Greetings, friends around the world!
We have been going through the book of Matthew step by step, covering almost every verse and giving you the real meaning of this wonderful book-this introductory book of the New Testament. We have covered this book up through chapter 17. Go get your Bibles, and let's start with chapter 18 of Matthew, verse 1.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
Notice that it does not say "the kingdom in heaven," but rather the "kingdom of heaven." The Bank of Morgan is not Mr. Morgan's piggy bank "in him" as if he swallowed it. It is the Bank of Morgan-controlled by the house of Morgan. That is what the "kingdom of heaven" means. As all the other scriptures show very clearly, it does not mean "in" heaven.
Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children…"
We must have a really humble, childlike and teachable attitude. This is hard for us to do, and it is even harder for young people today than it may have been for some of us at their age. Today's youth are seeing every kind of wild, rotten thing on television-or perhaps via computer or motion pictures. They see people being blown up; they see pictures putting down and making fun of human beings. They see the cheapening of sex, cheapening of the value of human life-anti-authority, anti-God, anti-father and mother messages. They see television skits making fun of the father, making fun of the mother and putting down authority throughout the land. For many people, it is harder than ever to have that childlike attitude today. Satan the Devil is undermining that attitude tremendously. But we need to have that humble, childlike attitude to be in God's Kingdom-we really do. Unless you have that, "you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."
"Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child [a humble, teachable attitude] is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus said: "Learn to be humble, learn to be teachable, open your mind and open your heart to the Truth."
"Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me. [Jesus said, "Help others who are being called by God, who are trying to truly obey God.] 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."
God protects His children-His little ones. He tells us: "Be careful, don't take advantage of them, don't lash out at them, don't put them down too hard. Give them every opportunity to make it."
"Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes! [Who would upset the little ones.] 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. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out…"
The commentaries explain that this was a figure of speech that the Jews sometimes used. Jesus didn't mean that if your eye looks at something evil and you lust after it, you should literally gouge your eye out or take a knife and cut it out. I think we understand that. But whatever is as close to you, as near and dear to you, as your right arm or your right eye-you had better be willing to get rid of it. A wrong relationship with a woman who is not your wife, a wrong relationship with some lodge or club in this world or some group of people who may be heavy into drinking or into drugs-GET RID of such a relationship. "Well, those are my friends," you may say. But, do you want those kinds of friends if they bring you into hell-fire-if they keep you cut off from the great God, and out of His Kingdom? You have to think the whole problem through. Whom do you worship? Whom do you really obey?
"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."
The Greek word is Gehenna-hell-fire, the Lake of Fire. Jesus talked about the Lake of Fire as a reality. "Modern" ministers don't like to talk about that; they think it isn't nice. But Jesus was "nice"-and He talked about it as a reality. Please understand.
"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."
He does not say that we are going to heaven. But the angels of God are there, and like God and Christ they can come back and forth throughout the universe-apparently instantly. They go back and forth, and report to God from time to time, as other scriptures show. People misunderstand this verse, inferring that it is showing where humans are. It does not! The saved do not go to heaven. Jesus said in John 3:13: "No man has ascended to heaven." Throughout the Bible, many statements are made like that. Jesus said in Matthew 5:5, during the Sermon on the Mount: "The meek shall inherit the earth"-not heaven. The Bible always makes that plain.
I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. "For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost."
He wants to help the little one. "If you had a hundred sheep and one goes astray," Jesus said "wouldn't you leave it and go look for that one lost sheep and leave the 99 behind?" Yes, normally a good shepherd would do that. Jesus Christ is concerned about the one who is in trouble-the little one.
"Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones [a little child of God being upset, being put upon by others, being deceived or misled by others], should perish.[Then He turns it around in another aspect of this.] Moreover [It could be translated "However" in this relationship. We are not just concerned about the little ones-that you be careful of them-but everyone has to be careful of each other not to offend one another.] if your brother sins against you [if your brother in the church hurts you deeply, he starts flirting with your wife, he starts taking advantage of you or crashes into your car in a fender bender and is not willing to help out or lets his cow stray over into your vegetable garden and eat it up and makes no recompense or whatever he does], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother."
You hope he is going to repent and say: "I am sorry I did that." You need to go to him with the attitude of helping him-not of convicting him, but of helping him.
"But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more…"
From experience I would suggest taking two more, if possible, so that there is more than one other witness there. The purpose of their presence is not to convict, but just to be sure that the matter is handled properly and that all are receiving a fair hearing. Those present are going to be witnesses to the situation as fellow brothers in the Church of God.
"…take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them [if he still won't back down after maybe, you know, getting drunk and keeping you up at night-if he is your next door neighbor or whatever-if he still won't change and repent], tell it to the church."
Does this mean that you should say: "I want to make the announcement at church this coming weekend? No! We know that God never had people do that. Rather, you tell it to the authorities in the church. If you read the fifth chapter of 1 Corinthians, you will see how these matters were handled. They told the Apostle Paul-the one who acted for the church, the leader of the church-and the leaders acted on behalf of the church.
"…tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church…"
There is an organized body of Christ. We are not to be "independent Christians" just wandering around "doing our own thing." The Bible makes that very clear. Many people say: "Well, I am confused or disgusted with 'churchianity,' so I am just going to stay home." If you did that, you would never get needed correction, and you would never learn to grow through interaction with other Christians in the Church of God. There is a Church. That Church does have organization and government, and prepares you to be part of the very government of God in Tomorrow's World. It really does, if you will act on these principles.
We have a booklet explaining a great deal about that. It is called Restoring Apostolic Christianity. If you have not yet requested this booklet, please do so. It will be sent to you absolutely FREE. Restoring Apostolic Christianity explains about this Church of God-how it developed, what the real church should be like, and what real Christianity was in the time of Jesus and the Apostles. Contact us and request your free copy of this powerful booklet.
These are powerful parts of the Bible, explaining exactly what to do. Most people are never taught this in Sunday school, in church or anywhere else, as you know. But these truths are right here in the middle of the book of Matthew.
But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector."
During the Dark Ages, one big visible church of that time would, if it kicked people out, often have them beaten or thrown in jail or even burned alive! Yes, burned alive if people did not agree with some of their practices or teachings! Christians don't do that! That is not Christian; that is not right. Jesus did not tell us to do that. He said, in effect: "Just let them go out in the sunshine and the fresh air; treat them like you would a tax collector or someone who does not understand, someone who is not converted-an outsider who does not understand." We are not to hate such people, but they are not to be in the church-they are cut off. It is just as if Johnny has been a bad boy, perhaps he has to eat his meal outside on the back porch off a pie plate. I knew a family who did that to their children to help them "wake up" when they would throw a fit at the table. It is a very humbling process. "Johnny" has to be sent out of the room. He cannot fellowship with the family until he repents. It is the same thing here. Jesus Christ says to "put them out."
"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."
Most people do not understand this at all. It is not taught. This is another Hebrew idiom; the rabbis were guided by God, apparently, to make binding and loosing decisions. At least they had that right. They often made wrong decisions, but they were to make decisions based on God's Law. They were not to introduce new laws. They were to make binding decisions based on the Law-applying the principle of God's Law to a particular situation. So Christ told them to do that. He said: "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven."
"Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask [You see, in this kind of context, in a judicial context, making a binding decision.], it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name [In Christ's authority to make this kind of decision.], I am there in the midst of them."
You may ask: "How could that be?" If they were Christians, judging according to God's will-in most cases, this would be ministers trying to make a binding and losing decision-God would back it up just like He did in the Old Testament because, as it tells us in Hebrews 13:8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever."
If you have your Bible handy, turn with me back to 2 Chronicles 19:4. It describes Jehoshaphat-a very righteous and God-fearing king. Jehoshaphat appointed judges in the land, throughout fortified cities of Judah, city by city. Verse 6 states: "And said to the judges, 'Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment.'" If God was going to be with them in the judgment back in carnal Israel, how much more would God be with them in the New Testament Church of God, if they were faithful men trying sincerely to carry out God's will-God's judgment-in a particular situation. That is an important principle to understand.
"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them."
Some people try to apply this to say that wherever two or three are meeting. He will be with them in a little church or Bible study group. In principle He will be, I am sure, but the direct application of this verse, in context, is to a matter of judgment.
Then Peter came to Him and said, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven."
Seventy times seven-you keep on forgiving. You do not limit your forgiveness. You have total forgiveness for others, just as God has total forgiveness for you. You are not cramped in your forgiveness. You love God with all your heart, you try to love your neighbor as yourself and you keep forgiving as you would want others to forgive you. Jesus then gave this parable about forgiveness:
"Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents."
Some commentaries explain that ten thousand talents at that time was the equivalent of several million dollars. This apparently high-level individual owed a huge amount of money to the king!
"But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold [Which they could do back at that time in a kind of a kingship or monarchy.], with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down [you see, just crying] before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and [please] I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion [It is showing what God would do. It is picturing the king as he were God in a sense having that attitude.], released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii [a much smaller amount]; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!'"
He began to threaten his debtor, and when the fellow servants heard this, they brought it to the master's attention. When the master heard this he said:
"'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt [We might say that great debt.] because you begged me. 'Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry [It pictures what God would have to do if we don't forgive one another.], and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. [So, Jesus said-this is what Jesus said…] So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you [Yes, God will punish people TERRIBLY if they will not forgive others. We have to have mercy on one another.], from his heart [Not that you just do it on the surface and just play games, but each "from his heart."], does not forgive his brother his trespasses."
We must show a depth of love and mercy toward one another. Let's learn that lesson and have Christ living His life within us, so that we obey God-and His law and His way-with all our hearts. We know our brother may be trying too, and if he slips have mercy on him. Someday we are going to slip, too, and we are going to need a lot of mercy. As God has mercy over and over on us, we need to have mercy over and over on one another.
Next time we will begin with Matthew 19. This is Roderick C. Meredith, for the Living Church of God.