The One about the Millstone and the Sea
A pastor makes an announcement: “Great news, church. Our kids’ program is growing and we need teachers. If you have a heart for teaching children, let me know. But take care, if you do a poor job, God will punish you. It would be better for a millstone to be hung around your neck and for you to be drowned in the sea than mess this up.”
Okay, that never happened. And yet that is the message some take from these words of Jesus:
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt. 18:6, also Mark 9:42, Luke 17:2)
What is Jesus saying here? “Misleading believers is an offense against the Almighty,” says the serious man. “Don’t you know that those who teach will be judged more severely?”
And you wonder why we have trouble finding people to run our kids’ programs!
Contrary to what you’ve heard, Jesus is not talking about divine punishment or Sunday School teaching or anything like that. Let’s unpack this verse in context:
Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me. (Matthew 18:5)
Jesus is talking about causing little ones to stumble. A “little one” is a disciple or a believer. It’s anyone who depends on him like a helpless child (see Matt. 18:3-4). Jesus doesn’t rely on the mighty and famous as much as the weak and the least “who believe in me.” He’s talking about Christians.
But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me (i.e., a believer) to stumble… (Matthew 18:6a)
The word for stumble is sometimes translated as offend. It does not mean stumbling in sin; it means being offended by Jesus. The Pharisees were offended by Jesus and so were those from his home town (Matt. 13:57, 15:12). They were dismissive of him. They didn’t receive him as Lord and Savior.
Did you know that believers can also be offended by Jesus (see John 6:61)? That’s what Jesus is talking about here. He’s saying, “Whoever causes a believer to be offended…”
Imagine there is a Pharisee named Phil who meets one of Christ’s disciples. The disciple tells Phil the good news of Jesus. One of three things could happen next:
- Phil believes the good news about Jesus
- Phil is offended by Jesus
- Phil causes the disciple to be offended by Jesus
This last outcome is the worst. How could it happen? Perhaps Phil lays down the law. “Jesus is a good teacher, but don’t forget you need to keep the commandments to please God.” Suddenly the disciple begins to doubt the grace of God. He takes his eyes off Jesus and looks to his own labor. Soon he will have wandered from his first love and fallen from grace. Like John the Baptist who began to doubt (Matt. 11:3), the disciple stumbles. He is offended. Does this mean he has lost his salvation? Not at all. He who falls, falls inside the kingdom. But doubt and unbelief still have bad consequences.
It would be better for him (Phil the Pharisee) to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
Jesus is talking about those who cause Christians to have doubts. The Judaizers, for instance, or the men from James who drew Peter and Barnabas away from the Gentiles (Gal. 2:12). He’s talking about those who preach dead works and self-improvement and anything that causes people to doubt the grace of God.
Jesus is not saying God will smite Christians who stumble. Nor is he saying God hates Pharisees. He’s saying unbelief has consequences far beyond what we can see.
Peter on the sidelines
Consider Peter. Jesus challenged Peter to “feed my sheep,” and Peter said “I’ll do it.” Jesus said, “That includes Gentiles, because my grace is for everyone,” and Peter replied, “No problemo!” Then certain Jews from the circumcision group showed up and Peter withdrew. He had been personally called by Jesus yet he doubted and drew back. “When Peter came to Antioch,” said Paul, “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (Gal. 2:11).
The leader of the apostles fell from grace back under law and condemnation because someone got to him. Thankfully, Paul set him straight and Peter got back in the game. He wrote two epistles and spoke boldly in favor of grace at the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
But imagine if he hadn’t.
Imagine if Peter had remained under condemnation. What a huge loss that would’ve been to the world. Now we begin to understand why Jesus speaks of millstones.
Jesus said, “The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost” (Matt. 18:11). People are dying for lack of a Savior. The lost need people like us to tell them the good news. We are Christ’s ambassadors “as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Cor 5:20). When a believer like Peter is rendered ineffective, it affects the lives of countless others.
Tying weights to people’s necks and drowning them was something the Romans did in special cases of infamy. Jesus is basically saying, “Because the business of saving lives is such a serious business, whoever sidelines an ambassador of mine does incalculable harm.”
Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! (Matthew 18:7)
The world is lost and in need of salvation, and God uses his little ones to reveal the Savior. But we won’t get on with the business of pointing people to Jesus if we have stumbled or been offended.
This little light of mine
I know believers who have, for one reason or another, opted out of the game. Preachers have quit preaching, writers have stopped writing, and dreamers have stopped dreaming. I know pastors who have closed churches because someone distracted them from the goodness of God. They were once burning bright for Jesus, but their lights have been dimmed by doubt. I’m not talking about people who’ve been hurt by religion (there are plenty of those!). I’m talking about true grace preachers like Peter who’ve been bullied or intimidated into silence or cynicism. It’s a tragedy and the world is a darker place for it.
Yet Jesus remains full of love and grace. When his own cousin began to doubt him, Jesus did not get angry. “Are you the one who is to come,” said John, “Or should we expect another?” (Matt. 11:3). John was imprisoned, in more ways than one. Yet Jesus did not rebuke him for his unbelief. He simply said, “Blessed is he who is not offended because of me” (Matt. 11:6).
What you believe about Jesus is the most important thing about you. Don’t let anyone damage your childlike dependency on the Lord. Don’t let anyone cause you to stumble over the grace of God revealed in Jesus.
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Revealing the true message of GRACE! Love it!
Thanks for your posts I really enjoy them and find them easy to understand as I can get lost in a lot of jargon lol…I’m reading your book at the moment AD70 and learning a lot once again thankyou
Hi Paul… another one of those things that Jesus said, which I put up on the shelf for another time. I didn’t want it to mean what it sounded like it meant. Thanks for lifting the Scripture down for me and revealing the wonderful truth contained in God’s words. I am encouraged by the relationship you have with God your Father… to receive such understanding and to be able to write so clearly. Thanks…
What I find amusing about all this about ‘more severe’ judgement is this: it implies that there is a part (or parts) of Hell that is hotter, or at least somehow worse, than other parts.
By definition, then, this means that there are parts of Hell that are *not quite* as hot as those parts reserved for errant teachers who have been ‘more severely’ judged. Now, given that Hell is supposed to be the ultimate punishment, this means that there are some parts of Hell that are *not quite* as ‘ultimate’ as others, thus torpedoing the whole idea that Hell is as bad as it gets. If there are degrees of suffering in Hell that are *not* ‘as bad as it can possibly be’, then Hell is not really Hell.
Just shows that they don’t really think it through, doesn’t it?
Yeah, like there will be people in hell thankful that they’re not in the really bad part of hell. “Sure, we’re in hell, but at least we’re not in that neighbourhood.”
If anyone is interested, I have written an article on the degrees of judgment.
I had a pastor that even divided heaven like that. Referring to 1 Cor. 3:15, he would always say that those guys would arrive in heaven with smoking clothes while still trying to put the flames out. The unfortunate souls that became Christian but could not get their act together were destined for the heavenly squatter camp.
Great article,paul. Ive experienced this with some of my own relatives. Some have been in church for fifty years,and it seems that they just can’t grasp what im trying to tell them. And i know what they are thinking. ” Well i know he don’t REALLY know what hes talking about”, especially when i tell them that we home church and that Christ has revealed things to me that would be very hard to explain. Then they kinda, you know, ridicule me for trying to tell them that what they need is the Gospel. They just don’t understand. Im just concerned that some could be trying to ” climb in some other way”. But i don’t know that. I do know that my wife and i have been to several churches here, and the Gospel is not preached. We were members of one local church here for about 4 yrs., and we left after receiving the revelation of the truth.Caused some hurt feelings im sure, but we are more than willing to give it up for the truth.. Sorry to go alittle out of bounds there, but i just wanted to share that with you. We’ve missed your posts the past couple of weeks or so (was worried that you took me off your mailing list). But they really minister to us, so please keep em coming. Grace and Peace to you and your family. And thanks!
Thanks Jonathan. I haven’t post any articles in the past couple of weeks because I have been busy wrapping up the third draft of my book on the Revelation letters. That book has grown from a tiny note into this massive verse-by-verse and phrase-by-phrase commentary. There is just SO MUCH treasure in those two letters. The book comes out later this year.
Hey, good. Sounds like an interesting project. I think that alot of people will be seeking to know more on the Revelation. You really do excellent work. Glad to hear from you. Thanks Again..
It is so glorious to know Jesus and His simple simple gospel. If only we would all stop complicating things. 😊
Awesome! Thank you
“Jesus is talking about those who cause Christians to have doubts.”
Ok…so what IS the “woe” that will come upon the man through whom the stumbling block comes? All preachers not preaching the Grace gospel would fall into that category, wouldn’t they? The religious ones who add riders and qualifiers to every good thing Abba has promised….all the “yes but”ters. You have described what can happen to a brand new believer if given a mixed or incomplete message.
I can’t see how that changes the meaning of Matt. 18:6, Mark 9:42 or Luke 17:2. Basically, if you lead people astray by adding to or subtracting from the truth of the finished work of the cross, you’d best find a good flotation device, n’est pas?
I floundered in the quicksand of religion for over 62 years, feeling I would never measure up and would always be a disappointment to God. Christianity became just a word – it wasn’t ‘real’ to me – I couldn’t live it and I gave up on it and on myself.
Sadly, many people studying to become ministers are being taught the same mixed message their teachers were taught – and so the half truth just gets passed on to another generation.
I thank God that He led me to the truth through a series of grace preachers whose messages are freely available on the internet.
Bless you for sharing your revelations, Paul. Your articles are refreshing, thought provoking and encourage us to question our answers.
Woe is an interesting word, Emmie. I talk about it in my AD70 book:
Ahhh, – so the ‘woe’ is a feeling of grief or sorrow for making disastrous choices/statements (ignorantly or not) and realising you have been a stumbling block for others. I guess it’s a consequence, then. Thank you, Paul.
I need more of this messages.
Brings a lot of clarity. Thanks
Sadly, I’m one of the ones that was bullied into unbelief of the gospel of grace by family members and friends, and it has lead me down a path of pain to where I have fear that God can’t use me again. I used to be burning bright with the gospel of grace, but now my mind has been warped with all my sins I’ve ever committed flooded into my mind and I feel like God is so far away now. Please pray for me, every day I feel like I’m waking up to a nightmare that I’ll never escape from.
I speak Truth to you right now in Jesus’ name! Jesus said you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall set you FREE! If what you know and are calling truth is not setting you free, then it’s not the Truth! Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no man comes to the Father except through Me”. Go back to the Truth that is Jesus and let Him take you to the Father where you will find your truest self again and you’ll know that you don’t have to remember all your sins, because your Father doesn’t! I pray against every lie and every doubt right now that the Father would tear them down and replace them with Truth and Belief. I also pray for your family members and friends that they will have a revelation of this same Truth and you’ll all be able to rejoice in it together! Amen!
Good word to Jimmie. I just wanted to add this Jimmy. Jesus personally visited me during a time I was going through which sounds a lot like your experience. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “There is no condemnation in Me, no guilt-no shame. He fixed His eyes on mine as He gently stroked my hair and brow and said, “I am not leaving until you get that.” He then repeated, ” No condemnation, no guilt, no shame.” Start there Jimmie and slowly work through all the promises of God that will restore you to who you truly are in Christ–LOVED AND BLESSED!
It was posted in the example as evangelism but to me it could be other issues too. It brings to mind the issue of trying to help someone. When trying to help a fellow person be on the alert not to fall into the same predicament as well. I needed that reminder and for that I thank you.
I find your interpretation interesting but I think Jesus is talking about the perfect standard required by the law. In other words he isn’t talking about believers. This is more apparent in verse 7 where he talks about cutting off hands and feet in response to sinning. If you look at verse 6 in context with the whole chapter I think it’s more apparent he’s showing what the law really demands of the Jews. I think he also hints at the new covenant but it may be a bit much to put verse 6 in a new covenant interpretation.
What a great word!
This is the power of the Christian life, being like little children in believing! 🙂
This life (living like a child in faith before God) is absolutely beautiful, and full of glory.
I used to run track or cross-country. Youve said to run those who are in chirch like a family. But as citizens of our respective nations i feel god has given us feelings. My goal os to love. But you are right. Jesus took the bullet. God’s death and resurrection. Jesus is alive and well.
Nice to have you back on air.
Love this article. Twisted scripture Has caused so much harm to the body.
Leonie I couldn’t agree more. Twisted Scripture (I like that) has held back the body of Christ for many, many years. It is wonderful to see people speaking out and revealing these truths of the word! I hope many people will receive these revelations and begin to walk in victory like never before. God is Good!
I’m curious what you have to say about Matthew 18:7-9?
Knew I’ve seen it but couldn’t find it.
The Mark 9 reference is interesting: John was offended that a man was casting out demons in Jesus’ name and wanted Jesus to rebuke him. Jesus shut John down promptly, and seemed to indicate that rebuking that man (doubtlessly imitating Christ’s deliverance ministry like a little child), would have offended him.
This is beautiful!!!you people are doing a tremendous job, my family and I have changed.
Thank you for writing this