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Bible Commentaries

L. M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Matthew 18

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-35

Though the Lord Jesus has been seen to forego His own rights, He who is by right infinitely great, the disciples show the opposite attitude in desiring some rights above those of others in the kingdom. This is evident (though perhaps thinly veiled) in their question as to who is greater in the kingdom. They all need the object lesson the Lord gives them. Calling a little child (who obediently comes), He virtually tells them that one who desired greatness would not even enter the kingdom, let alone be great in it. They must be converted, their attitude changed from one of self-seeking to one of lowly dependence as a little child depends upon its parents, rather then seeking to rule its parents.

An attitude of voluntary humbling of oneself as a little child therefore would constitute one greater in the kingdom of heaven. This is not the kind of greatness they were thinking of, but it is what God considers greatness in spiritual character. He adds to this that whoever received such a little child in His name would be receiving Him. This consideration of the weak and dependent is an indication of what one's true thoughts are toward Christ Himself.

On the other hand, one who is guilty of offending a little one who believes in Him is offending the Lord Himself. It would be better for him to be thrown in the sea with a millstone tied to his neck than to be guilty of such an offence. No doubt not everyone would agree that death is preferable to sin against God, but it is true.

The Lord pronounces a woe against the world because of offences. These are things that tend to make souls think less of the truth of God, and the world is full of such deceitful efforts. It is inevitable that offences will come, and souls are tested by such causes of stumbling. Of course if one stumbles it is his own fault if he remains lying on the ground: it is foolish to put his confidence in one who stumbles him. But the man who is guilty of this offence comes under a sentence of a solemn woe.

Therefore verse 8 brings the matter home to the individual conscience. If one's hand or foot offends him, let him cut off the offending member. This is swift, summary judgment. It is not here a question of offending God or another, but personal conscience being offended by personal actions or walk. Unsparing self-judgment is the only way of dealing with this, not of course a literal cutting off, but a spiritual refusal of the evil in myself. An unbeliever never does honestly judge himself; therefore he will be cast with all his members into everlasting fire.

Nor is it only the actions of the hand or the walk of the foot that must be judged, but also the sight of the eye. Men know it when they see something that bothers their own conscience. Ignoring conscience is dangerous, and may lead to a searing of it that leaves one almost insensible to its protests. But again if one never judges the evil that his eye sees, he is not a believer: he will be cast with two eyes into hell fire.

It may be that in only looking at a little one men will despise the child, but verse 10 is a serious warning. That child, if dying in childhood, would not be cast into hell fire, but his spirit in heaven would always behold the face of the Father. "For," He adds, "the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost." Children too are lost, just as are adults, but where adults are concerned, Luke 19:10 shows that they need to be sought in order to be saved. As regards little ones, their wills have not been turned against God as is the case of those in older years. Certainly for them too it was just as necessary that Christ should suffer and die as for the most wicked adult, but he has not as yet formed the character of rebellious self-will that afflicts those older.

The parable of the lost sheep is however applied even to little ones, and the shepherd mentioned as going after and seeking that which had gone astray. It is not that this is primarily applicable to little ones, but the fact that the Lord Jesus would show such concern for any individual lost sheep shows His concern for little too. The joy in one being found is greater that in ninety-nine who had never gone astray. Of course this ninety-nine represents those who self-righteously consider themselves as never having been lost, while "the lost" are those who recognize their lost condition. Of course all are by nature and practice lost, but many refuse to admit it. However, the Father's tender care for little ones is a most important feature of the kingdom of heaven: it is not His will that one of these should perish.

Verse 15 calls upon us to have genuine consideration for our brethren too, as well as for little children. The case in point will seriously test the reality of our own faith and love. This is a case of a specific sin of serious character, not a small thing that should be forgotten, nor one in which there can be any question of doubt, but a fact of sin that is clearly established, so that the offender cannot dispute the fact. How good if this matter may be kept entirely from the knowledge of others! True faith and love would lead one to go alone to the offender in genuine concern for his true blessing. Certainly he should go in the spirit of Galatians 6:1 : "in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted." "if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother." The brother has accepted the gentle reproof and has been restored in his soul. Precious result indeed! James 5:19-20 adds to this that such good work will "hide a multitude of sins." For it will nip in the bud what otherwise might be spread so widely as to badly affect many others.

If, however, the offender high-handedly refuses to listen, then the matter must be communicated to one or two more, so that two or three going together will emphasize the seriousness of the sin that has not been judged. This should so impress the offender that he ought at least now to consider that his sin must be faced. When it is said, "that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established," this does not mean there is any question of establishing the person's guilt, for this has already been established, but rather it is to be clearly established what response the offender makes to this genuine effort to restore him. If this bears good fruit, then at least only two or three have been aware of the matter beside the offender. If honestly judged, it is to be dismissed and forgotten.

If the man still refuses to listen, the matter is to be told to the gathered assembly, -- not gossiped about from one saint to another, but told solemnly with all humility, so that the assembly will delegate some to speak again to the guilty person, on behalf of the assembly. The necessity of this is a most serious matter, for if he refuses to listen to the assembly, this is arrogance that calls for decided action. The individual now is to regard him "as a heathen man and a publican," that is, as though not even a believer.

Assembly action is not here directly spoken of, but it is nevertheless implied in verse 18, where the word, "thee" is no longer used, but "ye." In a case such as this, what the assembly binds on earth is bound in heaven. God fully backs up the action of the assembly in binding upon the offender the guilt of his arrogance, which involves their putting him away from their fellowship. 0n the other hand, losing is just as important a matter, for if putting away serves to drive the soul in self-judgment to the Lord to find restoration, then the assembly is to be ready to restore publicly also, and this will be ratified in heaven.

Even after one has had to be put away from fellowship, the Lord offers another recourse: if two of you shall agree." Intercessory prayer on the part of only "two of you" brings the promise of the Father's answer. Even if the assembly does not engage in such prayer (possibly because not as concerned as they should be as to the restoration of the offender), the prayers of only two untidily gathered to the Lord's name will have special effect.

"For," He adds, "where two or three are gathered together unto my name, there am I in the midst of them." This promise is deeply precious. The only true Christian gathering is to the name of the Lord Jesus, and when this is true, He promises His presence in the midst. "To His name" implies subjection to His authority. If gathered to a denominational name, this involves denominational authority: in such a case, how can we possibly expect the presence of the Lord?

Our verse shows, however, that not only can we expect His presence in the midst of the assembly when gathered to His name, but even in the midst of two or three when it is honestly to His name they are gathered, though it is not a gathering of the assembly. This is appreciated encouragement to engage in fellowship prayer with only one or two others who may be exercised as to matters of serious importance before the Lord.

Peter however now raises another question. Is there to be a limit to our forgiving one who sins against us? In the previous case the brother had not acknowledged his wrong. If the brother will bear, however, there is virtually no limit to the number of times he may be forgiven; for who would be inclined to keep track of the "seventy times seven?"

The Lord's illustration as to the kingdom of heaven is most pointed. The king's servant who owed ten thousand talents is typical of everyone of us by nature and practice, for our debt of sin has been tremendously beyond our ability to pay. Righteousness demands satisfaction, and the man faces the tragedy of losing everything, including, his wife and children and his own freedom. He pleads for mercy and time to pay, so that his lord compassionately forgave him the debt. This illustrates the fact that anyone whom God forgives has been forgiven a debt that is for beyond the possibility of our ever paying it.

Certainly we should therefore have the same forgiving spirit toward others. Yet this servant, though entreated by his fellow servant to have patience with him, is adamant in demanding payment of a debt of a hundred pence, and has him imprisoned till he should pay the debt. He himself had owed 700,000 times as much, yet forgets how he has been shown such great mercy.

Other fellow servants have observed this painful action, however, and it is good to see that they were not merely angry or bitter, but "very sorry." They tell their Lord, who calls the offending servant to account. Calling him a wicked servant, he reminds him that had received mercy when helped for it, and asks if he ought not to have shown similar compassion toward his fellow servant. The man's forgiveness was rescinded, and he was delivered to the tormenters, evidently confined to the rigors of prison until he should pay all his debt. This was a righteous recompense for his having done this to his fellow servant.

This case is one of governmental forgiveness, for it is dependent on some fitting response on the part of the one forgiven. Many have been baptized, professing some acceptance of the faith of Christianity, and thereby entering the kingdom. But later they expose the emptiness of their profession by their evident despising of grace. Simon the sorcerer is a case in point. Though publicly forgiven through baptism, he had not been born again, and later exposed his actual unbelief. Peter then publicly rescinded his forgiveness (Acts 8:9-24).

 


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Bibliography Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Matthew 18:4". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/lmg/matthew-18.html. 1897-1910.

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