But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.
Woe, to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
In Mark 9, this exchange between Jesus and His disciples regarding who was the greatest takes place in Capernaum. This village, situated on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, was a site where millstones were manufactured.
Millstones—used for crushing olives—were massive disc-shaped stones made from the local black basalt rock. To have one of these heavy implements hung around one’s neck would immediately drown anyone thrown into a body of water. Jesus’ admonition is basically death for anyone who causes a child who believes in Him to sin. In other words, it would be better for a person to die than to lead a little child astray who believes in Him, a sobering thought for parents, grandparents, teachers, and even older siblings.
One could say that Jesus is using hyperbole in this statement, as He does later in the passage when talking about cutting off hands and feet or gouging out an eye that causes sin. But the meaning is clear: God hates whatever influences innocent children to sin, or anyone to sin for that matter.
There are two ways to deal with sinful influences in terms of children. In the case of very young children, protection is the primary means of defense. Whenever possible they are not to be exposed to things that are inappropriate for their age. But there comes a point where a growing child must begin to develop discernment. They must learn to recognize good and evil and learn the consequences of the choices they make between the two. They need a sensitive conscience that only the Spirit of God can place within them.
This is why the Children’s Ministry of Wheaton Bible Church emphasizes the gospel, giving children the opportunity to make a decision to follow Jesus and be discipled in the way of Jesus. What is true for children is true for all of us. There are things we know we need to protect ourselves from as believing adults, and we need discernment to make daily decisions between good and evil in order to produce good fruit.
Questions for reflection and discussion: God takes harming or influencing a child to sin very seriously. How can I steer clear of using the influence I have on children in my life to harm them? How can we as believers guard ourselves from inducing a brother or sister to sin? How can we use our influence on others instead to encourage righteousness?
Church Bible Reading Plan: Exodus 28; John 7
Saturday, March 18 – Exodus 29; John 8
Sunday, March 19 – Exodus 30; John 9