Most of us don't go looking for trouble. Granted there are some who love trouble and seek after it, but most of us prefer to avoid it. Instead, we tend to enjoy peace and tranquility along with the security that comes from knowing that we have stayed out of trouble.
Even so, we sometimes find trouble anyway because we stumble into it. To stumble in a literal sense is to trip over an unseen object in the path of our feet. Such stumbling occurs by accident, for no one can intentionally trip over something he does not see. The Bible uses the stumbling of our feet as a figure to describe how we sometimes get into sin. This indicates that we did not intentionally set out to sin and that there was something unanticipated that caused us to find sin.
So then, are we free from guilt because we accidently stumble into sin? The answer is no, for sin is still sin whether we find it intentionally or accidentally. To sin is to miss the mark of God's expectations for us (Rom. 3:23), and His expectations do not change merely because we missed the mark accidentally. Furthermore, there is more to sin and guilt than merely intentions. The Lord will not excuse us because of good intentions, but rather He will judge us according to what we have done (2Cor. 5:10). Indeed, we bear the guilt of our sins whether they are the result of stumbling or intentional defiance of God's will.
At first, it may seem to be unfair that we are held responsible when we accidentally stumble, but a closer consideration reveals that even stumbling into sin is truly our own fault. The reason is that God has given us sufficient instruction to keep us from stumbling. For example, 2Peter 1:5-7 instructs to add to our faith virtue, excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. With these traits, we are given this guarantee, "for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble" (2Pet. 1:10). It is by such instruction that God is able to keep us from stumbling (Ps. 56:13; 116:8; John 16:1; Jude 24). Moreover, it is the failure to heed God's instructions that often puts us in situations where we stumble. Without using God's word as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105), we are bound to stumble into some unseen trouble in the darkness of this world.
Therefore, it is imperative upon us to be proactive by heeding the wisdom of God's word in order to avoid stumbling blocks. To this point, consider these passages from the Proverbs:
Proverbs 3:21-24 --21My son, let them not vanish from your sight; keep sound wisdom and discretion, 22so they will be life to your soul and adornment to your neck. 23Then you will walk in your way securely and your foot will not stumble. 24When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.
Proverbs 4:10-13 --10Hear, my son, and accept my sayings and the years of your life will be many. 11I have directed you in the way of wisdom; I have led you in upright paths. 12When you walk, your steps will not be impeded; and if you run, you will not stumble. 13Take hold of instruction; do not let go. Guard her, for she is your life.
Proverbs 4:14-19 -- 14Do not enter the path of the wicked and do not proceed in the way of evil men. 15Avoid it, do not pass by it; turn away from it and pass on. 16For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; and they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble. 17For they eat the bread of wickedness and drink the wine of violence. 18But the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. 19The way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know over what they stumble.
It is the failure to heed the wisdom and warnings of God's word that incurs guilt when we stumble into sin unintentionally. Because God has warned us in advance, we should know better. Notice in Proverbs 4:16 that there are those who contribute to the stumbling of others. These people bear tremendous guilt when they cause others to stumble (Mal. 2:8; Matt. 18:6; Rom. 14:13-17; 1Cor. 8:13), but this does not absolve the stumbling sinner from his own guilt.
Therefore, let us take the matter of stumbling seriously, for stumbling causes sin, and sin causes death (Rom. 6:23; Jas. 1:15). Let us understand that men stumble into all kinds of sin, including even murder (Prov. 1:10-19) and adultery (Prov. 7). To prevent ourselves from stumbling into any sin, we must prepare ourselves by the word of God. We must shine the light of God's word wherever we walk so that we may see the stumbling blocks and avoid them. If necessary, we must even take extreme measures to avoid stumbling (Matt. 5:29-30; 18:8-9), including severing relationships, changing jobs, or giving up old habits. Any sacrifice will be worth avoiding even one stumbled misstep into sin.
Stacey E. Durham
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