Thinking Out Loud

August 16, 2020

The Teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew: The Church

We continue sharing a 4-part series from Christianity 201 that was presented there last weekend; a four-part look at the other teaching blocks — since the Sermon on the Mount is so often covered — in Matthew’s Gospel


For the last two days we’ve been looking at what are called The Five Discourses of Matthew, the Sermon on the Mount, the Missionary Discourse, the Parabolic Discourse, the Discourse on the Church, and the Discourse on End Times.

■ Take time now read all of Matthew chapter 18.

The idea of ‘church’ as a building would have been a very foreign concept on the day Jesus had this particular huddle with his followers. Rather, He is talking about the relationships in the new community of believers.

This chapter deals with relationships in the new, emerging community that Jesus is shaping; these called-out ones; followers of what will be called The Way. This is sometimes referred to as The Ecclesial Discourse, and there is an extensive (i.e. quite lengthy) study page on this, including a helpful Q&A approach at this link.

The Greatest in the Kingdom

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. Matthew 18:1-3

This theme is recurring throughout the Jesus narrative. The mother of James and John dares to ask if her sons can sit to the left and right of Jesus, and then we have that embarrassing scene right after He has washed their feet and given them the symbols of his broken body and shed blood:

A dispute also arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. Luke 22: 24-26

The answer is always the same, a reminder of the “upside down” nature of His kingdom.

Causing Others to Stumble

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Matthew 18:6

Here Jesus warns about something that is going to be a great threat to the new community He is building: Corruption from within. How many times have you heard quoted — both from people inside the church and outside — that the greatest stumbling block to Christianity is Christians.

This situation can develop when Christians let down their guard and become lax about moral and ethical standards. However, it can also happen when well-meaning people impose rules and regulations on what Romans 14 calls those whose faith is weak.

Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Romans 14:13b

The Sheep Who Wander

While we left the “parabolic” discourse behind yesterday, this chapter does contain two parables. This very familiar one is a continuation of the thoughts above, told in terms of one sheep out of a flock of a hundred who has wandered off. In Luke 15, this story will become part of a trilogy including a lost coin and a lost son.

In the NIV, the first part of verse 10 begins, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones….” The full verse in The Message reads, Watch that you don’t treat a single one of these childlike believers arrogantly. You realize, don’t you, that their personal angels are constantly in touch with my Father in heaven?

A Pattern for Confronting Sin

Jesus issues a four-step guideline for dealing with sin in the community, which is totally connected to the idea (above) concerning those who cause others to stumble:

  1. Go directly to the person
  2. If they don’t listen, repeat, but bringing a couple of others with you
  3. If they still don’t respond, bring the matter before the assembly; the congregation
  4. If they are still not repentant, treat them as a pagan.

It’s not step four implies a complete excommunication, though some groups today practice this type of shunning.

This brings us to the verse,

Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Matthew 18: 18

At this point in church history, many different opinions exist as to the meaning of this verse, and we’ve covered (perhaps inconclusively) that a few years ago in What is Meant by Binding and Loosing.

The Forgiven Servant Who Doesn’t Forgive

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Matthew 18: 21

This is the longest section of Matthew 18, running to the end of the chapter at verse 35. Even beginning Bible readers will see a connection between this parable and the familiar words from Matthew 5:

and forgive us our sins,
as we have forgiven those who sin against us. Matthew 6:12 NLT

The servant is let off the hook, but refuses to do the same in the matter of a much, much smaller debt. As I mentioned two days ago, I owe this attention to these discourses to Michael Card who writes on this passage:

One of the key concepts of mercy (hesed) is that once we are shown mercy; we become obligated to give mercy. On realizing that the person from whom we have a right to expect nothing has given us everything, we must reciprocate. –Matthew: The Gospel of Identity p166

There is one more block of teaching to follow. Stay tuned!

October 10, 2016

The Thanksgiving Spirit

This is Thanksgiving Weekend in Canada. Russell Young is a weekly contributor to Christianity 201, our sister site featuring daily devotionals released each day at 5:30 EST. This is his first time at Thinking Out Loud.

by Russell Young

Thanksgiving is often celebrated as a harvest festival, a time of bringing in the riches of all that the land has provided the labors of man from the season just past. It is a time of rejoicing for God’s provision. In norther climates where leaved trees grace the land, thanksgiving is also a time of exceptional beauty. Autumn leaves reveal their varied colours and brilliance as green leaves are changed into many oranges, browns, reds, and yellows.

The idea and even command to thank God goes back to the beginning of the Bible. The Lord told his people how they were to present thank offerings. However, King David’s prayer of thanksgiving gives some idea of his heart. “Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him tell of his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice…” (1 Chr 16:7-10…NIV)

David’s thanksgiving was for and all-sufficient and merciful God. It was not for the bounty of a season but for the character of God and his faithfulness…for his “wonderful acts.” He recognized God’s everlasting covenant promise, for protection against enemy nations, for the splendor of his holiness and for his majesty. David’s praise of thanks was, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”

The God of creation is preparing an eternal place in his presence for those who love and obey him. His people should think of this. Is there not more to be celebrated than a bountiful harvest? Is He not more to be celebrated than temporal riches or good times?

It is easy to let discouragement destroy our joy and our hope when the world seems to have turned against us. Many lose their faith when trials come. They expect to live in the blessings that they imagine God should supply them. All people go through difficult times. God did not promise to relieve us of all our challenges and to satisfy our wants. In fact, his Word says that his children will suffer persecution and trials and that he disciplines and punishes those he loves. The challenges of life are to prepare us for the real hope of a place in his coming kingdom and they are to be considered blessings. Paul taught: “[G]ive thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you.” (1 Thes 5:18 NIV)

In spite of challenges, many people can celebrate that they live in the presence of peace and safety. They don’t have to seek shelter from blazing guns or falling bombs as believers must in Iraq or Syria. They are not wantonly tortured as they are in many African countries. Not many have to fear suicide bombers. Many will have something to eat tonight. Their children are not starving and have access to adequate healthcare.

give-thanks-to-the-lord King David remembered who God was. He proclaimed, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Ps 107:1 NIV) His love and mercy extends to all who are contrite in heart and who will humble themselves before him. The prophet Isaiah revealed God’s words: “This is the one I will esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” (Isa 66:2 NIV)

King David had taken another man’s wife and even had him killed. His penance brought redemption and forgiveness. God was truly merciful to him. All of the redeemed can appreciate the sins that cost the life of God’s one and only begotten Son? David did not just thank God for a bountiful harvest and a full stomach. He thanked God for his awesomeness and mercy.

God is not only near the righteous but he lives within them as Holy Spirit. Without him victory over the world, the evil one or the sin loving flesh could not be gained. Temptations would command the believer’s attention and as Paul has reported, the weakness of the flesh would result in defeat and death. He called the flesh, “the body of death.” (Rom 7:24 NIV)

God placed Adam and Eve in an ideal setting, the Garden of Eden, and yet they sinned. He started the human race again with righteous Noah following the Great Flood, and they sinned. He chose a special people, Israel, and offered them many promises of blessings for obedience, and they rebelled. He redeemed them from Egypt and led them in the wilderness; even then they continued to sin. He gave them the law and the prophets and the tabernacle system of worship. He made his requirements clear and recorded them on stone…and his people sinned. Finally, he gave the life of his Son as a payment for sin, and the Spirit of Christ, his Son, to live in the repentant. Just as Christ had lived a sinless life in the body that the Father had prepared for him in the womb of Mary, he has made provision for victory for all who live under his lordship through obedience. This is the believer’s great hope and the ultimate expression of God’s love for a helpless sinner. Christ in you.

What are you giving thanks for? Is it a meal? A comfortable bed, close friends? Or, is it for the faithfulness of a loving and all-sufficient God and creator. What is your celebration about? Be thankful for God and his mercy. Celebrate his love and the hope he offers. Celebrate him, not just what he has done.

Like King David be prepared to say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

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