Matthew 18: Others First (2)
Pray Psalm Psalm 96.1-4.
Oh, sing to the LORD a new song!
Sing to the LORD, all the earth.
Sing to the LORD, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day.
Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.
For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
Sing Psalm 96.1-4.
(Mit Freuden Zart: All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above)
Sing to the Lord! O, bless His Name! All nations tell His glory!
Salvation’s tidings loud proclaim; let earth rehearse His story!
For God is greatly to be praised; His throne above all gods is raised –
Fear Him, and sing His glory!
Read Matthew 18.1-9; meditate on verses 6-9.
1. What seems to be Jesus’ main point in these verses?
2. How does He make that point?
Jesus the poet is at work here, using a rhetorical device called hyperbole – gross exaggeration – to make a very important point.
The point is this: Among His followers, sin has no place, either in our lives, or in the lives of those who share our communion in Christ. Believers are to hate sin (Ps. 97.10). They must not tolerate it in their own lives (vv. 8, 9); and they must be careful not to be the cause of it in others (vv. 6, 7).
Let’s take a closer look.
First is the instruction not to give offense to “these little ones” – new or young believers, presumably. We may consider that we are free in the Lord to do all kinds of things, but not if any of what we freely do causes a brother or sister in the Lord to fall into sin. Paul argues this point extensively in 1 Corinthians 8. We must be careful that our behavior is – as C. S. Lewis put it – always nudging and leading our neighbor to higher heights of glory in the Lord. To do otherwise is a serious fault. To emphasize just how terrible this is, Jesus introduced the image of the millstone around the neck of the one who makes others stumble. That would be a hard image to forget, I think, and thus effective to help us remember that loving our neighbors means not causing them to stumble into sin.
Closer to home, we need to be brutal with ourselves when it comes to harboring sin. Harboring sin in our lives defeats our prayer (Ps. 66.18). It leads us down the path of deception and the lie, deprives us of the grace of forgiveness, and even runs the risk of calling God a liar, if we say we have no sin (1 Jn. 1.8-10).
So if there is lingering sin in your life, get it out – whatever it takes. I don’t believe Jesus intended us to literally maim ourselves – He was speaking in hyperbole, for the shock effect, to make a point. But standing guard against sin is the most important thing any of us can do each day. Sin offends not only our neighbors, but God Himself. If we can deal with the sin in our own lives, we’ll be much less likely to cause our neighbors to sin.
And let’s remember – all hyperbole aside: It took the battered, torn, nail-scarred body of the sinless Savior to take away the sin of the world. Why would we ever want to bring it back?
1. How do you know when there is sin in your life? What are you supposed to do when you become aware of this?
2. What are some examples of things we are free to do, but which – under certain circumstances – might cause a fellow believer to stumble?
3. How can believers help one another to grow in grace and to hate sin?
To impart the greater vehemence to the threatening, he adds, that neither a right eye nor a right hand ought to be spared, if they occasion offense to us; for I explain these words as added for the purpose of amplification. Their meaning is, that we ought to be so constant and so zealous in opposing offenses, that we would rather choose to pluck out our eyes, or cut off our hands, than give encouragement to offenses; for if any man hesitate to incur the loss of his limbs, he spares them at the risk of throwing himself into eternal perdition. John Calvin (1506-1564), Commentary on Matthew 18.8, 9
Help me to hate sin so much, Lord, that today I will…
Pray Psalm 96.5-13.
What opportunities for bringing renewing grace to the world are available to you today? Ask the Lord to cleanse you of any sin, and to prepare you for edifying your neighbors, rather than causing them to stumble.
Sing Psalm 96.5-13.
Psalm 96.5-13 (Mit Freuden Zart: All Praise to God, Who Reigns Above)
All other gods are idols vain – the Lord created heaven.
Splendor and strength with Him obtain; to Him be glory given!
All fam’lies, praise this mighty Lord! Give strength and glory to His Word;
exalt the Lord of heaven.
Bring off’rings sweet to Him, our Lord, in holy garments praise Him!
Tremble before Him, all the earth; among the nations raise Him!
The earth is fixed, it will not move; the peoples will His justice prove –
exalt the Lord and praise Him.
Let heaven sing with lusty voice; let earth and sea sing sweetly!
Let fields and trees in Him rejoice, for He is coming swiftly
to judge the world in righteousness, the peoples in His faithfulness –
He comes; exalt Him greatly!
T. M. Moore
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. All quotations from Church Fathers from Ancient Christian Commentary Series, General Editor Thomas C. Oden (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006). All psalms for singing are from The Ailbe Psalter (available by clicking here)