my youth there was a boxer named Muhammad Ali. He was an excellent boxer,
probably the best of his time. But his time is gone; where he once proclaimed
“I am the greatest!” he is now old and feeble, his brain damaged by his
boxing. God humbles the proud. As we shall see, His instructions to His
children are quite different.
is the Greatest?
that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in
the kingdom of heaven?" And He called a child to Himself and set him
before them, and said, "Truly I say to you, unless
you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of
heaven. "Whoever then humbles himself as
this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. "And whoever receives one such child in My name receives
Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones
who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy
millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. "Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For
it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom
the stumbling block comes! "If your hand or
your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better
for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and
be cast into the eternal fire. "If your eye
causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you
to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery
hell. "See that you do not despise one of
these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see
the face of My Father who is in heaven. ["For
the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.] "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and
one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains
and go and search for the one that is straying? "If
it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more
than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. "So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these
little ones perish.
(Mat 18:1-14 NASB)
should remember that this takes place just after Christ’s instruction to Peter
on how to pay his taxes. The disciples took this as a sign of Christ favoring
Peter, and therefore desire to know who will be the big shots in the kingdom of God.
reply is startling to them: he takes a child, an infant, places him before the
disciples and tells them they must be converted (“turned around”) to be like
the little child. It is an object lesson; every time they see a child, they
should see the kingdom of heaven.
in the Kingdom
is not the age of the child to which Christ refers, but the characteristics of
The child has done no wrong, and the innocence of babes is always before
that day, the social position of the child was the lowest possible,
teaching us that the kingdom treasures the humble.
An infant has complete trust in his parents, as we should have for our
Father in heaven.
of mind. As we often find out, what the child is thinking is what the
child is saying. Much humor is thereby created; this too is an aid to
the example of humility in the kingdom is Christ Himself. To those outside the
kingdom He is the Judge; to those inside, the one who humbled Himself for our
salvation. What you see is often determined by how you look.
to make the point clear, the humble are always to be welcomed in the church and
treated with affection. Christ goes so far as to say that if you do so for one
of these little children, you do it for Him.
must not be thought that the Christian is promised a path strewn with rose
petals before an adoring church. On the contrary, “stumbling blocks” are
inevitable. Sin, pain and death are inevitable; even Christ was tempted; He
was in pain and died on the Cross. So it’s going to happen.
sometimes gives rise to the idea that, after all, the more sin there is, the
more God’s grace abounds, so let’s all give Him something more to forgive!
It is absurd. So it is that the sin of putting a stumbling block in front of
someone else is sin also, no matter how cleverly disguised.
if this is done to ensnare the little children – whether children in age or in
age as a Christian – this offends Christ Himself. The rule of thumb therefore
is to give offense to no one, but always forgive offense given to you. The
younger heart should have no offense, lest it become a stumbling block; the
mature heart should take no offense.
have said that the stumbling blocks of life are inevitable, but we should not
be the ones providing the masonry. Indeed, we are to get rid of whatever
stands between us and Christ – and if he would have you pluck out your eye, how
much more does this apply to friends who are stumbling blocks to us?
me an obvious example: approximately one of every four pregnancies in the US today ends with an abortion.
Yet the evangelical church, as a whole, has almost dropped its opposition.
Perhaps we need to remember that the angels of these little ones are before the
face of God.
have seen the offence; we must now deal with the offender.
"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if
he listens to you, you have won your brother. "But if he does not listen to you, take one or two
more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE
CONFIRMED. "If he refuses to listen to
them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church,
let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. "Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall
have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been
loosed in heaven. "Again I say to you, that
if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done
for them by My Father who is in heaven. "For
where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their
(Mat 18:15-20 NASB)
must be noted: this is not a section of suggestion or technique but of
command. The offended are not permitted to do nothing about it.
is a command: forgive.
is a command: correct your brother’s fault
is a command: seek help in correcting your brother’s fault
is a command: take it to the church if need be.
it not a sin to refuse the Lord’s commands? So why do we fail to do these
things? Reconciliation is costly – to the reconciler. As Christ demonstrated
at the Cross.
be clear about this: church discipline is not about your pain, but your
brother’s fault. If you approach your brother to complain of the damage he has
done, you miss the mark. You are to approach him about his sin, not the damage
it caused you. And you are to do this in private; why?
preserve his sense of shame. You do not want to tempt him into killing
keep him from being pressured into making a public defense of his sin.
You are trying to make it easy for him to repent, not justify himself.
preserve the reputation of the church. It’s better to clean your laundry
before hanging it out on the line.
ensure that correcting the sinner is an act of love, not an act of
or three witnesses
that first trip didn’t do it, get some help. Don’t bear the burden alone, but
ask the church to come along side and help. Bring a couple of witnesses with
as we see here, to establish the facts. There should be no doubt about
because this helps prevent revenge. If the one offended is you, rejection
of your reconciliation tempts to revenge. Let cooler heads prevail.
so that the church knows you have done your part correctly, seeking to
return the sinner in reconciliation. You may need some correction too!
so that the offender might experience some social pressure designed to
if that doesn’t work?
it to the church
the hardest part of church discipline occurs at this stage. It’s certainly not
very common! Why would you tell the church?
so that the person does not continue to pretend to be a Christian while
to make the matter “official.” So that there will be no doubt as to what
the church teaches – as the world is watching.
people, more social pressure.
so that the reputation of the church does not suffer from harboring a
hypocrite and looking the other way.
if to encourage this, Christ tells us not to worry about our missteps in this –
He tells us that the matter will be the same in heaven as we have it on earth.
This is not a promise that anything the church does, no matter how stupid or
sinful, will be ratified; rather, it is His promise that the Spirit will guide
each of these steps to the right result.
that may explain why we don’t use church discipline so much these days.
Perhaps we’re afraid where it will lead.
Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against
me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus *said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to
seventy times seven. "For this reason the
kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with
his slaves. "When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him
ten thousand talents was brought to him. "But
since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his
wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. "So the slave fell to
the ground and prostrated himself before
him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released
him and forgave him the debt. "But that
slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred
denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' "So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him,
saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' "But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison
until he should pay back what was owed. "So
when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came
and reported to their lord all that had happened. "Then summoning him, his lord *said to him, 'You wicked
slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 'Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in
the same way that I had mercy on you?' "And
his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should
repay all that was owed him. "My heavenly
Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his
brother from your heart."
(Mat 18:21-35 NASB)
responds to Christ’s teaching as he has been taught from youth; there must be a
rule and regulation for this. Presuming it is in the limits of forgiveness, he
asks, how many times? Peter is generous, by the standard of the time. The interpretation
of the law was that three times constituted the limit.
is one of a series of objections raised to the concept of forgiveness. “How
many times” is a human concept; the limitless is a divine one. Humans are
willing to pardon the repentant (sometimes) but are not willing to pardon the
We think it’s permissible to stop forgiving; we think it optional in dealing
with those who will not repent.
we find one of the great uses of the parable. Our questions are finite; the
methods of God are not. Instead of giving them times and limits, he tells them
a little story.
Kingdom of Heaven
interpretation is, I am sure, both familiar and easy. The overwhelming mercy
of God dwarfs whatever forgiveness we might be obliged to embrace. But even in
this we may learn something; consider the slave’s demeanor. In the face of
the Lord, he is on the ground begging for forgiveness. But to his fellow slave
he is haughty and arrogant. Do you not see that failure to forgive is a form of
I point out to you some lessons which may not have appeared at first reading?
this failure to forgive after such forgiveness “deeply grieved” his fellow
slaves. Hypocrisy should be offensive.
the slaves reported this to their lord. Do we take such things to the
Lord in prayer?
lord reacts with anger. What would you expect? Is it not righteous
anger? Why, then, would we trifle with God’s anger?
reaction is the correct one to such injustice. What do we do about
injustice we see in our time?
last: when the servant was repentant, his lord forgave. When he was not, his
master called him wicked. The result?
the first offense, here on earth, the slave was forgiven. Even if he had
not been, he could have expected the prison. In short, this trip through
the punishment for sins is light, and forgiveness is readily available.
where he could have been sold, along with his family, the second time he
was handed over to the torturers.
earth, forgiveness if you forgive. In hell, no hope of forgiveness, only
endless torment. Today is the day, now is the hour.