Do Not Lose What Is Truly Valuable!
August 1, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Because [Even One Of Them] Is Important To God
1. The Lord said, "As for the one who causes one of these small ones who believe in me to stumble, it is far better for that person to have hung a large millstone on [his or her] neck and be cast into the sea!," (verse forty-two). Why is Jesus saying this here? It is because [even] "one of these small ones" is important to Jesus. And it is also because we can see that "one of these small ones" is important to God too.
2. Be that as it may then, who in the world is "one of these small ones who believe in me?" Going by the flow of the story, it is one of the disciples. Just before in the text it is written as follows. "I truly say to you. Because you are the disciples of Christ, the one who gives you a cup of water to drink will certainly receive a reward for it," (verse forty-one). [The small ones] are the "you" there.
3. No matter how small "you" may have been in this passing world, you don't appear that way in the eyes of God. Therefore, if someone just gives you merely a cup of water to drink, God himself will reward [that person], as if God himself had received that kindness. The Lord says, [that person] will certainly receive a reward for it because it was a kindness towards a person who was important to God. That's how God sees it. Whichever way [you] appear in the eyes of others or in [your] own eyes even, however small [you] may seem, when [you] are a disciple of Christ, when [you] belong to Christ, that's how it is.
4. Yet, at the same time, [there is something else] Jesus knows. There certainly may be some who give [you] water to drink because [you] are a disciple of Christ. But more often than not it is not that way. There are not only some who give [you] water to drink, but there are also some who will cause [you] to stumble. "To cause one to stumble" is to cause one to break away from God. It comes in the form of a temptation to sin or it also comes in the form of persecution. Either way, whether to the disciples who were there at that time, or whether to the disciples of a later age, it was to a greater or lesser degree something that one was bound to come face to face with. In a certain sense it is the same way today.
5. In any event, it is not a small matter to God. No matter how small a being one may be as seen from a worldly perspective, no matter how small a believer one may seem to be in the church, that's not how it is with God. God considers the kindness that such a person receives as a personal matter to him, and God considers the temptation or the persecution that such a person receives as a personal matter to him. When such a person is separated from God by temptation or persecution, when one loses faith, it is a serious matter to God. When it gets that way to God the Father, it is the same way to Jesus as well. Therefore, the Lord says with harsh words, "As for the one who causes one of these small ones who believe in me to stumble, it is far better for that person to have hung a large millstone on [his or her] neck and be cast into the sea!"
Don't Be Led To Stumble!
6. Well, the next words from verses forty-three and following are spoken to those seen by God in this way. They are the words spoken to "one of these small ones who believe in me." Unless you read this with that in mind, then what is written here will be totally frightening. The words written in this text will turn into threatening words of terror.
7. In fact, in the church later on, there is evidence that this passage was used as threatening words. Have you felt any apprehension over the fact that verses forty-four and forty-six are not actually there in today's passage? In fact, verses forty-four and forty-six are the same words as verse forty-eight, "In hell the worm never comes to an end and the fire never goes out." But they are not in the oldest manuscripts. [This] section is one where it is believed that the people later on who transcribed the original texts had added [these verses] in [to the new copies]. Therefore, they have not been put into the text in the New Interconfessional Version. Perhaps they were trying to emphasize the section on hell, for one reason or another, maybe out of educational concerns or maybe by being threatening it would cause [people] to leave off [their] sins. In short, it is the same concept as drawing an illustration of hell.
8. But, these are not the kind of words that cause a change in behavior by depicting hell and threatening. As we've already seen, what is flowing at the base of these words is the impassioned emotions from God towards those who have started to obey after believing in Christ. That is, he absolutely does not want to lose any of them, so he absolutely does not desire that any of them stumble, he absolutely does not desire that they leave [him], he absolutely does not desire that they lose faith, and this kind of love and passion from God for "one of these small ones who believe in me" lies at the foundation of these words.
9. Such a thought from God has first of all been expressed by the words, "As for the one who causes one of these small ones who believe in me to stumble, it is far better for that person to have hung a large millstone on [his or her] neck and be cast into the sea!" However, the one who causes the stumbling is not necessarily always on the outside. Persecutors and tempters with ill will are not the only problem. Not just them, but rather there are times when the source of stumbling lies within the self. It means that there are times when the self causes the self to stumble and the self pulls the self away from God.
10. Therefore, the Lord says, "If one hand causes you to stumble, then cut it off!" "It is better to have a share in life even if you become one handed, than to fall into the unquenchable fires of hell with both hands present," he says. What an extreme statement! Of course, I don't think Jesus expected that the disciples right before his eyes were to literally cut off one hand. Even though he said that the one who causes [someone] to stumble "would be better off to have hung a large millstone on one's neck and be cast into the sea!," [I think] the same [could be said in] that he did not actually expect the disciples to kill off their persecutors by throwing them into the sea.
11. As a matter of note, as God's thoughts were expressed in the previous words, it is also important that God's thoughts are expressed in the words, "If one of your hands causes you to stumble, then cut it off!" That is, it means you don't want anything to cause you to stumble, not anything, not even your own hands and feet, not even your eyes. It means you don't want there to be anything that will tear you away from God; because it will have an effect on [your] eternal salvation.
It Is Better To Have A Share In Life
12. Please look at verse forty-three. Here in this text Jesus uses the word "hell (Gehenna)." He is making a statement regarding hell. What does it mean? It means that this world of ours is not "hell" by any definition. No matter how much misery there may be, or how much sadness and suffering fills [a person], this place [now] is not "hell." It is not a world utterly abandoned by God. Even though one may have had a life filled with sadness and sorrow, our lives are not "hell" by any definition. They are not lives which have been abandoned by God.
13. This world is a world into which God has sent the Christ. It is a world into which God has put up the cross for the atonement of sin. This world is a world into which God has proclaimed the forgiveness of sin and has called us into fellowship with himself. Our lives are lives for which God gives forgiveness and into which God invites us into fellowship with him. They are not lives which have been abandoned by God. For that very reason then, the church exists right now in this world, and the gospel is being proclaimed right now [in this world], and in such [a world] we too are being invited into fellowship with God and thus begin [our] walk of faith. We have already begun to walk the path unto true life.
14. Jesus said, "It is better to have a share in life!" He said, "It is better to have a share in life even if you become one handed!" It is better to have a share in life even if you become one legged!" And if he had said it another way, "It is better to enter the kingdom of God even if you become one eyed!" It is true; "It is better to have a share in life," "It is better to enter the kingdom of God." That's how Jesus was thinking. That is the will of God. Regardless of which way it is put, "to have a share in life," or "to enter the kingdom of God," it stands for a complete and eternal salvation. Yes, it does; and because it is not a world where we are abandoned, it is not a life where we are abandoned, we have been invited by God, have begun to obey the savior, and have begun to walk towards perfect salvation. Yes, we have; and that's what it means to be one of the small ones who believe in Christ.
15. Since [we] have begun to walk unto Life that way, we want to walk it all the way through to the end. We don't want to be made to stumble by anything. That's what God wills for us. It may be a faltering walk. It may be a walk with tottering steps still like a baby. But, in any event, we don't want to stumble. If there is anyone who wants to make those who believe stumble by tempting or persecuting them, [one should] prefer to have them hang a great millstone around [their] neck and throw [themselves] into the sea. With such thoughts God sees the person who has started [his or her] walk of faith. With such thoughts [God] sees our faith life.
16. Furthermore, we aren't actually supposed to cut off a hand or anything, however, the Lord does give instructions to that effect; because we are heading towards a perfect salvation, which has a value that is incomparable to anything. When you give it some thought, I think these words of Jesus were surely a great comfort for the church in the periods of persecution because I'm pretty sure there were cases where they actually did used to cut a hand or a leg off or gouge out an eye. The words of the Lord, that "It is better to enter the kingdom of God even if you become one eyed!," had probably sounded themselves out quite forcefully [in the primitive church].
17. Indeed, it is not just a message for times of persecution. Even for us, along the journey of life, we [can expect] to live always losing one thing or another. In those times, will we go about groaning and grieving over the things we've lost, or will we walk towards a perfected salvation thinking that "At least, it has gotten to the point that [I] will never be made to stumble by that. [I] will never be torn apart from God [by that] "? We can expect there to be a big difference [from there]. Unless we are torn apart from God, when we are heading towards the eternal salvation which God is giving to us, then we will not lose that which is truly precious. It is just as these extreme words from Jesus demonstrate. Thus, we ourselves can live while saying, "We may have lost one thing or another for sure. But still, it is better to have a share in life. It is better to enter the kingdom of God."