This morning I had to deal with an issue no parent likes to deal with: disciplining one of the kids when they’ve done something wrong. Yesterday, my oldest son asked if they could go to bed early. So last night, we ensured that they did. And he proceeded to stay up. But the problem was, as he stayed up, he talked to his younger brother and kept him up. And he knows that his younger brother has a harder time falling asleep than he does. So the older one tuckered out eventually, but his younger brother was up half an hour or longer before he was able to get to sleep. If this was a normal day, we could have said to the younger son, “Sleep in another hour.” But it’s not. There are some things the boys need to do and it’s on a fixed schedule, and they need to be as alert and fresh as possible. Neither boy is, with the younger one hurting the most. The younger one was pretty upset this morning because he was tired and he knows he’s got those things to do and his lack of sleep will hurt him. Now the younger one shares some of the blame. He could have said something to us and we would have nixed it. They were quiet enough where we didn’t hear them. He knew that. He also knew that if he wanted the situation changed, he should have come and told us. He didn’t. But I hold the older responsible for not only hurting himself, but hurting his brother, too.
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this–not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. – Romans 14:13-19, NASB
While I know neither boy functions very well when they are lacking sleep, the older functions a whole lot better. He naturally has more stamina. So perhaps staying up later won’t affect what he has to do (it will, but for argument’s sake lets give him the benefit of the doubt). And that is what Paul’s getting at here. Perhaps for us doing something is fine. If we are around a brother or sister where it’s not fine, we should not do it. We should not hurt our brothers and sisters. We should be especially cautious not to cause them to stumble spiritually and sin. For instance, let’s say you are the type who can go shopping and not buy anything unless you need it or you’ve got the money set aside for it because it’s a planned purchase. But your brother is not that way. When he goes shopping, he has to buy something. There’s a compulsion he hasn’t brought under control and you know about it. And let’s say that if it’s electronics-related he has a tendency to buy really nice, expensive stuff, even when he knows he can’t afford it. So the last thing you want to do is take him to one of those big ticket electronic stores. While you can control yourself and there’s no issue for you, you know that if he steps foot inside, he’s going to make a foolish purchase. If you take him to said store, you’ve caused your brother to stumble. Paul points out that such a situation is not acceptable to God.
Part of being in service to God, and thereby building up the Church, is being aware of how our actions affect our brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s not just about doing what God calls us to do. It’s also about choosing not to do those things that would cause our brothers and sisters harm. That means we have to know our brothers and sisters. It also means we have to understand the situation. And apply that knowledge correctly. I know that’s asking more of us, but if we’re honoring the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, then we understand the need to do so. We would want others to think about where we stand and hopefully make choices that don’t put stumbling blocks in our path. Therefore, we should be cognizant of what we’re doing and seek to do the same. That was something I explained to my oldest this morning. I made sure he realized that his actions didn’t just hurt himself, but they also hurt his younger brother. And he has a pretty severe punishment as a result. But I’m hoping that the realization of the impact on his brother disciplines him far more than the punishment. We must seek to help, encourage, and strengthen one another. There are too many things looking to tear us down as it is. We don’t need to help in that.