Gospel of Matthew Chapter Eighteen Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Verses 1-4 "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, 'Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' 2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3 and said,'Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.'" Little children often pretend they are grown up, utilizing toy guns, dolls that say, "Mama," and adopting fictitious roles, such as a cowboy or policeman. To be honest, becoming physically mature does not mean we are grown up inside. We take a job or open a business and think, "I'm an adult now," but nothing could be further from the truth. Immature thoughts fill us all, and the truth about humbling ourselves and becoming like children, is to admit who we really are. We meet God, and considering who He is, we see ourselves at last and are humbled by the encounter. Being great in our own eyes becomes irrelevant, for God is the Greatest and His love begins to grow within us.
Verses 5-6: "And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6 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." Romans 13:9 reminds us—"You shall love your neighbor as yourself." It's so easy to love ourselves... even self-hatred is a form of misdirected love, revealing that we love ourselves so much, we believe we deserve more. We become angry at God as we dwell on supposed shortcomings in our bodies and lives. And self-hatred so often manifests itself in treating others badly, which works to damage them and will destroy us. Don't be so hard on yourself or that other person—recognizing that even our flaws and theirs are needs, carefully designed to bring us to Christ. Learn to love that other person just as they are. God is pleased when you do, and your angry sorrow will begin to lessen.
Verses 7-11: "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! 8 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. 9 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. 10 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. 11 (For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.)" These verses are not talking about maiming ourselves physically, though people often do exactly that—"cutting" and related actions such as bulimia and tattooing, can be outward expressions of self-hatred, which makes the statement: "I am in control here, not God; I can do what I want with my body!" As these verses indicate, God is displeased when we scorn Him by harming other people, even when they are "stumbling blocks." It's better to lose something useful, whatever it is, than to hurt them. They are just as important to God as you are, and it's idiocy to do them harm. Look to the Lord, trust in Him, and ask Him for help if you are tempted to hurt someone you are supposed to love.
Verses 12-14: "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? 13 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. 14 So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish." I don't live around sheep, but I do get the idea of these verses. Each one of us is important to God our Shepherd, even when we might feel otherwise. Jesus is expressing a parable here that all need to hear. If you have wandered off and the Great Shepherd seems to have forgotten about You, think again. The reality is that He is God, able to focus utterly on your need, even if you think you are out of His reach. And at the same time, He also is utterly aware of the other ninety-nine... If you feel left behind and forgotten, it's not true—you are just as important as the one who thought he got away. God does not intend for any of us to be apart from His love. He is the Greatest, and through His grace, operative through faith in the Lord, we are His.
Verses 15-17: "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 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. 17 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." This is a very good formula for life: When someone harms you, and it will happen; go to them privately and quietly tell them what has upset you. They might decide to like you because of the gentle honesty which is Christ in you. However, they may not admit guilt or make peace with you, and if so, take a couple of others with you—persons who know both of you, and try again. And if that fails to help, the church is intended to settle disputes, to judge in the power and love of God (1 Corinthians 6:1-3). God's people are to actually live in the light—we are to maintain love, but not hide it's lack. We'll see what is even better in Verses 21-22—God is changing us inside, with the outcome that we can keep on forgiving. But also look to the Lord for discernment, for sometimes peace only comes when we stop associating with the one who harmed us.
Verses 18-20: "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. 19 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. 20 For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.'" Pray about what you feel "right" about. I continue to be fascinated by groups of churches within blocks of each other, meeting separately instead of being together. Issues about baptism, communion, and so much more—we are separated instead of becoming what we are supposed to be. Jesus prayed to the Father about us in John 17, "that they may be one... that the world may believe that You sent Me." The religions of the world tell us that we are to do this or that in order to become religiously acceptable. Jesus did something infinitely more: He died in our place. He did the work—we are to believe and start to love. Simple—but we tend to divide ourselves over secondary issues. If you and I trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are ONE in a way deeper than we or the world understands. God enables us to disagree in love, and likely you and I can both learn something when we LISTEN to each other.
Verses 21-22: "Then Peter came and said to Him, 'Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?' 22 Jesus said to him,'I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.'" As many people do, Peter was trying really hard to discover correct behavior; with the idea that he would find out what it was and then do it! That's what a lot of theology is all about—thinking, speaking and doing things correctly. But God's way of thinking and doing is so much HIGHER than our understanding. Peter must have been shocked by the Lord's answer, as we should be. It's clear—we keep on forgiving! God is in us, enabling us to do what is humanly impossible.
Verses 23-27: "For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24 When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25 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. 26 So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' 27 And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt." You and I owe the Lord everything, and we do not even remotely have the means to repay Him. What has happened is that the Lord Himself paid the debt for us. And if you think about it, to have every bad thought, word and deed forgiven in the sight of God is simply amazing. If you really appreciate what He has done, that is to say, if you love Him for it, and have the faith in Him that He reasonably deserves, you will be changed for the good. The Lord accepts you because He loves you and is changing you for the good. He forgives all our debts—He's the only One who can.
Verses 28-30: "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.' 29 So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.' 30 But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed." This man was not changed by the generosity of his king, as evidenced by the man's treatment of others in opposition to the character, love and forgiveness of His master. John the Apostle got it right when he said in 1 John 4:7, "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God." God's love is a contagious seed of life, growing in us through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But James 2:17 also teaches, "Faith, by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." Abandon yourself to the love of God which is in Christ Jesus—trust in Him. We are not the greatest, but He is—and His love in us wondrously changes you and me.
Verses 31-35: "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.32 Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you? 34 And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 35 My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.'" God has a wonderful, very effective reporting agency. Not only is He the Infinite God who sees and knows all things, but the universe is filled with powerful angelic beings who see everything and report to God. So many recite the Lord's prayer often and yet miss the import of the words, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). God has had mercy upon you and me. It's only reasonable to become merciful to others. Be merciful, just as God has mercy upon you. If you don't, trouble will come—to you. The greatest among us—forgive.
Father, I confess that I fall short of the glory of God. I need Your Mercy, Lord. Please forgive me, and help me extend that mercy to others, even when I feel they don't deserve it. I don't deserve it, either. I love You. In Jesus Name. Amen.