“And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 18:3
Matthew 18 contains the famous “church discipline” passage which teaches how we are to deal with a brother who sins against us. While that passage is very helpful and important, it is important to understand the context to get the heart and attitude that should be behind “church discipline.”
The chapter begins with the disciples asking, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v.1). Jesus calls a little child and begins to explain to them a totally different way of thinking. The child, who had no rights according to the law was to be their example. They were to humble themselves as a little child and to receive a little child like they would receive Jesus the King.
Jesus goes on to explain how seriously He takes any offence against the “little ones” of His kingdom (v.6-9). Every little one (humble person) in His kingdom has an angel that looks out for them (v.10) and when one goes astray He goes looking until He finds them (v.11-13). It is not the will of the Father that even one should perish (v.14).
Then we come to the “church discipline” passage in Matthew 18:15-22. And we read “Moreover, if they brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.”
The whole point of this “discipline” was to “gain thy brother.” It was to be like God who cares about every single one of His “little ones” and goes looking for them. In the same way, we should care about every one of our fellow brothers and we should do all in our power to bring them back when they go astray.
The seriousness of this effort is emphasized by:
- the connection between what happens on earth and what happens in heaven (v.18),
- the need to agree in prayer about these matters (v.19),
- the promise of Christ’s presence when we gather (v.20), and
- the unlimited number of times we forgive those brothers who sin against us (v.21-22).
Then the chapter closes with teaching on forgiveness, illustrated dramatically by a king who forgave the servant a huge debt (v.23-34). That same servant was punished by the king for not forgiving his fellow-servant a small debt. The point is that all of us who are God’s children and have been forgiven everything should “from our hearts” forgive every brother who trespasses against us (v.35)
So, how can we summarise and apply all of this:
- If we are all about who is the greatest and who gets the most honour, we need to be “converted” and humble ourselves. We have a totally wrong and unChristlike mindset; we need to repent.
- Our humility is most often expressed by how we treat others. If we think we are humble but cannot receive and respect other humble people (“little ones”), then we have a problem. Impatience with others, lack of concern for others, being offensive to others, looking down on others, despising them, not caring for those who have gone astray, not wanting to reconcile and restore, and not forgiving are sure signs of a lack of humility.
- One of the most damaging and damning sins we can commit is that of pride. Pride cause us to hurt others. Pride causes us to offend. Pride keeps us from reconciling. Pride keeps us from forgiving. Pride ultimately will keep people from heaven!