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Bible Commentaries
Matthew 18

The Fourfold GospelFourfold Gospel

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Verses 1-14

(Capernaum, Autumn, A. D. 29.)
aMATT. XVIII. 1-14; bMARK IX. 33-50; cLUKE IX. 46-50.

c46 And there arose a reasoning among them, which of them was the greatest. b33 And he came to Capernaum: c47 But when Jesus saw the reasoning of their heart, band when he was in the house [probably Simon Peter’s house] he asked them, What were ye reasoning on the way? 34 But they held their peace: for they had disputed one with another on the way, who was the greatest. [The Lord with his disciples was now on his way back to Galilee from Cæsarea Philippi, where, some ten days before, he had promised the keys of the kingdom to Peter, and where he had honored Peter and the sons of Zebedee by a mysterious withdrawal into the mount. These facts, therefore, no doubt started the dispute as to which should hold the highest office in the kingdom. The fires of envy thus set burning were not easily quenched. We find them bursting forth again from time to time down to the very verge of Christ’s exit from the world-- Matthew 20:20-24, Luke 22:24.] 35 And he sat down, and called the twelve, and he said unto them, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all. [The spirit which proudly seeks to be first in place thereby consents to make itself last in character, for it reverses the graces of the soul, turning love into envy, humility into pride, generosity into selfishness, etc.] a1 In that hour came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven? [Not comprehending our Lord’s answer and wishing to have him definitely point out the honored person, they now come asking this question. Had Jesus wished to teach the primacy of Peter, no better opportunity [430] could have been found.] 2 And he called to him a little child b36 And he took a child, cand set him by his side, band set him in the midst of them: and taking him in his arms, he said unto them, aVerily I say unto you, Except ye turn, and become as little children, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. [Jesus told them plainly that they must turn from their sin of personal ambition or they could not be his disciples--part of his kingdom--and he pointed them to a little child as the model in this particular, because the humble spirit in which the child looks up to its parents stood out in sharp contrast with their self-seeking, self-exalting ambition.] 5 And b37 Whosoever shall receive one of such little children {cthis little child} in my name, receiveth me: and whosoever shall receive {breceiveth} me, receiveth not me, but creceiveth him that sent me: for he that is least among you all, the same is great. [Greatness does not consist in place. Disciples who receive those of a childlike spirit and disposition that they may thereby honor the name of Christ are honored of Christ as the greatest. The words "in my name" probably suggested to John the incident which follows.] 49 And John answered and said, Master, bTeacher, we saw one casting out demons in thy name; and we forbade him, cbecause he followeth {bfollowed} cnot with us. [Was not one of our immediate company. This man’s actions had excited the jealousy of John. Jealousy as to official prerogative is very common. His zeal for Jesus reminds us of the friends of Moses ( Numbers 11:27-29). But Jesus shows that one who knows enough of him to use his power is not apt to dishonor him.] 50 But Jesus said unto him, bForbid him not: for there is no man who shall do a mighty work in my name, and be able quickly to speak evil of me. 40 For he that is not against us is for us. cfor he that is not against [431] you is for you. [The converse of this statement is found at Matthew 12:30. The two statements taken together declare the impossibility of neutrality. If a man is in no sense against Christ, then he is for him; and if he is not for Christ, he is against him.] b41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink, because ye are Christ’s, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward. [Jesus here returns to the discussion of greatness, and reasserts the doctrine that the smallest act of righteousness, if performed for the sake of the King, shall be honored in the kingdom. For comment, see Isaiah 66:24, and refers to those worms which feed upon the carcasses of men. The fire and worm can hardly be taken literally, for the two figures are incompatible--worms do not frequent fires. The two figures depict hell as a state of decay which is never completed and of burning which does not consume. Some regard the worm as a symbol of the gnawings of remorse, and the fire as a symbol of actual punishment.] 49 For every one shall be salted with fire. [At this point many ancient authorities add, "and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt."] 50 Salt is good: but if the salt have lost its saltness, wherewith will ye season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace one with another. [We have here one of the most difficult passages in the Bible. If the word "fire" were found in an isolated text it might be taken as a symbol either of purification or of punishment. But the context here determines its meaning, for it has just been taken twice as a symbol of punishment. Salt is a symbol of that which preserves from decay. Now, Jesus has just been talking about the future state, with its two conditions or states [433] of bliss and punishment. In both of these states the souls of men are salted or preserved. Every one of the wicked is preserved by a negative or false salt--a worm which feeds but does not die, and a fire which consumes but refuses to go out. Though this state is a condition of life, it is such a negative and false condition that it is elsewhere termed a second death. It is therefore rightly called a "salted" or preserved condition, yet it contradicts the symbolic idea of saltness. As we understand it, the difficulty of the passage lies in this contradictory sense in which the term "salt" is used--a contradiction in which the term "eternal life" also shares, for eternal life is the constant contrast to life in hell, though that life also is spoken of as eternal. The true Christian--the man who offers his body as "a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God"--is preserved by the true salt or element of preservation, which is a divinely begotten life of righteousness within him. This is the good state of preservation which a man is counseled to obtain, and not to lose, since it will not be restored to him. The passage summarizes and contrasts the two states of future preservation, one being the salt of eternal life which preserves a man to enjoy the love of God in heaven, and the other being the salt of fire which preserves him in hell to endure the just punishment of God. The "every one" in Mark 9:49 refers to the sufferers mentioned in Mark 9:48.] a10 See that ye despise not one of these little ones: for I say unto you, that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven. [Jesus here resumes his warning against that pride which exalts itself and despises the humble; disclosing the fact that the ministration of angels is not only general but special, certain angels being entrusted with the care of certain individuals, and all of them supplementing their own wisdom and power by direct access to the presence of God.] 12 How think ye? if any man have a hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and go unto the mountains, and seek that which is goeth astray? 13 And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, [434] he rejoiceth over it more than over the ninety and nine which have not gone astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. [Those who have led highly moral lives have a tendency to despise those who have been defiled by gross sin. This truth is abundantly illustrated by the conduct of the Pharisees, but that such little ones should not be despised Jesus speaks this warning parable. Though the sheep in the fold and the one that is lost have, as individuals, the same intrinsic value, yet this even balance of value is somewhat modified by the sentiments and emotions incident to loss and recovery. Moreover, the anxiety and trouble caused by the sheep’s wandering do not depreciate but rather enhance the value of that sheep, because the heart of the Shepherd is so replete with goodness that the misbehavior of the sheep prompts him to feel pity and compassion, rather than to cherish resentment and revenge. Sin does not add to a man’s intrinsic value in God’s sight--nay, it detracts from it; but it excites in the heart of God pity, compassion, and other tender emotions which make it extremely dangerous for those who hinder his reformation and imperil his soul by despising him.]

[FFG 430-435]

Verses 15-35

(Autumn, A. D. 29.)
aMATT. XVIII. 15-35.

a15 And if thy brother sin against thee, go, show him his fault between thee and him alone: if he hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. [Having warned against giving offense, Jesus now shows how to act when offense is received. The fault is to be pointed out to the offender, but for the purpose of gaining him--not from a desire to humiliate him. The offended is to seek the offender, [435] and the offender is likewise to seek the offended ( Matthew 15:23, Matthew 15:24), and neither is to wait for the other.] 16 But if he hear thee not, take with thee one or two more, that at the mouth of two witnesses or three every word may be established. [Reconciliation is still to be sought, but witnesses are now to be called in preparatory to the next step, which is the hearing before the church, wherein their testimony will be needed.] 17 And if he refuse to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he refuse to hear the church also, let him be unto thee as the gentile and the publican. [As the Saviour was giving preparatory instruction, he was compelled to thus speak of the church by anticipation before it actually existed. The word "church" means assembly, and the apostles knew that there would be some form of assembly in the kingdom about to be set up. When Matthew wrote his Gospel, churches were already in existence. One who will not hear the church is to be regarded as an outsider. This implies that such a one is to be excluded from the church.] 18 Verily I say unto you, What things soever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and what things soever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. [The binding and loosing here mentioned is limited by the context or the subject of which Jesus now treats. Binding represents exclusion from membership; loosing, the restoration to fellowship in cases of repentance. The church’s act in thus binding or loosing will be recognized in heaven if performed according to apostolic precept or precedent. Hence it is a most august and fearful prerogative.] 19 Again I say unto you, that if two of you shall agree on earth as touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. [These two verses illustrate the sublime power of the church which has just been suggested by its right of excommunication. A small church of two or three can prevail with God in prayer [436] (in matters not wholly at variance with his will) and can be honored by the very presence of the Christ.] 21 Then came Peter and said to him, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? until seven times? [Peter, seeing that the language of Jesus called for large forbearance, asked the Lord to fix the bounds. If we accept the Talmud as probably representing the ideals of forgiveness which pertained among the Jews of that age, we find that Peter was striving to be liberal, for the Talmud limits forgiveness to three times.] 22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven. [Jesus here plays upon the words so as to show that there is no numerical limitation. To keep track of four hundred ninety offenses one would have to open a set of books with his neighbor, which would be ridiculous. Forgiveness, prayer, and charity know no arithmetic. Peter’s question brings to mind the forgiveness of God and calls forth the following parable.] 23 Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened unto a certain king, who would make a reckoning with his servants. 24 And when he had begun to reckon, one was brought unto him, that owed him ten thousand talents. [Assuming that the silver talent is meant ($1,600), the debt was $16,000,000, which would render the debtor hopeless enough. If it was a gold talent, it would be nearly twenty times as much. 25 But forasmuch as he had not wherewith to pay, his lord commanded him to be sold, and his wife, and children, and all that he had, and payment to be made. [The law of Moses allowed such a sale-- Leviticus 25:39-47, 2 Kings 4:1.] 26 The servant therefore fell down, and worshipped him, saying, Lord, have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. 27 And the lord of that servant, being moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. [Seeing the man’s apparent willingness to pay, and knowing the hopelessness of his offer to do so, the lord compassionately forbore to sell him and forgave him the whole debt.] 28 But that [437] servant went out, and found one of his fellow-servants, who owed him an hundred shillings [The denarius or shilling was worth about seventeen cents. The debt was, therefore, about $100]: and he laid hold on him, and took him by the throat, saying, Pay me that thou owest. [This frenzy to collect might have been somewhat pardonable had the lord still been demanding his debt, but, that debt being forgiven, such harsh conduct was inexcusable.] 29 So his fellow-servant fell down and besought him, saying, Have patience with me, and I will pay thee. [Compare this conduct with that depicted in 2 Peter 2:20-22.]

[FFG 435-439]

Bibliographical Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on Matthew 18". "The Fourfold Gospel". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tfg/matthew-18.html. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.
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