Matthew 18

Thursday Evening Bible Study

February 8, 2007

:1-5 Humility

:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"

This might sound like a question straight out of the blue, but Mark gives us a little background as to why they are asking this question:

(Mark 9:33-37 NKJV) Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, "What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?" {34} But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. {35} And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all." {36} Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, {37} "Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me."

They wanted to know who was the greatest because they had been arguing among themselves about who was the greatest.

 :2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them,

little childpaidion – a young child, a little boy, a little girl; refers exclusively to a “little child” (diminutive of “pais”, “child” – take the word “child” and make it “smaller”)

Do you find it as amazing as I do that the little child came to Jesus?

That tells me something about the personality and character of Jesus.  He must not have been too threatening of a person for a little child to come up to Him.

sethistemi – to cause or make to stand, to place, put, set

The child is old enough to be “called” to, and old enough to stand up.

:3 and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.

convertedstrepho – to turn around

Jesus is telling them they need to “turn around” in their attitude.

I think sometimes we read this and think that Jesus is telling us to start acting like children, but remember the context. The context is all about “who is the greatest”, and Jesus is going to be teaching them about humility.

Jesus isn’t asking us to start acting like children, except in the area of humility.

:4 "Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

What does it mean to be humble like a little child?

Context – the question is all about who is the “greatest”, and Jesus responds by putting a child in front of them.

Put yourself in this situation. The disciples are standing around in a group arguing over who is the greatest. When a child is put into the mix and the question is asked, “who is the greatest?” who is the least likely person in the group to be called the “greatest”?

The child.
The guys want to be the greatest. Jesus encourages them to be more like the one who would be considered “the least” in the crowd.  Mark tells us of a situation when little children were brought to Jesus, how the disciples tried to chase away the kids (Mark 10:13-16).
To be the smallest.
To be the least important.
To be the simplest.

:5 "Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.

I think that a church’s true test of spirituality should not be in whether every one speaks in tongues, or whether or not people raise their hands during the music, but in how they treat the children in the church.

I get a little upset on Sundays after the services when I see kids getting ignored by adults or when adults seem to get upset at the presence of kids playing with each other.

I think if we took this verse seriously, we would never have trouble filling positions in the Children’s Ministry.


A number of years ago, a Scottish pastor stood before his congregation and resigned, saying, “In the past two years, I have seen only one conversion in this congregation: wee Bobby Moffatt. With such little fruit, I can no longer serve in this ministry.” And he walked away from the pulpit a broken man. Little did he know that wee Bobby Moffatt grew up to be Robert Moffatt, the missionary who opened the entire continent of Africa to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I wonder if we don’t have our eyes on the wrong things sometimes.  We look for great numbers of people to fill our class.  We look for distinguished people to join our church.

Jesus is looking for one child.

:6-11 Offenders Punished

:6 "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.

to sinskandalizo – to put a stumbling block or impediment in the way, to entice to sin; to cause a person to begin to distrust and desert one whom he ought to trust and obey

depthpelagos – the sea; the high sea, the deep (where ships sail); two different words for “sea” are used, literally the “sea of the sea”, drowned out in the part of the ocean where the ships sail. For the ancients, this was one of the great unknown places.

millstone – two words are used here in the Greek, it is literally, “millstone of a donkey”.  The typical millstone was used by women to grind wheat to bake their bread.  This describes a heavier “commercial” millstone, one requiring a donkey to turn it.  Think “jumbo millstone”.

This was an actual form of punishment used by the ancient Syrians, Romans, Macedonians, and Greeks. It was inflicted on the worst class of criminals, especially on parricides (one who murders his or her mother, father, or near relative).

Jesus is still holding the little child.

Don’t mess with children.

I’ve heard plenty of stories of people who have abused children, and one of the consequences of a child being abused can be a lack of trust in God. The child wonders, “Where was God when this was happening to me?”

People have tried for years to take God out of the schools.  A warning for them.

Don’t mess with God’s kids

Remember, Jesus said we ought to be like little children.  This could apply to those who would cause a believer to go astray.

:7 "Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes!

You better pray that you don’t become one of those people who cause others to stumble.

God is going to take care of people who mess with children, not just with physical abuse, but people who make a child walk away from God.

:8 "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire.

Jesus transitions from talking about hurting children, to a more general topic of being sure you don’t sin.

:9 "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.


Stop sinning.

The point is not about mutilating yourself. We knew of a fellow who took this verse literally and cut off both of his hands. I don’t think that’s the point here.
The point is to simply do whatever it takes to stop sinning.
“But wait,” you say. “I thought I was saved by faith and not by works. Jesus makes it sound as if we need to work at not sinning to stay out of hell”
We are saved by faith. Paul writes,
(Eph 2:8-10 NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, {9} not of works, lest anyone should boast.
But then Paul goes on to say:
{10} For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

Our salvation is based on what Jesus has done for us. We receive salvation by simply trusting in Jesus.

But if we are saved, God is going to want to make some changes in our lives. He has things for us to do. He has things He doesn’t want us doing.

And He doesn’t want us to be caught in sin.

Does this mean that as a Christian I will never sin?
(1 John 2:1-2 NLT) My dear children, I am writing this to you so that you will not sin. But if you do sin, there is someone to plead for you before the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who pleases God completely. {2} He is the sacrifice for our sins. He takes away not only our sins but the sins of all the world.
But if I am living a lifestyle where I never change, where I am continuing to repeat the same sins over and over and over again without any desire to change – then I ought to be concerned.

And I ought to do whatever it takes to stop.

:10 "Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

despisekataphroneo (“against” + “to think”) – to despise, disdain, think little or nothing of

Don’t think this way about kids.

their angels – this is where we get the concept of a “guardian angel”. The verse seems to indicate that children have angels who watch over them and who report directly to God in heaven. God will take care of that person who hurts children.

:11 "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

I wonder if Jesus is talking specifically here about lost children, children who have been offended (vs. 6).

:12-14 Lost Sheep

:12 "What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?

:13 "And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray.

:14 "Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

little ones – It seems that Jesus is still holding the little child.

Jesus has transitioned from not offending children, to saving the lost and how important it is to God that lost ones are saved.

:15-20 Honesty

:15 "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.

Moreoverde – but, moreover, and – this is called a “conjunctive” in the Greek.  That means that it is supposed to connect with the previous section.

We usually look at this next section as a template of what to do with Christians who aren’t walking with the Lord – church discipline.

But in reality, it’s connected with the previous section, going after the lost sheep. The shepherd goes after the lost sheep, a brother goes after his backslidden brother. The point of this passage isn’t so much as how to punish a brother who sins, as it is about how to bring a brother back.

againsteis – into, unto, to, towards, for, among

Some of the Greek manuscripts don’t have this word, but the King James and New King James does. It would seem that the sin might not have to be “against” you for you to confront a person. Perhaps the idea is simply that of dealing with a problem when you are aware of it.

faultelegcho – to convict, refute, confute; generally with a suggestion of shame of the person convicted; by conviction to bring to the light, to expose; to find fault with, correct

This is a pretty strong word.


Bring them back

I think that we often look at this passage as the path of “how to get rid of people I don’t like in the church”
But the goal is not to justify separating from people, the goal is to bring people back to the Lord.
We often look at this passage and think that our attitude must be one of stern looks and harsh words – that we need to “rebuke” people. But look at what the Bible says:
(Gal 6:1 NKJV) Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

Notice the “spirit of gentleness”. You also need to be careful and realize that you too could just as easily fall into sin – you are no different than the other person is.

(2 Tim 2:24-26 NKJV) And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, {25} in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, {26} and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.

Notice the words “gentle”, “patient”, and “humility”. We need to remember that Satan is the enemy, not the person you’re confronting.



Jesus said the first step in bringing a person back was to go to them on your own, alone.
Yet often what we do is talk to everyone else about the problem before we talk to the person who is sinning.
The Bible says,
(1 Pet 4:8 NKJV) And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins."

Just as Noah’s sons Shem and Japheth loved their father enough to cover him up with a blanket when he was acting foolishly, we ought to be careful to give the other person the dignity of keeping their problem in confidence, at least initially.

:16 "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'

Sometimes they won’t listen if it’s just you talking to them. They might listen if there’s a small group of people confronting them.  People familiar with addiction call this an “intervention”.

:17 "And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.

Jesus’ point is not to rush towards kicking people out of the church. This is a last resort.  There still needs to be an even greater confrontation at church.

But there may be times when a person has to be removed from the fellowship of the church.  In church terms this is called “excommunication”.

The Corinthian church had a fellow in the church with a serious sin problem:

(1 Cor 5:1-2 NKJV) It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles; that a man has his father's wife! {2} And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he who has done this deed might be taken away from among you.

They had taken their understanding of “grace” too far. They were rather proud of themselves for having such a person in their church. Paul encourages them to remove the fellow from the church.
(1 Cor 5:6 NKJV) Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
The issue is not about a person who is struggling with their sin. The issue is with a person who is involved in sin and won’t do anything about it.
That kind of attitude is contagious and needs to be dealt with.

:18 "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

:19 "Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.

:20 "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."


Agreeing prayer

We often use these verses to teach on the value of praying with people and agreeing in prayer.
But the specific value here seems to be aimed at rescuing those who are caught in sin.
Context:  “two or three are gathered …” – Jesus just said,
(Mat 18:16 NKJV) "But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.'
I think we ought to take more time agreeing in prayer for lost sheep to be found.

:21-35 Forgiveness

:21 Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?"

I would imagine that Peter thought he was doing pretty good, suggesting that he would forgive someone up to seven times.

Actually, this is probably four or five times more than most of us would forgive others.

:22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

seventy times seven

Some look at this as a literal number, 490.

Some look at this as simply a huge number – you can never reach the limit of forgiveness.

This number has some interesting ties.

Seventy – the number of nations the world is divided into after the flood of Noah (Gen. 10) Perhaps this could be an allusion to the forgiveness God has for the entire world.
Seventy times seven – Daniel had a prophecy about “seventy weeks”, or, seventy times seven.
(Dan 9:24 NKJV) "Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy.

This was a prophecy that would give the specific date of the Messiah’s arrival, the One who is teaching the disciples about forgiveness.

:23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.

:24 "And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents.

ten thousandmurioi (“myriad”) – innumerable, countless; ten thousand

talents – a measure of weight, anywhere from 75 to 200 pounds.  This might be a weight of gold or of silver.

Some suggest this could be something on the order of 10 million dollars.  But keep in mind, the word (murioi) means “innumerable”

:25 "But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made.

:26 "The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'

beforeproskuneo – to kiss the hand to (towards) one, in token of reverence; among the Orientals, esp. the Persians, to fall upon the knees and touch the ground with the forehead as an expression of profound reverence

KJV has “worshipped”, NAS has “prostrated”

patiencemakrothumeo – to be of a long spirit, not to lose heart; to be patient in bearing the offenses and injuries of others; to be mild and slow in avenging; to be longsuffering, slow to anger, slow to punish

This is the word used to describe God’s patience towards us:

(2 Pet 3:9 NKJV)  The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.

This is also the word used to describe part of the fruit of the Spirit:

(Gal 5:22-23 NKJV)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, {23} gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

This is one of the words used to describe the love we are to have for one another:

(1 Cor 13:4 NKJV)  Love suffers long and is kind…

:27 "Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt.

moved with compassionsplagchnizomai – to be moved as to one’s bowels, hence to be moved with compassion, have compassion (for the bowels were thought to be the seat of love and pity)

releasedapoluo – to set free; to let go free, to release a debtor, i.e. not to press one’s claim against him, to remit his debt

forgaveaphiemi – to send away; to let go, give up a debt, forgive, to remit


Letting it go

The core idea of forgiveness is letting it go.  The debt is no longer binding.
If you have done something to hurt me, you owe me something.  You owe me a debt.
Every time I remember you and think of what you’ve done to me, I think about how you “owe” me.
But when I forgive you, I am letting the debt go.  You no longer owe me anything.
This is what God does for us.
(1 John 1:9 NKJV)  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive (aphiemi) us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

God is “just” to forgive us because He has already paid the debt that is owed for our sins.  He paid the debt when His Son died on the cross for us.

(Mat 26:28 KJV)  For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission (aphiemi) of sins.

When we confess our sins, like this debtor did to his master, God will forgive.

This is what we’re supposed to do for one another.
(John 13:34 NKJV)  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
(Mat 6:14-15 NKJV)  "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. {15} "But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
(Eph 4:32 NKJV)  And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
Some people have a hard time letting it go.
Amid divorce, house divided -- literally
From the news recently – January 20, 2007
Both parties refuse to leave home; judge orders drywall partition to keep feuding spouses apart.
Nahal Toosi / Associated Press
NEW YORK—Like two Cold War adversaries, Chana and Simon Taub are separated by a wall built down the middle of their home to keep the bickering spouses apart.
Neither one wanted to move out of their beloved Brooklyn house, and so—in one of the strangest divorce battles the city has ever seen—a white drywall partition was erected a few weeks ago on orders from a judge.
The divorce case, which has been staggering through the courts for nearly two years, has been dubbed Brooklyn’s “War of the Roses,” after the 1989 movie starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner as a battling couple.
It’s not as if the Taubs have no place else to go. For one thing, they own a place two doors down.
“It’s my house. And emotionally, in my age, I want to be in my house!” says Simon, 57, who was the one who requested the wall. He calls his wife a gold-digger.
Chana, 57, who claims her husband abused her, says she has as much right to stay as he does, if not more. “I need a house to live in and money to live on!” she says. “I worked very hard, like a horse, like a slave for him.”
The wall divides the living room from the staircase on the bottom floor of the Taubs’ richly decorated, wood-paneled three-story house, whose market value has been put at $923,000 by the city.
She gets the top floor, where the bedrooms are situated, along with the kitchen on the second floor. He gets the living room on the first floor and the dining room on the second floor. So that they don’t run into each other on the second floor, the door between the dining room and the kitchen is barricaded on both sides.
In Charles Bracelen Flood’s book Lee: The Last Years, he tells of a time after the Civil War when Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky woman who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her home. There she cried bitterly that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Union artillery fire. She waited for Lee to condemn the North or at least sympathize with her loss. Lee paused, and then said, “Cut it down, my dear madam, and forget it.”
Forgiving is not about manufacturing a feeling of warmth towards the other person, it’s about making a conscious decision to let it go.
Clara Barton was never known to hold resentment against anyone. One time a friend recalled to her a cruel thing that had happened to her some years previously, but Clara seemed not to remember the incident. “Don’t you remember the wrong that was done you?” the friend asked Clara. She answered calmly, “No, I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

:28 "But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'

hundred denarii – a denarius was equivalent to a day’s wage.  Some say this was about $18, but I think it is a bit more than this.  One hundred days’ wages is a third of a year’s salary.  It’s not a particularly small amount, but compared to the ten thousand talents, it’s nothing.

:29 "So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.'

Compare this with what the first fellow said in verse 26.  The statements are exactly the same.  This third man has said to the second man exactly what the second man had said to his master.

The only difference in the actions is that verse 26 uses proskuneo (worshipped, prostrated), while this verse uses parakaleo

beggedparakaleo – to call to one’s side, call for, summon; to beg, entreat, beseech

:30 "And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt.

:31 "So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done.

:32 "Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me.

:33 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?'

compassion … pityeleeo – to have mercy on; to help one afflicted or seeking aid; to help the afflicted, to bring help to the wretched

:34 "And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him.

torturersbasanistes – one who elicits the truth by the use of the rack

These are the jailers.  In ancient times jailers were allowed to whip or torture debtors in order to get money out of them.  If they couldn’t get them to pay up themselves, they tried to stir up the compassion of friends and relatives to pay up to have the person released.

Unforgiveness only hurts you.


A student writes, “One of my teachers had each one of us bring a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes. For every person we’d refuse to forgive in our life experience, we chose a potato, wrote on it the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag. Some of our bags were quite heavy. We were then told to carry this bag with us everywhere for one week, putting it beside our bed at night, on the car seat when driving, next to our desk at work. The hassle of lugging this around with us made it clear what a weight we were carrying spiritually, and how we had to pay attention to it all the time not to forget and keep leaving it in embarrassing places. Naturally, the condition of the potatoes deteriorated to a nasty slime. This was a great metaphor for the price we pay for keeping our pain and heavy negativity. Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other person, and it clearly is for ourselves.”

:35 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."



We have been forgiven so much, we must learn to forgive as well.
Sometimes we need a few harsh words like this to stir us up to forgive.
Robert C. Tuttle writes, “Some years ago, after a vigorous brotherly and sisterly disagreement, our three children retired only to be aroused at two o’clock in the morning by a terrific thunderstorm. Hearing an unusual noise upstairs I called in to find out what was going on. A little voice answered, “We are all in the closet forgiving each other.””
On February 9, 1960, Adolph Coors III was kidnapped and held for ransom. Seven months later his body was found on a remote hillside. He had been shot to death. Adolph Coors IV, then fifteen years old, lost not only his father but his best friend. For years young Coors hated Joseph Corbett, the man who was sentenced to life for the slaying.
Then in 1975 Ad Coors became a Christian. While he divested himself of his interest in the family beer business, he could not divest himself of the hatred that consumed him. Resentment seethed within him and blighted his growth in faith. He prayed to God for help because he realized how his hatred for Corbett was alienating him from God and other persons. The day came, however, when claiming the Spirit’s presence, Ad Coors visited the maximum security unit of Colorado’s Canon City penitentiary and tried to talk with Corbett. Corbett refused to see him. Coors left a Bible inscribed with this message: I’m here to see you today and I’m sorry that we could not meet. As a Christian I am summoned by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to forgive. I do forgive you, and I ask you to forgive me for the hatred I’ve held in my heart for you.” Later Coors confessed, “I have a love for that man that only Jesus Christ could have put in my heart.”
You may have had someone do something to you that seems impossible to forgive.  You still need to forgive, for your sake.  Start by asking Jesus to help you forgive that person.  Ask Him to move you along to the place where you can forgive them.