In this astonishing and famous section of Mark’s Gospel, it is important to picture Jesus—as it were—holding one of these “little ones” in his arms as he discourses about trials and tribulations of what we would call “church politics.” To begin with, the disciples are having a dispute. They do not immediately tell him what it is that they are arguing about because they are embarrassed. They are arguing about who is the greatest. So often it is. Those who follow Jesus can too often fall into petty squabbles about which of the followers is greater than the other. Oh that it were not so! We follow after the name of Cephas, or Paul, or (daringly) even assert our names as the greatest. But Jesus shows a better way. The greatest among you, he who wants to be first, is to be “servant of all.” The wisdom of Jesus’ answer is shown by the fact that this was the motto of the greatest evangelist, after the Apostle Paul, that the church has yet seen: George Whitefield. When we are giving ourselves to serve others, in that there lies true greatness.
Next comes this person whose ministry the disciples tried to put a stop to because he was not “following us.” He was not part of “our tribe,” he was not “quite what we want.” But Jesus, again, shows a better way: “the one who is not against us is for us.” Even if someone cannot quite agree to our tribal allegiances, but yet is still not against Christ, that person has a place as someone that can be at the very least “not stopped.” Christ is more generous with his followers than at times we can be with his followers.
And then come the awful warnings. If anyone causes one of these “little ones,” the child still in Jesus’ arms as an illustration of his meaning, to sin, it would be better if he experienced a gruesome death himself. Hell is real, and while we are, of course, not literally to cut off our hand, we are to cut out of our lives legitimate goods if they causing us (or others) to sin. We are to be “salty,” vibrant and vigorous in our commitments to God, but we are to have “salt in ourselves and be at peace with one another.”
A motto that would be good for many Christian organizations down though history to have adopted. Keep our doctrinal clarity (“salt in ourselves”) and also live at peace with each other.
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