The Relationship Between Disciples
Who is the Greatest in the Kingdom? (Matthew 18:1-4; Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-48)
As Jesus and his disciples journeyed to Capernaum from Caesarea, a dispute broke out between the disciples. Jesus didn’t intervene immediately but waited until they arrived at the house in which they would be staying. He asked them what they were arguing about on the road, but none of them were willing to tell Jesus that they were arguing about who would be the greatest in Jesus’ kingdom. But Jesus already knew what the argument was about. The argument was probably triggered by Jesus’ statement in Caesarea that his kingdom would soon be established.
Calling a child to his side, Jesus told his disciples that unless they became like a child, they couldn’t even enter the kingdom of heaven. This statement has been used by many people to make all sorts of points, but there is only one point Jesus is trying to get across. “Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4). The disciples were jockeying for position in the kingdom, but what Jesus values is humility. If a disciple wants to be pleasing to the Lord, he must put himself last and act as the servant of all.
It is not enough to be humble. Jesus points out that his people must be willing to accept those who are humble. To receive a humble follower of Jesus is to receive Jesus himself.
Receiving Others (Mark 9:38-41; Luke 9:49-50)
This point disturbed John because he remembered that they had seen a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name and the disciples had told him to stop because he wasn’t one of the disciples who followed Jesus.
Jesus told them they were wrong for doing so. If they had considered a moment, they would have realized that a person who as able to do a miracle in Jesus’ name would not quickly turn around a work against Jesus (I Corinthians 12:3). A person who wasn’t working against them was working for them (Numbers 11:27-29). The opposite is also true (Matthew 12:30). Thus, there is no middle ground.
When a person treats a follower of Jesus with kindness, even a small kindness as offering him a cup of water to drink, Jesus would take note and that person would be rewarded.
People have a tendency toward exclusiveness. If a person is not apart of the “in” crowd, he is rejected regardless of who he is or what he believes and practices. Such practice is forbidden.
Stumbling Blocks (Matthew 18:5-11; Mark 9:42-50)
Whoever causes a little one to stumble will be in so much trouble, it would be better for the person to have a millstone tied around his neck and be tossed into the sea. We haven’t changed subjects. The little one under consideration is still the humble disciple of Christ. Just as a small deed of kindness to one who appears insignificant will be rewarded, an act of evil toward a humble disciple will be severely punished. The millstone is a large grinding stone turned by an animal to grind out flour.
Offenses, things which cause a person to fall away, are going to happen. However, this doesn’t excuse the person who causes another person to fall away (I Corinthians 11:19)..
The seriousness of Hell is illustrated in hyperbole fashion. A person is better off maimed that spending an eternity in Hell. It is better to prevent being able to sin, even it if causes hardship, than to end up in Hell. Hell is pictured as a place of eternal decay and eternal burning (Isaiah 66:24). The two images are incompatible, but they represent the two ways a dead body is disposed. Hell is the place of the second death (Revelation 20:14).
Mark 9:49-50 is the subject of a huge debate in regards to its meaning. In addition, not all manuscripts have the second half of the verse found in the King James and New King James versions (“and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt”). The idea of salting a sacrifice alludes back to Leviticus 2:13.
Mark 9:49 states that everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is a preservative to keep things from spoiling. Fire is a means of removing what is not wanted. A frequent allegory in the Bible is the refining of child of God through the fires of trials (Isaiah 48:9-10; Ezekiel 22:17-22; Zechariah 13:7-9; I Peter 1:6-9). The purpose of such trials is to remove the unwanted so as to leave the desired behind. Thus, to preserve our lives, everyone is passed through the fires of trials. Though something is lose, it is better gone than to keep it and end up in hell. By such trials we are then preserved.
Salt as a preservative is good, if it is effective. Instead of being a cause for stumbling and falling away in others, we should be seeking the preservation of ourselves and those around us (Galatians 6:1; I Timothy 4:16). This is then why Matthew records Jesus’ warning not to despise the humblest of Christians. The Bible tells us that angels serve God’s people (Psalm 34:7; Hebrews 1:14) and Jesus is warning that as a result God will not miss any mistreatment of even the humblest of his children. Jesus’ purpose is to seek and save the lost.
Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18:12-14)
Jesus then tells a parable illustrating the importance of each person to God. When a sheep is lost, a shepherd is willing to leave his flock to find that one lost sheep. Even though he has ninety-nine safely in his care, that one sheep matters to the shepherd.
God doesn’t want to lose His people (II Peter 3:9; Ezekiel 18:23). We tend to rate people as to who is important and who is not. God sees each person as equally important.
Settling Disagreements (Matthew 18:15-20)
This passage is often applied to situations it was not intended to cover. If two brethren are in a dispute, they need to settle their problem in a way that involves the least number of people. Ideally, two Christians ought to be able to settle their own dispute, but too often disagreements are left to fester (Ephesians 4:26; Matthew 5:25-26). We have to deal with problems without personal hatred (Leviticus 19:17).
Only if an attempt was made to resolve the problem and it proved unsuccessful, then two or three others should be asked to help resolve the problem. The primary purpose of these additional people is to provide witnesses to what is being said. This keeps the dispute from decaying into accusations of what someone did or did not say. It also shows the importance of having hard factual evidence from which to work. Yet even in their role of witness, the goal is to bring about a resolution to the problem.
Only if the first two attempts fail is the matter to be brought before the church to be settled. If the church is unable to bring about a resolution to the dispute then the brother in the wrong is to be withdrawn from.
A major effect of this method for settling problems is that the number of people involved in a dispute is kept to a minimum (James 5:20). This can be seen in the dealing with false teachers in Acts 15.
• Paul and Barnabas tried to correct the problem directly with the false teachers (Acts 15:2).
• When it wasn’t resolved, the church sent them and others (the witnesses) to the church from where these false teachers came (Acts 15:2-3).
• While reporting to the church what was happening in their region, the problem surfaced (Acts 15:4-5)
• It was now matter seen by the church, so it was taken under consideration. The apostles and elders tried the case (Acts 15:6) and the church became in essence the jury (Acts 15:12).
• After all the evidence was weighed, a decision was reached by the apostles, elders, and the whole church (Acts 15:22-29).
In Matthew 18:18-20 Jesus is stating that the church has the authority to uphold the laws of Christ. It is not stating that the church has the right to create its own laws and that God would go along with whatever they decide. The literal reading of the Greek is that “Whatever you bind on earth has been bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth has been loose in heaven.” In other words, when the church follows Christ’s directives, the decisions they make will follow the decisions already established by God.
When two or three are gathered under the authority of Christ (that is, in his name), then Christ would be there with them. The decisions they make will be upheld by God. Again, this is not a blank check to make their own laws. It is the assurance of the king that when his people uphold his laws, the king would back them up with his authority. This, then, is the answer to the age old question, “What right do you have to tell me what I need to do?” When disciples are upholding the laws of their Lord, they have the authority of the Lord behind them.
Forgiving a Personal Wrong (Matthew 18:21-35)
This discussion led to a follow-on question by Peter. Sometimes a matter is settled, but it is then repeated. If a problem keeps resurfacing, how long must you keep forgiving someone who has wronged you? Should it be up to seven times? Peter is actually attempting to be generous because the Talmud, the code of Jewish traditions, states that forgiveness was limited to three times.
Jesus response was seven wasn’t enough, seventy times seven would be better, but the implication is that there is no limit on how often we should forgive someone who has wronged us and has repented. Think about the wrongs we commit against God. Would we want God to say “After the one thousandth sin, you will no longer be forgiven”? If we find that wrong, why should we treat a brother differently?
The parable Jesus gives illustrates that very point. The king represents God. The debt is the result of the sins a man commits. The debt the man owed was a staggering sum. One talent of silver was worth roughly what a common laborer could make in 6,000 days or sixteen and a half years. (If it was a talent of gold, you would have to multiply this by 80). In Jesus day, “The imperial taxes of Judea, Idumea, and Samaria for one year were only 600 talents while Galilee and Perea paid 200 (Josephus, Ant. xi. 4)” [Word Pictures in the New Testament, by A. T. Robertson]. This man was said to owe 10,000 talents. It would take a common laborer 164,384 years to pay off such a debt, which is absolutely impossible and that was the point. When it comes to what an individual owes God for his sins, the sum is so high that it is impossible for a person to pay his debt.
Everything the man owned, including his family and himself, was ordered to be sold to recover a portion of the debt. However, the man fell before the king and beg for a chance to repay his debt. The king was moved with compassion. He didn’t just give the man more time. He dismissed the entire debt.
And yet the king forgave the man of this huge debt. Imagine the wealth of a king who could dismiss such a debt just because he wanted to do so. Such again describes our relationship with God who has dismiss our debt of sin because of the sacrifice of His son.
The man, however, was owed a hundred day’s wages by a fellow servant. It is not a insignificant sum as it would take over three months to pay back the debt even if everything the man made went toward the debt. But compared to what the servant owed the king, it was a paltry amount. Such is the obligations we owe our fellow men when we sin against them. It is not that a wrong we do a fellow man is insignificant, but it is trivial compared to what we owe God for our sins against Him.
Like the servant who owed the king, this servant begged for more time to repay the debt. Instead of having mercy, the first servant through the man into debtor’s prison. There a person is held until family or friends come up with the amount to release the man.
Other servants of the king, grieved at the treatment of this man, went to the king concerning the matter. (Recall Jesus’s words concerning when two or three agree about a matter in Matthew 18:18-20.) The king was enraged by the inequity of this man’s treatment of a fellow servant. If the king could have compassion, could not this man who was owed so much less? The man was delivered to be tortured until the debt was paid – which, of course, would never happen because of the amount owed.
Jesus said the same thing would happen to us if we cannot sincerely forgive our brethren of the wrongs they commit against us. It is a theme Jesus has taught repeatedly (Matthew 6:12,14; Mark 11:26) and is found throughout the Bible (Proverbs 21:13; James 2:13).