First Entry: The Freedom to Speak
Concern for the Little Ones
In the closing thoughts of “The Freedom to Speak” now Part 1, “little ones” were mentioned. The verses were given, but nothing was really discussed. But we need to recognize that Jesus is absolutely concerned about the faith of little ones; which gives us the need to identify the little ones.
We are going to look at Matthew 18.1-7 and Mark 9.33-42, and what we will find is that there are two groups of little ones. Many have been taught, and rightly so, that little ones are children. Children are precious. Children are a gift. Children have a faith that most adults would do well to emulate. Yet, what may not have been taught is that the phrase “little ones” includes two groups of adults: those who have faith in Jesus (Matthew 18); and those adults who have faith in Jesus but vary in practices (Mark 9).
As we navigate these passages it will become clear that a minister should be very mindful of the hearers and very mindful of the combined lesson of Jesus. When the minister takes these in mind, he has but little choice when things unfold uncertainly, as they usually do, to be mindful and sacrificial in his behavior for the benefit of the little ones.
1At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them 3and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6but 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. 7“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! (ESV, emphasis mine)
This passage has Jesus in a type of “show and tell” where he through a parabolic teaching gives an answer to the disciples’ question about the greatest in the kingdom. Jesus utilizes the child and points out that adults should become as a child. This makes the child a metaphor. The adult should become like a child. The adult should become humble like a child. These statements contain many valuable lessons, but they are not the focus of this study. Our focus is Jesus’ next statement found in verses five and six.
It is the statement about “receiving one such child” that seems to be generally associated with children, but upon a closer reading we will find that it is not specifically about accepting a literal child.
From the start of Jesus answer, Jesus was never concerned solely with children, but was making the metaphorical connection that adults can be like children. This is vital for understanding Jesus’ statement in verses five and six because the adult, the metaphorical child, who believes in Jesus is of concern to our Savior. Even though this passage begins by discussing an adult’s behavior becoming like a child, Jesus expresses his concern about the behavior of other adults (18.6) that would affect the faith of the metaphorical child.
It should be underscored that Jesus is strongly cautioning against offending the child-like faith of a believer. Jesus’ warning is strong. He says that if someone causes a child-like believer to sin, the one who caused the child-like believer to sin would have been better off being tossed into the sea and drowned instead. That is pretty serious. To the point that Jesus pronounces a woe to the one who causes a child-like believer to stumble (18.7).
Taking these things into account, verses eight through ten become far more serious, and it may be proper to conclude that the remainder of Matthew Eighteen plays an important role in repairing damaged relationships.
For this article, the primary thing I want to take from this passage in Matthew is that Jesus is absolutely concerned about the faith of a little one, and that the little one is an adult who believes in him.
Little Ones and Mark (mc. Mark 9.33-50)
36And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, 37“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
38John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”
39But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40For the one who is not against us is for us. 41For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward. 42“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. (ESV)
Permit me some time for a little personal transparency. I come from a heritage that has given much airtime to the differences among Christians, Christian Associations, and how those differences are either Scriptural or not Scriptural. My statement should not be read as condemning or condoning the behavior, just acknowledging that it exists. What is significant is that at one time this particular passage was a challenge for me.
We looked at little ones in Matthew, but now, here in Mark we are going to see a different type of little one. In Mark nine, the little one is an adult believer in Jesus. But this passage does not reveal to what extent the adult believes in Jesus, though it is certain that the adult would not have been capable of doing mighty works in the name of Jesus if they did not believe in Jesus to some degree.
What is significant is that John recognized there was a difference between the immediate disciples of Jesus and the one casting out demons. John believed it proper and necessary to take personal action in order to prohibit the Mighty Worker from doing what he was doing. John’s reasoning is sound and his rationale is based on one encapsulating statement: “he was not following us.”
John was serious and John believed he did the right and proper thing in trying to stop the Mighty Worker. John recognized there were differences in the way he followed Jesus and the way in which the Mighty Worker followed Jesus. These two ways did not correlate in John’s mind, and when contradiction is perceived, the contradiction must be resolved. John’s resolution was to do what he could to stop the Mighty Worker.
For me, this particular passage hits really close to home. “He was not following us” seems to have been a refrain that has run through my entire life. Through ignorance, many years I behaved exactly as John did in that moment. Other Christians did not interpret their walk and their practice exactly as I, so I felt obligated to reason and dialogue with them in order change their behavior. That behavior of mine changed once the Spirit taught me the lesson of this passage.
The lesson of this passage is significant. Jesus simply does not place a high priority on the conformity of practice of those who believe in him. The Mighty Worker believed in Jesus. John believed in Jesus. Each did something for the name of Jesus. Neither seemed to be doing those things in the same way. Jesus reasoned with John that the Mighty Worker was helping John by aiding him and the other disciples not hindering them.
There are lots and lots of divisions in Christianity, more than there ever should be. But it seems that no two disciples are going to reason the practice of their faith in Jesus in exactly the same way (cf. Romans 14). There are far more Christian associations than in Jesus’ day, but no longer will I reason in a way to stop them, because if reasoning with them causes them to lose their faith in Jesus, according to Jesus, I’m not in a good situation.
Consequently, it should be underscored that Jesus is strongly cautioning against offending the child-like faith of a believer, even when that child-like believer does not practice his faith in the same way. Jesus’ warning is strong. He says that if someone causes a child-like believer to sin, the one who caused the child-like believer to sin would be better off tossed into the sea and drowned (9.42). That is pretty serious.
Taking these things into account, the remaining verses of chapter nine seem to take on new meaning. Jesus seems to want all believers in him to learn how to have peace with one another (9.50).
For this article, the primary thing I want to take from this passage in Mark is that Jesus is absolutely concerned about the faith of a little one, and that little one is an adult who believes in him, but practices things differently than other disciples of Jesus.
Next Entry: The Freedom to Speak – Part 3
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