These words of Jesus struck me during my quiet time with God today: "Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!" (Matthew 18:7, English Standard Version translation)
The word Jesus uses at the beginning of this verse, woe, is one, that if used at all in today's world is said in sorrow or lament. A person's woes are their sorrows or difficulties. That's part of what the word means. But it can also be a word of judgment over God's enemies.
The context in which these words appear shows us that it's mostly in this second sense that Jesus uses the word in Matthew 18:7. Jesus is speaking God's condemnation for the ways in which the world can tempt people to sin.
In the second sentence of the verse, Jesus says that, because this world is fallen and imperfect, it's inevitable that we'll face the temptation to not love God or love neighbor. (All sin entails either or both of those possibilities.) But Jesus finishes that last sentence with a woeful warning, particularly for His followers, those who consider themselves Christians. The warning is this: God condemns people who tempt others to sin.
This made me think of all the ways we human beings can tempt other human beings into sin. As my list piled up, it gave credence to the teaching of my own Christian tradition, Lutheran, which says, along with many other Christians, that we can be tempted by the devil, the world, and our own sinful selves.
Then I asked God, "Lord, what are the ways in which I have tempted others to sin in my life? Are there any I don't know about and haven't yet confessed to You?"
This seems like a good question to ask God when we encounter passages like Matthew 18:7. It's no good toting up "the world's" faults or those of other people if we're not dealing with our own sins. As Jesus says in Luke 6:42: "How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,' when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
One of the great things about God is that, as quickly as His Law will cause us to remember our sins--the planks in our own eyes, He will just as quickly forgive them, removing them. He does that as we lay aside our self-righteousness and instead, cling to the perfect righteousness that Jesus freely gives to those who entrust Him with both their lives and their sins.
Lord, forgive me for the ways in which I've tempted others to sin. Help me to love and forgive others as You love and forgive me. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen