“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.”
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
“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 one of these little ones.”
The “little ones” referred to by Jesus are those “who believe in” Him, and therefore are His disciples. Although Jesus may have used the term “little ones” to refer exclusively to those humble Christians who truly trust in God with child-like, dependent faith, He may simply have used this as a term of endearment for all disciples, similar to the manner in which the apostle John referred to disciples as “little children” (1 John 2:12-13; 2:18, 2:28, 3:7, 3:18; 4:4; 5:21).
Don’t Cause Others to Stumble
In Mark 9:42 / Matthew 18:6 / Luke 17:2, Jesus was declaring that if anyone caused a “little one” to stumble (i.e., sin), it would be a great offense to God, such that the punishment of being tied to a millstone (which is enormous and heavy) and thrown into the sea (thereby resulting in the torment of drowning and death) would be “better.” The question is: better than what? The answer is: being cast into hell (Mark 9:43; 45; 47)!
Causing another Christian to sin is in and of itself sin; therefore, Christian, be aware of how your words and actions may affect others. If there is something that you feel at liberty to say or do that may cause another Christian to sin or stumble in their walk with Jesus, don’t do it. The apostle Paul amplified this teaching to those in Corinth:
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23
“Beware lest somehow this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to those who are weak.” – 1 Corinthians 8:9
“When you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” – 1 Corinthians 8:12
Jesus may or may not have been using hyperbolic language in His warning against those who would cause a little one to sin. We know from His teaching that those who are His disciples cannot lose their salvation and will never be cast into hell (see Eternal Security). However, we also know that the reward received by a Christian from God after his or her death can be diminished in magnitude as a consequence of transgressions (see Children of God Receive a Reward). That said, there are some “nominal” Christians (i.e., Christian in name only) who congregate with Jesus’ disciples and cause a multitude of problems; these people will indeed one day be cast into hell if they don’t repent of their sins and submit to Jesus as Savior and Lord (see You Must be Born Again!).
Therefore, if you are a Christian, don’t cause others to stumble, for you may lose part of your reward. If you aren’t a Christian, then beware, your sin against the disciples of Christ may hasten your delivery to the lake of fire.
Confront Leaders that Cause People to Stumble
There are both Christian and nominally-Christian teachers and leaders within Christian congregations worldwide, some of whom cause disciples of Christ to sin or stumble through their ignorant or intentionally deceptive doctrine. For example, see False Teachers and Diotrephes. When a teacher or elder in a congregation causes people to stumble, gently confront them (see Reject False Teachers and What is an Elder?).