The Divisive Cup of Water 

Mark 9:41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

There are some seemingly innocuous passages of scripture that prove to be almost entirely divisive. In some cases, as this one, it transpires that an individual's interpretation of the verse has far more to do with their own belief system than anything the bible might have been attempting to say! In this particular case we find difference of opinion on each of the following subjects:

In the following I shall attempt to tabulate some of the more popular commentators by their response to these five questions.

Commentator Value of Water Giver has to be believer? Receiver has to be believer? Spiritual Motivation Required? When reward given?
Adam Clarke Clarke points out that in the East water can have very high value. Cites Hindu's that will take water from a great distance away to give to travelers. No. Reward and punishment seen as universally applicable. No, this is seen as a universal requirement. Not seen as required although the name of Jesus is seen to sanctify the action and make it of special worth. In the world to come.
Barnes Seen as extremely small. 'How easy to be a Christian'. Yes as act must be an act motivated by love for Christ. Yes. Act must be an act to a believer as it must be an act to Christ. Yes, it is viewed as the motive that is important not the service. Reward to be in heaven.
British Family Bible Follows Adam Clarke (including Hindu example) in stressing high value of glass of water.        
Family bible notes   No. In fact states this this verse only applies to non-believing givers. Yes. This verse is viewed as 'how non-believers are judged by how they treat believers'. No. The believer is viewed as a 'proxy' for Christ even if the non-believer is unaware of this.  
Jamieson Fausset Brown Viewed as smallest service. Not necessarily although requirement for love towards believers implies probably. Yes as it must be done by someone wishing to serve Christ. Need not be spiritually motivated but must be because of the receivers Christian identity.  
Matthew Henry. The service is deemed as small but the point is made that for the receiver it may be of great value. Seen as applying to those trying to serve Christ's Kingdom although possibly not Christian. Yes, specifically this is seen as a provision for the 'poor in Christ' Must be spiritually motivated even if technically 'spiritually mis-motivated'.  
Matthew Poole The value of the provision must be proportionate to what you are able to do. No. This verse is seen as those 'about to interact' with believers. Yes, this applies to all believers although Poole focuses more on those interacting with evangelists. No, this is seen as a judgement upon those who act out of common kindness. Whilst the possibility of future reward is allowed for it is assumed that primary reward will be greater interaction with someone that could bring them to Christ.
Robertson's Word Pictures Seen as extremely small. Yes, this is seen as defining a universal brotherhood. Yes, this is seen as defining a universal brotherhood. Yes, it is the spiritual motivation that keeps the brotherhood together.  
The Fourfold Gospel Seen as extremely small. Yes, it is seen as relationship to the King that must inspire the act. No, this is viewed as any act of righteousness. Yes, the act must be done as part of our kingdom membership. To be rewarded in the kingdom.

So, as the vote amongst the commentators is fairly evenly spread on each of the questions what is my opinion? Well, my usual recourse is to say that if the commentators can't agree then ignore them completely and allow the bible to commentate upon itself. In particular, look at the context. Verses 39 & 40 deal with a particular group of people that were performing miracles in the name of Christ but which were not following Christ directly. The question that had been posed was 'should these people be stopped?'

Christ gives a very precise response, especially given the use of an implicit double negative: 'forbid them not'. He doesn't say 'let them continue' or 'help them' or 'join in' but He does say "don't try to stop them". Then He goes on to detail a very precise physical interaction that is done in His name. I don't believe the issue is the cost or value of the cup of water; it is that it undoubtedly had good intent. The person doing it was attempting to identify with Christ and His people even if they were theologically and spiritually off base. Anyone trying to do a good deed will receive a reward for that attempt.

Verse 42 then provides an antidote to verse 41. Suppose one of these 'good intenders' actually manages to harm a believer, spiritually or otherwise. Well then they will be judged strictly for their actions.

We thus see, in my opinion, the 'cup of water' as defining a groundwork for an 'arms length' relationship with those that name Christ as their own but with whom we, probably, are not in fellowship. I don't believe this verse actually applies to us, but we should ask ourselves the question: "If this is how non-believers need to behave to us, then how should we behave towards them?" Maybe the next time a Jehovah's Witness or Mormon knocks on our door we should offer them a glass of water?


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