Kingdom Children United

One fall I participated in a Bible study which was led by the Holy Spirit. I am not implying that the Holy Spirit is sometimes not involved when we meet to study the Book He inspired. This particular study was just unique in that we didn’t have any prepared material to follow nor was there a designated teacher. Because each participant was eager to learn whatever the Lord wanted to teach us, we each paid attention to what He seemed to be saying to us individually during the week and then came together in an attitude of prayer, trusting Him to put it all together for us. And He certainly did! He had lessons for us that He knew we needed both for the moment and for the not-so-distant future. His topic for us was Unity.

One of the scriptures He led us to during those studies was Matthew 18. I was drawn into the truths of that passage in a way I never had been before. I have noticed that the Holy Spirit spotlights His messages in subtly different ways at different times. I must be careful not to think I have understood all there is to understand about a particular passage. If that were the case, I could just master the Bible bit by bit and be done with it! But since "...the word of God is living and active..."(Hebrews 4:12a) my Teacher will bring me living and active truth for each season of my life. The truth He brought us week by week regarding unity would serve as the foundation for many difficult decisions that I would have to make in the coming months. Only God could have known that.

Matthew 18 begins with the familiar words of Jesus about needing to become like little children to enter the kingdom of God (vs.1-5). He then speaks of not causing such a little one to sin (vs.6-10). From there He tells the parable of the lost sheep (vs.12-14), gives instructions regarding what to do when someone sins against us (vs.15-17), speaks about binding and loosing and praying in agreement (vs.18-19) and concludes with the parable of the unmerciful servant (vs.21-35).

Before our season of study I had read Matthew 18 in bits and pieces. I had thought about little children and the proper way to treat them when I read the first six verses, for example. Then I would switch gears and think about evangelism when I read verses 12-14. That fall, however, I began to see how the entire chapter was a cohesive whole. That is what I’d like to share with you here.

The fundamental insight--the one that drew all the others together--was that Jesus wasn’t just talking about little children here. He was speaking of anyone who was like a little child. Everyone who has entered the kingdom of heaven did so by being humble, like a little child. Now I see that the whole of Matthew 18 is telling us how to treat one other--all us little kingdom children--in the kingdom of heaven.

The first instruction is to welcome each other (v.5).

The second is to not cause each other to sin (vs.6-10). What are some ways we sin by causing each other to sin? Jesus speaks of different body parts that may cause us to sin: our hand, our foot, and our eye. How can my hand or foot or eye cause me to sin against another little kingdom child? Well, is my hand grabby, revealing selfishness? Is it pushy, revealing control and manipulation? Are my fingers pointing, revealing slander and gossip? And my foot--is it kicking, revealing accusation? Is it tapping, revealing impatience? Is it running around, revealing self-sufficiency? Is it tripping someone up? Then there is my eye. Does it wink, revealing deceitfulness? Is it haughty, revealing pride and arrogance? Is it closed, revealing apathy and slothfulness? Does it look at another with lust or envy or jealousy or coveting? All these body parts turn up in God’s list of things He hates recorded in Proverbs 6:16-19:

There are six thing the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Jesus’ third admonition is that we are not to look down upon one another (v.10). He emphasizes His point by telling us how important each one of us little kingdom children is to Him with the parable of the lost sheep.

This parable sets the stage for the rest of Matthew 18 in that Jesus is painting a picture for us of the lengths we are to go for the sake of another who strays. Our attitude toward the one who strays is laid out for us by Jesus in Luke 6:27-31:

But I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

If another little kingdom child strays by sinning against me (v.15), for his sake, then, not mine, I need to go to him. If he will not listen, for his sake I will follow the subsequent steps Jesus lays out (vs.16-17). The last step He commands is that the one who has strayed by sinning be treated " you would a pagan or a tax collector." And just how is that? We think we know, don’t we? Shun her. Treat her as the miserable sinner she is. Let her reap what she sowed.

On the contrary, I believe Jesus is saying to be her friend, to maybe even take her out to lunch. Why do I say that? Because that’s what Jesus did with pagans and sinners. "While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" (Matthew 9:10-11). Why would I take someone who has sinned against me to lunch? It seems to me it is because I am showing my willingness to try to understand where she is coming from. It is also a way to demonstrate that I am not seeking revenge or bearing a grudge against her. (See Leviticus 19:18.)

Looking at Jesus’ admonition this way leads more naturally into His next comments about "...whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." Isaiah 61:1 says God sent Jesus to bind up the broken-hearted and proclaim freedom for the captives and release for the prisoners. This is ultimate binding and loosing. This is what happens when we are willing to forgive those who sin against us. A very short time later Jesus emphasizes this message by telling the parable of the servant who had been forgiven a huge debt, only to turn around and refuse to forgive a small debt owed to him. In Ezekiel 34:20-22 we can find a similar message and this time God again uses the symbolism of sheep: "Therefore thus says the Lord God to them: ‘Behold, I Myself will judge between the fat and the lean sheep. Because you have pushed with side and shoulder, butted all the weak ones with your horns, and scattered them abroad, therefore I will save My flock, and they shall no longer be a prey; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.’"

Why is it so important that little kingdom children do things for the sake of each other, especially things to promote the forgiveness of each another? Matthew 18:19-20: "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them." It is important because unity is important.

Unity is powerful. Leviticus 26:8: "Five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you." Unity brings blessing. Psalm 133:1,3a: "How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity...For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore." Unity fits us together into a mature Body that harmonizes with its Head. Ephesians 4:13: "...until we all reach unity in the faith, and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."