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Causing to Stumble and Avoiding Sin

Mark 9.42-50
“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. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Have you ever heard someone speak in hyperbole before, where you know they are being obvious and intentional about their exaggeration of something? I know I have. In fact I myself have used hyperbole on occasion to help me make a point. This usage of hyperbole can often be used by teachers when trying to make a point. Here in Mark 9, Jesus’ teaching on ways to avoid sinning is one of the clearest pictures of hyperbole found throughout all of Mark’s Gospel.

Verse 42 is the continuation of verse 41 where Jesus is responding to John about not stopping other disciples of Jesus from performing miraculous signs. In this instance, that is deliverance of demons. Jesus responds in verse 42 by issuing a warning to His disciples that it is vitally important not to have spiritual pride that could cause “one of these little ones” who believe in Christ to sin. “Little ones” is in reference to disciples of Jesus. Jesus is trying to make His point that all disciples of Jesus are important to Him, and just because they may not belong to one’s little circle of believers, that does not mean they don’t belong to Jesus. Jesus issues a warning here that is used to grab the attention of the disciples by stating, “it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9.42b).

This is a very sobering warning for the disciples who are puffed up with spiritual pride. The Greek word used here that is translated “cause to sin” means “to cause to stumble” or “to offend.” This has the idea of destroying the faith of another believer which may cause that person to fall away from believing in God. Jesus describes the punishment here for those who cause His disciples to stumble in a very dreadful way, one that no one would hope to experience. Being cast headlong into a watery grave with a millstone tied around my neck would not be my idea of a good time. Neither would it have been for the Jew, hence why Jesus used the imagery. A millstone was cylindrical-shaped, was used in the ancient world to grind grain, and could only be moved by a large ox or animal. The Jew feared the sea, typically, and saw drowning as a horrible way of dying.

Jesus shifts gears from shipwrecking a believer’s faith to shipwrecking one’s own faith. Jesus uses strong language in verses 43-48 that is considered hyperbole but is to make a very important point. It would be better for one to lose an eye, a foot, and a hand in this life and avoid sin than spend eternity in Hell. Jesus, who is God, knows the reality of Hell, unlike us mere humans who have no idea.

These five verses should be reminders to us all of how important it is to live a life that is holy before God. While we live in the age of grace, that does not give us a pass to live however we please. We have been called, as both the Old and New Testament point out, to live a holy and obedient life unto God (Leviticus 11.4; 1 Peter 1.16).

Plus Jesus points out in verse 50 that “salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

The salt that Jesus is referring to here is the process in discipleship and spiritual formation where a believer is being transformed more and more into the image and likeness of Christ. This includes living a life that is continuously choosing not to live in sin but in righteousness through the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit so that we, who are born again, may enjoy eternity with God rather than separation from God for all eternity. I pray that you are living a life for Jesus today. May you and I take heed of what is found in these verses and live a life that is honoring and pleasing to the Lord, recognizing, as James tells us, that we stumble in many ways (James 3.2). But let us confess our sins, repent and choose with the help of the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to live unto Christ. This is what I pray for myself, and I hope that you pray for this for yourself as well.

In Christ’s Service,
Cody Ragland
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