Tonight we will be studying Matthew 18, verses 1-14. The first five verses of this passage give us a practical view of the disciples, putting them in a very normal light. How many discussions do men have trying to determine which is the best basketball team, best business venture, musical group or computer product? Mankind likes to categorize and arrange things into hierarchies. The disciples were trying to do this when they were wondering who is best in the kingdom of heaven. Perhaps they were thinking of Elijah, Moses, Abraham and other great men of faith in God. They simply wanted to know who was greatest, or best.
But when they ask Jesus, His answer to them changes our entire perspective on putting things into hierarchies, at least in the godly sense. Because God is the greatest and this is absolute! Aside from God, there is no one that can be greater.
But this fact is beside the point of Jesus’s statement. Jesus is ultimately trying to communicate to them that if they even want to get to heaven, they need to think differently: “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 18:3-4
This means not thinking in terms of “Who’s best?” or “Who’s better?” but instead not concerning ourselves with these things and concentrating more on being humble. This means not thinking highly of ourselves and also looking for opportunities to help others. Humility implies a lack of selfishness in our thoughts and an increase in our awareness and consideration of others. You see children act this way, and often. Ultimately children do grow up to think like adults but there is a time in childhood when we are naturally curious and have an empathy for others. Children with this frame of mind are not worried about who is best of where they are in the pecking order; rather they are innocent and unassuming.
Jesus is telling the disciples that if they want to be the greatest, they need to be the least. And this state of mind needs to be the goal of every follower of Christ. Instead of asking why we are treated differently or why we didn’t get what we deserve, we need to ask who we can help and how can I help facilitate?
Verses 6-9 have Jesus taking the discussion in a new direction: offenses, or temptations. Specifically, Jesus is talking about leading others into temptation: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” So whether it is Satan or a bad influence, anyone that leads a believer into temptation is sure to receive grave consequences.
The latter part of this section in verses 8 and 9 show Jesus telling the disciples the importance of spiritual purity: that it is even more important than our physical faculties. In other words, if I am unable to prevent myself from sinning through prayer, willpower, etc., it would be better for me to remove my eyes and prevent the sinful activity that way. A profound statement, for sure, but it also reveals how God would have us arrange our priorities. It shows us how much more important our spiritual life is over our physical one.
To close tonight, read verses 10-14. Here, Jesus talks of the importance of a single lost sheep to a man. Jesus mentions how much the man celebrated when he finally found the sheep and how he celebrated over that single sheep more than the other 99 sheep he owned. This is an analogy (or parable!) showing how God rejoices over a lost soul returned to Him. It does not mean that God loves the lost more than the saved, but it does mean that God seeks the lost more because the saved are already with Him.
If you have left God, know that God is looking for you to return. And know that when you do, He will rejoice. Tonight I urge you to not think highly of yourself, to see what you can do to help rather than criticize, and to seek God in your heart and in your deeds. This life is so short and the pleasures are fleeting. It is wisest to spend time investing in eternity with Him over the thin substance of this life.