Luke 17:1-4 (CEV)
1Jesus said to his disciples:
There will always be something that causes people to sin. But anyone who causes them to sin is in for trouble. A person who causes even one of my little followers to sin 2 would be better off thrown into the ocean with a heavy stone tied around their neck. 3 So be careful what you do.
Correct any followers of mine who sin, and forgive the ones who say they are sorry. 4 Even if one of them mistreats you seven times in one day and says, “I am sorry,” you should still forgive that person.
Causing Them To Sin
How do you cause someone to sin?
Is it like the poor-quality Christian books I read as a kid where there was someone who would lure the main character behind a barn to offer them ‘liquor’?
Or like that attractive person (of whatever gender you’re attracted to) who is not a believer who will entice you into unbecoming behavior in inappropriate places?
I’m not convinced that this is a helpful mentality to bring to the conversation. Rather, I think to figure out the answer to this question we need to ask another, deeper question. What do we mean when we use the word ‘sin’?
At Vox we use a definition of sin that I’ve found really helpful:
God created life to be lived in a certain way, and when we go outside of that way of living it usually brings hurt, pain, brokenness, etc. – to us and to those around us. More than that, we’re all aware of the fact that there is this pervasive brokenness in our world – in our environment, in our genetics, in our structures and in our history that make it harder to live life the way God intended it to be lived. Collectively, this is what the Bible calls ‘sin’.
That means that sin might be the way we speak to our children at the end of a long day – which in turn might cause them to speak poorly to one another or to take out their frustration or pain on the family dog.
It means that sin might be our judgmental attitudes of one another – our unquestioned biases – our unwillingness to ask the hard questions of ourselves – which in turn causes us to pass those broken ideas on to others, or even encourage others to hold and pass on those ideas themselves.
And it means that sin might be something at a much more systemic level, like the economic systems we have in place that allow for Payday Loans companies to charge exorbitant rates of interest to some of the poorest in our society.
As theologian Frederick Buechner states,
The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place my touch will be felt.
So if we don’t want to sin, and we don’t want to cause other people to sin, then what do we do?
I think that we in North America, in general, tend to want to think of ourselves as an island. We’re so keen on personal choice that we fail to recognize that what we do affects what happens to us and to those around us in ripples that extend outward almost indefinitely.
Forgiveness, however, is one of the most powerful ways to stop those ripples from continuing.
When someone hurts me, I become more afraid, more likely to respond with anger or selfishness to the next request that comes along. My relationship with myself and the relationships I have with other people are now at risk.
And often we can’t see when we’ve done this to someone else. There are many cases where our brokenness makes it hard to see the impact of our actions. So we need to be embedded in compassionate community to lovingly help point out to us that the other person might be hurt – that they might have misinterpreted what we said – or that it was downright mean of us to do what we just did.
But when that person comes back and says, “I’m really sorry – I’ve just realized how those words must have come across to you. They were hurtful and unkind, and had way more to do with the way that my boss treated me all day than they had anything to do with you. Will you forgive me?” then we have a choice.
We have an opportunity to stop the ripples.
We can choose to accept the apology – to receive their love and to move forward into something more whole, more like the life God intended for us to live.
Or we can choose to hold onto the ripples in the sure knowledge that we will soon be passing it on to the next person, with the very real chance that we will in turn cause them to sin.
- What do you think of when you think of ‘sin’?
- Is it a list of rules to keep? Or is it bigger than that?
- Can you think of a time in the last week where it felt like you had been part of this outward ripple effect of sin?
- Can you think of a time in the last week where you had the opportunity to respond with forgiveness and interrupt the ripples?
- What would change in your relationships if you started trying to understand and respond to the ripples with forgiveness and grace?