STANLY COMMUNITY CHURCH (www.stanlychurch.org)
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By Pastor Rick Clayton
Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3-6: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”
The purity of God’s family is of great importance to Him. After all, He has chosen to save sinners that He might restore them to His image and likeness. He desired to save us from sin and to set us apart from it for His glory. He gave His own dear Son to suffer and die to pay for our sins that we might be reconciled to Him, be called by His name, and reign with Christ in His heavenly kingdom. From a positional standpoint, we are His children in Christ. As His children, our personal holiness is, therefore, a reflection of His holiness (1 Peter 1:16), and it is necessary to accomplish His kingdom agenda through us as He has chosen to do.
We have noted in Matthew 18 that the Lord elaborates on the need for a proper, childlike attitude in the Christian. That is, like Christ, His true followers will love God and seek the good of His family which represents His kingdom (17:25). Therefore, equal to our priority of spreading the Gospel must be our concern for the purity of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. The two are inseparable and interdependent.
In our study of verses one through five, Jesus taught us that those who are truly members of God’s family and citizens of His kingdom have been converted and, as a result, have become humble. It is not a feigned humility but sincere, childlike humility that trusts and depends upon our heavenly Father both for salvation and for service. It recognizes one’s unworthiness before God and makes no personal claims to greatness.
Jesus was the perfect model of godly humility as He unselfishly gave Himself to do the Father’s will. Therefore, He insists that, as His followers, personal humility must dominate our character. If it does not, then we have need to question the genuineness of our salvation. True humility is a mark of true Christianity, and it is absolutely essential in the life of the believer if he or she is to fulfill God’s will for the Church.
God wants us to be assured that we are part of His family, but He also wants us to always remember that we are unworthy recipients of this privilege. This produces humility, and humility makes us effective servants of Christ. It keeps us focused on the present goal of the kingdom of heaven which is to bring repentant sinners into God’s family and warn the unrepentant of the coming judgment. Without humility, God does not accomplish His will through us.
But if we are humble, we see the great importance of keeping the family of God pure for the work our Father has given us to do. As Jesus teaches us in the verses that follow, humility leads us to recognize the great need to decisively deal with our personal sin for the good of God’s family (vv. 6-9), the need to seek our fellow believer’s good (vv. 10-14), the need to confront our fellow believer’s sin (vv. 15-20), and the need to forgive our fellow believers when they wrong us (vv. 21-35). In this study, we will consider the need to deal decisively with sin.
Dealing Decisively with Sin (vv. 6-9)
In verse five, Jesus tied the child analogy to the rest of His teaching in this chapter. Having made it very clear that He was not merely speaking of children but about Christians, He states that to embrace His humble children is to embrace Him and His agenda (cf. Mk. 9:37).
We are especially to seek the good of our spiritual siblings because they are the children of God whom He receives with open arms (Mark 9:36-37). As Galatians 6:10 says, “…let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” To hinder their spiritual good by leading them into sin is a serious offense in the eyes of the Lord.
First and foremost in our efforts is that we make certain we do nothing to cause a Christian to sin, since God will deal severely with anyone who does so. Therefore, we must understand our liability (vv. 6-7). Secondly, in order to avoid leading another child of God into sin, we must understand our obligation to deal decisively with our own sin (vv. 8-9).
Understanding Our Liability (vv. 6-7)
The Lord states in verse six: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” Speaking of the children of God, Jesus warns against causing them “to sin” (Gr. - skandalizo) or to “stumble and fall.” That is, beware of doing anything, intentional or unintentional, that would lead a Christian into sin or make it easier for them to sin. For to do so is to sin against Jesus Christ Himself, since we are God’s children and because sin hinders our service to God.
God is at work in the believer to accomplish His holy will. Philippians 2:13 explains that “…it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” He works in us to bring us to salvation, and He works in us to set us apart daily for His use. That is sanctification. But sin hinders that process. It does not change the fact that we are children of God, but it does affect whether or not we glorify God here and now. Sin in the believer not only causes a guilty conscience that hinders our spiritual growth, but continued sin in the believers life brings God’s necessary chastening which also detracts from our effectiveness in the kingdom.
To cause a “little one” of God to sin is so serious that Jesus says that it would be better for you to suffer a horrible death than to be responsible for their sin. A “millstone” (Gr. - mulos onikos) can literally be translated as “the millstone of an ass.” It refers to the large, upper millstone (weighing hundreds of pounds) that was used to grind grain. It was so large that it had to be pulled by a donkey. In some Gentile cultures familiar to the Jews, those guilty of terrible crimes were executed in the way Jesus describes here. The Romans occasionally employed this form of capital punishment in addition to crucifixion. The stone was literally tied to the “neck” of the one sentenced to death, and they “were drowned in the depth of the sea.” To the disciples of the Lord, this pictured a horrible death at the hands of Jewish enemies.
This is obviously severe language which the Lord uses, but the apostles needed to realize that their lack of humility, as seen in their arguments over who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34), would only foster sin. And sin would only prevent God’s will for the Church which they must establish and lead (16:18). That, is a supreme offense to the Lord of the Church.
There are many ways that you can cause God’s children to sin. Obviously you can tempt them directly. Satan is always looking for ways to entice us to selfishly pursue our lusts so that we, in turn, entice others to satisfy those desires. Eve was the prime example of this as she tempted Adam to eat of the forbidden fruit in the Garden (Gen. 3:6). Teaching and practicing false religious beliefs is a serious offense as Scripture repeatedly warns against false prophets (e.g. Matt. 5:32; Rev. 2:20-23).
On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you fail to lead someone in doing what is right when you have the opportunity or obligation, you lead them into sin if they follow the wrong path. Christian parents who fail to teach their children the truth and model it for them as they should do more to harm their children than all the material good they may possibly provide for them (consider Eph. 6:4).
Likewise, you can abuse your Christian liberty as Paul taught in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8. Even though you may engage in an activity that is completely acceptable before God, to do so in the presence of a believer who has a weak conscience about that activity may lead them to violate their conscience and sin. As Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 8:11: “And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother [be ruined], for whom Christ died?” That is, are you willing to cause them to stumble, hinder their fellowship with the Lord and stifle or altogether ruin their ministry in His kingdom simply to exercise your liberty?
We would expect such selfish pride from the world that would lead others into sin, as Jesus says in verse 7: “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!” The world is sinful, and “offenses” (Gr. - skandalon; “a trap”) are the result of the unredeemed human heart, but such things should not even be named among believers who have been born again by the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 5:1; Eph. 5:3). To lead another into sin is something that we should greatly fear because of the consequences.
We are liable for leading our brother or sister into sin. And because of this we should understand our obligation to deal decisively and drastically with our own sin in order to avoid causing another believer to stumble. It is that important to the Lord.
Understanding Our Obligation (vv. 8-9)
In verses eight and nine, Jesus uses hyperbole to enforce the urgency of His teaching. Here He very forcefully commands us to do whatever is necessary to break with our sin as He says, “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you…And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you…” He used similar terminology back in Matthew 5:29-30. As with that passage, Jesus obviously is not speaking about self-mutilation. Rather, He is urging us to take drastic measures if necessary to repent of sin.
Obviously, He does not want us to sin in another area as we attempt to avoid whatever sin is in question. The point here is that we must recognize sin for the spiritual plaque that is and do what is necessary to put it away. Why? Because our personal sin not only affects us, but it affects all of God’s children with whom we have contact and, ultimately, it affects the entire Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. As the Scripture teaches, “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump [of dough] (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9).
We deal with temptation every day, but Jesus is talking here about our actual practice of sin -- i.e. when we give in to temptation and engage in sin. If you are sinning, the Lord commands you to repent quickly! Deal with sin instantly, and do not let it control you. Confess it to the Lord and turn from it (1 John 1:9). For the longer you wait, the harder it is to do. Breaking with our sin is difficult and often painful as we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ (Matt. 16:24). Sin is pleasurable as it satisfies the desires of the flesh, but the narrow way of the kingdom is hard precisely because it is a battle with sin (Matt. 7:13-14; 26:41). Yet, with every temptation the Lord provides the way for escape (1 Cor. 10:12-13).
Paul told the Romans: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (6:12-14).
If you can continue in sin and lead others to sin, then you have a lack of humility. And a lack of humility reveals that you are not saved. And if you are not saved, then your eternal destiny is the “everlasting fire [of]…hell” (Gr. - gehenna) which Jesus warns us about here in these verses. Mark 9:42-48 extends this teaching in that it breaks down the hand/foot analogy into individual statements in addition to the analogy about the eye. Also, following each analogy’s warning about hell, there is added the descriptive statement that hell is a place “…where ‘Their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched’” (vv. 44, 46, 48). That is a quote from Isaiah 66:24 which emphasizes the eternal and severe nature of the punishment for those who lead others into sin.
As He describes the torment of the eternal punishment that the ungodly will experience forever, He makes it clear that the one who refuses to deal with sin is not a child of God. For a child of God, though he may need chastening, cannot be lost to hell (John 10:27-30). His or her chastening may eventually lead to premature physical death to prevent their condemnation with the world (1 Cor. 11:30-32; 1 John 5:16), but they are never lost. Yet a false believer, who continues in sin without sincere repentance and does not receive the Lord’s chastening in this world, has no part in the kingdom of God (Rom. 81-9).
Everyone must make a choice between sin and obeying God, and it is by far “better for you to enter into life [i.e. to repent of sin] than…to be cast into the everlasting fire [of] hell.” As Jesus said in Matthew 16:25-26: “For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will he give in exchange for his soul?”
Do you understand your liability should you lead another Christian into sin? Do you understand your obligation to deal decisively with your own sin first? Your failure to do so hinders the work of God’s kingdom and offends Him. Your willingness to do so, or the lack thereof, reflects your relationship to God. Are you a child of God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ? If so, humility should lead you to respond to sin in the way our Lord Jesus has commanded.
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