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Jesus Offers Counsel About Stumbling and Sin

Jesus Offers Counsel About Stumbling and Sin

MATTHEW 18:6-20 MARK 9:38-50 LUKE 9:49, 50



Jesus has just illustrated the attitude that his followers should have. They should view themselves as children, lowly and without status. The disciples should ‘receive such young children on the basis of his name and thus receive Jesus also.’​—Matthew 18:5.

The apostles had recently been arguing over who is the greatest, so they may take Jesus’ words as a reproof. Now the apostle John brings up something else that has just happened: “We saw someone expelling demons by using your name, and we tried to prevent him, because he is not following with us.”​—Luke 9:49.

Does John view the apostles as the only ones who are authorized to heal others or to expel demons? If so, how is it that this Jewish man is successful in casting out wicked spirits? John seems to feel that the man should not be performing powerful works because he is not accompanying Jesus and the apostles.

To John’s surprise, Jesus says: “Do not try to prevent him, for there is no one who will do a powerful work on the basis of my name who will quickly be able to say anything bad about me. For whoever is not against us is for us. And whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, I tell you truly, he will by no means lose his reward.”​—Mark 9:39-41.

No, at this time the man does not need to accompany Christ in order to be on Jesus’ side. The Christian congregation is yet to be formed, so the fact that the man is not traveling with Jesus does not mean that he is an opposer or promoting a false religion. The man obviously has faith in Jesus’ name, and what Jesus says indicates that the man will not lose his reward.

On the other hand, it would be serious if the man was stumbled by the words and actions of the apostles. Jesus observes: “Whoever stumbles one of these little ones who have faith, it would be better for him if a millstone that is turned by a donkey were put around his neck and he were pitched into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) Jesus then says that his followers should remove even something as precious as a hand, a foot, or an eye if that causes them to stumble. It is better to be without such a cherished thing and enter into God’s Kingdom than to hold on to it and end up in Gehenna (Valley of Hinnom). The apostles have likely seen this valley near Jerusalem where refuse is burned, so they can understand it as representing permanent destruction.

Jesus also warns: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I tell you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my Father.” How precious are such “little ones” to his Father? Jesus tells of a man who has 100 sheep but loses one. The man leaves the 99 to search for that lost one, and on finding it he rejoices more over it than over the 99. Jesus adds: “It is not a desirable thing to my Father who is in heaven for even one of these little ones to perish.”​—Matthew 18:10, 14.

Perhaps thinking of his apostles’ arguing about who would be greatest, Jesus urges them: “Have salt in yourselves, and keep peace with one another.” (Mark 9:50) Salt makes foods more palatable. Figurative salt makes what one says easier to accept and thus can help to preserve peace, which arguing does not do.​—Colossians 4:6.

At times, serious issues will arise, and Jesus tells how to handle them. “If your brother commits a sin,” Jesus says, “go and reveal his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” What if he does not listen? “Take along with you one or two more,” Jesus advises, “so that on the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established.” If that does not resolve the matter, they are to speak to “the congregation,” that is, to responsible elders who can render a decision. What if the sinner still does not listen? “Let him be to you just as a man of the nations and as a tax collector,” people with whom Jews would not fellowship.​—Matthew 18:15-17.

Congregation overseers need to adhere to God’s Word. If they find a sinner guilty and needing discipline, their judgment ‘will already be bound in heaven.’ But when they find one innocent, it will have been “loosened in heaven.” These guidelines will prove helpful once the Christian congregation is formed. In such serious deliberations, Jesus says: “Where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there I am in their midst.”​—Matthew 18:18-20.