Reading for Wednesday, July 4: Matthew 18
In Matthew 18, we come to the fourth of Jesus’ teaching discourses in this Gospel. Jesus turns His attention toward a fuller description of the Kingdom of God, beginning with a redefined understanding of greatness. The disciples press in, asking “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?” Jesus reaches for a child: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Often times this passage is misunderstood as implying that we must return to some sort of idyllic state of child-like innocence in order to enter the Kingdom. But innocence, once lost, is impossible to recover. Instead, Jesus is pointing to the child’s dependence upon another for his / her sustenance. “Unless you turn…” — repent of all attempts to find life outside of God. Accept the fact that you are dependent upon Him for everything. As we studied in Acts: “In him we live and move and have our being.”
This sort of humility prompts a reflective life. Believers should be aware that their actions could prompt others to sin (v5-9). This conscientiousness is an outworking of love for others, rooted in love for God. Inevitably, some will stumble and fall away. But the example Jesus leaves us is of a loving shepherd willfully pursuing the errant sheep (v12-13). Our love for our brother should prompt us to the same action — and even preventative measures as well.
This leads to Peter’s question about forgiveness and Jesus’ response: Forgiveness should be frequent and extravagant as it is practiced among followers of Christ. Jesus demonstrates this with the dramatic story of the king and his servants, closing with the important words that are meant to linger in our ears: “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.”