Speaking to his disciples, Jesus issued a warning about causing “stumbling.” It was a matter of “take heed to yourselves” (v. 3). Occasions of stumbling are bound to come. Sometimes they are self-inflicted, caused by carelessness. At other times, vicious false teachers precipitate such. In some cases, stumbling is precipitated by thoughtless followers of the Lord. Hence, the warning: “Woe to him through whom they come” (v. 1). The value of the soul is so paramount that it would be better for one to be drowned in the sea than to be the one who causes a “little one” to stumble, i.e., one who has begun to follow Jesus but is yet without maturity. The term “better” suggests there is a punishment greater than a violent death (Mt. 18:6-7).
This does not mean that sin is to be ignored. If a brother sins, he is to be “rebuked.” This term covers a range of actions—from making one aware of his sin, to encouraging him to forsake it, to chastising him for remaining therein (cf. Mt. 18:15-17). Rebuke should always be done in the spirit of gentleness (Gal. 6:1) and with the aim of restoring the person. When the offender repents (i.e., has contrition and makes the effort to change), forgiveness should be extended, even if he fails again multiple times. The door of forgiveness ought always to be open.
Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary
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