“At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If 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. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”” (Matthew 18:1–35, ESV)
It seems that the disciples were eager to see who would be the greatest in the kingdom, and so they ask Jesus directly about who would be the greatest. It is not difficult to imagine how this conversation had arisen from their ranks. Peter, James, and John had just been with Jesus in an unforgettable event, but they had been instructed not to disclose the events until after Jesus had risen from the dead. Perhaps questions were raised by the other disciples that were left unanswered. Maybe these three told them that were not at liberty to discuss what had taken place on the mountain. Rivalry and jealousy may have prevailed, and they argued with one another about the greatest among their group. Jesus takes a child and gives them a picture of how kingdom greatness is measured. Jesus did not take the child because of how cute they were. Children were not the center of domestic life as they often are now. Children are weak and vulnerable, and Jesus says that greatness is measured by humility. One does not come into the kingdom through strength and self-sufficiency, they come through humility. The children of the king are to be protected and woe to the one who causes the little ones to sin.
Temptations are a part of life, but Jesus explains that just because they are a reality in this life, it does not give one the right to sin. The follower of Jesus is called to holiness. Holiness is not the appearance of righteousness but a true holiness that is pursued through the Holy Spirit. We must consistently mortify sin through the power of the Holy Spirit. Sin is a monster that grows and to think that one might control it will only lead to death.
The family of faith should protect and guard one another. These little ones that Jesus describes are valuable to the shepherd. He has sought them, and he rejoices over the one found. We too should be thoughtful of the family of God and protect and help the little ones. The shepherd goes to great lengths to keep his sheep.
How do we respond when someone sins against us? The family of God has members that struggle and sin. Kingdom life will inevitably lead to conflict and offense. The Bible gives us guidelines on the way in which we seek reconciliation. When someone sins against us, the first step is not to complain to others about the offense. We are to go directly to them and explain the issue. The heart is the issue. This first step is not the excuse for you to go and blast them for their behavior. Kingdom motivation dictates that we are seeking reconciliation in love and not simply airing grievances in the hopes they will beg us for forgiveness. The hope is to gain our brother. If a peaceful reconciliation is not achieved in a one on one meeting, then the offended party should establish the matter with witnesses. Careful attention should be paid not to gather a mob to gang up on someone due to frustration. The next step should be to bring it before the church, and if they still refuse to listen, then they are demonstrating willful resistance to a God-appointed authority. This will result in them losing the privilege of membership and being viewed as someone still dead in their trespasses and sins. The rest of the chapter may seem to be a contradiction, but it serves to emphasize the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that one must ignore an offense, it means that forgiveness should always be sought. The parable of the unforgiving servant shows the way in which one must understand how much God has forgiven them. The king forgave a servant who owed him much. The forgiveness was motivated by pity and compassion. Then the servant met someone who was in debt to him to a much lesser degree and rather than extend forgiveness, he began insisting on immediate payment. The king was angry with the servant who had been forgiven so much. How could this servant treat others contrary to how he had been treated. We should be motivated by love and compassion toward others and always be quick to ask for forgiveness and quick to grant forgiveness.