One For All and All For One

“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! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. 

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.” –  Matthew 18:7-14 ESV

Jesus is in the middle of what began as a lesson on humility and its non-negotiable requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The disciples had been arguing about which of them was the greatest when Jesus intervened and, using a small child as a visual prompt, began to teach them about the need for humility, not hubris. But it’s important to understand that Jesus was not placing children in a higher position than adults. And it is unlikely that He was teaching that it’s easier for a child to be saved than an adult. His emphasis was the innocence, trust and natural humility found in a child.

When Jesus referred to “these little ones,” He was talking about those who willingly place their faith in Him, trusting Him as a child would – without guile, not driven by ego, or motivated by self-indulgence.

Jesus, knowing that His disciples were obsessed with status, reminded them that they were to accept these innocent believers in His name. They were not to categorize or rank them by outward signs of worth or treat some as more important than others. James, the half-brother of Jesus, had some strong words regarding this kind of prejudice practiced in the church.

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?

For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives?

Listen to me, dear brothers and sisters. Hasn’t God chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith? Aren’t they the ones who will inherit the Kingdom he promised to those who love him? But you dishonor the poor! Isn’t it the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Aren’t they the ones who slander Jesus Christ, whose noble name you bear? – James 2:1-7 NLT

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Don’t allow status or worldly signs of significance to deceive you. Christ’s kingdom was not going to be populated by the powerful, pretentious, the popular, or the prosperous. It isn’t that these people could not have a place in His kingdom, but they would first have to become as little children: Full of humility rather than being full of themselves.

The world is full of stumbling blocks. There are all kinds of natural impediments designed to keep people from coming to Christ. And for those who do place their faith in Christ, there would be no shortage of barriers along the way, intended to keep them from growing in their faith. So, Jesus warns His disciples about the danger of becoming a source of discouragement to another believer. By arguing over who was the greatest, the disciples were inadvertently discouraging one another. It had not escaped the other nine disciples that Peter, James, and John were favored by Jesus. They had been included in His trip to the mountaintop, while the others had been left behind. Peter had received a blessing from Jesus because he had been the first to speak up and declare Jesus as the Son of God. A natural and normal competitive factor had developed between the disciples, and it left some feeling less significant than others.

This led Jesus to stress the need for mutual care and concern. And He used hyperbole to drive home the seriousness of His point. Anyone who caused a fellow believer to stumble in their walk would be better off dead. Jesus is not teaching that someone can lose their salvation for tempting another believer to falter in their faith. He is simply stressing how serious we should take our role in another person’s faith journey. Anything we do to discourage another believer by looking down on them or making them feel inferior will have destructive consequences. And Jesus stresses the seriousness of this offense by saying, “it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea” (Matthew 18:6 NLT). 

Jesus does not want His disciples to be sources of stumbling for other believers. So, He warns them to set aside their pride and to humbly serve any and all who place their faith in Him, regardless of their status in life. Again, Jesus uses hyperbole to make His point. He warns His disciples that anything in their life that might cause a brother to stumble should be eliminated at all costs. That includes their pride.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus uses hands, feet, and eyes as examples. It is with our hands that we grasp the things of this world. It is with our feet that we stray from the path that God has set for us. And it is our eyes that cause us to lust after the things of this world. The apostle John provides us with a strong word of warning concerning these things.

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. – 1 John 2:15-16 NLT

It’s important to remember that this entire exchange between Jesus and His disciples began with their argument over who was the greatest. The very fact that they were debating this topic reveals that they saw themselves as somehow superior to one another. So, Jesus told them, “See that you do not disdain one of these little ones” (Matthew 18:10 NLT). The Greek word Jesus used means “to think little or nothing of.” They were devaluing one another. They were assessing worth based on outward attributes. But Jesus stressed that God views all equally. He shows no partiality. Paul reminds us, “God does not show favoritism” (Romans 2:11 NLT). So, why should we? God cares for each and every one of His children. If one strays, He seeks them out. And when He finds them, He rejoices. So should we.

The sin-based pride of the disciples was destructive. Their obsession with self-importance and their need for recognition and status had no place in the kingdom of heaven. They were going to learn that the plight of the believer would be difficult enough in this world without having fellow believers placing roadblocks in the way. Unity was going to be essential to the success of the church. Mutual care and concern were going to be essential characteristics of the body of Christ. And the New Testament is filled with admonitions to model humility and to serve one another selflessly and sacrificially.

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV

Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. – Ephesians 4:29 NLT

So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up… – Romans 14:19 NLT

We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord. – Romans 15:2 NLT

Mutual edification, not self-glorification. Building up others, not pumping up ourselves. Putting others first and ourselves last. That is life in the kingdom. We are in this together. We are the body of Christ and each of us needs the other.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

True Greatness.

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. –  Matthew 18:1-6 ESV

What would have prompted this question from the disciples? And were they asking about those who were already in heaven, such as Moses, Elijah or possibly David? Well, a quick look at the other gospel accounts of this very same scene sheds some light on what was going on. Both Mark and Luke reveal that the disciples had been arguing over which one of them was the greatest.

…on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. – Mark 9:36 ESV

An argument arose among them as to which of them was the greatest. – Luke 9:46 ESV

Matthew’s version of the account presents the disciples a bit more favorably, as if they were the ones who brought the matter to Jesus to settle. But Mark indicates that Jesus was the one who exposed the content of their squabble by asking them, “What were you discussing on the way?” (Mark 9:34 ESV). But they refused to answer His question. So Luke tells us that, “Jesus, knowing the reasoning of their hearts, took a child and put him by his side” (Luke 9:47 ESV).

So, why the discrepancy? What would have caused Matthew to portray the scene differently? It is most likely a case of perspective. Matthew was revealing things as he had seen them. Perhaps he had not been part of the group that had been having the argument. He could have walked in on the scene as Jesus was addressing the issue and simply assumed one of the other disciples had asked Jesus the question. We are not told why his recollection of the event is different, but it is important to remember that each of the gospel authors was writing from their own particular viewpoint. It is not a case of contradiction as much as it is context.

But the fact that the disciples had been arguing over this point is revealing. We are not told what prompted their discussion, but it could have been the fact that Peter, James and John had been selected by Jesus to view His transfiguration. While they had been sworn to secrecy by Jesus, that doesn’t mean they didn’t gloat in front of the other disciples, bragging over their membership in Jesus’ inner circle. Remember, it was James and John who had asked Jesus if they could sit on His right and left when He established His kingdom (Mark 10:37). Position and prominence were important to the disciples. These blue-collar members of the lower rung of the Jewish culture were constantly thinking about rank and privilege. They even argued amongst themselves as to who was the greatest.

Yet, Jesus was about to burst their bubble and expose a feature of His kingdom that would contradict their expectations. Jesus did something unusual. He placed a small child in their midst and then used this unnamed and seemingly insignificant child to drive home an important lesson on leadership in the kingdom of God. In that day and age, children were considered as inferior to adults. They had little or no rights. And for Jesus to use a child as an example for adults would have been shocking. It should have been the other way around. And yet, He placed the child in front of His disciples and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3 ESV). 

Notice what Jesus says. He tells His disciples that they must “turn.” The Greek word He used in strephō, and it means to change your course of conduct or to change your mind. At that point, the disciples were arguing and obsessing over the issue of greatness in the kingdom. But Jesus demands that they rethink their position and become like children. What did Jesus mean? It seems clear from the context that He is speaking of humility. He had placed this young child in the midst of 12 adult men and told them to follow the child’s example. Mark indicates that Jesus took the child in His arms. This child’s innocence and trust of Jesus is clearly on display. There is no pride exhibited. The child does not demand his own way or refuse to do what Jesus asked. And Jesus makes His point perfectly clear: “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4 ESV).

But to the shock and surprise of His disciples, Jesus indicates that anyone who does not become humble like a child will never enter the kingdom of heaven. They would have believed that their hand-picked status as followers of Jesus and as descendants of Abraham would have been more than enough to secure their place in the kingdom. Now, it was just a matter of status within that kingdom. But Jesus wanted them to know that entrance into the kingdom would be based on humility and trust.

Jesus was not telling His disciples that they were unsaved. His point was the need for humility. There was no place for pride in the lives of His followers. They had brought nothing to the table. There had been nothing about them that had caused Jesus to choose them. The only reason they were HIs followers was because He had called them and they had humbly obeyed that call. And there would be other followers of Christ. Those who humbled themselves and willingly placed their trust in Jesus as their Savior. And Jesus warned the disciples not to look down on those kinds of people.

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a huge millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the open sea” – Matthew 18:6 NLT

The very fact that the disciples had been arguing over which one of them was the greatest is an indication that they believed in a hierarchy within the kingdom. They were convinced that there was a degree of superiority and inferiority associated with Jesus’ kingdom, just like any other royal administration. But Jesus pointed out that His kingdom was to come and when it did come it would be marked by humility, not pride. And if the disciples, through their pride, kept anyone from entering the kingdom, their fate would be marked by judgment, not greatness.

Mark added the following words from Jesus: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35 ESV). Luke records it this way: “For he who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Luke 9:48 ESV). That day, the child Jesus held in His arms would have been considered “least” by the disciples. He had done nothing. He had performed no miracles, healed no one, and had not even reached adulthood. He had no rights. He had no privileges. But Jesus said he was greater than any of the disciples. 

They were going to learn that greatness in Christ’s kingdom was based on an attitude of humility and servanthood, not pride and position. And Jesus was going to be their greatest example of what it meant to be great.

“Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:26-28 ESV

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Day 70 – Matthew 17:24-18:35; Mark 9:33-50

No Place For Pride.

Matthew 17:24-18:35; Mark 9:33-50

He sat down, called the twelve disciples over to him, and said, “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else.” – Mark 9:22-35 NLT

This is a fascinating section of Scripture. It is filled with powerful words from the lips of Jesus which are directed at His disciples. As they were journeying back to Capernaum, the disciples had gotten into an argument among themselves about who was the greatest. What makes this so mind-blowing is that Jesus had just told them that He was going to be betrayed into the hands of His enemies, be killed and raised from the dead. And yet, all they could think to discuss along the way was which one of them was the greatest. I would have loved to have heard that discussion. I’m sure Peter, James and John argued that they were because they alone got to witness the transfiguration of Jesus. Peter probably make a point of referencing the episode where he walked on the water (at least for a while). Each of them probably had ample reasons to vote themselves into the prime spot and just as many reasons for discounting the greatness of one another. Embarrassed at Jesus’ questioning about what they had been arguing about, they refused to answer. But Jesus knew. So He sat them down and gave them a lengthy lesson on the reality of life in His Kingdom. First, He rocked their world by telling them,  “Whoever wants to be first must take last place and be the servant of everyone else” (Mark 9:35 NLT). So all their talk about greatness was misplaced and a waste of time. In His Kingdom, humility was the key to greatness, not pride. Servanthood was of greater value in God’s economy than leadership. True greatness began with an attitude marked by humility, dependence and need. To further illustrate His point, Jesus invited a little child to sit down among them. In that day, children were of little value. Other than male children who could carry on the family name, children were a burden. They had no rights. They were obligated to obey and honor their parents. They were worked hard and often taken for granted. But Jesus took this little child, placed him in their midst and said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3-4 NLT). This child was weak, defenseless, unimportant, completely dependent, and had not Jesus called him over, would have gone totally unnoticed by the disciples. Jesus’ point? That’s the attitude required of every citizen of His Kingdom. When Jesus called this little child over, he came. He obeyed. He did as he was told, no questions asked. The disciples were constantly questioning Jesus and doubting His methods. They were self-consumed and prideful. They truly believed that because they were followers of Jesus, they would play a prominent role in His coming Kingdom.

Even after hearing Jesus’ words, John seems to still be promoting his own greatness when He informs Jesus that they had stopped some arrogant outsider from casting out demons in Jesus’ name. I’m sure John was expecting a commendation, but instead he got a rebuke. Jesus responded, “Don’t stop him!” (Mark 9:39 NLT). Jesus seemed to be saying, “This is about the Kingdom, not getting credit for what you’ve accomplished.” John saw this man as competition. But Jesus said, “Anyone who is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40 NLT). Rather than worry about getting recognition for what you’ve done, willingly serve any and all who are helping the cause of Christ. Interestingly enough, this outsider was doing what the other disciples were unable to do while Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration – cast out a demon. Whoever this individual was, he had enough faith in Jesus to use His name to cast out demons. But the disciples had commanded him to stop what he was doing. Jesus made it clear. In doing so, they were causing this man to sin. “But if you cause one of these little ones who trust in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone hung around your neck” (Mark 9:42 NLT). This man was waging war against the enemy in Jesus’ name, but the disciples, due to their own pride, had told him to stop. Their own pride had done harm to the Kingdom of Christ and caused this man to sin. That was a dangerous thing to do. The key issue here is pride. Jesus wanted the disciples to examine their hearts and get to the root of the problem, then cut it off. “If one is characterized by pride rather than humility, and if one consistently acts in pride so as to offend those who believe in Christ, he is demonstrating that he does not belong to Christ and such a one would consequently ‘be thrown into hell’” (J. Dwight Pentecost, The Words & Works of Jesus Christ). Pride is a powerful force in the life of the believer – for bad, not good. We must watch for it and do everything in our power to remove it. We must be as little children – humble, dependent, recognizing our own weakness and turning to God for all our needs. Our lives should be marked by compliance and complete submission to the will of the Father. There is no place for competition in the Kingdom of Christ. We all serve the King.

Father, pride is a constant reality in my life. It raises its ugly head on a regular basis, and sometimes it becomes to familiar that I fail to see it for what it is. Open my eyes and examine my heart. Show me the pervasive presence of pride in my life and help me remove it. Replace it with an attitude of humility and service. Give me the heart of a child. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men