(Mark 9:33-41) 33 Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” 34 But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. 35 And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” 36 Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, 37 “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” 38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our side. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.
The above passage of scripture reveals two-thirds of what makes up the foundational character of a Christian’s heart (or if you prefer the Christian’s mind or mode of thinking). The other third of this character is found in Matthew 18-1-3, where Jesus declares, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles Himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven”.
In reading both passages, you will find them complimentary; a comprehensive instruction of Jesus’ revelation on how to keep brotherly love, in the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace. You will also discover how to repair these elements when they have been offended (email me for a pdf file pertaining to this topic at mje4jesus @gmail.com).
In examining Matthew 18:1-3, in relation to the character of the Christian heart, we find humility the doorway to understanding the first characteristic. Why humility? Because there is a fundamental difference between children and those who grow up. That difference is that children know they are dependent, and those growing up are fighting for independence. The reason is that independence comes with a greater degree of personal sovereignty, in our thinking. Children, may behave at times like mini-adults, but truth told, when in need, they are very honest about their inability to obtain it.
When a child knows he is in need and cannot get what it is he desires, the child will ask, whine, cry, or pitch a fit, should he feel it will aid his cry . Whether he believes he deserves what he desires or not, he knows he can’t get it without his parent. In contrast, as a child approaches their teen years we understand her desire for independence and her need for it. She has obtained a driver’s license, works hard to earn money and to a certain degree has more freedom to make her own decisions. At times she has soared discovering her natural gifts developing and at times she has crashed, as she has found personal freedom can give us the illusion of sovereignty.
What do I mean? When we begin to feel the freedom of independence, it is not long before we will have to deal with the eternal truth that everybody has to serve someone. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus reveals that we either serve the one true God or the god of this age. Humanity often believes they have gained independence from parents, oppressive governments, bad bosses, or adverse circumstances, only to find they have become dependent to something or someone else. Christians are called not to emancipation for personal freedom or independence, but to become like little children, who are dependent, knowing they need Abba every hour. This takes HUGE God inspired humility. Jesus Himself is our example.
Our Savior lived in complete dependence on His Father; Jesus never spoke unless instructed to by the Holy Spirit on behalf of the Father (John 12:49)–Jesus never did anything unless He was commanded to by the Father (John 5:19). Jesus, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, displayed His dependence, when in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked the Father if there was another way, crying out “Abba Father”, and submitting to His will. This is the first characteristic of the Christian heart, and moment by moment knowledge of our total dependence on Him, that we seek to walk in.
(Romans 8:14-15) 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.”
As we look into Mark 9:33-36 we encounter a foolish conversation among the disciples that reveals the second characteristic of the Christian heart. Jesus was aware of the conversation, but waited till they were in private to handle the ego-driven argument between His closest friends. In response to their shamed based silence, per His inquiry into what they were discussing, Jesus declares “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35). The revelation in Jesus words is two-fold  You are all basically self-willed and selfish  If you are going to be great in the kingdom, you have to be like ME.
Truly, this verse reveals the only person among them, at that time, that had the character of a Christian heart, was the KING Himself. This of course was to change, as this was the reason for His admonition. Scripture also calls us to the same.
(Romans 15:1-3) 1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. 3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.”
(Philippians 2:3-4) 3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Since I have written extensively concerning this principle , it will be sufficient to declare the second characteristic of the Christian heart is to be growing in selflessness , like King Jesus.
In order to understand the third characteristic of the Christian heart we need to look a little deeper into verses 37-40 where we read ““Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.” 38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our side”.
In this portion we see Jesus speaking about receiving “little ones” in His name. Most commentators will agree that although Jesus was using a child to draw the disciples attention, the child was an object lesson, concerning how the disciples were receiving people, who were doing Jesus things, yet not among their group. We know this because after Jesus gave them His take, John reveals how they rebuked a follower, who was doing God’s word of casting out demons using Jesus name, yet not walking in the midst of them. When adding to this fact, Jesus directly begins to teach being careful of not offending these “little ones” (Mark 9:42-48), we can begin to see the characteristic number three, which is recognizing and rejoicing in the work of God.
It is this last character trait of a Christian heart that is most seen, especially when it is lacking. Consider that Jesus prayed in the garden before His death “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they may also be one in Us, that the world may believe you sent Me”. (John 17:21). When this is lacking, the world considers the church of Jesus as a joke and we fall into irrelevance, because in offending the unity of the Spirit and bond of peace, the Presence of God withdraws in offense (Ephesians 4:1-3; 30-32).
In looking at our account from Mark chapter nine, let us understand, the rebuked person was doing God’s work in Jesus name successfully. The disciple literally stopped Him from bringing freedom to people in Jesus’ name, because the man did not consider the disciples great. I do not believe this is reading too much into the passage, considering the teaching of Jesus directly before this account. Here is the point: we so often disparage, rebuke, mock or dismiss the word of Jesus Christ in other’s because they do not line up with all our distinctive doctrines. This is shameful.
In the first place, we must find unity in the Person of Christ: His being fully God from eternity, His virgin birth, His sinless life and miracles, His substitutionary atonement in His death on the cross, His resurrection, His ascension, and His bodily return to this earth. These are the essentials of Christ. We also need to have unity on men being saved by grace through faith. We must seek unity on our being holy vessels of God, set apart for His will alone. Yet there are a few other things that rise to the level of separating from the brethren of other denominational stripes, unless they are in some clear scriptural violation.
Let us give liberty when discussing our view of God’s sovereignty (Calvinism/Arminianism), views on eternal security, preferred Bible versions, views of the end times, or the scores of other things we can divide over. The point being, if you have a Christian heart, you can recognize the work of God in others who love Jesus, even if you don’t agree on all things in between the essentials.
In closing consider this story. A few years ago, I met a man of God in the town I was ministering in. We met around a sister in Christ, who went through a divorce while in our congregation. After her awhile it was difficult for her to stay with us, because of memories of her husband. As much as we loved and cared for her, we desired her growth in the kingdom and blessed a change of fellowship. When I finally met her pastor, we had tons in common in how we ministered to the flock and the lost, and were having wonderful conversation, until our major difference surfaced. This difference had nothing to do with being saved by grace through faith, or the deity of Jesus Christ, but led to this brother declaring “Well Mike, we are theological cousins”.
I did not find that very comforting and I told him in reply “Matt, if we are not brothers in Christ, we have nothing to talk about”. He agreed. A few weeks later, we took a trip to the local university to do some on-campus evangelism. We both delighted in the work of God being done in a Christian, who is different, but the same. That day the character of the Christian heart, won out in both of us. Will it in you?
Thanks Mike! This is so true here in the Dominican Republic to. The churches seem to look for ways to divide themselves. I love your comment “if we are not brothers in Christ, we have nothing to talk about.”. That really cuts to the heart of the matter. Thanks for your blog my friend!