11 minutes reading time (2279 words)

Observing Others

I love to observe people. How they dress in quite different fashions in the different environments. The choices of tattoos, piercings, and hairstyles. Their reactions to the circumstances they face. Their interactions with other people. Their driving habits!!!

The airport is one of the best places to observe people. You can see all shapes, sizes, nationalities, styles of dress, etc. Ladies wearing spike heels carrying large purses and carryon bags trying to run to make a flight. Parents are trying to get multiple kids to keep up and stay together. Then their efforts to keep them occupied and happy during the flight. After a Church of God In Christ convocation in Memphis, you saw more large hat boxes trying to be fit in an overhead bin than you can imagine. In Atlanta, you see families flying back in from the Caribbean Islands in tee shirts, shorts and sandals when the outside temperature is 40 degrees. New York has more diversity than any airport as far as nationalities and dress. In Augusta, just after 9/11 a lady in front of me in line was incredibly nervous as they examined our bags. This was her time to fly so that seemed to be the reason for her nerves. Finally, she turned to me and asked if the man going through the luggage was going to hold up her underwear. On the same flight, a middle eastern man wearing a turban was of great interest to everyone. He must have felt awkward. In my mind, I thought about what I would do if he got out of his seat during the flight. On one flight, a lady seated in the same row as me quietly sobbed the entire trip. Had she received sad news about her health, a death in the family, a recent divorce?

Being told your flight has been delayed or canceled really brings out people’s personalities, especially their egos. Some people in airports tend to be tense already, so bad news enhances their frustrations. Their demands and treatment of the airline employees tells you quite a bit about them. These are not some of their proudest moments.

For me, watching people is a way to occupy time and amuse myself. Guess what. We are being observed as well. Many times, it’s not to occupy other people’s time nor supply amusement but to make a note of how we manage our Christian lives. Some are genuinely interested in seeing our example. Others are waiting for the opportunity to be critical because we profess to be Christians but don’t always act like it. The thought that people are watching my example is unnerving.

I can remember three times when people admitted to me that they watched how I managed things. A lady who had recently placed membership at the congregation told me about seeing me in a recent Memphis traffic jam. My heart sank because Memphis traffic jams did not always bring out the best in me. Fortunately, I had allowed another driver to pull in front of me.

When our daughter, Meg, right out of high school, told us she was pregnant; her best friend came to talk with us. Sarah reported that all of Meg’s friends were watching how we handled this news. We asked for an explanation. Sarah explained that some of Meg’s friends thought we might send her off to have Seth or even throw her out of the house. Were we going be loving and supportive parents or abandon our daughter in her greatest time of need was their question? The thoughts of sending her away or throwing her out never crossed our minds.

A few weeks later Kay’s brother committed suicide. A young lady in the congregation wrote us a note. We barely knew this lady, so we were surprised when she handed us a note and walked away. She wrote that her faith had been strengthened because of our faith during these trying times. The note is over 21 years old, and I still carry it in my Bible. I read it on occasion to remind me that people are watching my example.

The purpose of relating these experiences is not to tell you that we did good but illustrate that people watch us and we are unaware! I’m very thankful that on these three occasions, we demonstrated our faith. But what about those times when I did not show my faith? Did I cause someone to stumble in their faith? I’ve written before about two questions that really cause me concern on judgment day: who is a Christian because of you and who is not a Christian because of you?

What does the Bible say about our influence over others?

1 Timothy 4:12 Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

Matthew 5:13-16 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

1 Corinthians 8:9 “Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.”

Romans 14:13 “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”

There is not much disagreement on the meanings of I Timothy and Matthew, but I Corinthians and Romans brings out some emotions. People are often uneasy with the thought that they must consider others as they live their lives. Some react strongly with an attitude that they have rights to conduct life as they want. We are very interested in protecting our rights and freedoms.

The following are excerpts from Stephen Altrogge writing Are You A Stumbling Block? What It REALLY Means (It’s Not What You Think) from the blazing center:

“We tell other Christians not to do certain things because they might become a stumbling block to someone else. Or we refrain from doing certain things because we are afraid, we might become a stumbling block.

Let me start by saying what it does not mean. Doing something other people think is wrong does not necessarily make you a stumbling block.

I’m NOT talking about areas not clearly spelled out in scripture. Lying, cheating, slandering, stealing, and sexual immorality are all clearly sin. If you do those things, you’re straight up sinning.

I’m talking about gray areas here.

Paul clearly addresses the idea of being a stumbling block in 1 Corinthians 8. The issue at hand is food offered to idols. The Corinthians, with their “superior” knowledge, knew that idols were not the true God. This knowledge led them to insist that it was perfectly fine for them to eat food offered to idols.

Paul, however, was concerned for those who had been saved out of idol worship. For these people, eating food offered to idols was akin to idol worship itself. They closely associate eating food offered to idols with worshiping the idols themselves.

This is the issue at the heart of the stumbling block issue. It’s all about other believers. It’s NOT about what people will think about me. If I do something that’s clearly not a sin, and a self-righteous person judges me for it, I’m not being a stumbling block to them.

Let me put a modern-day spin on it. Generally speaking, I don’t think it’s wrong to smoke cigars (within reason, attending to all the appropriate health concerns, making sure you don’t get addicted, etc.)

You, however, are convinced that smoking cigars is wrong. Maybe it’s due to your family history. Maybe you were brought up within a certain church tradition in which you were taught that smoking cigars is categorically wrong.

But no matter how much you search the Bible, you’re not going to find anything about cigars (or any kind of smoking, for that matter). It’s simply not there.

Do I have to stop all cigar smoking because I know you think I am doing something wrong? No. Scripture doesn’t forbid smoking cigars. My liberty in Christ is not restricted simply by what other people might think of me. If my behavior causes you to judge me, that’s not creating a stumbling block. That’s something you need to deal with before the Lord.

But (and this is really important), if I smoke a cigar around you and that, in turn, leads you to smoke a cigar even though you think it is sin, then I have become a stumbling block. My liberty in Christ has actually encouraged you to sin against your conscience. When our “rights” lead others to act against their consciences we have become stumbling blocks.

This fits perfectly in line with the commands of Jesus. He calls me to love others more than I love myself. To lay down my life for my brothers and sisters in Christ. To die to my own preferences.

And so, love for my brothers in Christ guides and restrains my liberty in Christ.

If smoking a cigar or watching a movie or listening to an album or reading a book will lead you to violate your conscience, then I will cheerfully give up that right when I am with you. Love always triumphs over liberty. Unity always triumphs over personal rights.

If I adamantly insist that I have every right to do something, even if it causes you to sin, I’m laying a stumbling block before you. I am prizing my rights in Christ more than your relationship with the Lord. This isn’t pleasing to God in any sense.

We are free to enjoy whatever scripture does not forbid. If a person thinks we’re wrong, so what? However, our freedom must always be wrapped in concern and care for others. If our freedom actually leads someone else to violate their conscience, then we have become a stumbling block.

So, let’s eat and drink and not eat and drink for the glory of God.”

The example Stephen chose was cigar smoking. He closed with “let’s eat and drink” so I’m going to expand to alcoholic beverages. Years ago, when I taught junior high and senior high school, the kids were always interested in a discussion about drinking beer. My first point was, I cannot direct you to a verse in the Bible that states, “Thou shall not partake of alcohol!” However, I can take you verses about drunkenness. Here are a few: I Peter 4:3, Ephesians 5:18, Romans 13:13 and Galatians 5:19-24. Drunkenness is created by drinking alcohol to excess.

Some verses point to drinking wine. I Timothy 5:23: "Stop drinking only water and use a little wine because of your stomach and your frequent illnesses." It’s obvious that Timothy had a stomach problem, so Paul instructed him to use a little wine to help the problem. In I Timothy 3:8, one of the qualifications of a deacon is that he is not given to much wine. Some have written that the wine referred to in the Bible does not contain alcohol. If that be the case, why caution about the amount of wine that is consumed? I do believe that the wine referred to is alcohol.

Is drinking an alcoholic beverage a sin? Having an alcoholic beverage in the privacy of your home, I do not believe it is a sin. A couple of cautions: 1.) Everyone’s body reacts differently to alcohol so make sure you do not drink to excess; 2.) Teach your children and grandchildren about the use of alcohol.

What about drinking in front of others? If you can drink alcohol in front of family, friends, and others without causing them to stumble, that’s fine. My caution here is that although you may not cause the other person to drink to excess, what about your Christian influence. If I lose my Christian influence with another person because of drinking alcohol, I believe I must refrain. For me I Corinthians 10:23-24 covers that: “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” I believe God’s expectations of us are to think about others first.

You matter in this world. If you didn’t, God would have never put you here. You matter to other people, and they are observing you every day. Your children watch to see how Mom and Dad handle themselves because you are their model. The people you work with see how you handle hardship, what kind of jokes you tell, and especially your relationship with God. Other parents at sporting events watch your reactions to unfavorable calls or plays. You are being observed even though you may think otherwise. Yes, you have the right to live your life any way you want but be prayerful that you do not negatively affect people. You matter so much that God has entrusted other people to your influence. Let’s not disappoint God!

Thanks

Mike

Excerpts from Stephen Altrogge used by permission. His entire article can be read at https://theblazingcenter.com/2018/08/stumbling-block.html

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