“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.”
– Matthew 18:5
This chapter is the fourth discourse section in Matthew’s gospel. In this passage, Jesus instructs on how believers should treat one another when sin occurs in the church body. He teaches how to prevent sin in the lives of believers, how to deal with those believers who do sin, and how to forgive those believers who have sinned against us.
Jesus’ discourse begins when his disciples asked him who would be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. The disciples were probably hoping that their name would be the one he replies with. They hoped he would consider them the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Far from that. Jesus picks up a child and says that those who are like children are those who enter the kingdom of heaven. There is no way we can “qualify” our way into heaven. Instead, we must approach with the character of a child: dependent, learning, and obedient.
In , Jesus pronounces woe upon those who tempt believers to sin. As a community, the body of Christ must take care so that no one causes another to stumble into sin. Jesus does not mean that temptations will cease as Christians. On the contrary, he says that such things must come. Believers continue to be tempted beyond their point of initial salvation. We will never fully escape tempting situations because we continue to live in a fallen world. Jesus again says that it would be better for us to cut off our limbs or pluck out our eyes than for us to sin. He obviously does not mean we should start chopping off body parts, but he is showing the gravity of sin.
is a complicated passage and many believe that this is proof that each person has a guardian angel. Instead, the main point is that God cares about all believers, and if the angels who are sent to serve the collective body of believers () observe mistreatment of a believer, God will know and will disapprove of the treatment.
In , Jesus shows the intrinsic value of every believer in the eyes of God. The shepherd would leave the 99 that he knows are safe to find the one sheep that has fallen away from the flock. The salvation of each believer brings joy to God because he cares for each person and desires the salvation of all.
Jesus instructs that the offender and offended should first try to be reconciled by themselves. The purpose for this is so that further damage is not done to the body of the church. If the two parties can make amends, the church can continue on with its mission and purpose. If the offender is not willing to repent and reconcile, others are to be brought with. With this, there are mediators who can help guide the situation to a point of resolution and reconciliation. They can also speak more objectively about the two parties and the situation. Again, if the offender is still unwilling, it is to be brought to the entire church. The main goal of all these situations is to bring the offender to a point of reconciliation. If they continue to be unwilling, Jesus says to treat them as a pagan or tax collector. At first glance, this may make us think that we are to disown those who continue to be unrepentant; however, Jesus often ministered to pagans and tax collectors. While it may mean discipline and some separation, it does not mean disassociation. The hope continues to be that the offender would be reconciled to the church community.
refer to the decision making process in this structure. The decisions that are made by a group of church leaders must be bathed in prayer. Ultimately, the decisions that are made by the church leadership are directed by God. Church leaders should not walk into these decisions aimlessly. Christ is part of each step of the process of church discipline.
Each church may have its own procedures that follow a similar pattern to this. If a believer is removed from the church body, it is sometimes called “excommunication” or “disfellowship”. Church discipline is an important part of the body of Christ. It is not something we necessarily enjoy, but it is important so that the body of believers can continually be built up. We always hope that church discipline is something that will never have to take place, but it is inevitable because believers still sin and may even be unrepentant.
After talking about preventing sin and dealing with sin in the church, Jesus now turns to the perspective of the offended and instructs on forgiveness.
Peter asks Jesus how many times he is to forgive another believer. Is seven times sufficient? Jesus responds by saying that he should forgive someone seventy-seven times instead of just seven. This does not mean that each believer is only given seventy-seven chances to be forgiven. Instead, Jesus is showing Peter that their should be no limit on his forgiveness of others.
Jesus uses a parable to illustrate his teaching on forgiveness. When the servant came to the master, the master was ready to sell him and his family in order to regain some of the money that was owed. However, the master had pity upon the man and forgave him his debt. This forgiveness of debt represents our debt to God because of our sin. It is a ridiculous amount that we could never afford, but he has mercy on us and cancels our debt. The servant, however, finds another servant that owes him just a little bit of money. The servant demands that he be paid, but when the fellow servant could not, he had him thrown into prison until the debt could be paid. The master heard of this and called the first servant back in. This servant had not reflected the same forgiveness and mercy that the master had. The master was outraged and had this servant also thrown into the prison. The moral of the parable is that we should reflect the same forgiveness and mercy that we have received from God. Genuine forgiveness is essential in the life of every disciple.