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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary

Matthew 18

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-35

THE DISCIPLES’ QUESTION, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? showed that the kingdom was filling their thoughts just at that moment. The answer made it abundantly clear that the only way of entrance into the kingdom was by becoming small, not great. As the result of conversion a person humbles himself and becomes like a little child. Apart from this one is not in the kingdom at all. Then as we enter, so we progress; consequently the humblest is the greatest in the kingdom. The disciples needed to have their ideas on this matter revolutionized, and so all too frequently do we. It is evident that here the Lord speaks of the kingdom not as the sphere of profession out of which evil will have to be cast, as in chapter 13, but as a sphere marked by vital reality.

To answer the question Jesus had called a little child and set him in the midst as an object lesson. He proceeds to show that one such child, if presented in His name, becomes a person of great importance. To receive him is equivalent to receiving the Lord Himself. In verses Matthew 18:2-5 the “little child” is in question; in verse Matthew 18:6 it is “one of these little ones which believe in Me.” To offend one of these merits the severest judgment, and this leads the Lord to set His disciples in the light of eternal things. There is such a thing as “everlasting fire,” and any sacrifice is better than incurring that.

Down to verse Matthew 18:14 we are still occupied with the little child. They are not to be despised for three reasons. First, they are the continual objects of angelic ministry, and are represented before the face of the Father in heaven. Second, they are objects of the Saviour’s saving grace. Third, the

Father’s will is toward them in blessing; He does not desire that one should perish. Sweet words of comfort these for those who have lost their little ones in early life, giving ample assurance of their blessing. The comparison of verse Matthew 18:11 with Luke 19:10 is instructive. There a grown-up man was in question, who had had plenty of time to go astray; so the word “seek” is found. Here, where the little child is in question, it is omitted. The tendency to go astray is there in each, as verses Matthew 18:12-13 indicate, but the wandering is not put to account in the same way till years of responsibility are reached.

Verses Matthew 18:1-14, then, deal with the “little child” and the kingdom. verses Matthew 18:15-20 with the “brother” and the church. In chapter Matthew 16:18, Matthew 16:19, we had the church and the kingdom, and both reappear here. If it be a question of the little child our tendency is to ignore and despise him. If our brother be in question there is a sad tendency for disagreements and occasions of trespass to occur, and these are now contemplated in the Lord’s teaching. We have definite instructions as to the procedure to be followed, the ignoring of which has produced untold mischief. If a brother has injured me, my first step is to see him alone, and point out his wrongdoing. If I do this in the right spirit, I shall very likely gain him and get things rectified. Alternately, of course, I may find that my thoughts needed rectifying, for things were not as they seemed.

But he may not hear me, and then I am to approach him again with one or two brethren as witnesses, so that his wrong may be brought home to him in a more definite and impartial way. Only if he still remain obdurate is the church to be informed so that the voice of all may be heard by him. If he go so far as to disregard the voice of the church, then I am to treat him as one with whom all fellowship is impossible.

It will be noticed that the Lord does not go on to say what the church should do; doubtless because trespasses are of many kinds and varying degrees of gravity, so that no instruction would apply to all cases. Verse Matthew 18:18 does however imply that there would be cases where the church would have to “bind” the wrongdoer, and again others where their action would have to be in the nature of “loosing.” Here we find that what had previously been said to Peter alone is now said to the church. To carry this out rightly would mean much dependence on God and prayer to God. Moreover even in the earliest days and under most favourable circumstances it would hardly ever be possible to get the whole church together in one place. Hence in verses Matthew 18:19-20 the Lord brings things down to the smallest possible plurality, showing that the potency of prayer and of church action does not depend upon numbers but upon His Name. In the case of the little child and the kingdom the important point was “in My Name.” In the case of the brother and the church again “in [or, to] My Name” is the decisive thing. The whole weight of authority lies there.

Verse Matthew 18:20 is sometimes quoted as though it described a certain basis of fellowship, true at all times for those in the fellowship. But the Lord spoke not of being gathered simply, but of being “gathered together;” that is, He spoke of an actual meeting. His Name is of such value that, if only two or three are gathered together to it, He is there in the midst, and this gives power to their requests and authority to their acts. He is spiritually present, not visibly: a wonderful and gracious provision this for days when the church cannot be got together as a whole, owing to its broken and divided state. We may be very thankful for it, but let us beware how we use it.

There has been such a tendency to make this gathering together to His Name just a matter of a certain church position, eliminating from it all thought of moral condition. Then we may be tempted to argue this or that must be ratified in heaven, or granted by heaven, because we acted or asked in His Name. We should be much wiser if we trod more softly, and when we saw no signs of heaven either ratifying or granting, we humbled ourselves and searched our hearts and ways to discover wherein we had missed a true gathering together in His Name; whether all the time we really had ourselves before us, and our moral state was wrong.

In verse Matthew 18:21, we find Peter raising the other side of the matter. What about the offended rather than the offending party? The reply of Jesus came to this—the spirit of forgiveness towards my brother is to be practically unlimited.

Thereupon He spoke the parable as to the king and his servants, with which the chapter closes. The general bearing of this parable is very plain; the only point we notice is that it refers to God’s governmental dealings with those who take the place of being His servants, as is made plain when we reach verse Matthew 18:35, which gives the Lord’s own application of it. There is entirely another basis for eternal forgiveness, but governmental forgiveness does very often hinge upon the believer manifesting a forgiving spirit. If we treat our brethren ill, we shall find ourselves sooner or later in the hands of the “tormentors” and have a sorrowful time. And if any of us are witnesses of one brother ill-treating another we shall be wise if, instead of taking the law into our own hands and attacking the wrongdoer, we imitate the servants of the parable and tell our Lord all that was done, leaving Him to deal with the offender in His holy government.

 


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Matthew 18:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/fbh/matthew-18.html. 1947.

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