Not all the words of Jesus are comfortable to our ears. Sometimes, like today, his words are very challenging. Ask God for the grace to receive what he may want to say to you.
Causing to stumble
42 ‘If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung round their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where
‘“the worms that eat them do not die,
and the fire is not quenched.”
49 Everyone will be salted with fire.
50 ‘Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again? Have salt among yourselves, and be at peace with each other.’
Salt is used both to preserve food and to make it tasty. When used about believers it speaks about the distinctiveness of our Christian witness. Servants of Christ are called to live holy lives, and three ways are mentioned here.
Be gentle towards children (v 42). Young ones must not be bullied, abused or mistreated in any way. Anyone who leads them astray sins in a serious way, for which they will suffer. The mention of a millstone here is an example of Eastern hyperbole (of which this passage is full) – deliberate exaggeration to make a point.
Be firm towards yourself (vs 43–48). More figurative language here, thankfully not to be taken literally (we would all be maimed), but definitely seriously. The point is we are to deal radically with any avenue that allows sin into our lives. We need to take care of our hands (what we do), feet (where we go) and eyes (what we look at). Who wants to find themselves shut out of God’s presence?
Be peaceful towards each other (vs 49,50). Our true distinctive is to live well together, free from rivalry or selfish ambition. When we love one another our witness becomes really attractive.
Consider prayerfully these three pathways to holy living. How are you doing in each area? Is your life distinctive with the savour of Christ?
Deeper Bible study
‘Thanks be to God, who … uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere.’1
Today’s passage is challenging, even disturbing, to read. The phrase ‘these little ones – those who believe in me’ in verse 42 probably alludes to the term ‘child’ in verses 36 and 37, in which case Jesus is referring to new believers who have yet to mature in their faith and discipleship. The phrase ‘causes … to stumble’ means ‘causes to sin’, so Jesus issues a stern warning here: under no circumstances should we cause a new believer to sin. Believers belong to God’s family, so causing a fellow believer to sin contradicts family values and is a heinous offence.
Jesus then switches to talking about what might cause the believers themselves to sin (vs 43–48). It is clear that Jesus does not intend us literally to remove a hand, foot or eye, but his warning reveals how radically and decisively he wants us to deal with the causes of sin. We must not dabble in sin, take it lightly or get accustomed to it. Jesus wants us to remove radically anything that can lead us to sin.2 We can do without a hand, foot or eye, but not without eternal life.3
In verses 49 and 50, Jesus suddenly introduces the topic of salt. We use salt to preserve and flavour food, but in biblical times, when there was no refrigeration, salt was a far more precious commodity. Spiritually speaking, pursuing a life of holiness and taking radical action when something causes us to sin preserves us and keeps us salty. Sin and the pursuit of greatness threaten the peace that is meant to characterise God’s family. Believers should strive to keep sin at bay and to be last and least.
Reflect on whether you cause others or yourself to stumble and how you can radically deal with it. Consider how your life can preserve and flavour the lives of others.
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Isaiah 29,30; Hebrews 1
Pray for Scripture Union
Despite the sadness of not being able to run the Go Wild residential, we were able to produce a short video of activities and questions to reflect on. Pray that a good number will continue to respond. Pray too, for the continued development of Go Wild resources for all stages of faith development.