, not because it is the right thing to do, then our worship becomes hypocritical.[2]

 

Warren Wiersbe writes: If, in my religious duties, I am doing what pleases me, and if doing it does not make me a better person, then I am wasting my time; and my worship is only sin. Fasting and fighting do not go together! Yet how many families walk piously out of church at the close of a Sunday worship service, get in the family car, and proceed to argue with each other all the way home![3]

Quite a commentary on how some who profess faith in Christ live. Their righteousness is only for Sunday, their righteousness is only superficial.

If their actions during the week and the gossip and language during the week do not uplift and encourage, then their Sunday behavior is a waste of time and the word that comes to mind is hypocrite.

How do we assess our own level of righteousness?  I think a measure could be to look at the passage from Isaiah 57

1)      Revive the spirit of the humble

The word humble has various meanings but normally means not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive; ranking low in a hierarchy or scale; insignificant or unpretentious

James 2:2-4,6 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you lavish attention on the man in fine clothes and say, “Here is a seat of honor,” but say to the poor man “You must stand,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?… But you have dishonored the poor.

We are told also in James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.

Jesus said Matthew 5:5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

So, if we are be humble and meek, then surely we should extend the hand of grace to those who are also humble and meek, those who by the world’s standards are the insignificant and the lowly.

Remember the verse about passing on the comfort we ourselves have received from God

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

… the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God

2          Revive the heart of the contrite

Contrite means feeling or showing sorrow and remorse for a sin or shortcoming

Psalm 34:18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted,

and saves the crushed in spirit

Psalm 51:17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

Again, if God revives us who are contrite, and the contrite heart is better than sacrifice, then why do we put the boot into Christians who fail and fall.

To revive means to restore, to reawaken

Galatians 6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.

A pastor I know once made some bad choices and as a result got convicted of some dishonesty offences and left the ministry.  The Baptist Union did not abandon him or wash their hands of him, but over a period of years worked with him and he was restored to a status where he was suitable for another pastorate.  He eventually was employed by another denomination. My aunt in that town complained to me that that would be allowed to happen.  You see, she held the old view that churches should shoot their wounded.  The biblical answer is for us to restore the wounded who have a contrite heart.

And sometimes we can become frustrated that the progress is not as we would want, but restoration takes time and encouragement.

Galatians 6:2

Isaiah prophesied about the nature of the messiah.

Isaiah 42:3 A bruised reed He will not break and a smouldering wick He will not extinguish;

Again if Jesus does not stomp out those who are broken, nor should we.

3        Not continually accusing other Christians. 

Romans 14:13 Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another.

We are not to accuse others because we are not sinless ourselves, no matter how righteous we claim to be. Think of Jesus’s statement about logs and specks.

Matthew 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

Of course, we are not talking here about condoning unchristian-like behaviour that is continuing, but that we work to restore that person who accepts they have fallen and is trying to walk the right path.

Jesus does not remember our confessed sins

Hebrews 8:12 For I will forgive their iniquities and remember their sins no more.”

We are to do the same

Matthew 6:12 Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us. (GNB)

This speaks of unforgiveness, yet God has forgiven us, why do we withhold forgiveness from those around us?

Accusation does not change anyone for the better, it just entrenches that attitude.  You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar.

4)         Not continually angry at other Christians

Flowing on from that accusatory behaviour is anger.  Anger that smoulders on is not God edifying.

Ephesians 4:26“Be angry, yet do not sin.” Do not let the sun set upon your anger, 27and do not give the devil a foothold.

Romans 12:17Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Carefully consider what is right in the eyes of everybody. 18If it is possible on your part, live at peace with everyone. 19Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath.

Unresolved anger at the behaviour of others is what splits churches. It splits families.

Consider the Hadfields and McCoys.  Consider the Capulets and the Montagues. Historic offences one to the other embattles and destroys and is not Christian behaviour.

 “Build up, build up, prepare the way,

remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”



[1] John Oswalt The NIV Application Commentary Isaiah 622

[2] Wiersbe, W. W. Be Comforted 152

[3] Wiersbe 152