Matthew 18 is an incredible chapter on conflict resolution and forgiveness. It begins with the disciples asking Jesus who is going to be the greatest in the kingdom (vs. 1). The chapter concludes with Jesus telling them that God’s harshest judgement awaits those who do not practice forgiveness “from your heart” (vs. 35). The following is an overview of this chapter.
THE FATHER LOVES HIS CHILDREN – Matthew 18:1-6
Jesus answers the disciples’ question “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” by calling a little child to Himself. Placing the child in front of them, Jesus says:
“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”
Ideally, we think of little children as innocent, trusting, vulnerable, obedient, loving and so much more. Obviously Jesus is not just speaking of the chronological age of a person because because He instructs the adults around Him that they must change and become like them. For these little ones, Jesus will say later, in verse 10: “For I tell you that their [God’s children’s] angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.”
THE FATHER’S JUDGEMENT – Matthew 18:7-10*
Anyone who causes one of these children of the Father to stumble will meet their doom by the wrath of God. The options that Jesus gives them are so severe that they would be better off dead, sent to the bottom of the sea. Their change must be as radical as cutting off a limb or plucking out an eye. These options would be so much better alternatives for them than being sentenced to hell. God’s angelic emissaries are watching!
THE FATHER SEEKS THE LOST – Matthew 18:12-14
Just like the man who leaves the 99 sheep safely in the fold in order to seek out the one lost sheep, so Jesus’ Father searches high and low for those who have been hurt and are wandering alone. When He finds the lost sheep their Father, by Name, rejoices over them because He does not want to lose a single one.
THE FATHER’S PATH TO FORGIVENESS – Matthew 18:15-20
The process is simple, yet profound. So much so that whatever is agreed to on earth comes full circle and is validated in heaven as well (verses 18-19). Jesus concludes this section stating plainly: “For where two or three have gathered in My name, there I am in their
midst” (vs. 20). So, how does the offended person go about seeking resolution to the conflict and forgiveness?
The person who has been hurt acknowledges the injury and damage and clarifies his or her thoughts enough to approach the one who has caused them to stumble. The challenge is to privately confront the one who has hurt them in hope that they will listen and do whatever it takes to set things right (cf., verses 7-10). When this happens, Jesus says, “you have won your brother”(vs. 15). However, when the other person does not listen and is not interested in reconciliation, the process advances to the next step.
f the other person is not receptive to resolving the conflict Jesus encourages the one offended to bring along one or two more witnesses in hopes of resolving the issue. Perhaps they will be able to moderate and offer advice with the goal of achieving an outcome with which all agree. If this is not successful, Jesus offers a third step.
Jesus instructs that the offended person and the witnesses “tell it to the church.” If even this is unsuccessful, then Jesus gives the final, fourth step upon which to follow through.
Jesus says that if the person will not even listen to the church, “treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (vs. 17).
All along, the ultimate hope of the Father is that the matter being addressed will lead to repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation, even through the final step 4. Perhaps that is the reason for the later scribe’s addition of verse 11, based upon Luke 19:10: “ For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
More will be written about this and the next passages in a later blog.
THE FATHER DEMANDS THAT HIS CHILDREN EXTEND FORGIVENESS TO OTHERS – Matthew 18:21-34
The chapter closes with Jesus’ poignant parable about a king who forgives a huge debt of one of his subjects. The point of the parable is in the king’s unspoken expectation that the forgiven subject will extend a similar mercy to those indebted to him. When he blatantly disregards this principle, strangling and imprisoning a man who owes him a comparatively insignificant amount, the king is livid. The story ends with the king revoking his mercy, imprisoning the original subject and permitting the jailers to torture him until the debt is paid in full.
This story was Jesus’ answer to Peter’s question, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” The moral of the story about mercy and forgiveness comes in the final verse: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
The following two posts will be focused upon both Matthew 18:15-20 and verses 21-34.
*Verse 11 is not included among the most reliable manuscripts.