Be cautious about who you allow to influence your thinking.

gospel of mark influence thinking

On Friday mornings at 8:00 am, I teach a three-hour course titled “Biblical Perspectives on Contemporary Issues.”  It’s one of my favorite courses to teach because of the subject matter and the genuine interest of the students.  In the class, we discuss all sorts of issues that are prevalent in present-day society and we examine what Scripture teaches about these topics.

 One of the objectives of the course is that we would learn to examine the role the media plays in shaping cultural viewpoints and generational preferences.  There’s no doubt that our culture is highly influenced by what we hear, see, and read.  In fact, just recently I asked the class if they believed certain forms of media were intentionally attempting to desensitize us to various forms of unbiblical patterns of thinking and living.  The general consensus of the class was that they most certainly believed popular media was being used this way.

 When my children were growing up, this was a regular conversation we had in our home as well.  I’m certain that there were times when my efforts to prevent ungodly content from permeating our home was frustrating to my children who may not have understood when they were young why that mattered to me.  Now that they’re older, I’m confident they understand my perspective better.

 This, by the way, isn’t only an issue for our media-saturated era.  During the days when Jesus was carrying out His earthly ministry, the people didn’t have media in the same sense that we do, but they certainly had speakers, teachers, philosophers, and people of influence who had a major impact on the ways in which people thought and lived.  In Mark 8:11-21, Jesus cautioned His followers to be careful about who they allowed to influence their thinking and living.

The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him. 12 And he sighed deeply in his spirit and said, “Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly, I say to you, no sign will be given to this generation.” 13 And he left them, got into the boat again, and went to the other side.  (Mark 8:11-13)

As the notoriety and influence of Jesus continued to expand, the Pharisees and other religious leaders felt increasing pressure to reduce the impact Jesus was having on the culture of the day.  They resented His popularity.  They also resented the fact that He wasn’t afraid to call out their religious hypocrisy.  Knowing this to be the case, they became increasingly more brazen in their attempts to discredit Jesus and re-establish their influence where they felt it might be waning.

 The Scripture tells us that the Pharisees came to Jesus and started arguing with Him.  The fact that He was able to do miraculous things couldn’t be denied, so they asked for something additional.  They sought a sign from heaven to confirm that He was the Christ.

 It’s interesting to read about their desire for a sign, especially in light of the prophetic signs He had already given them. 

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”  (Isaiah 7:14)

“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing.”  (John 2:23)

 As the Pharisees kept needling Him for a sign, we’re told that Jesus “sighed deeply in his spirit.”  How frustrating it must have been to do all He had already done, and to fulfill so many prophesies in their midst, but still not be believed.  In fact, why do people typically ask for a sign in the first place?  We ask for signs because we don’t want to exercise faith.  We would prefer to walk by sight instead of trusting Christ by faith.  That’s what the Pharisees were doing, and that’s a struggle humanity has wrestled with ever since the time of Adam.

 But no matter how much they attempted to argue with Jesus, He told them they weren’t going to receive a sign from Him in that moment.  He then left their combative presence, got into a boat, and went to the northeastern shore of the Sea of Galilee where He used the example of this interaction combined with some reflection on His recent miracles to instruct His disciples about some of the deeper spiritual matters they were still struggling to understand.

Now they had forgotten to bring bread, and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. 15 And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out; beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.” 16 And they began discussing with one another the fact that they had no bread.  (Mark 8:14-16)

 Some of the activities and interactions of the disciples as they’re recorded in the gospels are rather comical, but their mistakes and seasons of hardheadedness and hardheartedness are openly placed before us so we can grow in our own understanding of Christ and His teaching.

 It’s a bit ironic and entertaining to read that the disciples forgot to bring bread with them when they entered the boat with Jesus to travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.  Not long before this took place, Mark’s gospel records two miraculous feedings of thousands of people.  In both instances, Jesus took a small amount of bread and fish, demonstrated His sovereign omnipotence by multiplying the food, then fed thousands of hungry people while making sure there were baskets of extras that could be collected once the people had their fill.

 Jesus used the opportunity of their discussion about bread to caution them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod.  I’m not a baker, but in my limited knowledge of how bread is prepared, I’m aware that it only takes a little bit of leaven (yeast) to cause a batch of dough to rise.  It works its way through the dough and completely alters the end product.  Jesus mentioned this to attempt to help His disciples understand that they needed to be keenly aware of the false teaching of influential people because even a small amount of false teaching can have a big impact on the lives of others.

 That’s a caution that’s particularly relevant for us today as well.  We are being taught and influenced every single day of our lives.  Anything we allow to permeate and infiltrate our minds has the capacity to work its way into our entire life.  If we’re filling our minds with vulgarities, we’ll become desensitized to these things and then we’ll drift toward becoming vulgar ourselves.  If we’re filling our minds with greed, impurity, violence, and immorality, we can expect these things to appear in our lives as well.

 This is also the case with false teaching such as was being disseminated by the Pharisees.  They weren’t concerned with issues of the heart.  Their main focus wasn’t on the life of faith that a genuine believer might express.  Their primary concern was adherence to external regulations and the appearance of holiness.  The fruit of actual holiness that one experiences through faith in Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit was far from their minds.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”  (Philippians 4:8)

 If our minds are going to become adept at thinking about true, honorable, lovely, and commendable things, we need the power of the Holy Spirit to open up our eyes to see and receive the truth.  The most prominent way He does that is through Scripture.  He gives us the word of God to enlighten and illuminate us.  His word makes us wise and discerning.  With the tool of His word, we’re able to identify false teaching and bad doctrine.  We’re also able to confront the deceptive attempts of Satan who is engaged in an ongoing attempt to get this entire planet to buy into his deceptions.

And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? 18 Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”  (Mark 8:17-21)

 It’s somewhat amazing to realize how earthly minded the disciples remained at this point of Christ’s ministry, even after hearing His teaching and watching the miraculous work He was accomplishing in their presence.  Jesus spoke of the leaven of the Pharisees, but the disciples couldn’t get their minds off of physical bread.  Their hearts remained hard like the crust of a stale loaf.  The eyes and ears of their hearts remained in a state of being unable to perceive deeper spiritual realities.  Very simply, they didn’t understand what Jesus was attempting to explain to them.

 In our case, it’s likewise easy to remain in a state of lacking true understanding even though the truth has been presented before us repeatedly.  But that doesn’t have to be the case forever.  In fact, please allow me to make a few suggestions that you might find helpful if you desire to grow in your understanding of the teaching of the word of God and the personal application of the gospel.

1.  Start with prayer.  Spiritual truth isn’t something that’s naturally perceived.  It’s spiritually perceived, and the Holy Spirit delights to enable us to understand things that our natural mind cannot grasp.  Seek His intervention.  Ask Him to bring clarity to your mind.  Utilize His guidance to help you understand the word of God.

2.  Saturate your day with Scripture in multiple ways.  There are many options available to us.  If you aren’t used to reading Scripture regularly, start off with a small section in the morning.  Even just reading one verse can be a great place to start.  Follow that up with listening to podcasts and music that speak the truth of God’s word.  When you’re scrolling through online content, watch videos of solid preachers and teachers who know how to accurately explain the Bible.

3.  Don’t just do this alone.  Bring your family with you.  Your spouse and children are likely to find spiritual matters interesting.  Talk about these things with them around the dinner table, when you’re taking a walk together, or when you’re in the car.  Develop friendships with people who also care about their walk with Jesus.  Their faith will strengthen yours, and vice versa.

Jesus' disciples prove that it was possible to live and serve in close proximity to Jesus without fully understanding or appreciating what He was trying to communicate.  Jesus was cautioning them and us to be very careful about what we allow to influence our thinking and the thinking of our households.  Our influences impact our beliefs.  Our beliefs influence our thoughts.  Our thoughts inform our actions.  Our actions not only impact the lives of those around us, they also demonstrate the sincerity and maturity of our faith in Christ.

© John Stange, 2024


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