on Wednesday evening’s message: Relations among Disciples

Our midweek service was devoted to Matthew 18. Immediately when you announce this text, the mind of the well trained disciple goes to the process of discipline outlined in vv. 15-17. This is what Matthew 18 is about in the mind of many. In fact, we often refer to these three verses simply by announcing the chapter, “Matthew 18”.

Tonight we wanted to get at the context for a full understanding of God’s directions for us here. The sermon apparently occurs in a house in Caperaum (see Mk 9.33-34), possibly Peter’s house. The child used for an object lesson might be Peter’s child. The sermon follows hard on the heals of a dispute on the way down from Mt. Hermon, the mount of Transfiguration, to Capernaum. The Lord asks (in Mk), “what were you discussing on the way?” Silence ensues. At last, someone asks (Mt 18.1), “Lord who is the greatest in the kingdom?”

The Lord proceeds to adjust the disciples thinking concerning greatness in the kingdom. First, the kingdom is entered by turning around from self-centered pride to humble admission of personal inability. The issue of greatness in the kingdom is settled the same way, by humility. Having said that, the Lord rachets the discussion up a notch, to teach what it means when we as disciples argue and struggle with one another.

The Lord points out that anyone who receives a disciple (one such child) receives me, but anyone who becomes a stumbling block for a disciple (causes to sin), it would be better that he should be drowned ahead of such an event. He points out that the world is under a curse for such temptations, so the disciple should be extreme in cutting off those necessary things that might lead him to sin. He needs to be radical in avoiding sin. The Lord then proceeds to highlight the value of any individual disciple by telling the parable of the lost sheep — this is the value of the disciple in God’s eyes.

It is in this context that the steps of discipline are offered, not as a new law to be exactingly followed in every case of sin, but in particular in the matter of offenses between disciples, one should follow wise proceedures in seeking to bring about reconciliation. The process may involve the whole church, but it most certainly should be pursued. The Lord takes such matters seriously: the judgements of the church are bound in heaven, the affirming presence of Christ occurs in every such gathering.

The passage concludes with the parable of the unforgiving steward, who, though forgiven much, refuses to forgive. The Lord offers this as a warning to those of us who will jostle and struggle in the kingdom to be seen and heard. We would do well not to trample our brethren under our feet in our efforts for preeminence.

‘Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 2.5).

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3