Ethics of Discipleship, Part 1 - Mark 9:38-50

The Gospel According to Mark  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  49:39
0 ratings

“You can pick your actions, or you can pick your consequences, but you can never pick both”
This was the central idea of a lecture on ethics I heard a while back. You can pick your actions, or you can pick your consequences, bur you can never pick both.
The central idea is this: If you are picking your actions, you do not get to choose the consequences of those actions. You pick the actions and you receive whatever the consequences are, for good or ill. Sometimes we make poor choices in life and then act surprised or even angry that the consequences are negative. You chose your actions, you get the consequences that come from it.
On the flip side, if you are choosing your consequences, if you are making decisions based on the desired outcome, then you don’t get to pick your actions, because that choice will already be made for you. There are certain actions that will result in those consequences, and if its those consequences you want, then those are the actions you will pursue.
You can pick your actions, you can pick your consequences. you can never pick both.
At first, this might be a call to pragmatic ethical decision making, but the lecture was designed to make us consider, what consequences do we really want? Are the things that we want lining up with what the Scripture says is good and right for us.
So often not only does life not go the way we want it to, but sometimes it goes exactly the way we want it to and we still aren’t happy! Why is that? I got what I wanted!
If we aren’t pursing what God says is good and right for my life, then whatever it is that we are pursing will not bring about the whatever you think your desired end is.
Ethics is more than about moral decision making. The dictionary definition of ethics will say something along the lines of a set of moral principles. The biblical ethic extends a little beyond that, however. A Biblical ethical theory is not only concerned with what actions are morally good and right, but it is also concerned about the whys. It is concerned about the desires and motives of our heart. It’s not all external, but also internal.
Our heart desired must be examined to see if they line up with what God desires for His creation.
When framed that way, this proverbial truth is not just about pragmatics, but is about heart motivations. Why do I want what I want?
In today’s sermon, we find Jesus giving lessons on the ethics of discipleship. Do you want to follow Jesus? Do you want to live as He has instructed? Do you want to be known as a disciple, an apprentice, or a imitator of Christ?
You can pick your actions, you can pick your consequences, but you can never pick both.
Jesus is going to teach us more about what it means to follow Him. And in this text he is going to issue several dire warnings about the consequences of failing to live as He instructs.
I’ve broken the text down into three major headings, with two to three subheadings under each point. I will read a section at a time and then proceed.
Before I do that, I want to note something significant. This is a text about discipleship. This is a text about what it means to actively follow Jesus and live in obedience to Him. Lessons on discipleship assume that you have already trusted in Christ as your savior.
If you have not trusted in Christ, you may look on these ethical teachings and you may feel as through they are an impossible burden.
If you have not trusted in Christ, you might look on these ethical teachings and conclude that if I am to earn salvation, these are the things I must strive to do.
Even if you have trusted in Christ you might be tempted to conclude that these are what you must do to continue to curry favor with God.
All of which are lies from the evil one.
Discipleship is a result of salvation, not a prerequisite of salvation. If you do not have salvation, you will find these commands impossible to follow. You need to be born again, you need the working of the Spirit if you are to live this way. We don’t choose this in our natural fallen state. This is what is produced in those who have received new life in Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the good news that starts with bad news. We are all sinners who are rebellion against the God who created us. Because God is a holy and righteous judge, He must judge with justice, which leaves each and every one of us without excuse and on our way to eternal damnation. This is right and just.
But God is rich in mercy. He sent Jesus Christ into the world and he lived a perfect life, something we could not do, and he died the death that we deserve, taking upon Himself the sins of the world with the promise that whoever believes in Him would receive the benefits of what the cross provides: forgiveness for your sin. Restored fellowship with God. adoption into the divine family to become a son or a daughter of the King of kings. Entrance into the eternal kingdom. Everlasting life.
The only condition: repent of your sin and trust in Jesus’s finished work on the cross. Believe that Christ’s sacrifice was for you, and fling yourself upon the mercy of God, and he will look upon you as His child. He will clothe you in the perfect righteousness of Christ. He will seal you in the Holy Spirit. You will be forgiven. You will have life.
Only then will you be able to live a life of discipleship. And even so, it will be imperfect. Look at these disciples and how awkward they can be. You think you’re better than them? No. We follow imperfectly, but we follow. Not to earn salvation, but because of the salvation that has already been given to us.
So what are the ethics of discipleship? How should follows of Jesus live? Jesus has already begun to teach us this with our text from last week about seeking to be the servant of all. He continues here with more teaching on servanthood, our relationship to sin, and our relationship to others.
First, We find that

1. Ethical Discipleship Encourages and Serves

Mark 9:38–41 ESV
38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. 40 For the one who is not against us is for us. 41 For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward.

a. Encourage Other Disciples

In context Jesus has just been teaching the disciples that if anyone is to be first, he must be last of all and servant of all. The end of the previous paragraph says “whoever received one such child in my name receives me” and that phrase “in my name” is crucial for our context.
John pipes up, and it’s almost like he’s making a confession. Speaking of receiving people in your name, Jesus...
It may not be a confession, per se. It may be more like John is asking for clarification. You want us to receive people in your name, but we actually just did this thing over here. Was that right or wrong?
Notice how the statement is framed. First the observation. We saw someone casting out demon in your name.
Painted on the backdrop of the disciples themselves failing to cast out a demon earlier in the same chapter, this might have been a sore point or a point of embarrassment for the disciples, but it is John that raises the issue and he was on the mountain with Jesus and not part of the failed exorcism. Nevertheless, there was a feeling that it was not proper for this man to be doing this, so they took action:
“We tried to stop him.” That word for stop means to hinder or prevent, or even to forbid. They attempted to stop this man from continuing his ministry. Why? why would they try to stop him? They provide their reasoning:
because he was not following us.
notice that the reason is not because he was not following Jesus, but he was not following us, that is, he was not following the other disciples. Here was a man who dared to work in Jesus name without being part of the disciples’s group. So they sought to stop him.
Look at Jesus’ reply: Do not stop him. For no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me, for the one who is not against us is for us.
If I were to offer a paraphrase of this, Jesus is essentially telling his disciples, Just because they aren’t following you, doesn’t mean they aren’t following me.
The prideful disciples who are arguing about who is the greatest also have this exclusivist mindset, they they are the only true followers of Christ on planet earth, and if you aren’t part of us, then you better not work in Jesus’ name.
And Jesus says, don’t do that. Do not hinder them. don’t prevent them from their ministry. On your outline, I reversed the command so rather than a negative “do not hinder other disciples” I put “encourage other disciples” as the positive opposite.
There are other individuals out there who love Jesus, and they are following Jesus, but they aren’t part of your group. How will you interact with them?
Here we are in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and there are other churches around. There are other churches around that proclaim the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. How should we interact with or view those churches?
I’ve done different forms of open-air preaching in different locations and I’ve interacted with a lot of open air preachers. The purpose of open air preaching is to present truth to passers by in such a way that perhaps will get them to pause for a dialogue. There are many unbelievers who will scoff and mock, and that’s to be expected. Most of the time, they just walk by pretending to ignore it. What I find interesting is that some of the strongest push-back is from other professing believers. They try to hinder the preaching of the word because they are convinced it isn’t effective.
I’m not doing it because of your definition of effective, I’m doing it because people need to hear the Gospel!
But we can be so quick to look at the way other people are doing ministry, or to look around with an air of superiority, and conclude that no one else should be doing anything, it should be only always us and us alone.
Jesus says, no. Don’t think that way. If they aren’t against us, they’re for us.
When we first moved into Jeff to plant this church, the pastor of Oak Park Baptist church befriended me and offered assistance any way he could. When my daughter was born, a member of that church came and filled the pulpit for me. What would have happened if they had looked upon us as competition or inferior disciples?
We cannot walk through life believing that we are the only true disciples in the world and the only one allowed to do ministry. We should not hinder others who aren’t following us because its not about us! Its about Jesus Christ! It’s about follow him, not us!
Now, I want to be clear about a few things.
I am not calling for unchecked ecumenism. Though the individuals in this text were not following the disciples, I do believe they were following Christ, for they were acting in the name of Jesus. Unchecked ecumenism blurs important lines, and blurs the Gospel message itself. There are those who claim to do ministry, but they aren’t even following Christ. I am not saying we should encourage those.
I am not saying that theological differences don’t matter. I mentioned Oak Park before. We are not Oak Park. We are a different church. We have theological and philosophical differences that warrant us being a separate body. Those theological differences are important and they matter. But they don’t matter as much as the Gospel. They are important, but of secondary importance to the Gospel of Christ. So while we don’t minimize our theological differences, we need to properly prioritize the Gospel and not hinder the ministry of individuals who are proclaiming the same good news we proclaim.
Finally, the phrase “the one who is not against us is for us” needs to be understood contextually to avoid improper application. In this context, the one who is not against the disciples was still a follower of Jesus. In another context Jesus said the reverse: whoever is not for me is against me, whoever does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30). In that context the crowd wondered if Jesus was the Messiah, but the pharisees were being critical of Him. Jesus makes that statement to say “hey pick a side. You’re either on my team or you aren’t” If you aren’t with me you’re against me. In that context, those who were waffling were not followers of Jesus in any sense, and thus were rightly said to be in opposition to him. These two statements are not in contradiction to one another, only need to be understood contextually.
We should seek to encourage other believers, even if they are not part of our church. This doesn’t mean we minimize our theological distinctives. We can still seek to sharpen one another. But it does mean we prioritize the Gospel.
Not only are we to seek to encourage them, but we should want to serve them as well.

b. We Serve Other Disciples

Vs 41. Jesus begins this statement with a “truly I say to you” which really emphasizes the point. You should not hinder other disciples from their ministry, because guess what? They are going to have opportunities to serve you as well, and if they do so, they have rewards in heaven for it.
Notice this is about disciples serving disciples: giving water because you belong to Christ.
There are many who will despise you and treat you poorly simply because you belong to Christ. But those who seek to serve you simply because you belong to Christ. They will be rewarded.
Jesus frames this as other serving the disciples, but the logical corollary is that we should seek to serve other disciples as well.
So when Oak Park sent us a preacher for a week, I believe they will be rewarded for that. When Reformation Church of Shelbyville gave us free access to their evangelism resources to use whatever we wanted, and then sent us a team to help canvas the neighborhoods with doorhangers two years ago, they will be rewarded for that. Do we have theological differences with those churches? yes. Are they significant? Yes! But they prioritized the Gospel with their help.
I couldn’t be a member in their church. They couldn’t be members here. There are some areas of ministry that it would be wise to not to collaborate for the sake of clarity on our convictions. But that doesn’t mean we shun one another, and that doesn’t mean we never serve one another.
There are rewards in heaven for those who serve other disciples simple because they are a follower of Jesus Christ and we love the same Gospel.
Ethical discipleship thinks rightly about how we relate to other disciples not in our church. We encourage and serve. Doesn’t mean we ignore our distinctives. But it is an attitude of grace toward them.

2. Ethical Discipleship Is Serious about Sin

Look at verses 42-48
Mark 9:42–48 ESV
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, 48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

a. Serious about the implications of causing others to stumble

The little ones in vs 42 likely refer to other disciples who are new, weak, or immature in their faith. They are the least of these, they are the one often taken advantage of.
A note about the text: the word for “sin” here “whoever causes one of these to sin”. that word is a more general term than the word sin. Translated literally “whoever causes one to stumble.” The ESV has interpreted that word to mean cause to sin, but the idea may mean to stumble in their faith, to be led stray from the truth. The term is broad enough to possibly include both ideas of sin and stray.
Many Christians use this text to condemn those in our culture who are preying upon our children by seeking to indoctrinate them to the world’s sexual ethic. I do think there is a level of appropriateness to that application, we should have no problem calling sin sin and those who seek to groom our children and those who are responsible for the mutilation of children will face the Lord’s judgment.
But I don’t think that is the primary application here. Jesus is speaking about those who lead disciples astray, those who believe in him, as the text says. 2 Peter speaks of the false teachers that entice unsteady souls, Paul writes to the Ephesians that we don’t want to be tossed around by every wind of doctrine by the deceitfulness and cunning of man.
The implication is that some are being tossed around that way. There are some who are being taken advantage of within the church.
As I was studying this and thinking through the application, I was reading about someone sharing their experience of sexual abuse at the church they attended. As a result of how things unfolded there and the lack of accountability, they not only left the church but left the Christian faith altogether.
There are many who leave the church because the church was willing to call sin sin. But for those who were genuinely abused and mistreated, Jesus says here that it would be better for a millstone to be hung around the neck of their abuser than to face the judgment that is coming for them.
Sin is serious. Leading others to sin is serious. There are individuals who get some kind of power high from being a leader in a church and abuse their authority for the sake of personal gain, gratification, and pleasure. They aren’t there to serve. They aren’t there to help. They are there for themselves and they are leading people astray. They are leading others into sin. They are driving people away from Jesus Christ.
And Jesus says it would be better to drown than cause another to sin or leave the faith.
Let’s talk for a moment about bad applications of this truth.
First, There are some who are so terrified of people leaving the church they change the message, they soften the language, and they dance around certain issues to avoid making people uncomfortable. The sad reality is that be doing that, you lose the Gospel and you end up losing people anyway. The goal should never be “how do I keep people in my church” the goal should always be “what has God said, I’m going to proclaim that and let the chips fall where they may” Jesus said you shall know the truth, and truth shall set you free. we cannot compromise the message for fear of driving people away.
Second, this message of condemnation on those who cause disciples to stumble is not about those who leave for bad reasons. There are times when people leave the church because of abuse. The abusers will be judged. But there are other times when people leave the church because their sin was confronted by godly and faithful leaders. There the judgment is not on the leader but but on the leaver.
This warning is not just to leaders. There are individuals who can lead others into sin who are not in leadership. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you must take seriously the implications of leading others into sin.
Second, we must be serious about killing our own sin

b. Serious about killing sin

This text contains what is often called radical amputation. If your hand, your foot or your eye causes you to sin, cut if off, pluck it out.
These three body parts may be intended to communicate three key ideas: your hand: things that you do and actions you take, your feet: where you go, who you associate with, and your eye, what you see, what you look at.
Jesus says it is better to be crippled, lame, and blind than to remain in your sin.
This is radical teaching? Is this to be understood literally?
Some took it that way. There was a man in church history who castrated himself in application of this text.
I don’t believe that Jesus is calling us to physically harm ourselves in the pursuit of holiness, and for one primary reason: Cutting off your hand, or gouging out your eye doesn’t prevent you from ever sinning. You can sin with the other hand. Even if you cut them both off, you can still sin in other ways. Even if were blind and had no arms or legs, you could still sin, because sin is not just about outward actions, but flow from the attitudes and thoughts of our hearts and minds.
What then is the point?
Are you serious about your sin?
John Owen once wrote: “be killing sin or sin will be killing you”
What are you willing to do to get sin out of your life.
When counseling individuals who are trying to break free some pornography one of my first questions is always: what are you willing to do? Are you willing to do whatever it takes? Are you willing to get a dumb phone? Are you willing to cancel your internet? If you aren’t willing to do whatever it takes, are you serious enough about your sin?
Are you willing to change and even inconvenience your life in the pursuit of holiness? It is far better to be inconvenienced in this life than to burn in the next because we loved our sin over our savior.
Does this mean we are expected to be perfect. No. Does this mean if we struggle with sin that we are not saved and in danger of hell? Not necessarily, but I’m not interested in softening Jesus words here. If we are apathetic toward our own sin, that’s a problem and should be of concern for us.
Followers of Jesus are serious about killing sin.

Ethical Discipleship Is Salty

Mark 9:49–50 ESV
49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Jesus here gives us three statements about salt. As I read this text, I see three distinct teachings that all have salt in common, but what is being communicated is different for each one.
It is possible that this was not one extended teaching of Jesus, but rather the collected sayings of Christ and these are grouped by the common use of salt.

a. We are refined through hardship

First, everyone will be salted with fire. I think this is the hardest of the saying to understand. He begins with a causal “for” which provides grounds for the previous statement. It’s better to maim yourself than to go to hell, because everyone will be salted by fire. What does that mean?
In the old testament, sacrifices were salted with salt before being offered on the alter as a sacrifice. So we have Leviticus 2:13 “13 You shall season all your grain offerings with salt. You shall not let the salt of the covenant with your God be missing from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.”
If that is the context of this saying, Jesus is then likening our lives as a sacrifice before the Lord.
This correlates well with passages like Rom 12:1 “1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship”
Some commentator

b. We must retain our Christian distinctiveness

c. We must remain in fellowship

Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more