“Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.” (Romans 14:13, KJV 1900)
There was a time when, as a young man, I did some trapping. There were various ways to trap an animal. I will not go into this, but a trap is anything that will bring an animal, or a person down. Paul uses this metaphor in writing about one of the adverse effects of judging others over a variance of opinions in disputable areas.
Paul indicates that by passing judgment over one in a disputable area, you will place a stumbling block in his path. The word translated an occasion to fall the ESV translates as “hindrance in the way.” It is the Greek word skandalon, which literally refers to a “part of a trap to which a bait is attached or the snare itself” (Vines). So, in a sense, those who pronounce judgment on a believer who holds a difference of opinion in a disputable area, sets a very dangerous and hidden trap for him or her.
We need to look at this from two perspectives. First, consider the believer who feels restriction in certain areas. In this case, he may pass judgment, condemning another for exercising his liberty in the disputable area. This type of judgment can cause division, confusion regarding grace, adversely influence ministry and steal joy in a Christian’s walk. We have a prime example of how this can happen in the church. In Galatians we read of Paul confronting Peter because under pressure from the circumcision party, Peter separated himself from eating with the Gentiles (Gal 2:11-14).
Second, consider the believer with liberty in those disputable areas. In this the one with liberty might encourage the one without liberty to violate his own personal convictions. In this case the one with restrictions could act contrary to his own conscience. Moreover, he might be enticed to dabble in areas in which he has major struggles to control. Take for instance a person who has been struggling with alcohol addiction. The one who has liberty to drink wine (in moderation) may entice the alcoholic to partake, which would take the man back into his addiction.
In these cases, both the one with liberty and the one without can both sin by the improper judgment in response to the other disputable areas. You see, the one who causes another to sin, through his own actions, sins himself. The best way to avoid this trap is to pursue the higher ground. See Paul’s conclusion, “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19, ESV)