Throughout Mark the disciples are often portrayed as clueless, confused, or downright resistant. In 9:38-50 Jesus moves into specific and graphic teachings that clarify precisely what is expected of a disciple of his.
The disciples start complaining to Jesus about a man not with them who had been casting out demons in the name of Jesus and whom they tried to stop. Jesus tells them to lay off because “whoever is not against us is for us” (verse 40). We get the clear message that the disciples’ finger-pointing will not get far with Jesus. (The interesting thing about finger-pointing is that when you point one finger at someone you still have three pointing back at yourself.) While they are eager to bring judgment on this outsider who is acting in Jesus’ name, Jesus wants the disciples to pay attention instead to their own behavior. Jesus tells them the problem is not the people outside their group, but inside. Don’t worry about others – they are not the problem. Rather, look to yourselves. How are you getting in the way of the gospel? How are you a stumbling block? This is essentially what Jesus was asking his disciples.
As Christians, the same should be asked of us: are we stumbling blocks? We need to hear that because today our churches are fragmented along many lines—denominational, doctrinal, racial, socio-economic, national, liberal/conservative, social-action/evangelical, charismatic/non-charismatic, and young/elderly. We are always tempted to regard Christians from the other side of the line as inferior, if we think of them as Christians at all. We all need to remember there is a fine line between those who believe differently and those whose beliefs are incompatible with Christian teachings. The church needs to be careful to adhere to the fundamentals of the faith.
What does Jesus say about stumbling blocks?
“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. 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. 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. 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, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” – Mark 9:42-48
So what is being a disciple and what is discipleship?
It’s actually quite simple. Discipleship is the relationship between the student (the one being discipled) and the teacher (the one discipling). Many churches and Christian groups around the world do elements of discipleship, but rarely engage in discipleship as modeled by Jesus. Jesus never asked anyone to do or be anything that He had not first demonstrated in His own life. His desire was to get the disciples into a vital experience with God. It is important to realize for at least a year, these early disciples did not do much other than watch Jesus work. The goal of discipleship is to develop healthy believers that walk by faith, communicate their faith, and multiply their faith.
So how do we do that?
1. Put Jesus first in all things (Mark 8:34-38). The disciple of Christ needs to be set apart from the world. Our focus should be on our Lord and pleasing Him in every area of our lives. We must put off self-centeredness and put on Christ-centeredness.
2. Follow the teachings of Jesus (John 8:31-32). We must be obedient and doers of the Word. Obedience is the supreme test of faith in God (1 Samuel 28:18), and Jesus is the perfect example of obedience as He lived a life on earth of complete obedience to the Father even to the point of death (Philippians 3:6-8).
3. Be fruitful (John 15:5-8). Our job is not producing fruit. Our job is to abide in Christ and if we do, the Holy Spirit will produce fruit. This fruit is the result of our obedience. As we become more obedient to the Lord and learn to walk in His ways, our lives will change.
4. Love other disciples (John 13:34-35). We are told that love for other believers is the evidence of our being a member of God’s family (1 John 3:10). Love is defined in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13. These verses show us that love is not an emotion; it is action. We must be doing something and involved in the process. Furthermore, we are told to think more highly of others than of ourselves and to look out for their interests (Philippians 2:3-4).
5. Evangelism – Make disciples of others (Matthew 28:18-20). We are to share our faith and tell nonbelievers about the wonderful changes Jesus Christ has made in our lives. No matter what our maturity level in the Christian life, we have something to offer. Too often, we believe the lie from Satan that we don’t know enough or haven’t been a Christian long enough to make a difference. Not true! Some of the most enthusiastic representatives of the Christian life are new believers who have just discovered the awesome love of God. They may not know a lot of Bible verses or the “accepted” way of saying things, but they have experienced the love of the living God and that is exactly what we are to share.