A MILLSTONE AROUND THE NECK
August 1, 1986 Issue
by Alfred Newberry
"Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believed in me, it were better for him that millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea." Matthew 18:6
In this passage the Lord indicated that it would be better for one to suffer a terrible form of capital punishment than to be guilty of this sin. The form of capital punishment that he referred to was practiced, according to Barnes, by the Greeks, Syrians, and Romans. The sin he referred to was causing a young Christian to sin. This is a serious sin, and it cannot be taken lightly in the Church. Certainly the Lord is not prescribing the death penalty as punishment for this sin, but rather is showing how wicked this sin really is.
THE METHOD OF EXECUTION
The method of execution was as follows. A millstone was tied around the criminal's neck with a rope, and he was thrown into the ocean, lake or river, A millstone was a large circular rock which was used to grind wheat and other grain into flour. The stone was turned around a shaft by either a man or by an animal such as an ox. The mills which were turned by animals were, of course, much larger than the human powered models. Barnes says the Greek word used in Matt 18:6 means a large stone from an animal powered grinding mill.
Those who have learned to swim, can easily understand the effect of having a large stone attacked to the neck. The head would be pulled straight down with the result being the person would find it impossible to swim. Death by drowning would occur within a few seconds as one struggled in a hysterical fashion to swim to the surface.
We have not discussed this method of execution in detail to horrify anyone, rather to give the reader the kind of understanding of this method of capital punishment that Jesus' hearers had. These people knew all about this method of execution and so the full weight of Jesus words was heavy on their minds. It is not our purpose to give anyone bad dreams about this form of execution, but our purpose is to ensure that we will not take lightly the serious nature of this sin. This was a terrible form of execution. It was a terrifying experience both for the person being executed and for his friends as they watched him fight the water struggling in vain to come up for air. In addition to this, his body was pulled to the bottom of the sea probably never to be seen again. This added to the intensity of the punishment since the family could not give the executed man a proper burial.
THE "SIN" IS CAUSING A YOUNG CHRISTIAN TO SIN.
The KJV (King James Version) rendering of Matt 18:6 is not properly understood by some people. Many people take this verse to mean "do not hurt the feelings" of a young Christian, but this is not the meaning. The ASV (American Standard Version) says, "whoso shall cause one of these little ones that believe on me to stumble, it is profitable for him that a great millstone should be hanged about his neck, that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea". The NIV (New International Version) says, "if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be frowned in the depths of the sea".
It is very clear that the sin Jesus describes is any action on the part of a Christian which would aid, encourage, influence, or cause a new Christian to sin. Causing a young Christian to sin is clearly a terrible sin that cannot be taken lightly. This is why Jesus said that a Christian would be better off being executed by the millstone than to be guilty of causing a new member of Christ's body to sin. The horror of being drowned with a millstone would last only a little while. Eternal punishment in a devil's hell will last for all eternity.
THE WAYS THE SIN IS COMMITTED
There are many ways that the sin of Matt 18:6 can be committed. The obvious way is to directly expose a young Christian to temptations and enticements causing him or her to sin. Sin, of course, is not limited just to immorality. There are many other things one might be guilty of which would cause a young Christian to sin. Other sins that a young Christian might be influenced to commit are quitting the Church, forsaking the assembly, accepting false doctrines, or falling to grow. Let us consider three ways in which one might cause a new Christian to commit these sins.
NEGLECT Everyone knows that physical parents must care for their children and that it is both a sin and a criminal offense for them to neglect these little ones. One of the reasons young Christians are spoken of as "babies" is that they must be cared for, they must be fed, and they must be protected from false doctrine. Just as a neglected human baby will die if not cared for, so a new Christian will fall away if not cared for by the other members. Phil 2:4 says, "not looking each of you to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others". This means that we Christian must take care of one another, it is commanded by God. This passage certainly applies to young Christians above all others.
EXAMPLE 1 Cor 8:10-12 says, "For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against your brothers in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ" (NIV). This principle has many applications. For example, a Christian who forsakes the assembly is by his example telling other young Christians that it is permissible to do so. In so doing he commits a double sin. He sins in forsaking the assembly, and he sins because he influences a brother to sin. If our example destroys our brother for whom Christ died, we would be better off drowned in the sea with a millstone pulling us down by our necks!
DISCOURAGEMENT Disgruntled Christians sometimes "unload" their gripes and complaints on young Christians. The writer has seen this over the years and has observed the following. Usually the disgruntled person is cowardly and selfish. He gives no thought to what sort of dreadful effect his complaining might have on the babe in Christ because his only desire is to vocalize his complaints, attack those he disagrees with, and gain the impressionable new convert to his side. The complainer normally talks about "they" as being guilty of displeasing him, but rarely will he name who "they" are. Never does the complainer encourage the new convert to listen to the other side of the story. (An honest person is happy for one to listen to both sides of the story.) Never does the disgruntled complainer separate his opinions from what is Bible teaching. He speaks of his own ideas and opinions as if they had been spoken by Christ himself. He leaves the impression that when the congregation goes against his opinions they have violated the Bible.
Of the offenses mentioned, the discouraging of a new Christian by a disgruntled complainer is the most inexcusable. It is the result of mindless selfishness and constitutes behavior of the worst sort. The leaders of every congregation are encouraged to take quick, direct, and forceful action against those who seek to so damage babes in Christ. Consider the following illustration. Suppose your friend buys a new car and one day finds a man beating it with a big hammer in a parking lot. He calls the police, and they find that the man is mad because his own car won't start so he is taking out his frustration on your friend's new car. We would all regard such behavior as mindlessly selfish as well as criminal. But, this criminal is no worse off than the Christian who beats" a new convert with the "hammer" of his own petty complaints thereby spiritually injuring or perhaps killing the babe in Christ. Such behavior cannot be tolerated!
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