Matthew 18

Matthew 18:3

and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

To enter the kingdom of heaven is to enter new life and vice versa. See entry for Matthew 18:8.

Matthew 18:6

but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

(a) Whoever causes. Jesus is talking about religious-types who preach dead works and cause Christians to have doubts about the grace of God (e.g., the Judaizers). An example would be the Jews from the circumcision group who caused Peter withdrew from the Gentiles and come under condemnation. Thankfully, Paul was able to bring Peter back. “I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (Gal. 2:11).

(b) Little ones. A believer. Someone who depends on the Lord like a helpless child (see Matt. 18:3–4).

(c) Stumble or offend.

(d) Millstone. Tying weights to people’s necks and drowning them was something the Romans did in special cases of infamy. Jesus is basically saying, “Because the business of saving lives is such a serious business, whoever sidelines an ambassador of mine does incalculable harm.”

Further reading: “The one about the millstone and the sea

Matthew 18:7

“Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!

(a) Woe is an expression of grief, not judgment; see entry for Matt. 23:13.

(b) Stumbling blocks. Those who hinder people from coming to the Savior.

The world is lost and in need of salvation, and God uses his little ones (see previous verse) to reveal the Savior. Those who cause Christ’s ambassadors to stay silent, are hindering people from being saved.

Matthew 18:8

“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.

(a) Cut it off; see entry for Matt. 5:30.

(b) Enter life. Two kinds of life are described in the Bible; the psuche– or soul life we inherited from Adam and the everlasting zoe– or spirit life that comes from God (John 5:26). It’s the second kind of life that is described here. See entry for New Life.

(c) Eternal fire; see entry for “fire is not quenched” in Mark 9:44.

Matthew 18:9

“If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.

(a) Pluck it out; see entry for Matt. 5:30.

(b) Enter life; see previous verse.

(c) Fiery hell; see entry for Matt. 5:22.

Matthew 18:10

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

(a) Little ones. A believer. Someone who depends on the Lord like a helpless child (see Matt. 18:3–4).

(b) My Father; see entry for Matthew 5:16.

Matthew 18:11

[“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]

(a) The Son of Man; see entry for Matt. 8:20.

(b) Lost. Through the prophets God had promised that he would search for his lost sheep and bring back the strays (Eze. 34:11, 16). To be lost to someone is to be valued. The lost sheep belongs to the shepherd (Luke 15:4), the lost coin belongs to the woman (Luke 15:8), and the lost son belongs to the father (Luke 15:24).

Matthew 18:12

“What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?

(a) Astray. In Luke’s account of this parable, the stray sheep is “lost” (Luke 15:3–7). The sheep is lost because it belongs to the shepherd. In the same way, all who are lost belong to the Father. He made them. He ransomed them. He does not want any to perish but desires all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Pet. 3:9).

(b) The ninety-nine who aren’t lost could be referring to believers (in which case the lost sheep is a straying Christian). But the context suggests the ninety-nine are the self-righteous (e.g., the Pharisees and scribes) who saw themselves as righteous and not sinners (Matt. 9:11–13). In reality, we are all lost and in need of saving (Is. 53:6).

Matthew 18:13

“If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.

(a) Finds it. Because the shepherd values his lost sheep, he searches for it. Because God so loved you, he sent his Son to save you.

(b) Rejoices. In Luke’s account the happy shepherd calls his friends and his neighbors to rejoice with him. In context, these words were directed to the grumbling Pharisees and scribes who were disgusted that Jesus was dining with sinners (Luke 15:1–2). “Come and join the party.”

Matthew 18:14

“So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.

(a) Your Father; see entry for Matthew 5:16.

(b) Little ones. A believer. Someone who depends on the Lord like a helpless child (see Matt. 18:3–4).

(c) Perish. God does not want anyone to perish but desires all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Pet. 3:9).

Matthew 18:15

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

(a) If your brother sins. In the church, our default position is to be fervent in our love for one another, “because love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8). But that does not mean turning a blind eye to sinful and destructive behavior. Our brothers and sisters will sin from time to time. So will we. Jesus tells us how to act when that happens.

(b) Show him his fault in private. Since love covers a multitude of sins, our default response is to always protect and cover those who have lost their way. Do unto them what you would want done to yourself. Expose the fault. If he listens, deal with it and be done with it.

Sadly, this does not always happen in practice. When some sin is committed a whistle-blower alerts the leaders and the sinner is called out in public. Maybe the pastor drops a few hints in their sermon that they are aware of some ongoing issue. The sinner feels guilty, confesses, and is brought up the front to repent in public. Their humiliation is meant to serve as a warning to others. It’s the modern equivalent of the scarlet letter, and Jesus is encouraging no such thing here. Church discipline ought to be gentle and restorative, rather than confrontational and punitive.

(c) You have won your brother. Real love speaks out (Pro. 27:5). If you deal with the issue in a sensitive and caring manner, they will love you for looking out for them.

Matthew 18:16

“But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.”

(a) If he does not listen to you, don’t run to the church leaders or write letters to your denominational board. Be discrete. Get his friends involved. Convince him that this is a real issue that needs to be addressed before he hurts himself.

(b) Two or three witnesses will be more convincing; see Deu. 19:15.

Matthew 18:17

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

(a) Tell it to the church. If he refuses to repent, take steps to protect the community from the consequences of his sinful action. Don’t normalize or validate his destructive behavior.

The Corinthians famously did not do this. One of their number was engaged in sexual immorality and instead of confronting the man some in the church boasted of their tolerance (1 Cor. 5:1–2, 6). Paul was horrified. “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough?” (1 Cor. 5:6).

(b) Church; see entry for Matt. 16:18.

(c) Gentile and a tax collector. If he refuses to listen to the church, his heart is obviously not with you. Don’t hate the guy. Just treat him as you would treat any other sinner. Love him, pray for him, but don’t put him on the worship team or give him any sort of platform. In extreme examples, you may have to ask him to leave (1 Cor. 5:2).

See also the entry for Discipline.

Matthew 18:19

“Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven.

(a) My Father; see entry for Matthew 5:16.

(b) It shall be done. The God Jesus revealed is a listening and responsive Father (Matt. 6:8, 7:11, Luke 11:13, John 15:16, 16:23, 26). He hears your prayers and knows your needs even before you ask him (Matt 6:8).

Matthew 18:21

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

(a) My brother. The context is a Christian brother or sister sinning against you (see Matt. 18:15). In Luke’s account, repentance is listed as a condition for forgiveness (Luke 17:3). But here in Matthew, we are exhorted to forgive sinning brothers or sisters unconditionally (see next verse).

(b) Forgive. To forgive means to send away or dismiss. It is a deliberate letting go or dismissal of a debt, sin, or transgression. See entry for Forgiveness.

(c) Up to seven times? Peter is well-meaning, but his seemingly generous offer smacks of self-righteousness.

To be self-righteous is to place confidence in one’s goodness or moral performance. “I can forgive anything.” It’s seeking rules to be measured by. “I can do it seven times!” It’s justifying oneself by making comparisons with others. “The rabbis say we should forgive three times, but I can do more!”

Self-righteousness is taking pride in your ability to keep the rules. It’s saying, as the Israelites did at the foot of Mt. Sinai, “Just tell us what to do and we’ll do it” (Ex. 19:8).

It is the nature of the flesh to be self-righteous, to judge ourselves as good and decent, especially in comparison with others. Peter was no better or worse than any of us. He just had the misfortune of getting his self-righteous boasts recorded in the Bible. “Even if all others reject you, Lord, I never will” (Matt. 26:33). God bless Peter for his brash mouth because he got Jesus talking, and what Jesus said next is good news for self-righteous promise-breakers like Peter, the Israelites, and the rest of us.

Matthew 18:22

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

(a) Up to seventy times seven. “Seven times!” Jesus snorts. “Try seventy times seven.” In other words, be extravagant with your forgiveness. Forgive as Christ forgave you – without hesitation, reservation, or qualification (Col. 3:13).

Prior to the cross, Jesus preached conditional forgiveness to people living under the old covenant. “If you forgive, God will forgive” (Matt. 6:14, Mark 11:25). However, as the messenger of the new covenant, he also demonstrated and proclaimed unconditional forgiveness (Matt. 9:2, 18:27, Luke 7:42, 47, 11:4, 23:34).

(b) Seventy times seven is the same large number that Lamech used when speaking of how much protection he believed God would give him (Gen 4:24).

Matthew 18:27

“And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.

(a) Forgave him the debt. Jesus told this story to show us that God freely forgives us on account of grace and without any regard for our behavior (Eph. 1:7). Jesus died for us while we were sinners, and he forgave us while we were sinners (Col. 2:13). Before you repented, confessed, or did anything, the Lamb of God carried away all your sins – past, present, and future. See entry for Luke 23:34.

(b) Forgave. The God Jesus revealed is a merciful, gracious and forgiving Father (Matt. 6:14, Luke 6:36, 7:47, 15:22, 23:34, John 1:14). See entry for Forgiveness.

Matthew 18:33

‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’

Mercy is one facet of God’s grace (Heb. 4:16). Mercy is how grace appears to the needy.

Just as we are saved by grace (Eph. 2:5), we are saved by mercy (Tit. 3:5). Just as we are forgiven by grace (Eph. 1:7), we are forgiven by mercy (Matt. 18:33, Luke 1:77-78, Heb. 8:12). See entry for Mercy.

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