Temptations to sin. 9:38-50
Mark records a group of loosely linked sayings of Jesus in 9:35-50. They focus on discipleship in the terms of service, a service which expresses itself in the acceptance of forgiven sinners. This acceptance is not based on a person's status, but rather on their own acceptance by Jesus.
v38. The disciples possess the authority to confront the powers of darkness. Their failure to do so, v14-29, doesn't compare well with their desire to restrain a person, outside their own band, who obviously does believe that Jesus is the victor over the dark domain.
v39-40. The disciples are to welcome a partner in the cosmic battle against demonic powers, not "stop" (forbid) them. In this battle there are only two sides, "for" Christ, or "against" Christ. The combatant "for" Christ will not speak against Christ since it is unlikely that a person who is outperforming the disciples in Satan-busting would then speak against Jesus.
v41. Jesus now defines the role of a servant in the terms of accepting a brother. In Eastern culture, the offering of a drink serves as an act of hospitality. Because "the emissary of a man is as the man himself", hospitality to a brother is hospitality to Christ. Whoever accepts ("welcomes") a brother welcomes Christ, therefore, the disciple is to include all believers, not just their own circle. The "reward" is God's acceptance of the believer, which reward should be exhibited in the believer's acceptance of other forgiven sinners.
v42. Undermining the faith of a brother is a most serious sin. The rejection of a brother may well undermine their faith, so take care.
v43-48. So, we need to remove anything within our own lives which promotes the evil of partiality. It's very easy to cut the slender thread of our own faith, let alone the faith of a fellow believer. Indwelling sin is actualized by the hand, the foot and the eye and must be addressed before it eats away at our faith. Once faith is dead we lose our place in the kingdom of God, we lose life with God, and with the rest of unbelieving humanity we will find ourselves cast into hell's fire.
v49. This little saying, preserved only by Mark, highlights the sacrificial element necessary in carrying out v43-48. The image is of the salt used for purification in Temple sacrifices, cf. Lev.2:13. When we make the effort to cut off sin, to pluck sin out", we are purified, refined, prepared for eternal service.
v50. In this final pithy saying Jesus makes the point that we need to salt up our lives with those qualities that make for peace, qualities that promote harmony within the brotherhood rather than partiality, a partiality that cuts people out of the fellowship. So, let us have wisdom, purity, graciousness, kindness, mercy, forgiveness, ... in ourselves.
The inclusive Christian community
Jesus' ethical teaching comes in two forms. There is a public ethic which idealizes the Torah (the law of Moses) to fulfill the ultimate purpose of the law, namely, to expose the human condition of sin and thus, the need for a given, rather than earned, righteousness. Then there is a private ethic given to the disciples and covered by the exhortation, "love one another." For Jesus, the practical outworking of love is constantly expressed in the terms of inclusion. A disciple is to include a brother, or sister, by forgiving them and accepting them, welcoming them. The rationale for this ethic lies with the way God in Christ treats the repentant sinner. As God wholly forgives and accepts us, so we must wholly forgive and accept the one who bears the image of Christ. These "little ones" possess the image of Christ through their relationship with Christ, by grace through faith. They are the "born again" ones, indwelt by the Spirit of Christ.
A failure to include carries serious consequences. A failure to accept, or forgive, a brother, or sister, may well undermine their confidence in God's free forgiveness and acceptance in Christ, an acceptance which is a gift of grace appropriated through faith. Such a refusal may also undermine our own reliance on grace. Once we lose sight of grace, we are lost. So, take care!
1. What is the link between God's forgiveness/acceptance of us and our forgiveness/acceptance of others?
2. Discuss the practicalities of inclusion as it relates to your own church community.
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