Our focus in today’s study in the “Looking Along the Gospels” series is Matthew 18. Working in a Christian organization for ten years, the passage in verses 15-18 were emphasized. But the beauty of those verses is hidden if not read in context. So here goes!
Matthew 18:1-6 (similar to passage in Mark, wherein Jesus has the child on His lap), Jesus takes a child, and teaches His disciples to stop the prideful hustle to be “first” or best…we must all enter the kingdom as this child. Stop and imagine for a moment–Jesus holding that child, the child hearing…imagine what it would have been like in a culture that valued men much higher than children, or women. I imagine Jesus held the child in a way that showed He loved that child.
And whoever receives one such child [i.e. a believer, a child of God, regardless of age] in My name, receives Me. But, causing one such to stumble, it would be better to have a millstone around your neck and drown.
What does this tell you about the intensity of Jesus’ love for His own?
His love for believers? And that love will propel Him to protect and avenge His own. This is what we all long to know, this is why fairy tales are so enchanting–yet our Hero is real, His power unmatched, His love beyond our wildest imaginings.
Matthew 18:7-11 Jesus teaches, continuing with the child on His lap, about stumbling blocks to faith, to entrance into the Kingdom. Be brutal to rid yourself of the thing that draws you away; there are no excuses for stumbling blocks. The world is full of them–and no excuse of “but did you see what I was up against?!!!” will pardon you. Entrance to the Kingdom will be denied. This parable is to be taken as a parable. Therefore the ‘literal’ meaning is that we be willing to part with temptations, be willing to part with things/relationships/activities that bring doubt, despair, unbelief or other forms of shipwreck to our faith.
To close this whole section, Jesus tells about the angels that are in the presence of the Father who will be sent to minister to the children. They will be sent on His work, in His agenda; don’t be the agenda! Don’t be the stumbling block they are sent to remove.
18:12-14, still with the little on on His knee. The ‘little one’ in this passage is one of His own, one who believes, a disciple. Another parable to help us understand the way God’s love operates when we go astray. Does He operate as a good businessman and count the loss of one sheep as “not that bad, considering…”? NO! He searches for that one! He finds that one, rescues that one, brings it back to the fold. God is the faithful Shepherd who will find every sheep, rescue every sheep, and rejoice over each one! He rejoices!!! This is worth pondering. Meditate on these verses, knowing He rejoices over every sheep that comes into the fold. He created rejoicing, He loves to celebrate.
What does this tell you about your life in Christ?
What lengths is He willing to go to KEEP you? Now that you are accepted, and you belong, none can snatch you out of His hand!!! (perhaps go camp out in John 10 for a bit?) And He carries this out with rejoicing.
So now, how ought we to accept one another? If Christ can forgive us this way, how ought we to treat one another when someone sins against us? How many times must I forgive that person?
No Venting, No Excuses
Verse 15 instructs us to carry out this reproof in private. Not online, face to face. Go to him or her! Go. Do not let emoji’s or bolded words or TYPED TEXT MESSAGES do your work for you. Go. God calls us into community, to live out our lives with one another. With. Go be with that person.
It is the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance. It is His gentleness that we need. But is it His kindness and gentleness that we extend? Back up to Matthew 12:15-21, in which Jesus fulfills a prophecy from Isaiah 42.
Jesus does not extinguish a burning wick. He does not injure a bruised reed. You are that bruised reed, I am. We will yet have times of being that bruised reed. Battered by our own sinful choices. By the world that hates us. By a conscience fed by too many sources. By family that wants us to conform to ungodliness. By stumbling blocks. By the effects of a fallen world: poor physical health, poor mental health, sudden changes in income, loss, emergencies caused by natural disasters or accidents… Battered and bruised, He does not come to beat us into submission. He does not kick us when we are down. He does not whisper in our ears “serves you right you bleep….”
Rather in Christ we find: Kindness. Compassion. Unchanging love. Strength. Determination. Power to heal. Power to forgive sins.
In ourselves we do not have any of that! But He has called us to the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5). What an appropriate moment to walk in the Spirit, and fulfill that ministry! As you go, face to face, to reprove your brother or sister in Christ–keep watch over all your communication. Word choice, tone of voice, posture. “I want to talk about … When that happened I felt… I want to forgive you, and I also want you to [stop sinning in this manner?]…” Rather than “you did this, you hurt me, you you you…condemnation and guilt heaping up. I want you to feel shame.” (Books have been written on this subject, might I recommend Peacemaker?). Christ’s heart is to restore this one in a spirit of gentleness (Galatians 6:1-4).
Luke 17:3 Let it stop here if it is resolved. It is finished. Move on. Still “feeling” emotional? Pray. Find some Psalms to help. Sing. Hope. Remember your own sins and how Christ has accepted you (Romans 15) while yet a sinner (Romans 5:8).
If he does not listen, take two or three. How do you choose these?
Faithful brethren. People who love Jesus more than you. Turn to 2 Timothy 2:21-22; these are the people we need in our lives, they are the people we turn to to go with us. Is this person one who will keep you back from sinfully reacting? From being quick to anger? From exaggerating your side of the story? Remember the friends of the prodigal sons? Those ‘friends’ seem to have your back. But they don’t!
18:18, whatever you bind…same language as chapter sixteen. Jesus is giving the church means to protect its purity–teaching in chapter 16, and discipline here in chapter 18.
18:19 after the first two attempts, the matter is to be brought to the church, and therefore under the authority of the elders, excommunication is a last resort. If the elders are unable to minister to this person and bring about restoration, then that brother or sister in Christ is loosed (what ever you loose, says Jesus…). They are not to keep hurting the church; and they are excommunicated from the fellowship in the hopes of restoration. But it is part of God’s plan. (2 Thess 3:14f; 2 Cor. 2:1-11; there are other examples in the other epistles as well).
Peter’s Next Brilliant Question
Matthew 18:21-35 How many times, to what extent must I forgive? This passage does not address whether we will trust the person again, and enjoy a flourishing friendship with them. But, we learn here that we must forgive as Christ forgave us (Colossians 3:13-14).
How often? Peter, are you going to keep a tally? Will you keep a tally for each relationship? In your pocket?!!! Time for a parable… Who are we in this parable? Can you understand the depth of your own depravity, and the just recompense your sins deserve, and the greatness of His mercy that you received instead? Bask in that mercy, let it wash over you before you ask such a question! Forgive from your heart–a heart made new by the Gospel, a heart filled with His love, a heart that loves what God loves.
For further study: James 5:19; Galatians 6:1-4; Jude 1:23 The passage in Matthew spoke directly to us about a brother or sister in Christ whose sin was against us personally (so not the breaking of law, not a sin against others). However, these epistles speak of sins that are not necessarily against you; here the Spirit clarifies that we reprove those who sin against us, or a brother or sister that we know to be in sin against himself or others. Eitherway–we do not gossip, vent, or ignore; we go face to face, we help, we love, we talk, we walk alongside, we share truth, we share the gospel over and over and over in one another’s lives.