Jesus begins to expand on His teaching about His death and resurrection. The disciples didn't understand but were afraid to ask Him about it...perhaps because of His recent rebuke of Peter (even though Peter did not just ask a question, but tried to influence His thinking).
Servanthood These verses can be difficult to understand. In particular, verses 49-50. Part of the reason is that they are sometimes thought to deal with several different topics of teaching (for instance: how we are to relate to other people, dealing with people who are not a part of the group that followed Jesus, judgment in Hell). However, when these verses are read together, understanding them to all be dealing with a single, cohesive topic…then it becomes much easier to understand them. In these verses, Jesus is teaching about Servanthood.
The Premise of Servanthood (:33-35)
Jesus and His disciples have returned to Capernaum. Along the way the disciples had been arguing among themselves about who was the most important, “the greatest” (:34), the “first” (:35). Jesus asks them what they had been talking about, but they were ashamed to tell Him. No need though, He already knew. Obviously, they were accepting the world’s standard for greatness…that being, the one who is served is the one who is greatest. Jesus turns that concept completely around and says that in His kingdom the greatest is the one who does the serving…not the one who is served. You don’t attain greatness by being served, nor do you even become great by serving others. But, serving is greatness.
The Object of Servanthood (:36-37)
In verses 36-37, Jesus tells them that they must be a servant to everyone, not just those they choose. By using a child as an example of the type of person that they are to serve, He is showing them that they are to do so to everyone, even the very least significant person. A child was at the bottom of the typical social order…and they were to serve even a child. There is nothing that a child could do for them in return.
Child, children (from the Greek παιδίον, paidion)
- a young child, a little boy, a little girl
- children, little ones
- an infant
- of a (male) child just recently born
- of a more advanced child; of a mature child;
- metaph. children (like children) in intellect
The Examples of Servanthood (:38-41)
Then, in verses 38-41, in the course of this conversation, John tells Jesus that they had recently encountered a man who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name (believing in Him and Who He is). And yet, he was not a part of the group that was keeping company with Jesus. So, they told him to stop. Jesus told them to not stop people from serving Him just because they were not part of His entourage. He told them that whether a person was doing something as spectacular as working a miracle in someone’s life (:39) in His name, or as simple as giving someone a cup of cold water (:41), in His name…they are both an act of service, in His name. And, they would both be rewarded. Jesus is showing that serving people comes in all shapes and sizes…each and every one is important…and God blesses them all.
The Seriousness of Servanthood (:42-48)
But He isn’t finished there. Not only does serving people come in all shapes and sizes…but, those that we are to serve come in all shapes and sizes, as well. In verse 42, He now approaches the same topic, but from a negative perspective. What will happen if a Christian fails to serve “one of these little ones”? In verses 36 and 37, the term “child”, was used of an individual of a very young age. It spoke of someone who held no social position, or influence in society. In that sense, they were the very least in society. Here, a different term is used.
“little ones”…from the Greek word μικρός (micros)
the comparative of No. 3, is used of
It is intended to identify adults. Not just any adult…but an adult whom Jesus associates with the “child” in verses 36 and 37. An adult who has not status, no prestige in the social order. In fact, they are just the opposite. This person is on the bottom rung of the proverbial social ladder. And Jesus warns against causing any believer (:42-little ones who believe) to “stumble” (to lose faith in Christ). Even this person who seems to be on no consequence, of no benefit. There would seemingly be no profit to serve such a person.
“scandalizo”…to offend…from which we get the English word “scandal”.
- to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall, metaph. to offend
- to entice to sin
- to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey
- to cause to fall away
- to be offended in one, i.e. to see in another what I disapprove of and what hinders me from acknowledging his authority
- to cause one to judge unfavourably or unjustly of another
How does this happen? How do we cause people to “stumble”? We cause people to “stumble” when they know that we claim to be a follower of Jesus…and yet, we fail to live as He has commanded…that is, by serving other people. Remember, this admonition falls immediately on the heels of the disciples arguing among themselves concerning which of them is greater. And then, by the simple extension of the argument of who is greatest…it will be determined who is least, and who should be serving whom. Jesus turns this whole basis for greatness on its head…and tells them that it isn’t greatness that they should be so interested in, but Servanthood. In fact, He warns against anything that would inhibit their ability to serve.
In verses 43, 45, and 47, He says, “And if your hand (foot, eye) causes you to stumble…” Here, to “stumble” is speaking of something that is present in the life of a Christian that causes him to fail to properly serve people. Notice that Jesus says that whatever this is…”it causes you to stumble”. “You” is talking about the Christian. In other words, there is something in the Christian’s life…that causes the Christian to stumble. And then, as a result, it causes someone else to stumble. Jesus then uses hyperbole (the use of exaggeration as a rhetorical device or figure of speech) to emphasize the importance of what He is saying. He doesn’t literally mean that a person should cut off his hand, or foot, or gouge out his eye. But, He is showing the degree of the importance that He associates with our being a servant to other people. Nothing in our life (even hand, foot, or eye) should be more important. It is better to lose something, give up something, of yourself in this present life in order to serve others…than to face judgment for not having done so in the future life.
What is there in a Christian’s life that could cause him to stumble…to not serve other people? Jesus says, “And if your hand”…could that be speaking of something that a person refuses to give up, to let go of…wealth, riches, possessions, a relationship…and as a result, it keeps him from serving others? Jesus says, “And if your foot”…could that be speaking of places a Christian goes, activities he is involved in, people he associates with, behavior he is involved in…and as a result, it keeps him from serving others? “And if your eye”…are there things that a Christian might look at with envy, with lust, with anger, with bitterness, with jealousy… and as a result, it keeps him from serving others? And for the other person…when they become aware of these things in a Christian’s life…it totally discredits and invalidates the Christian’s witness and ability to serve in the name of Jesus. And worse yet…it brings into disrepute the name and person of Jesus, Himself!
The Responsibility of Servanthood (:49-50)
Eventually, everyone’s behavior (works, life) will be judged.
1 Corinthians 3:15 (NASV)
- If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Fire burns away the dross, the sin (:44,46,48). In a similar thought…salt is used to purify. Salt is a purifying agent.
Salt was required in every sacrifice burned on the altar. Besides its preserving factor, it also has a purifying affect on what it comes in contact with. Ezekiel 16:4 records that newborn babies were rubbed with salt. In addition, Elisha treated a bad water supply in Jericho with salt. Besides purifying, then, it also signifies a new beginning.
This is a metaphor…fire and salt, are two very different things, but they accomplish the same thing…to purify.
Don’t let your discernment, your judgment be weakened, or become distorted…so that you don’t recognize something in your life that inhibits your service to other people. Once that happens…you are no good for service to anyone. You have lost your ability to purify, to influence those around you.
The idea of salt losing its flavor (taste) and thereby becoming worthless is found in two other passages in the New Testament.
Matthew 5:13 (NASV)
- “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.
Jesus tells us that if we fail to rightly discern our lives (our actions and behaviors)…we will lose our ability to be salt (a purifying agent, a witness to righteousness) to other people.
Luke 14:34-35 (NASV)
- “Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? 35. It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
Luke records another time when Jesus taught this same concept. There, Jesus is teaching about what it means to be one of His disciples. He tells them that they must give careful consideration to the cost of following Him. It would involve a total realignment of values…including family and life, itself…so that He is their number one priority, with no contenders. And, it would be a permanent condition. Such that…every day each of them must be willing to “carry his own cross” (:27)…be willing to die every day to the things of the world (:33) in order to live for Jesus. If they are unwilling to do this…then they have no value…because they have no witness. They have no value to Christ because they cannot be depended upon…they vacillate between the things of this world and the things of Christ. In verse 34, the passive verb (ἀρτυθήσεται) suggests that the salt is incapable of being used as a season (since it has lost its saltiness, its flavor). They have no value to those that know them because their half-hearted commitment to Christ never bears the evidence of a transformed life that would appeal to them in such a powerful manner that they would desire to follow Jesus, as well. Such a life is useless. If you’re not willing to count the cost, you’re no good to anyone.
Servanthood Purifies Our Motives
There will be times when it will be difficult for us to serve someone. But, these very difficulties are opportunities for our motives (attitudes, character) to be purified. These are the times, the people, which God uses in our lives to mold us and shape us into the person He wants us to be. It is easy to serve people that we love, people that serve us back, people that are receptive to the Gospel. But that affords little opportunity for the Holy Spirit to be operative in our lives. Basically, we can handle that on our own. However, when we encounter people who would be quicker to stab us in the back than to pat us on the back, people that are resistant to spiritual matters, people who are have a grudge against God…and we determine that Jesus would have us to serve them…then, we must lean heavily, no, completely upon the Holy Spirit. And it is at such times as these…that the Holy Spirit is able to transform His character into our personality. Salt purifies. We should have pure motives. The very people that we struggle with the most in our willingness to serve…are the ones that God uses most effectively to purify our motives.
Servanthood Preserves our Relationships
“Have salt in yourselves”…Jesus ends by telling us to take responsibility for our behavior, our willingness to serve other people. Take responsibility to judge our behavior now, so that it will not be judged later. When we see other people correctly…and are willing to serve them…then we will have peace with each other.
“Be at peace with one another”…stop trying to be greater, better than each other. This will only happen when we serve each other. As long as we think that someone owes us something, or should treat us better, should serve us…we will not have peace. We should desire to serve others…then we will be at peace with one another. Peace comes when we accept the role of the servant.
Prayer: Lord, sometimes I don't recognize the contributions that others are making to Your Kingdom. I want other people to agree with me and my agenda...and don't give them grace to be following You in the way that You have led them. Please forgive me. Help me to see You at work through them...and to encourage and assist them in whatever ways You would lead me. Help me to be a peacemaker among Your followers. And Jesus, help me to serve all people. To have a true servant’s heart…to have Your heart.