We Need to Watch Ourselves for the Sakes of Others
Lord Jesus, create and keep in me a true love for souls so that I will carefully watch all that I say and do lest I lead someone to sin. Give me strength to cut off from my own life those things that lead me into sin and let me always be spiritual salt in the sinful world, and a light that shines forth the glories of Your grace. Bless us all in our worship this morning. Amen.
King Solomon’s heathen wives became a trap for him. He became comfortable with the temptations they presented to him and he fell into sin. We rejoice to know that Solomon later repented of his sin and returned to the Lord, but in his fall we learn the dangers of being close to temptation.
We have the freedom to do many things that are not sinful in God’s eyes. If, however, something we do would lead someone else to stumble in their faith, we will not do it. Having a "right" to do something, but not doing it for the sake of someone else is a mark of Christian love.
Text: Mark 9:38-50
Now John answered Him, saying, "Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us." But Jesus said, "Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side. "For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward. But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where ‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—where ‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire—where ‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be seasoned with fire, and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt. Salt is good, but if the salt loses its flavor, how will you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and have peace with one another."
In Christ Jesus—the Guide for our steps—dear fellow-redeemed:
God wants you to be self-focused. That statement doesn’t sound very Scriptural. It sounds very worldly and if that statement stood alone without any explanation we would probably bring out our Bibles and start finding the many passages that say the exact opposite—and rightfully so.
However, I can assure you with Scripture that this statement stands as true as long as it is accompanied with a proper explanation.
God wants you to be self-focused….self-focused is not the same as "self-ish" and "self-centered" God does not want us to be self-centered: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3).
Self-focused is not the same as "self-reliant" or "self-confident." God does not want us to be self-reliant for salvation or anything else. "The imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth”(Genesis 9:21); “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:19) – I don’t want to rely on that! “Trust in the LORD with ALL YOUR HEART and LEAN NOT on YOUR OWNUNDERSTANDING” (Proverbs 3:5).
Self-focused is not the same as pride. God does not want us to be proud: “The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverse mouth I hate” (Proverbs 8:13).
Self-focused IS seeing ourselves for what we are. God does want us to be self-focused: “I know that in me that is in my flesh nothing good dwells…O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:18,24-25).
A godly self-focus takes what we know about ourselves and realizes what effect we may have on our own spiritual health and that of others. God wants you to be self-focused in such a way that you keep careful watch over yourself for the sake of your own soul and that of others. This kind of godly self-focus is what we are going to explore today as we remember that WE NEED TO WATCH OURSELVES FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS I. Encourage the Truth instead of quenching the Spirit. II. Build up faith instead of laying traps III. Cut off sin instead of being cozy with temptation.
John and the other disciples had witnessed someone casting out demons who was not from their immediate circle of Jesus’ followers. John told Jesus, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of me. For he who is not against us is on our side.” [vv.38-39]
The disciples reasoned that if someone is proclaiming Christ but not following us directly, we should speak to them and try to stop what they are doing. Jesus said "No." At another time, Jesus said, “He who is not with me is against me”(Matthew 12:30). In these two places Jesus is talking about two different things. When Jesus says in Matthew that whoever is not with Him is against Him, He is referring to people who not preaching the Gospel in any way—who are working against Him, opposing Him. Anyone’s preaching that is not God’s Word IS against Christ, but in the case of the man whom the disciples say, it was someone who was acting in accordance with God’s Word, but for whatever reason was not directly following Christ. Jesus told John, "don’t forbid him because he is preaching the Gospel…he is working in My name."
There other examples in Scripture of similar circumstances. Going back to the Old Testament in the book of Numbers: Moses had appointed 70 elders, gathered them together, and placed them around the Tabernacle. “Then the Lord came down in the cloud, and spoke to him, and took of the Spirit that was upon him, and placed the same upon the seventy elders; and it happened, when the Spirit rested upon them, that they prophesied, although they never did so again But two men had remained in the camp...And the Spirit rested upon them. Now they were among those listed, but who had not gone out to the tabernacle; yet they prophesied in the camp… So Joshua… Moses’ assistant, one of his choice men, answered and said, "Moses my lord, forbid them!" Then Moses said to him, "Are you zealous for my sake? Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:25-29).
Two men had not gone with the other 68 to the Tabernacle. Joshua thought it was wrong that these two men should be prophesying and speaking God’s Word because they were not with the other group. Moses said, "No—the Spirit had come upon them, they were prophesying the Lord’s Word as well. Oh, that all people would do so!"
When mothers brought their littlest of children to Jesus, the disciples didn’t think that was what should be done. The mothers were bringing their children to Jesus to be blessed. The mothers understood the importance of what Jesus had to offer—the importance for even the youngest children. The disciples didn’t think this was proper, Jesus was there to teach and help the adults, so they said, "No, don’t come," but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them….” (Matthew 19:14).
The essence of Jesus’ lesson is that outward features are not the only determining factors. Someone can be "for" Jesus but not necessarily in our particular group. If someone is not "with" Jesus in every external way, but is with Him in the Truth, then that person is "FOR" Christ. Being "for" Christ can be in a small way. Jesus said, “Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name BECAUSE you belong to Christ…” [v.41] he is serving Me.
Was that man whom the disciples saw casting out demons a disciple? Jesus says he was. Was he following with the Twelve? No. Could he have been following Jesus with them? Yes. So, don’t quench the Spirit by forbidding him to do what he’s doing in a godly way, but encourage him in the Truth—encourage him to follow whole-heartedly the truth of what Jesus says.
There is a very real application to our confessionalism in this lesson from Jesus. There are those who would say to us on the basis of this text, "Aha! You see! You are standing alone in Christendom, not fellowshipping with other Christian churches, and Jesus says right here not to do that." But we have to be careful, Jesus is not saying that we are wrong by standing separately. There are many other places in God’s Word where He clearly says, that if we are not agreed in the Truth of His Word, we are not to worship, fellowship together—do not participate in that error.
It is important to distinguish between the Gospel & faith, and the outward manifestation of fellowship. Someone can hold to the truth of God’s Word, firmly believe that Jesus is his Savior from sin, but also hold to error. When we remain separate and do not fellowship with such a person, we are notsaying that he is not Christian. We are not saying that the person is not saved and will not inherit eternal life. What we are saying is that there is an error that stands between us so that we are unable to participate together and enjoy the outward fellowship.
We need to be careful that we do not quench the Spirit, by suggesting or leaving the impression that because we remain separate outwardly in fellowship that we are therefore casting judgment on the faith of those who are not in agreement with us.
The apostle Paul gives us a helpful illustration. In Philippians he writes, “The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice” (Philippians 1:16-18).
The situation was this: Paul was in prison and there were two categories of "gospel preachers" of which Paul was aware. The one group was preaching Christ truthfully, doing it for the love of their Lord, doing it for the salvation of souls. The other ones were preaching for selfish ambitions and all the wrong reasons, BUT they were still preaching the truth of God’s Word. So, Paul said, "yes, it’s wrong that they are doing this from selfish ambition, but I rejoice in that the Gospel is being preached." Was Paul supporting the error? NO! Was Paul justifying their sinful motives? NO! Would Paul have joined with them in worship and joined with them in what they were doing?NEVER! What was his point? Because the Gospel is being preached, that much can bring joy to my soul.
If someone has grasped the Gospel but is also holding onto error we can’t (according to God’s Word) fellowship with them in an outward way. We would be separate, somewhat like the disciples were separate from this other man who was casting out demons. However, we should not quench the spirit of the Gospel, but rather encourage the truth—pointing out the error, encouraging the Gospel.
There is an example of this in Acts, again with the apostle Paul. “It happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul… finding some disciples he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit." And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?" So they said, "Into John’s baptism." Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus." When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:1-5).
The people whom Paul met were acting on the basis of incomplete knowledge. They were conducting their worship and baptisms as if John the Baptist was the only one who had come. They didn’t realize the fullness of what God had accomplished—that Christ had come, fulfilled all things, and also poured out the Holy Spirit. Paul could have quenched the Spirit by saying, "No, you foolish people. You’re not doing it right." But he didn’t. He encouraged the Truth and led them to that Truth and through that leading they were brought to a realization of the fullness of that Truth.
We may run across people in our own congregation or other fellow Christians who may not have the background in the study of Scripture that we do. Perhaps they are recent converts. Maybe they are just weaker in their knowledge, because God does give differing gifts and by His grace you may very well have a greater understanding than someone else. But if another person’s weakness shows itself, don’t quench the Spirit! Use the knowledge God has given you to encourage the truth—to build up faith. This doesn’t compromise the truth, but it recognizes the wonders of God’s grace and encourages people in that way.
As we watch ourselves for the sake of others, we want to take care that we build up faith instead of laying traps. Jesus goes on to say, "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.” [v.42]
Jesus does not refer simply to children who are "little" by reason of age. In the context of the man who was not following Christ directly but acting in His name, Jesus says, "don’t offend someone who has weaknesses in faith. Encourage them in the truth, and if someone does offend them—cause them to stumble—then woe! to that person."
Jesus recognizes that there are going to be things in this world that will lead people to stumble in their faith. He says, "Just be careful so that you are not the one who sets those traps." Jesus speaks of a literal trap—a trap for our souls like a heavy iron trap with teeth meant to kill, set wide open. The traps are out there in the world, be careful you aren’t walking in them or setting them for others.
Trap setting is serious because Jesus says it would be better for a trap-setter if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the sea. There were two different kinds of millstones in those days. Both types had two stones, grain was placed between them, the stones would be turned, and they would grind the grain into flour. One type of millstone was a smaller model which one or two people could power—the kind that Samson powered when he was captured by the Philistines (as we discussed in our Bible Study this morning). The other type of millstone was big enough that it required animal power to turn it. Literally, Jesus said it was better if a "donkey millstone" were hung about his neck—the larger of the two millstones. Jesus left no doubt as to what He was saying…better to never be born or to be destroyed than to pull someone else into sin.
This hits our hearts, minds, our consciences as being very severe. However, consider a modern parable to compare and evaluate the severity of Jesus’ words: Suppose that you had been saving money for five years—a lot of money—to buy the world’s best video system (camera and the whole works!). You had in mind many profitable uses for this new system and were looking forward to using it. This would be a wonderful thing, and you were excited because you had been saving so long for it. You expressly told your children "DO NOT PLAY WITH THIS EQUIPMENT. Especially do not take it out of the house!"
You’re gone one afternoon and your son and daughter who are aspiring basketballs star believe that they have the right stuff to be the next slam-dunk champions of the world and want to capture that on film. So your children take your brand new, very expensive video equipment out to the backyard. Everything is set, something goes wrong, the ball and the children end up falling on top of the equipment, everything crashes, and your brand new investment is totally destroyed. You can’t you can’t repair it, it’s GONE. It will take you at least another five years to save the money to replace it and you are not sure you have the heart to go through with that.
Undoubtedly, your children would experience some sort of significant discipline. We can all understand why—there was a carelessness that led to the loss of much money. Now, consider what Jesus said.
The value of that video equipment compared to a soul. A soul is worth the blood of Christ. There is no comparison in value. A video camera which might take 5 more years to replace vs. eternity for a soul. Its easy to see the need for "judgment" on the careless children who destroyed the video equipment. Multiply the seriousness of being careless with souls and Jesus’ words no longer seem too severe.
It is a very serious thing to be laying traps which might lead to a sin which would lead a soul (bought by Christ’s suffering and death on the cross) into eternal death. We might be tempted to think, "Oh, it’s not that big of a deal, what’s one sin?" One sin leads to another and every little sin that wears away at someone’s conscience, or that is added into his life, becomes a very serious thing and can be just one small step on the road to hell. Jesus says, “Don’t lay traps.”
Be careful that what you say and what you do doesn’t in any way lead someone else into sin, because that would be harmful to their eternal well-being. As we heard in our epistle reading from Romans, Paul encourages us to be willing to sacrifice anything if it is going to mean the betterment of our neighbor’s soul. In chapter 14, “It is good neither to eat mean nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (Romans 14:21). For Paul it was meat and wine because those were the issues with which he was dealing, but for us it can be anything. Imagine the most important thing in your life, and what if that led somebody…somehow…into sin? Christian watchfulness is being willing to give up that very important thing in your life because the soul of your neighbor is of greater value.
It does take sacrifice and it does take a watchful eye—being careful of what we do, what we say. God also encourages us to be careful concerning theappearance of evil, “Abstain from every appearance of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:22). We might be doing things that are perfectly fine, but if for some reason it appears to be evil, it may still become an offense. It can still become a spiritual trap that might lead someone to stumble and sin.
The apostle Paul again provides a good example that our watchfulness doesn’t always fall into a black-and-white-always-the-same category, but rather is one of Christian judgment. When the people of Paul’s day were WEAK and having difficulty in fully accepting the truth that the Old Testament ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ, Paul did follow the Old Testament ceremonial law and circumcise Timothy. In that case, Paul took great care in his actions so that he wouldn’t offend the weak. On another occasion, when some Jews were INSISTING that EVERYONE HAD to be circumcised, Paul did NOT circumcise Titus. The demand was wrong and if Paul had gone along with it he would have laid a trap by causing people to believe that Christ had not fulfilled the Old Testament law. These were two different situations, two different reactions by Paul, but in both cases he took care not to lay traps for others.
Finally, as we watch ourselves for the sake of others, we cut off sin instead of being cozy with temptation. Jesus’ words are very direct: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell… if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell…and if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fir…”[v.43,45,47]
Jesus is not encouraging bodily mutilation, because face it, we would soon run out of things to cut off. Even if we were to cut off those things that lead us into sin, we wouldn’t escape sin because our sin is in our hearts and minds. If my hands are leading me to steal I can cut them off to prevent further stealing, but I will still covet in my heart and mind. Jesus’ point is: don’t cozy up to whatever is leading you to sin, don’t make it your friend—CUT IT OFF! from your life because it is seeking your destruction.
Is it a friendship that is leading me astray? I need to break off that friendship so that it doesn’t pull me into hell. Does this cutting off hurt? Yes it does. Every amputation hurts, but consider the alternative. If you don’t cut it off and whatever is leading you to sin leads you to hell, the pain is not comparable.
Jesus erases any idea that hell is a joke when three times He describes hell saying: “where ‘Their worm does not die, And the fire is not quenched.” [v.44,46,48] Jesus wants to impress on our hearts the reality—the depth of misery—that eternal separation from God brings in hell. Better to suffer the amputation of some favorite things here in this life than to enter eternity in the destruction of hell.
As we hear Jesus’ words and feel the depth of His seriousness, we appreciate His grace all the more. The place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched is hell and that is the judgment from which Jesus has rescued us! Imagine!…that is where we were going! Imagine! … there was no escape, it was not a matter of cutting off or not cutting off, that is where we were headed—period! God in His grace and mercy sent Jesus to die for our sins so that we don’t have to fear the place where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. We have eternal life! We have freedom! We have been rescued from these things! When we realize the wonderful blessings that God has given us in our salvation by rescuing us from sin and this eternal death, oh, how small of a thing it is to cut off that which tempts us!
Jesus reminds us that we are salt. As long as we remain "salty"—cutting off temptations, avoiding them, not becoming cozy with the world, but standing on God’s truth—then we will be a blessing to those around us, because then we will be testifying to the truth of God’s Word. Then we will be building their faith, not setting traps and instead encouraging them in the truth.
We look at self-watchfulness and the cutting off of temptation and it is hard. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (cf: Philippians 4:13) by returning to the Gospel—the news of Christ’s salvation. By God’s grace and through His Word, we will be able to be sensitive to the sins in us, to watch ourselves for the spiritual welfare of others…and our own souls. May God equip us to do this. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt