The word of the day is “stumble.” As we begin our Lenten journey, we know our sins and failings that need forgiveness and healing. But as we set out toward the goal of returning to the Lord, we are aware of the spiritual dangers and difficulties ahead. Therefore, we need to look to the God of grace to protect us from falling into the traps of the Evil One. In this respect, the teachings of today’s reading of Jude 1:11-25 are helpful. For instance, Jude 1:24 speaks about “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling…” (vs. 24). Our reading suggests that we treat this thought as an assurance that the Lord will protect us from faltering as we follow the course of Lent.
What does it mean to “stumble” in our walk with the Lord? The word in Greek refers to keeping upright and not falling. Primarily it means falling into temptation or sin. (Strong’s #679, 40).
Why We Stumble
We “stumble” for various reasons. The first is pride. The Book of Proverbs says, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall” (OAB Proverbs 16:18). The Hebrew word for “fall” is the word that means “stumbling” or “tottering” (#3783). As we start on our Lenten journey toward our spiritual homeland, this proverb warns us that just when we gain confidence in our spiritual efforts and begin to rely on our own strength, then we are bound to falter.
Another reason for stumbling is that we allow someone or something to lure us off track. The Lord said, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes (OAB Matthew 18:7). When we stray from the straight and narrow path of the Lord, we find ourselves in perilous territory. The phrase that The Oxford Annotated Bible uses for “occasions for stumbling” is a Greek word related to the English word “scandal.” It refers to circumstances that threaten to “scandalize” us or trip us up. As we go on our way in Lent, the Lord’s words teach us that outside the way of Christ and the Cross, there are countless temptations to sin and innumerable people to encourage us to fall into them.
A final reason for stumbling is that we fall over a “stumbling block.” The Lord called Peter such a stumbling block when the Lord foretold His passion, and Peter objected (Matthew 16:23). Then too, Paul warned the “wise” Corinthians that they could be an obstacle to the faith of “weaker” members. By eating meat that had been offered to idols, they could offend the consciences of those who had scruples about such food (1 Corinthians 8:9-11).
In today’s reading, Jude warns against a variety of false teachers whose teachings would cause the faithful to falter and fall. These are the greedy (vs. 11), the fruitless (vs. 12-13), the ungodly (vs. 15), the grumblers and complainers (vs. 10), the flatterers (vs. 16), the mockers (vs. 18), the lustful and sensual (vs. 18-19), the divisive (19) and those who lack the Spirit (vs.20). All of these kinds of people are truly dangerous obstacles. As we travel down the Lenten path, we should guard against obstructions. They not only would get in the way of our programs. But they would cause us to lose our balance, fall and injure their souls.
Stumbling is, therefore, a danger to us who intend to travel the way of repentance this Lent. Yet today’s reading suggests that we should not fear. Jude speaks of God “who is able to keep you from stumbling” (vs. 24). This affirmation of God’s power assures us that God is able to protect us from tripping up and falling down.
How to Keep From Stumbling
But in the midst of all the obstacles and hazards of life, how can we apply that assurance to ourselves? First, we should adhere to the Word of God. Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you that you should not be made to stumble” (John 16:1). In the sixteenth chapter of John, “these things” concern the hatred that the world will vent on the Lord’s disciples. The Lord told His followers about this animosity ahead of time so that their persecution would not cause them to falter.
But the Lord’s words have a wider application. They promise that all that the Lord teaches will keeps us upright and on the straight and narrow path. In this vein, the psalmist said, “Thy Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). Those who walk in the light of God’s revelation do not stumble because they see the way ahead clearly. They discern the obstacles that lie in their way. And they know how to identify those false teachers who are stumbling blocks that would cause them to fall.
Second, we should obey the command of Christ to love one another. The apostle writes in 1 John: “He who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in Him” (1 John 2:10). The Lord taught the way of love. Hence if we walk in love, we walk in the way of His commandment (2 John 1:6). So long as we love one another according to His command, we stay on the path that He has cleared for us. And on that path, there are no obstacles nor chances of falling. The light of Christ makes our way clear, bright, and without the hazards that would make us fall.
On the other hand, if we hate our brother, we wander off the path of Christ. When we abide in hate, we are bound to trip and fall. Because away from Christ and His love, there is only darkness. And in the darkness, we cannot see where we are going (vs. 11).
Peter’s denial is an example of our comments about the reason for stumbling. When he protested that he would never deny Christ, Peter expressed the pride that would lead him to lose his balance and get swept off his feet. But Jesus warned the apostle that Satan would “sift him like wheat” (Luke 22:31). The devil himself provided the “occasion for stumbling” in which Peter would be profoundly tested. And the stumbling blocks were those who accused him of being a disciple of the Lord, the servant girl (John 18:15) and those warming themselves by the fire (John 18:25), and the High Priest’s servant (John 18:26). Their questions put Peter on trial just when Jesus was on trial. Peter had the opportunity to witness to his loyalty to Christ. But he tripped on the stumbling blocks of the accusations.
By meditating on this story, we can gain insight into how we can guard against the pride that makes us vulnerable to falling, the occasions for stumbling, and the stumbling blocks that we encounter in our walk with the Lord.