Relationships in the Kingdom
The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom in Matthew
- Kingdom was coming. (Matthew 4:17)
- Kinds of people in the kingdom. (Matthew 5:3-20, poor in spirit, meek, etc.)
- Who is king of the kingdom. (Matthew 6:10, Thy kingdom come...)
- The importance of the kingdom. (Matthew 6:33, seek first...)
- Who will enter the kingdom. (Matthew 7:21, those who obey...)
- How great those in the kingdom are. (Matthew 11:11, greater than John...)
- Not all respond to the kingdom. (Matthew 13:1-23, sower and the seed.)
- God will punish those not in the kingdom. (Matthew 13:24-30, weeds and wheat; Matthew 13:47-48, dragnet and fish)
- Kingdom grows mysteriously. (Matthew 13:31-32, mustard seed; Matthew 13:33, leaven)
- Kingdom is the most precious possession. (Matthew 13:44, treasure; Matthew 13:45-46, pearl)
Relationships Within the Kingdom
Until this time Jesus has talked about the kingdom in a collective way and spoken of the response people should have when presented the news of the kingdom. In chapter 18, however, He begins to describe the nature and quality of the relationship that those in the kingdom should have with one another.
Basic Premise: Care for each other's souls
Character of the people in the kingdom
1At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" 2And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;
- Matthew 18:1-5
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says that those in the kingdom are meek, poor in spirit and dependent on God, all qualities that are usually seen in children. The fact that the disciples ask the question, "Who is the greatest?" suggests problems of pride and strife among the Apostles.
Jesus points towards the objective of their conversion: a transformation from pride and striving to the easy trust and meekness of a child. No dependence on achievement, power or greatness but a quiet, innocent trust in God. One who is truly great in the kingdom seeks no glory for self but rather glory for God. The emptier one is of self, the more God can fill that person with His greatness, wisdom, love and power.
The greatest are those who are unaware of their greatness. Not only are the greatest like children, but they must also treat others in the kingdom, who are themselves meek and vulnerable, with respect as Jesus would have them do. Those who belong to the kingdom do not manipulate or despise others (an easy temptation towards those who are childlike).
Warning about offenses
6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.
7"Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes!
8"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. 9If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.
10"See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11[For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]
- Matthew 18:6-11
Jesus issues a warning to those who would cause either a physical child or one who has become like a child in the kingdom to disbelieve in Him (verse 6). He demonstrates, by this severe warning, how precious these are and consequently how important they should be to us, evangelistically.
This passage also suggests that the very young can believe, and all we do while they are young either contributes or destroys the innate ability to trust and believe in God a child has, and a child-like believer wants to have. Jesus recognizes the various dangers in the world but specifically points out those who are a direct cause of stumbling (the word "stumble" refers to a trap that pierces and kills the animal who touches the bait). This is also a warning about personal weaknesses and sins that can be a cause for self to stumble. Jesus says that these things must be removed at all costs.
The Lord reinforces the idea that those who are least in the kingdom (children and child-like ones) are truly precious because even the mighty angels who behold the face of God minister to these little ones. This underscores their value in God's eyes and points to the care that should be exercised in dealing with those who dwell in the kingdom.
12"What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? 13If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. 14So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.
- Matthew 18:12-14
Jesus is answering the question, "Who is greatest?" and He says that the smallest, most humble and least are the greatest. This answer instructs them in several ways:
- The direction of their development if they wish to become greatest in the kingdom (least are most).
- The care they should exercise in not destroying these.
- The value that these have before God. Angels minister to them, and there is joy in heaven when one who has been lost is found.
This last point is where the parable of the lost sheep fits in. It is a parable that demonstrates the Father's joy when one of these "little ones" who was lost (because of stumbling caused by another) is found. Matthew uses this passage as a bridge to the next section about practical conflict management within the kingdom when offenses do occur.
Dealing with Conflict: Direct Confrontation
There are a variety of ways that individuals deal with personal conflict. Some plot revenge and others torture with the silent treatment. People offended revert to anger, gossip, even slander as a way of responding to a personal offense or insult. In this section Jesus outlines the way personal conflict should be resolved in the kingdom.
15"If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
- Matthew 18:15-17
Resolution should begin with personal and direct confrontation with the issue and the person involved (verse 15). Note that the objective is to win the brother, not the argument. To win back the one who has offended you, not to prove that you are right.
When we are sinned against, we want to be validated and comforted, but Jesus says we must first make an effort to renew fellowship with the offending party. Of course, there needs to be real sin against us, and not just an issue of annoyance or opinion. The offence must be a true sin, and one that directly threatens to destroy the bond of fellowship within the assembly. To reprove means to convict or show the offending person the wrongness of the act.
If there is no response to a direct person-to-person approach then make sure that the offence is recognized and has been witnessed by two or more brethren. This is done to assure the brother that this matter is not a personal vendetta but an effort to deal with a serious wrong witnessed by others (verse 16).
If this fails, bring the matter before the church. At this point there is no New Testament example, teaching or inference as to how the church is to deal with this person. Certainly to continue to exhort and encourage him to repent in a collective way would be right (verse 17a).
If this fails to bring a proper response, the person is then to be disfellowshipped (no longer considered a faithful part of that assembly, verse 17b). Gentiles and tax collectors were not considered part of the assembly of Jesus, and out of the sphere of His promises and blessings. The brother who fails to respond to the church is also out of the kingdom.
Note that Jesus places the church as the highest authority in this matter. This leads us to conclude that there is no authority or overseeing body that is higher than local congregation.
18Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.
19"Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. 20For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
- Matthew 18:18-20
Jesus confirms the matter with the statement of "binding and loosing." His point is that whenever the church proceeds in this manner, its actions will be carried out with the authority of heaven. In other words, if the church forgives a brother, then his sins are forgiven in heaven (loose), if he refuses to repent, then he will be out of the assembly on earth, and his sins will remain (bind) as they will be in heaven also.
When the church acts according to His word and will He is there with them, whether in a small (two or more) or large group. When the church gathers to obey and honor Christ, He is with them to answer their prayers in all matters.
Basis for Maintaining Relationships: Unconditional Forgiveness
Jesus prepares us for life in the kingdom by describing how precious it is and how difficult it is for sinful people to grow in love and faith. This section deals with the practical side of daily life within the kingdom. He warns against causing someone to fall away from the kingdom because of what we do. He instructs on how to be reconciled when there are offenses and what to do with those who cause those offenses. Finally, He establishes the attitude of heart that we all need to have if we are to avoid causing others to fall or falling ourselves: unconditional forgiveness.
The old standard
21Then Peter came and said to Him, "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" 22Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
- Matthew 18:21-22
Peter's question follows the previous discussion concerning forgiving the offending brother. The old Jewish teaching was that to offer forgiveness three times was enough, and so Peter's offer of seven times demonstrates his own growth as a disciple in comparison to his previous faith.
Jesus establishes the matter beyond the legal requirement by setting forth a new attitude, not just a new number. Seven times seventy meant a number beyond count. The new attitude is a forgiving heart, and a willingness and readiness to forgive whenever called upon to do so.
Jesus tells the parable of the unjust steward
23"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. 25But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. 26So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' 27And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, 'Pay back what you owe.' 29So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, 'Have patience with me and I will repay you.' 30But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. 31So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. 32Then summoning him, his lord said to him, 'You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' 34And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
- Matthew 18:23-34
Jesus does this in order to underscore the extent of what forgiveness should be (i.e. The servant could not even pay the debt he owed but was forgiven nevertheless), as well as the result and punishment reserved for those who were not prepared to forgive others (the debt he originally owed was put back on him when he refused to forgive someone else).
My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."
- Matthew 18:35
Jesus summarizes the entire passage by warning against the hardness of heart that refuses to forgive the brethren their offenses.
Lessons about the kingdom
There will be offenses against you in the kingdom. When this happens, be prepared to:
- Not be the one who causes them.
- Deal with those who do offend you in a Christian way when it happens.
- Forgive others readily and graciously when you are offended because in the measure you forgive others, God will forgive you (and others will forgive you too).