Matthew 18:1-14, The Call for Caring.
General Idea: While the disciples were acting like children, Jesus used the opportunity to call us to take care of the children! Children are dependent on us for the quality of life and substance we provide. Jesus points out those who are in need-from little children to those who are weak or are new to the faith-and calls us to care for them. Do we step up to the plate of responsibility, or do we despise those who we think are beneath deserving care? Do we become good examples and point to the Way, or do we cause them to stumble because of our misdirected ways? Because children are dependent, they must have faith that they will be taken care of. This is a perfect illustration of how we are to have trust and faith in our Lord. But, how do we provide; what do we provide? Is it in line with God's call? We are called to take care of them; it is both a responsibility and a delight. It is a blessing to be such caretakers, and it is imperative we never forsake our responsibility! When we are caring for His children, we are exercising what we have learned and are applying our spiritual growth. When we forsake such responsibly, we are the bad and spoiled child that brings shame to his or her family. In addition, our true allegiances become exposed, showing that these allegiances are not to the Christ of the Bible.
1. Who is the greatest, the disciples asked. Jesus calls us to care for His children, not act like them. As the disciples were fighting like schoolyard children, Jesus uses their immaturity as an illustration to call us to take care of the immature.
a. Greatness was a common subject of debate amongst scholarly and political groups in Jesus' day. They sought rank and privilege as status symbols for obedience and service. Jesus is saying there are far more important things than rank and position, among them is character, and care for those who have no rank (Luke 9:46; 22:24).
i. Greatness is something we do not just take; it is something that is given because we are being obedient and mature. Therefore, when the situation calls for us to arise, we are able to do so.
ii. To God, servant hood equals greatness. We are to be distinguished by our humbleness and loving service, the result of true discipleship (Mark 10: 43-44).
iii. Really great people will never tell others they are great or even realize that they are great. If they do, they are not great, but rather prideful and a blight before the Lord (1 Pet. 5:1-9; Rev. 3:17-18).
b. Converted refers to returning to a prior and worse state; it is regressing, or, as Christians say today, backsliding (Judg. 13:1). This term also meant to repent and turn from your bad ways. Jesus is calling for us not to regress to immaturity, but turn from pride to humbleness.
c. Whoever receives. As His representatives, we are to exemplify hospitality; thus, what is done to us is also done to Him! We are responsible to God. When we do not receive, we are being antagonistic towards God.
i. In My name. The image is that we are the emissary of Christ. In ancient times, when one received an emissary, he was receiving the person who sent him (Num. 14:2; 11; 16:11; 1 Sam. 8:7; Jer 26-30; 28:8-9).
ii. The opposite is true here, as those who reject our help are rejecting Christ (Matt: 10: 34-41).
d. Like little children means as a small child; it also applies to people new in the faith or who have not grown in the faith. It further means trusting, being humble, and not forcing your will upon others as the disciples were doing. This is not about innocence, but rather dependence.
e. How we treat our children is a true test of our maturity, obedience, humility, and reverence to God. It is also a test to see how we have learned and if we have grown in the faith.
2. Whoever causes; stumble. This refers to sinning and falling away from the faith. This would be considered extremely harsh punishment from pagan practices, not God. This statement would be very shocking to the people. But, what was more shocking was the refusal to care.
a. Little ones. Although referring to children as in need, dependent, and helpless, this phrase refers to all who follow Jesus, not just kids. As Christians, we are like children, dependent on God (Matt. 10: 34-41).
b. Millstone was a very large cut and polished stone used to grind grain into flour. It could weigh several tons, and donkey teams were used to turn it. This does not refer to the small millstones women used at home (Matt. 24:41).
c. The image is of how ruthless this offence is; to cause another person to fall away from their faith is heinous, an act of Satan, not an act of a Christian.
d. Woe to the world. We live in a world of depravity and responsibility. Jesus warns that we are in a fallen world and will be subject to sin and suffering. Nevertheless, He severely warns us not to be the ones who cause such sin and suffering!
e. The more leadership and power one has, the more responsibility he or she has to care for those who are less in power and status! A Christian, especially a leader, must never force his will and agenda over God's will and cause a person to fall away. Never force yourself on another who is weak or vulnerable physically, mentally, or spiritually.
f. We are called to bring back the lost sheep who stumbled, not chase them further away.
g. Classic Judaism taught a balance between our responsibility and God's sovereignty. We are not forced or manipulated by God. We have choices, and the ability to make both right ones and wrong ones. Rabbis taught that people with poor morals stumble just like people with poor eyes.
3. Cut it off. This is a drastic illustration to wake us up to the reality of our fallen world. Jesus calls us to the surgery of the heart (Matt. 5:27-30; Mark 9:42-47).
a. Many Christians over the centuries, especially in the monastic movements, have misinterpreted this passage. Jesus is not teaching masochistic behavior or self-mutilation; rather, that we are to heed and deal with sin very seriously and drastically.
b. Some people in the monastic movements in the Middle Ages did take it literally!
c. Heart disease to God is pride, and it is a cancer to our soul. We have to realize how extremely destructive sin is to us and to those around us (Gal. 1:16; Phil. 4:8-9)!
d. Little children. In Biblical times, unlike today, children had no rights or privileges. As people aged, they gained more status and respect and tended to put down others who were not at their level-just as some do today.
i. Despise. Parents loved their children then as they do today; a good parent would never hate or harm a child.
ii. Just as today, children were totally dependent on their parents for care.
iii. We are to have the trust and wonder that a child has to see the needs. It is being humble, the opposite of what the disciples were seeking. Real greatness is humbleness; fake greatness is pride.
e. Their angels refers to the classic "Guardian Angels." (Psalm 34:7; 91:11; Dan 12:1; Acts 12:15; Heb.1:14). A Believer has continual access to our Lord and His dominion.
i. People in Jesus' day believed that all Jews, especially children, had guardian angels.
ii. The angel's responsibility was to report back to God what the person was doing, not just "guard" them. Jesus is using their superstition as an illustration. God is sovereign and does not need reports from angels.
f. A hundred sheep was a typical herd size. A shepherd usually had sons and hired people to temporarily watch the sheep as he looked for the strays (1 Sam.9:3; Luke 15:3-7). This passage does not teach that the one that is lost is found at the expense of the others. All the sheep are to be cared for! This is a picture how committed God is to us! He is the One who elects us and seeks us out when we cannot, or will not seek Him.
g. Leaders who fail to disciple and care for their flock are the opposite of great; they are detestable before God (Ezek. 34:2-16).
h. Sheep is a metaphor for people who follow God (Psalm 23; Isa 40:11; John 10:1-18).
This passage calls the Christian sheep and children for good reason, because we tend to act like them and both need to be cared for. Christ asks us to be the good child. A good child accepts his or her responsibility to the family to learn and grow. A child of God expresses humbleness and trust so he or she will be able to grow in faith and maturity (Psalm 130 and 131). Being childlike in faith and wonder is how we are to grow in our relationship to Christ. Being childlike, as in quarreling and running away, is not. A child also is to enjoy his or her childhood, as we are to enjoy our relationship to Christ. A spoiled child will not learn and grow in maturity as he or she should, and can even become a detriment to others, just as Christians who refuse to grow in their faith. They become a bad reputation to their church and to our Lord. We are not to aspire to human greatness, but, rather, godliness. We are to evaluate who and where we are by His standards, not the world's. Give God the room to work in you and others. Refusing to see His call, not loving others, and being full of pride are terrible things not just for you, but even more to those around you.
1. What were you like as a child? Compliant, strong willed, curious, wild or…? If you could bring back a childhood characteristic, what would it be?
2. Why do you think the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest?
3. How are Christians like little children?
4. Why do some people despise those whom they think are beneath their care?
5. How important is influence? Consider how much influence you have received from people that have been good examples for you? What about people who have caused you to stumble?
6. What does the call to take care of the immature mean to your church; what does it mean to you? What should it mean?
7. What is Biblical greatness? How is real greatness obtained?
8. How is your role as the emissary of Christ going? What have you done? What do you need to do to be better at this?
9. This statement of a millstone would be very shocking to some Christians today. But, do you think they would see the refusal to care as shocking?
10. How have you been dependent on God? How have you learned dependence?
11. Do you think the average Christian realizes how ruthless an offence it is to cause another person to fall away from their faith? Why, or why not?
12. A Christian, especially a leader, must never force his will and agenda over God's will and cause a person to fall away. So, why do so many of us do it on a daily basis?
13. How can this passage of cutting off a hand be misinterpreted?
14. What does this passage mean?
15. What are some things that little children do that we can do, and learn to further our development of faith?
16. What does despise do to people? How does despise work? What happens when this bad character is put into action in your church and neighborhood?
17. Have you ever been the sheep who wandered off? What did it take to bring you back into the fold?
18. Christ asks us to be the good child. What would that mean to you? What would it be like if most of the people in your church were operating under this parameter?
19. Read Psalm 131. How can you put this simple trust in all that you say and do into your life?
20. What steps can you take to do a better job at enjoying your relationship to Christ?
© 2004, Richard J. Krejcir, Ph.D. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, www.churchleadership.org