Matthew 18 – Forgiveness and Love

The disciples came to Jesus with a question that who among them would be the greatest in heaven? Jesus responded by placing a little child among them.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 18:3-4

It feels weird that Jesus would want us to become like a child again but what He does want is to become dependent on our heavenly Father, just like how children are dependent on their earthly parents for everything. The disciples’ question has a tinge of pride and Jesus’s response clearly states that we have to humble ourselves and take a lowly position like that of a child and not let pride (for wanting recognition from our fellow beings) breed in us.

And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Matthew 18:5

Causing to Stumble

If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Matthew 18:6

Jesus’s words seem harsh sometimes but the above verse just shows how important it is to not be a cause of becoming a stumbling block to others in coming closer to God. Jesus specifically mentions little ones, those who are new to faith, it is very easy for us to divert them into unnecessary customs and traditions, which might become a stumbling block for them and then we will be the ones responsible for their failure. We give way to satan when we become that stumbling block and as a result, we and the ‘little ones’ move away from God, giving into the clutches of the evil one.

Further, Jesus also says that it is better to cut away any body part like hands, feet or eyes that causes us to stumble and it is better to enter His kingdom without these than rot in eternal fire with our body part intact. Jesus does not want physical harm to fall on us but is highlighting the importance of living a sinless life to enter His kingdom.

The Parable of the Wandering Sheep

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.

Matthew 18:10

Jesus is very clear in telling us to not despise the ‘little ones’ or the ones new to knowing God. We who already know Him are to guide them forward towards His love and not despise them. Heavenly Father takes care of them through His angels or even more, His Holy Spirit, who is in constant union with the Father.

Jesus goes on to tell His disciples how important every ‘sheep’ is to Him and how happy He is when he gets back the one sheep that had wandered away. Through the ‘little ones’ and the ‘sheep’, Jesus is highlighting how important everyone is to Him and that He is in constant control and is taking care of them.

Dealing With Sin in the Church

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

Matthew 18:15-16

The above portion seems a little confusing, is Jesus asking us to point out someone’s fault, to judge or condemn them? No, when we know that someone in the church is drawing away people from God, we are to tell them discreetly but if they do not listen, we can bring one or two more people and if they still don’t, we can involve the church. If they still refuse to listen, we are to cut ties with them, as we also saw in the above portions, how important it is to be in constant communion with God.

“Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

Matthew 18:19-20

The above portion is a commonly misunderstood portion, we tend to miss out the context and think that Jesus will only be in our midst if there are two or three people gathered. It is important for us to understand these verses in the given context where someone who is working against God in the church is asked to correct their ways and if they refuse even in the presence of more than one witness, then Jesus says that He is present there in support of them. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians uses these verses quite aptly in their scenario.

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5:12-13

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Matthew 18:21

Peter asked Jesus a question on forgiveness and the way he said “up to seven times” seems like he had already forgiven them many times but they still continued. He might have expected a favourable response from Jesus, much like we do but Jesus’s response was different.

… I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

Matthew 18:22

Jesus’s response to Peter’s question reflected His love which we do not realise or rather forget very conveniently. We would have certainly been forgiven more than seventy-seven times by God yet when we read the above verse we might think that it is a large number and how is it possible. Jesus expects us to become like Him in everything, He came into this world and proved it to us that it is not impossible if we do it with God’s help.

Jesus goes on to explain forgiveness through a parable, where there is a king who is settling accounts with his servants. A servant owed ten thousand bags of gold (which in converting would be around six billion dollars, an unimaginable amount) was brought to the king and when he couldn’t pay, he and his family were ordered to be sold off to pay the debt.

When the servant begged, the master took pity on him and let him go. But this servant, when he went out, found his fellow servant who owed him a hundred coins, and demanded that he pay him back. His fellow servant begged him, just like he had begged his master but unlike his master, he did not forgive his fellow servant and ordered him to be punished. When the master heard of this ordeal, he called his servant and reminded him of how he was forgiven such a big debt, yet he could not show even a little mercy to his fellow servant.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

Matthew 18:35

The above verse clearly states that forgiveness is important but what is more important is to forgive from our hearts. We often miss out the second part and dwell on it. We also tend to forget our huge debt that God forgave us by sending His Son. We have been forgiven an unimaginable amount by God, yet we do not show even a part of that to our fellow beings.

Let us remember how we are loved and forgiven and how important we are to Him.

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