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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 18

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Verses 1-5

Become Like a Child

The Lord speaks in this chapter about two topics that we also find in Matthew 16: the kingdom and the church. This chapter is therefore in line with Matthew 16. Here we learn the practical meaning of the kingdom and of the church.

The Lord has just declared that His disciples are sons of the kingdom (Matthew 17:26-Daniel :). Apparently that is still keeping their minds busy, because they ask Him a question about it. While they are concerned about who is the greatest, the Lord makes it clear that in the kingdom only the small count.

The first characteristic that fits the kingdom is that of a child. Children are weak and incapable of upholding their rights in the face of a world that overlooks them, for whom they do not count. In children we see the spirit of dependence and humility. The Lord calls a child to Himself. The child comes to Him without any fear, and to the men who are with Him. He sees only the Lord. He places the child in the middle of the men. He wants them all to see this child well.

When the child stands there in their midst and they look at him, they hear the voice of their Master Who says they must be converted and become like the children. If they are not converted and become like the children, it is certain that they will not enter the kingdom of heaven. In the absence of their rejected Lord, the spirit that characterizes children is the spirit that fits His followers.

Becoming like a child has, according to the Lord’s judgment, consequences for the position in the kingdom. The great example of humiliation is He Himself. We read about Him that He humbled Himself (Philippians 2:8). He is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. With the child’s example in mind, He tells His disciples that they must all do their best to be the greatest. There can only be one who is the greatest.

It’s like what Paul says about winning a prize in a competition. The prize can only be received by one participant in the competition: the winner. What Paul is trying to do when using that comparison, we hear in his exhortation. He says that everyone must run in such a way that he obtains the prize (1 Corinthians 9:24).

There is more to becoming a child than just a position in the kingdom. The Lord says that whoever receives such a child in His Name receives Him. This means that He identifies Himself with followers who reveal the mind of a child, for that is His mind. He does not stand up for His rights and is not in count. He is dependent and humble.

Verses 6-9

Causes to Stumble

The Lord gives a serious warning to those who shake the faith that “these little ones” have in Him and in God. By “these little ones” not the children are meant, but the followers of Him with the characteristics of children. “A cause to stumble” is anything that can shake their confidence. The seriousness of the punishment makes it clear how close the little ones are to the heart of the Lord Jesus and how far removed from His heart those are who cause such little ones to stumble. To such a terrible person fits a terrible punishment which, as a side effect, makes it impossible for him to commit such a terrible act again.

Then the Lord will pronounce the “woe” to the world in which there will be many stumbling blocks. These stumbling blocks are necessary because they make it clear what there is in the world. The world is here the summary of the evil aimed at causing the little ones to stumble. The man through whom the stumbling block comes is the antichrist, the man of sin. In him the sin of the world is as it were concentrated and his only goal is to lead man away from God. This ‘woe’ is pronounced over the world and over that person. They will not escape their righteous judgment.

The sharp warning with a view to the stumbling blocks is also important for the disciple. He will come into contact with it. He may just be tempted to do something, “your hand”, or go somewhere, “your foot”, because the seducer presents something beautiful to him. A sinful act or a sinful way must be avoided at all costs. Therefore, the disciple must cut off his hand or foot without pardon, that is to say, say a radical ‘no’ to the stumbling block, ‘no’ to the temptation to commit a sinful act or to walk a sinful path, whatever the cost. Saying ‘yes’ will cost infinitely more.

The same goes for the eye. It is vital to keep the eye in check and not to give it the opportunity to look at something that would lead to sin. In Eve’s case, the eye was the stumbling block. The devil pointed out to her the tree from which God had forbidden man to eat. The devil managed to get Eve to look at the tree in his way and to arouse her desire to eat of it. She did not pluck out her eye, but took and ate, with all the terrible consequences of it (Genesis 3:1-Judges :). Therefore, we must remember that the loss of what is most precious to the disciple in this life is nothing compared to the horrors of eternal fire in the other world.

Verses 10-14

Parable of the Lost Sheep

The Lord means here by “these little ones” His disciples and not little children. In Matthew 18:6 and Matthew 18:10 He did not speak of children, but of ‘little ones’. ‘Little’ in this context is not about age or height, but has the meaning of ‘small’ or ‘humble’ and refers to ‘thinking little of oneself’. The angels here are the heavenly beings who permanently represent these little ones before the Father, or bring their existence to the Father’s attention.

What the Lord says here has given rise to the thought that every child has a ‘guardian angel’. It is certainly true that children have the special attention of the Father. It can even be deduced from Matthew 2 that the Lord Himself, as a child, enjoyed the protection of an angel (Matthew 2:13; Matthew 2:19). But enjoying special care does not mean that every child or person has a special angel with them to protect them.

If there is any talk of protection in this section, it is the protection of the Father and not of the angels. The little ones may be despised on earth, but heavenly representatives of these little ones are permanently in the immediate presence of God the Father. From this angels derive the authority of their service. Their service is for the little ones (Hebrews 1:14).

The Lord compares the Father’s care for the little ones with the shepherd’s care for a sheep that has strayed from the flock. With this picture He wants to make clear that in the kingdom there should also be care for each other. Is our concern for those who go astray? Are we looking for them? The shepherd follows the sheep until he has found it. If he has found it, it gives him great joy. He has made effort for this sheep. The other sheep did not need this care.

The Lord concludes His teaching to His disciples about the kingdom and children with the conclusion that their Father Who is in heaven does not want that any of the little ones, the small, those who do not count, to be lost. In that will, disciples must learn to share and commit themselves to bring back those gone astray.

Verses 15-20

Church Discipline

This section of Matthew 18:1-2 Chronicles : deals with a little one and the kingdom. This section of Matthew 18:15-Proverbs : is about a brother and the church. Just like a little one can go astray, a brother can also go astray. Just as a stray little one must be brought back to the herd, a stray brother must be won.

If a brother goes astray by sinning against another brother, the brother against whom he has sinned must reveal the same spirit of gentleness as the Lord supposes in the case of a little one. He should not sit down and wait for the other person to confess his sin. He must go there himself and convince the brother of the wrong he has done and thus win him. He has to go alone. Nobody should know about it. If the brother listens and confesses his sin, the brother is won. Nobody knows about it and never needs to know because it is confessed and therefore gone.

However, it may happen that the brother does not listen. Then he has to take one or two brothers with him and look for the other. Thus there are two or three witnesses to the conversation that then takes place. The intention is that the brother, in the presence of one or two witnesses, will still be convinced of the sin he has committed. If he is convinced and confesses, the brother is also won.

However, if he does not listen, a report must be made to the church. However, it is necessary that the report is made by two or three witnesses, because only then is the report acceptable to the church. According to the report, the brother is visited for the third time, this time by a delegation of the church. If he does not listen to the church either, the case is settled for him against whom sin is committed. For him the brother is no longer a brother, but he is like the Gentile and the tax collector with whom he cannot associate.

It is clear that the church cannot let the matter run its course. Maybe some more attempts can be made to bring the straying brother to repentance. If he persists in his sin despite all the loving efforts to win him, the church has the responsibility and the authority to bind sin to such a person. He must then be regarded as an evil one and remove him from among the church (1 Corinthians 5:13). This very last act of the church seals the fact that any attempt to win the stray brother has failed.

By binding sin to the person, the person is surrendered to the Lord with the prayer that He will yet work repentance. The Lord Jesus also points this out when He then says that the church can also loose, that is, loosening sin from the person. This happens when the person confesses his sin and the church pronounces forgiveness over it and accepts him again in its midst. These acts of discipline by the church of binding and loosing are recognized by heaven. The church must therefore know well that what it does in this respect must have the consent of heaven. She can only convince herself of this if she acts according to the Word.

In order to know for sure whether an act of binding or loosing will be acknowledged in heaven, any act of discipline must be the result of unanimous prayer to the Lord. The whole church must ask the Lord for His will. The Father will make His will known through His Word. Therefore, a church must be able to base a disciplinary action on God’s Word.

It is a disciplinary act of the church and not one of some random believers. All believers belong together. However, it is not just about belonging together, but really being together. The power of prayer and the action of the church do not depend on the number, but on His Name, that is the Name of the Lord Jesus.

It is important to read the Lord’s words about His presence in the middle of the two or three in the context in which they stand. From Matthew 18:15 it is about sin in the church and how to deal with it. After the various steps, sin must be made known to the church.

The church here cannot be the entire church on earth. It must be the local church. For example, the Bible speaks of “the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2). That is, the believers are the church of God there. They also come together as a church (1 Corinthians 11:18; 1 Corinthians 11:20) to celebrate the Lord’s Supper and to encourage and build each other up in the faith (1 Corinthians 14:23; 1 Corinthians 14:26).

There are many privileges attached to the meeting of the church. How important and blessed it is to come together as believers with Christ in the midst, we see with the Lord Himself. After His resurrection from the dead, His first thought, spoken with reverence, is to be with His assembled disciples (Psalms 22:22-Isaiah :; John 20:19-Proverbs :; Hebrews 2:11-2 Kings :).

As said, there are also responsibilities connected to it. One of them we find in this section is the exercise of discipline. The context shows that it is about the church and it is in connection with it that the Lord Jesus speaks about being gathered in His Name. We can conclude from this that the Lord Jesus connects His presence to the church in a special way when she comes together.

Certainly He is always with each of His own. According to His promise He will be that “always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). Here, however, it says that He is in the middle of the two or three that have met in His Name. That’s something else than His nearness that every believer may experience anytime and anywhere – and what a tremendous encouragement that is!

Before the Lord says “I am there in their midst”, He first speaks of being gathered in His Name. He attaches His personal presence to the condition of being gathered in His Name. He talks about the smallest possible number – “two or three” – to be able to be gathered.

He says more. It is not just a meeting of two or three believers. Believers can gather anywhere and for many purposes, but that does not mean that wherever believers meet, this is a gathering of which the Lord says they are ‘gathered together in My name.’ What does it mean to be gathered in the name of the Lord Jesus? It means that those who have come together have all come because they know that this gathering is only about the Lord Jesus. His Name is the center.

To come together in His Name means to give Him full authority in the gathering. He exercises that authority through His Word and through His Spirit. All those who are together there want to acknowledge that. No one who would like to be with the Lord Jesus may be refused. All those who belong to the church and are pure in doctrine and life and reject any connection with evil have access to it. This does not mean that everyone who says he is a believer should be received. In this section we see exactly how there should be care in the case that sin becomes public in the church. Then it is clear that from an unknown person who comes, it must be determined that he is not connected with sins.

An important aspect here is that no one may enter into the Lord’s rights and set their own conditions for those who come. And someone who comes may not demand to be received on the basis of his own conditions. It is both contrary to the spirit of grace and the sense of forgiveness that characterize this whole chapter.

It is also important for the church that this gathering is not governed by its own rules. Everything is in the hands of the Lord and the Word is the unchanging touchstone. When believers come together in this way, aware of their weakness in the practice of coming together, the Lord says that He is in the midst.

Verses 21-22

Question About Forgiveness

After the Lord has spoken of one who has sinned against another (Matthew 18:15), the next section is about the one who has been sinned against, how his attitude and mind should be. The occasion for this teaching is a question from Peter. The Lord’s answer to that question makes it clear that the spirit of forgiveness must characterize us.

Peter makes a proposal himself, which he undoubtedly thinks goes far. Will he forgive his brother up to seven times? The Lord answers that this is totally inadequate. By speaking of “seventy times seven”, He emphasizes that there is no end to forgiveness when it is asked for. Forgiveness should always be in the heart of the Christian (Ephesians 4:32).

Verses 23-35

Parable About Forgiveness

The Lord illustrates with a parable which attitude and mind should characterize the subjects in the kingdom for the sake of forgiveness. He presents the situation that a king is settling his accounts with his slaves. A slave is brought to the king who owes him the enormous sum of ten thousand talents. If we convert this into the euro, we will arrive at a figure of 3 billion euros.

The calculation is as follows. A denarius at that time was the wages of a day laborer (Matthew 20:2). On 1 January 2008, the gross minimum daily wage for a person aged 23 or over was €61.62, which is slightly more than €50.00 net. For the sake of convenience, let’s assume €50.00. A talent is six thousand denarii, which is equivalent to €300,000.00. The slave owed his lord ten thousand talents. That is the equivalent of €3,000,000,000,000.00 or 3 billion euro.

The man can’t afford this. He cannot even make a deposit because he has nothing. In order to still be able to collect some of the debt, his lord orders him to sell him with his wife and children and all that he still has in his possession.

When the slave hears that, he throws himself prostrate before his lord and begs him to be patient with him until he has paid everything. This statement alone proves that the man has no idea how big his debt is and how impossible it is to pay it. If he had indeed wanted to pay his debt, he would have to work 164,383.56 years [€3,000,000,000.00/(365 days*€50.00)] day in, day out, without a rest day and without being able to spend one cent for what he himself would need.

Although the Lord of the slave recognizes his slave’s bluff and knows that his slave will never be able to pay him, he relieves him of all that debt. He does so out of his compassion for the hopeless situation of his slave.

It is extraordinarily disillusioning to see in the next scene how the slave, who has been remitted of an enormous debt, is acting toward a fellow slave who owes him the relatively small sum of a hundred denarii, that is €5,000.00. The mercilessness drips off. It is as if he immediately went looking for that fellow slave who is still a little in debt to him, because he “found” him. The grace shown to him has no effect on him. Instead of telling his fellow slave in the utmost gratitude what has happened, what burden has been taken away from him, he grabs his fellow slave by the throat and demands payment of the debt.

His fellow slave does the same as he did to his lord. The fellow slave falls down and begs him for patience until he would have paid. But this slave does not have that patience, for he has not been impressed by the way in which his lord has acted toward him and by what he himself has been forgiven. It is not about him forgetting it, but it has done absolutely nothing to him. He is not changed by it. This is the greatest ingratitude imaginable. Such ingratitude shows the hardness of heart.

When his fellow slaves see this, they are deeply grieved. They do not understand how this is possible. Instead of taking the law into their own hands, the fellow slaves do the only right thing. They go to explain to their Lord everything that has happened. We should do the same when we notice that there is no sense of mercy in an action. Then we can do nothing better than tell our Lord, with deep grieve in our hearts because of the hardness of a fellow slave.

When the lord hears about it, he has his slave summoned. It is his slave and he can do with this slave what he sees fit. He calls him “wicked slave”. That is what the man made of it himself by his actions. The lord recalled that he had remitted him all that debt because the slave had begged his lord. His lord also tells him that the grace shown to him should have determined his attitude toward his fellow slave.

This is important to us. We have been given great mercy by God Who has forgiven us our sins. We had a debt to God that we were unable to pay. Now that God has forgiven us this guilt, He expects us to show the same mercy to our brothers and sisters.

Such an attitude of ingratitude towards his lord, resulting in no mercy towards his fellow slave, causes anger in the lord of that slave. He hands over his slave to the torturers until he would have paid his debt, as he had said. That means eternal torture, for he will never be able to pay that debt.

The Lord Jesus attaches to the parable the serious lesson that we must forgive our brother from our heart, otherwise our part will be the same as that of the evil slave.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Matthew 18". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/matthew-18.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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