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Matthew 18

Old & New Testament Restoration CommentaryRestoration Commentary

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Verses 1-14

Mat 18:1-14

Section XIII.
Closing Scenes in Galilee, Matthew 17:24 to Matthew 18:35

About Who shall be Greatest, Matthew 18:1-9.
Mark 9:33-37; Luke 9:46-50)
J.W. McGarvey

1. Who is the greatest.—The form in which Matthew quotes the question of the disciples, would leave it uncertain whether they meant which person, or what character, would be greatest in the kingdom; but from a reference to the same question made by Luke (Luke 22:24), we learn that the former was their meaning. In his answer Jesus takes the question in the other sense, and tells them the character which would be greatest.

2-4. Except ye be converted.—Except ye be turned. (See note on Matthew 13:15.) The expression has reference, not to turning from sin in general, but to turning from the particular sin of personal ambition which had exposed itself in their question. The little child was placed in their midst, and made their model in this particular because of its well known freedom from this passion. The humblest shall be the greatest because they will live the most unselfishly and be the most like Jesus.

5. one such little child.—The term "such" is not used to distinguish this particular child from others; for all little children are alike in the particular referred to, and this was indicated in the preceding words, "become as little children; "but "such" is used to limit the term child to the character who has become like a little child. The remark, then, has no reference to receiving little children, but to receiving those who have become like little children in their freedom from personal ambition. In the next verse the same character is designated as "one of these little ones that believe in me."

6. whoso shall offend.—Whether we render the original (σκανδαλιζω) offend, or ensnare, the thought is practically the same. Contentions as to who shall be greatest always give offense, and at the same time, by exciting evil passions, they ensnare the persons engaged in them. Jesus desired that his disciples should see this tendency of their discussion, and to show how fearful the final result would be to the offender, he assures them that it were better for such to have a millstone hung about his neck, and to be cast into the sea. It were better, because his actual fate will be worse than that. (Comp. 8, 9.)

7. Woe unto the world.—By a natural transition Jesus here passes from the particular cause of offense under consideration, to offenses in general. "It must needs be that offenses come," not because it is the will of God that they should come, but because the depravity of men makes them inevitable. For this reason he adds, "Woe to the man by whom the offense cometh." No man should look for the day when there will be no offenses but each should see to it that he is not the cause of them.

8. if thy hand or thy foot.—The hand and the foot in this verse, and the eye in the next, are used as symbols of those desires by which a man is caused to offend, or is ensnared. As the original term (σκανδαλζω) has in it both the idea of ensnaring so as to cause a fall, and of offending as a result of the ensnaring, Jesus uses it in this connection sometimes with the one idea more prominent, and sometimes with the other. The former is the prominent idea here. We are taught that it is better to deny ourselves all the gratification which the indulgence of those desires would give, even if the denial should be as painful as the loss of a limb or an eye, than to suffer the consequences of indulgence.

8, 9. everlasting fire... hell fire.—These two expressions are here unquestionably used as equivalents. Being cast into hell fire, or everlasting fire, is made the alternative of entering into life. The life referred to can not be physical life, nor spiritual life, for the disciples had already entered into both of these; it must, then, be eternal life, and the alternative, being cast into hell fire, must mean, being consigned to eternal punishment. Par better to undergo all conceivable self-denial and suffering in this life, than to be cast into that fire.

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven - Matthew 18:1-9

Open It

1. Who is the greatest person you know?

2. Why is our culture so competitive—obsessed with the best and the greatest?

3. What is your favorite childhood memory?

4. What do you miss most about being a little kid?

5. What advice would you give to a thousand third graders?

Explore It

6. What question did the disciples ask Jesus? (Matthew 18:1)

7. What did Christ do to illustrate His answer to the disciples’ question? (Matthew 18:2)

8. What did Jesus say one had to be like in order to enter the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 18:3)

9. How did Jesus finally answer the question that had been put to Him? (Matthew 18:4)

10. What quality makes for true greatness? (Matthew 18:4)

11. Why did Jesus say a person’s treatment of children was significant? (Matthew 18:5)

12. What advice did Jesus give to those who would cause a young follower of Christ to sin? (Matthew 18:6)

13. What "woes" did Jesus pronounce in this situation? (Matthew 18:7)

14. What comment did Jesus make that suggests the inevitability of sin in this world? (Matthew 18:7)

15. What radical figures of speech did Christ use to show the severity of sin? How? (Matthew 18:8-9)

16. What are the consequences of sin? (Matthew 18:8-9)

Get It

17. What is it about children that Christ wants us to emulate?

18. What charming qualities do children possess?

19. How does age and maturity cause us to lose our innocence and sense of humility?

20. What danger is there for us if we influence children in a negative way?

21. In what ways are you still like a child (in a good sense)?

22. What prevents us from being more childlike in our faith?

23. In what ways can you be more childlike?

Apply It

24. What can you do today to humble yourself?

25. To what children in your life will you demonstrate the love and acceptance of Christ this week?

26. What habits or actions do you need to abolish this week because of their negative influence on children?

Against Despising a Disciple, Matthew 18:10-14

10. that ye despise not.—To despise (καταφρονω) is not to hate, but to regard with contempt. We are not likely to so regard any but those who have Binned or who are supposed to have sinned, and the reference, as the context below more clearly shows (Matthew 18:12-14), is to such disciples.

their angels.—This expression shows that the "little ones" in question have angels which are in some sense theirs. All the angels are "ministering spirits sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation;" but this general ministration is effected by a ministration for particular individuals. "Their angels," then, are the angels especially charged with ministering to them individually. The fact stated of these angels is that "they do always behold the face of the Father in heaven"—a fact which shows the efficiency of their guardianship, seeing that in addition to their own power they have access to the helping power of God. The fact that these weak disciples have such angels to watch over them, makes it exceedingly preposterous that we should despise them.

11. For the Son of man.—Here is another good reason for not despising an erring disciple; but it is omitted from the text by the critics. It was doubtless copied from Luke 19:10, where it is genuine.

12-14. Even so.—This parable illustrates and enforces the lesson in hand. As it is not the will of the shepherd that one stray sheep should perish, even so it is not the will of God that an erring disciple shall perish. And now, if the shepherd does not despise the foolish sheep, and leave it to perish because it has gone astray, and if God does not despise the erring disciple, why should we despise him? On the one hand, the disciple is of much more value than a sheep, and, on the other, God against whom he has sinned could much more properly despise him than we who are so much like him.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep - Matthew 18:10-14

Open It

1. How does it feel to be lost and have no idea where you are?

2. To what lengths would you go to recover: a lost piece of jewelry? a missing pocketbook or wallet? an important misplaced document? a winning lottery ticket? your missing child?

3. What do you believe about angels?

Explore It

4. How does God protect children? (Matthew 18:10)

5. Who is especially important to God? Why? (Matthew 18:10)

6. What command about children did Jesus give the disciples? (Matthew 18:10)

7. What kind of guardians did Jesus suggest children have? (Matthew 18:10)

8. To whom do angels have constant access? (Matthew 18:10)

9. What kind of pastoral imagery did Jesus use to illustrate His point about the value of a soul? (Matthew 18:12)

10. How did Jesus say the owner of one hundred sheep would react if just one of his sheep wandered off? (Matthew 18:12)

11. According to Jesus, how would the owner of a lost sheep react upon finding his lost sheep? (Matthew 18:13)

12. How did Jesus compare sheep to the way God views lost children? (Matthew 18:14)

13. How did Jesus describe God? Why? (Matthew 18:14)

Get It

14. How would you convince a skeptic that children have guardian angels?

15. Why is it important for us to teach our children about God from the time they are very little?

16. Why do you think children are more receptive than adults to spiritual truth?

17. How does it change your image of God to see Him described as a caring shepherd who searches frantically for one lost individual?

18. How does it change your image of God to see Him described as a compassionate Father who doesn’t want to see even one person lost?

19. What does God’s concern for each and every individual say to you about the way you treat certain people?

20. How do you feel knowing that God is more concerned about finding a lost person than punishing him or her?

Apply It

21. What "lost sheep" can you search for and try to round up this week by demonstrating the love and acceptance of Christ?

22. To whom do you need to show more sensitivity and attentiveness this week?

23. How can you become a better role model for a young person today?

Verses 15-35

Mat 18:15-35

How to Deal with an Offending Brother, Matthew 18:15-20
J.W. McGarvey

15. trespass against thee.—The word rendered trespass (ἁμαρτση) means to sin; and the clause should be rendered, "if thy brother sin against thee." In the former part of the discourse Jesus had warned the disciples against giving offense, or in any way mistreating a brother; now he tells them how to proceed when a brother sins against them.

go and tell him his fault.—More correctly rendered "go and (ἔλεγζον ατον) rebuke him. The character of the rebuke is indicated by the object of it, which is to gain the brother. He is supposed to have committed that sin which is described above (Matthew 18:6) as being worse than to have a millstone about the neck, and to be cast into the sea; and he is therefore lost, for the time at least, to duty and to friendship: the object of the rebuke is to win him back to both. Observe, too, that it is not, as men are inclined to have it, the offender, but the offended who must go. True, it is elsewhere made the duty of an offender, when he remembers that his brother has aught against him, to go and be reconciled to his brother (Matthew 5:23-24); but according to the teaching of the present paragraph, the offended is not to wait for this. The offender has fallen into sin, and without help he may never recover from it. You, who have not sinned, but have only been sinned against, have an opportunity to Have him, and you may thus be like the shepherd of the preceding paragraph—you may avoid the sin of despising an erring disciple. It is well also to observe that the time, place and circumstances of going to the offending brother are not specified, but must, like the matter and manner of the rebuke, be chosen with reference to the one purpose of gaining the brother. Go at a time, and select a place, and seek for other surroundings, which are moat favorable to success in your effort.

16. one or two more.—The one or two more are to be taken primarily for the same purpose with which you at first went alone—the purpose of gaining the brother. This is implied in the scope of the context. But secondarily, in case of a failure, the one or two may serve as witnesses of all that passed between the parties.

17. tell it to the church.—Only when both of the preceding steps shall have been taken and found ineffectual, is the sin to be reported to the Church. Then, as is implied in the words "if he shall neglect to hear the Church," the Church is to speak. But a church can speak only through her spokesmen, her officials appointed for the purpose; consequently, the action of the Church’s disciplinary officers is here implied.

This rule of procedure is given only for cases of personal offense, where one individual has sinned against another. We are to learn from other portions of the New Testament how to deal with offenses of other kinds.

The Church is here spoken of before it had an actual existence, because the Savior was giving preparatory instruction and was compelled, as in many other instances, to speak by anticipation. The disciples, at the time, had but an imperfect conception of the Church, but they knew that worshiping assemblies of some kind would be established in the coming kingdom, and to these they necessarily referred the word church, which means an assembly.

as a heathen man and a publican.—Not as a heathen and a publican was to the unbelieving Jew, but as such characters are to a Christian. In other words, when a man who has sinned against his brother refuses to hear the Church, he is to be treated as we properly treat heathen men and publicans, or men of wicked habits. We have known persons to express a doubt whether this implies an exclusion of the sinning party from the fellowship of the Church; but to deny that it does would involve a great absurdity. It would require the offended party to live in the Church with a man whom he justly treats as though he were a heathen and a publican; and it would require the Church to hold in her fellowship men who are rightly so treated by her own members. Surely if heathen men and impenitent publicans are to be kept out of the Church, disciples who deserve to be treated by their brethren as heathen and publicans, must be cut off from the Church.

18. Whatsoever ye shall bind.—The binding and loosing of this verse must be limited by the subject of the context, which is the proper treatment of offenders. Binding is the infliction of the penalty of non-fellowship, while loosing is withholding it or removing it in cases of penitence. The promise is that whatsoever the apostles should thus bind or loose would be bound or loosed in heaven; and it follows, that whatsoever the Church now binds and looses in accordance with apostolic precept and precedent is also bound and loosed in heaven. It is from this promise that the act of excommunication derives its peculiar solemnity and its fearful effects.

19. if two of you.—The promise here made is necessarily limited, like all other promises of the kind, by the well understood condition that the thing for which we ask shall be in accordance with the will of God. (See note on Matthew 7:7-8.)

20. there am I.—This statement confirms the promise that the prayers of any two of them would be answered, and at the same time it gives us the comforting assurance of the Savior’s presence whenever we meet in his name.

A Brother Who Sins Against You - Matthew 18:15-20

Open It

1. What are some typical approaches people adopt in conflicts or disagreements?

2. What is the greatest "miracle answer to prayer" you’ve ever experienced?

3. What societal forces work to divide families, friendships, and churches?

4. What is it like to be in the middle of a church split?

Explore It

5. What situation was Jesus addressing in this context? (Matthew 18:15)

6. What did Jesus set forth as the first step in resolving conflict? (Matthew 18:15)

7. What positive consequences can result from resolving conflict? (Matthew 18:15)

8. What should we do if a person will not listen to correction and does not want to work things out? (Matthew 18:16)

9. What Old Testament principle is in view here? (Matthew 18:16)

10. What did Jesus say to do if a person doing wrong won’t listen to correction? (Matthew 18:17)

11. What extreme measures should be used if a wrongdoer turns a deaf ear to all pleas to reconcile? (Matthew 18:17)

12. How can Christians and/or churches be certain they have authority to exercise discipline? (Matthew 18:18)

13. What assurance did Jesus give His disciples about answered prayer? (Matthew 18:19)

14. What special promise did Jesus make to groups that gather in His name? (Matthew 18:20)

Get It

15. Why is it best to resolve conflicts in private?

16. What attitudes can eliminate or help reduce friction in disagreements?

17. How can a third party help resolve a conflict?

18. When should we air our grievances in public?

19. How can gossip cause our conflicts to escalate?

20. How can your church play a role in difficult or very serious quarrels?

21. If Christ is with us always (Matthew 28:20), in what unique way is He with us when we gather in His name?

22. Why is praying in a group a good idea?

Apply It

23. What biblical principles can you practice today so as to avoid conflicts with others?

24. To what relationships or in what specific ways do you need to apply today’s passage?

25. What seemingly hopeless situation will you begin praying for today?

The Duty of Forgiveness, Matthew 18:21-35

21. Lord, how oft.—Peter saw clearly that the rules just given would require on our part a large amount or forbearance and forgiveness, and he naturally inquired how many times he should forgive a brother who would sin against him. He seems to have thought that seven times would be often enough. It is highly probable, though by no means certain, that this number had been suggested by some of the Jewish teachers of tradition.

22. seventy times seven.—This is a play on the word seven in Peter’s question, and means that there is to be no numerical limitation of the forgiveness enjoined.

23. unto a certain king.—In the comparison which now follows, the kingdom of heaven, as the context shows, is contemplated with regard to the duty of forgiveness, and it is like the king only in this respect, that the administration of its affairs is, in the particular under consideration, analogous to the king’s administration in the given case.

24. ten thousand talents.—As a Jewish talent was equal to about $1600 of our American coin, ten thousand talents were equal to $16,000,000. This enormous amount is given in the parable in order to represent the debtor as in a hopeless condition.

25. to be sold.—The law of Moses tolerated the selling of men for debt. (Leviticus 25:39; Leviticus 25:47; 2 Kings 4:1.) It seems from Matthew 18:30 that in the Savior’s time imprisonment was also employed, and the latter penalty for insolvency has been continued among the most enlightened nations until a very recent date. It is only within the present century that it has been abolished in the various States of our own Union.

26, 27. I will pay thee all.—Of course it was impossible for the poor man to pay such a debt, but the promise indicated a right purpose and a strong will, and excited the compassion of the king to such a degree that he forgave him the entire debt.

28. a hundred pence.—The coin here mentioned is the Roman denarius, which was equal to fifteen cents of our money. The fellow-servant’s debt, then, was only fifteen dollars.

took him by the throat.—The description is very graphic. The debtor, rendered timid by his inability to pay, bears patiently every abuse, while the greedy creditor first lays hands on him as if to shake the money out of him, and then seizes him by the throat as if to choke it out of him, all the time knowing that the poor fellow had no money, yet all the time exclaiming, "Pay me that thou owest."

29, 30. into prison.—To be cast into prison was a more hopeless and painful fate than to be sold into slavery; so that the creditor inflicted a severer punishment on his fellow-servant for the sake of fifteen dollars, than his own master had threatened to inflict on him for the sake of sixteen millions; and he did this while listening to the same humble entreaties by which he had excited his master’s compassion.

31. when his fellow-servants.—The fellow-servants acted a very natural part; for no matter how much we are inclined to deal harshly with men ourselves, we are always indignant, when, as disinterested witnesses, we behold such conduct in others.

32, 33. Shouldest thou not also.—While the man was dealing with his fellow-servant, he was forgetful of the king’s kindness to him under similar circumstances, or he remembered it only to congratulate himself on his good fortune. He is now reminded of his base ingratitude, and of his obligation to do as he would be done by.

34. to the tormentors.—The king was now in a rage, as well he might be. He recalls his past forgiveness of the debt, and commands, not as formerly, that the man and his family shall be sold, but that he shall be tormented until payment is made. This was equivalent to tormenting him to death; for it was impossible at best for the man to procure so much money, and especially when confined in the hands of the tormentors.

35. So likewise.—The comparison has reference only to the last act of the king, that of delivering the unforgiving servant to the tormentors. The heavenly Father will so deliver all disciples who do not from their hearts forgive their offending brethren. This is the chief lesson of the parable; but in order to reach this lesson the Savior had depicted to his hearers, by the conduct of the king and that of the unforgiving servant, God’s forbearance toward us and our severity toward one another. Our sins against God, for which we can make no reparation, and which are freely forgiven us, are like the ten thousand talents, while the sins committed against us, which we are so unwilling to forgive, are like the fifteen dollars. This is a truthful representation of human habits, and at the same time a cutting satire on Peter’s idea of forgiveness.

We are not to infer, from the fact that the king retracted the forgiveness first granted, that God will do so with us. Our sins, once forgiven, are remembered no more. (Hebrews 8:12.) This, then, is not a significant part of the parable, but it is introduced because it is what a heathen king under such circumstances would be likely to do, and Jesus paints the picture true to life. It is nevertheless true, that if a man, once delivered from sin, turn back to it again, his condition is made worse than if his former sins had not been forgiven. (2 Peter 2:20-22.)

Argument of Section 13

In this section there is not the usual amount of argument for the claims of Jesus; yet the manner in which he procured money for the temple tribute exhibited both his divine power and his foreknowledge; and the discourse which fills the eighteenth chapter is replete with wisdom suited to his exalted pretensions. Such lessons on the subject of ambition (Matthew 18:1-9); on the subject of sympathy and care for the erring (Matthew 18:10-14); on the right method of dealing with offenders (Matthew 18:15-20); and on the duty of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-35), had never before been taught, nor have subsequent generations been able to discover a defect in them or to suggest an improvement on them. Besides accomplishing the logical purpose of the section, our author has placed these divine lessons on record for the guidance of disciples in all ages. This, indeed, seems to have been the leading object of the section; and eternity alone will be able to reveal the amount of good which will have accrued to the Church from this single discourse of the Great Teacher.

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant - Matthew 18:21-35

Open It

1. What makes forgiveness difficult?

2. What acts of mercy have you seen or heard about recently?

3. What are some situations others have faced that you would find difficult to forgive?

Explore It

4. What question did Peter ask Jesus? (Matthew 18:21)

5. What surprising answer did Jesus give Peter? (Matthew 18:22)

6. How did Jesus illustrate His answer to Peter’s question? (Matthew 18:23)

7. To what did Jesus compare the kingdom of heaven? (Matthew 18:23)

8. In the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant, what did the king want to do? (Matthew 18:23)

9. How was the king prepared to get the large amount of money owed him by a particular servant? (Matthew 18:24-25)

10. What did the indebted servant do? (Matthew 18:26)

11. How did the king graciously respond to the indebted servant’s desperate plea? (Matthew 18:27)

12. What did the servant go do after his debt was cancelled? (Matthew 18:28)

13. How did the second servant respond to the demand for payment? (Matthew 18:29)

14. What effect did the second servant’s pleas have on the first servant? (Matthew 18:30)

15. Who watched with dismay as the first servant refused to have mercy on the second? Why? (Matthew 18:31)

16. How did the onlookers respond when they saw the first servant throw the second in jail? (Matthew 18:31)

17. How did the king react to the news he heard? (Matthew 18:32-34)

18. How did Jesus apply this parable to His followers? (Matthew 18:35)

Get It

19. How likely are we to forgive someone once, twice, or even three times?

20. How likely are people to forgive someone beyond three times?

21. How are we to interpret Jesus’ answer, "seventy-seven times"?

22. Why is an unforgiving spirit so deadly?

23. In what ways has God shown mercy in forgiving our sins?

24. If God is so willing to forgive us, why are we sometimes unwilling to forgive others?

25. How do we sometimes forgive with strings attached?

26. What should we do if we don’t feel like forgiving others?

27. How is it possible for us to forget the wrongs others have done to us?

Apply It

28. What individual(s) do you need to "release from their debts" today?

29. What are some practical ways you can show mercy today to someone who has wronged you?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Matthew 18". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/matthew-18.html.
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