(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click Here)
(For the PowerPoint presentation for this sermon, Click Here)
Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
July 31, 2016
It is a given that parents love their children. They shelter them; they clothe them; they feed them; they protect them and they care for them. Any parent that does not do these things is not a good parent, and in our society, if a parent fails to accomplish these basic responsibilities they can be in danger of losing their children to a social service agency. The mark of a good parent is not that they fulfill these minimal responsibilities, but that they provide all these things with a loving spirit and a joyful heart. Good parents delight in giving of themselves to their children.
Two weeks ago we began our examination of God’s care for His children. (See: God’s Care for His Children, Part 1). In Matthew 18:5 we found that God so identifies with those that belong to Him that when we receive another believer, regardless of how significant or insignificant they may seem to us, we are receiving Him as well. That is a very exciting concept both from the perspective that God so closely identifies with us, and from the position that in showing hospitality to others, we are doing it for God.
In Matthew 18:6-7 we found another aspect of God’s care for His children, and the reference there to “little ones” is to immature believers of all ages, not just ones that are young in age. God is jealous for His children and will take vengeance on anyone that would harm them. It is a dreadful thing to cause a Christian to fall into sin because judgement will fall against that individual. Jesus said it would be better to die in the unusual and gruesome manner of being drowned in the sea with a heavy weight around your neck than for you to cause someone else to stumble into sin. Sin is a serious issue and Jesus pronounces woe on those that promote it. Remember that a “woe” is the opposite of a “blessing.” It is the forewarning that a curse will come upon the one that brings such an offense. God will bring judgment to bear.
Also remember that both non-Christians and Christians can be stumbling blocks. Certainly some of these, such as cultists, have false professions of faith and that is why they are so often guilty of enticing others into evil, but even those with genuine professions of faith can be guilty of doing this. True Christians will not receive the same judgment as non-Christians, for their sin has already been atoned for in Jesus’ death on the cross, however, they will suffer loss. They will have works of wood, hay and stubble that will not transfer into eternity (1 Corinthians 3:12). They will also find their relationship with God and other Christians hindered until repentance and confession is made so that their daily walk with God can be restored. Any time a true believer sins, and it is certainly a sin to encourage someone else to sin, they grieve the Holy Spirit, and that is a loss.
A person can entice someone else to sin through either direct or indirect means. It could be through a direct proposal to join them in their sin such as lying, cheating, stealing, immoral entertainment, fornication, false worship, blaspheme, etc. It could be done by giving ungodly counsel to others as is so often done today as Christians simply repeat the secular counsel they have heard from others. A common one today is encouraging a hurting spouse to file for divorce even when there are no Biblical grounds for such action.
You can also entice someone to sin by your example even if you are unaware of it. When you do something sinful, less mature Christians easily conclude that what you are doing must be okay since you are more mature in their eyes. Related to this is the whole area of your freedom in Christ becoming a stumbling block to an immature Christian who does not have faith to do what you do. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 & 10 warn us to be sensitive to immature believers so that we do not cause them to falter. Your manner of treating people can also induce someone else to sin. Showing favoritism or demanding unrealistic expectations can produce frustration and anger. A critical spirit on your part can cause the other person to lose heart and give up. When you are insensitive, unloving and unkind, you can contribute to the reasons another person falls into sin.
This is something all of us need to take seriously because sin is a serious business. Be radical in your striving against sin in your own life and seek to make sure that you are not the cause of someone else falling into sin. How radical? Jesus brings that out in his allegory Matthew 18:8-9.
Jesus says that if your hand, foot or eye cause you to stumble, then cut them off and get rid of them for it is better to be crippled and going to heaven than whole and going to hell. It is obvious that Jesus is not saying to literally physically mutilate yourself because you cannot avoid sin that way. If one hand caused you to sin and you cut it off, you can still use the other one to do the same thing. If one eye caused you to sin and you plucked it out, the eye that remains will be just as wandering. Why? It is not the physical body that is causing the sin, but the heart’s sinful desire for the sin. Jesus calls for a dramatic severing of the sinful impulses within and the enticements without that push you and others to evil. Are you willing to be that radical?
As I mentioned last week, whatever it is that hinders you from living a holy life, you need to get rid of it. It could be an immoral relationship, the garbage on TV, pulp novels, gossip magazines, social media, music or other forms of entertainment such games. Beware of things such as fashion and gyms that promote vanity. Be cautious of hobbies that block you from serving Christ as you should. Rethink your involvement in the rat race for even if you gain lots of stuff, its all going to burn anyway. Gluttony seems to be the acceptable Christian sin, but it is still sin. Food sustains life and it is a blessing to enjoy it, but God made food for the body, not the body for food. A simple way to keep gluttony or any addiction at bay is to not to have it around you. Don’t allow junk food in your house. Limit your portions by serving what you need for your meal and putting the rest away. A major part of being able to put anything that is hindering you is being humble enough to admit that you are weak in that area.
The other major part is being radical enough to consider yourself to be crucified with Christ, dead to sin, and alive to righteousness. That would also end the selfishness that prods pettiness, discontentment, being controlled by emotions and a host of other sins.
Jesus’ commands here are not too radical because A) it is the truth for a Christian, and B) sin is serious and has severe consequences that are eternal. Mark 9:49-50 even records that Jesus added the following to His call to radically cut off whatever causes you to stumble. “49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50“Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
This passage tends to confuse people for several reasons. First, there are textual variations with translations based on later Byzantine texts adding in an extra phrase, “and every sacrifice will be seasoned with salt,” at the end of verse 49. This appears to have come from Leviticus 2:13, but it does not change the meaning of the text. Second, people tend to remove the statement from its context and become confused by the metaphors used.
“For everyone” in context points to those who claim to be Jesus’ disciples to whom He is talking to at the time. Therefore being salted with fire is not a reference to hell, but to fiery trials every believer will go through which tests and purifies us as spoken about in 1 Peter 4:12. God saves people so that they might be holy and blameless before Him (Ephesians 1:4), and the trials of life are means by which He produces that in us (James 1:2-4). That is why the salt is good. However, if the salt loses its savor, how will it recover its properties? If there is no grace in the soul, the trial will produce the opposite of resentment, anger or depression instead of holiness. Jesus therefore admonished them to have salt in themselves and be at peace. They needed to actively pursue holiness and the things that would help produce it for that would put an end to their senseless bickering about who is greatest in the kingdom. We need to do the same.
The pursuit of holiness will not only keep you from sin, but it will also keep you from being a stumbling block to others. 1 John 2:10 states, “The one who loves his brother abides in the light and there is no cause for stumbling in him.” Are you abiding in the light? Are you pursuing after holiness? Or are you caught in sin and being the cause of sin in others? Our heavenly Father is watching. What does He see?
The Father’s Warning – Matthew 18:10
In Matthew 18:10 Jesus elaborates a little farther on God’s jealous care for His children. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
Don’t Despise Them
Not only should we not be a cause of stumbling, we must also not despise those that belong to Christ. Again, the “little ones” here refer to new believers of any age, not just children. Remember that the child that Jesus had called to Himself in verse 2 was used by Jesus to demonstrate to the disciples the nature of true greatness in the kingdom. Greatness in God’s kingdom is not found by pursuing the things the world finds important, but by being converted and demonstrating the humble nature found in a young child. We should not despise any other follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
What do we mean by despise? The word here (katafronevw / kataphrone ) means “to think down on,” and it carries the idea to look down on someone else as inferior and not worth consideration or care. The result of despising someone is to treat them with contempt, be condescending, disdain them as unimportant and not worth your time. Again, we can see how this would strike against the bickering that had been going on among the disciples about who was the greatest among them. To argue about who is the best also means that there must be arguing about who is not the best, who is not as good, who is of lower position. The proud and self-seeking push themselves up by pushing down on those around them with jealousy, envy and resentment being the result rather than humility and encouragement.
In Philippians 2:2-8 Paul tells believers how they should be living. “Make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfish or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
If anyone would have had a right to despise others, it was Jesus for no one compares with Him. Yet Jesus demonstrated that He is the greatest in the kingdom through His humility. There is no room for Christians to despise one another. How do Christians despise one another? Many ways. Here are some examples.
As mentioned last week, it occurs when the weaker brother judges the stronger brother as being less holy because he participates in something the weaker brother thinks is sinful, but is in fact not sinful except in the consciousness of the weaker brother. The reverse is also true when the stronger brother flaunts his freedom in Christ to the detriment of the weaker brother who may be enticed to do something that is against His conscience (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8).
Another way Christians despise one another is by showing partiality for external reasons such as a person’s wealth, position, influence, outward appearance, popularity, etc. James 2:1-8 strongly warns against such practice. Paul was ridiculed because of his appearance and less than polished speaking ability (2 Corinthians 10:10). God welcomes everyone who fears Him and does what is right (Acts 10:34-35), and so should we.
Withholding help from those in need is another form of despising. James 2:15-16, 1 John 3:17-18 and 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 all speak in strong terms against seeing someone in need, having the means to meet that need, but saying to them, “be warm and be filled,” without making the effort to meet the need.
Disdain is also demonstrated by either indifference to or being judgmental of a fellow believer who spiritually stumbles. Too often Christians treat someone who has fallen into sin worse than if they had the plague. I say worse because if they did have some dread disease, there would at least be some compassion to seek to find a way to get them cured. I will expand on both these subjects in the future.
Related to this is the disdain shown toward those that are not indifferent and do strive to confront sin properly in love and graciousness. Too often the effort to bring a fellow believer out of their sin is resented, and not just by the person being confronted about his sin. It is not uncommon for other people to become defensive of the person who is in sin and then treat the person who is doing what Scripture demands of us as if he is the one in sin. Sometimes this occurs because of the blindness that can accompany blood ties and friendship and the attitude is “you better not dare say anything negative about anyone in my family or about any of my friends.” Sometimes it is because they have some hidden sin they do not want to have exposed, and the best defense is an offense. Sometimes it occurs because of a perverted sense of compassion that protects sin rather than deals with it. I know because that is a common response to pastors who fulfill their God given responsibilities in shepherding their flock that I have experienced many times. That kind of reaction has caused many pastors to give up trying to deal with sin issues or even give up and leave the ministry altogether.
Regardless of the reason for it, we must be very careful not to despise one another. It is really only another mark of human pride and a failure to humbly follow the Lord and his commands.
They Have Angels Watching – Matthew 18:10
Now the stated reason that Jesus gives for not despising God’s children is that “their angels continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.” This is an emphatic statement since He prefaces it with the phrase, “for I say unto you.” In other words, “listen up, this is important.”
But what does it mean that “their angels continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven?” This is the passage from which some have developed the idea of every child having a “guardian angel.” However, neither this passage nor any other teaches the idea of an individual guardian angel assigned to a child. Again, the reference here to “my little ones” is not to a child, but to those who have come to Christ and have been converted and become like a child. The young boy that Jesus called to Himself in verse 2 has only been used as an example of what the character will be like of those who are going to enter into the kingdom. The idea of every child having a guardian angel developed because people have taken this verse out of context so many times.
What this passage does tell us is that God has assigned some group of angels to believers. We do not know the size of the group except that there are enough to carry out God’s will. So it is not each child gets an angel, but that there is a host of angels assigned to the care of believers.
Notice as well that though these angels are associated with the “little ones,” the believers, the emphasis is not on what they do for the believers, but on the fact that they are in the presence of God. We know from Hebrews 1 that angels are ministering spirits, and that is what they do here. They are continually ready to carry out God’s will in performing whatever He wants them to do on behalf of the believer.
That should be a great encouragement to everyone of us that follow Christ. God is so concerned about our care that He has a host of angels in His presence ready to carry out His will for our good. This is a clear demonstration that God values us highly. Don’t despise what God values so much. God has assigned angels to us.
Jesus goes on and further describes the Father’s care for His children and why they should not be despised. They not only have angels assigned to them, but they are in a special relationship with Jesus too. The analogy now changes to one of a shepherd caring for His sheep.
Before I go on to Matthew 18:12, let me add a footnote here about verse 11, “For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.” Many Bible translations note that this verse is not in early manuscripts. The ESV does not include the verse in its text, but only references it as a footnote. The conclusion I have reached from my study is that while the statement is certainly a true one, it was added by a copyist from Luke 19:10 and does not appear in Matthew’s original text. We can understand this verse being added because Jesus Christ, the great shepherd, did come to save that which was lost as described in verses 12-14 that follow.
The Father’s Desire – Matthew 18:12-14
Jesus uses a common teaching method to drive in His point to the disciples. He asks them questions about things with which they were familiar. “What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?”
Search & Rescue
The tending of sheep was a common vocation in Palestine and each of the disciples would have been familiar with its practices at least to some degree. They would have taken this question as being rhetorical, which it was, for of course the shepherd would have left to search for his lost sheep. Shepherds knew their flocks well and it would not take a long time for them to become aware that one of their sheep was missing and could be in possible danger from a wild animal, thieves or injury. He would see that the rest of his sheep were safe and then he would begin to search for the missing one.
The analogy here is wonderful for it tells us that each and every one of Christ’s sheep is personally and individually cared for. It does not matter which sheep went astray, the shepherd would search for it. The Lord is equally concerned for each of us that belong to Him. Your position, wealth, fame or power does not make you more or less valuable to Him. A poor Christian living in a slum that wanders away is as important to Jesus as a respected church leader that stumbles into sin.
God is patient with His wayward children and He seeks them out. Even as God called out for Adam in the garden, so He calls out for you and me to respond and come back to Him when we stray and try to hide from Him. He does not just wait for us to return on our own, but seeks us out to rescue us. In the passage we will study next week, we will see how God can involve you in His search and rescue efforts.
Jesus adds in Matthew 18:13, “And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.” Notice that the finding of the sheep is not certain. Jesus says, “if it turns out that he finds it.” The sheep could have already been stolen or eaten by a wild animal. It may have gotten so lost that the shepherd could not find it. This is a sober reminder to us of two things. First, not all that belong to the visible church are really in God’s kingdom. They may walk outwardly in the way of the Lord for a while, but their true nature eventually comes out and they leave as described in 1 John 2:19. Second, it is a strong reminder about the danger of sin. Never should we slack off in our pursuit of holiness and start playing with sin thinking that if we fall God will rescue us. Sin always has its consequences. It can grab a hold of your life and destroy not only it, but your usefulness to God too. You can meet many professing Christians at Rescue Missions and in jails. They played with sin and sin won and now they are suffering the consequences.
But when a lost sheep is found there is much rejoicing. When a believer who has gone astray has been restored, there is a special joy, not because they are more valuable, but because of the special concern evoked in the shepherd because of the danger they were in. It is the same way in a family when a child is seriously ill. That child receives more attention and care. When the child does get well, the special rejoicing is not over the children that remained healthy, but the sick one that has been restored. That is the special joy spoken of here when a wayward believer is returned to the fold.
Jesus cares for every one of His sheep and He will even search after those that go astray. If Jesus cares that much for even wandering sheep, how could we even think about despising any believer?
Jesus concludes in Matthew 18:14, “Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that the Lord is “patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.” The word here, “perish,” is not just referring to total destruction in hell as in 2 Peter, but to any ruin or loss. The Lord does not want any of His children spiritually damaged even for a brief time.
When believers sin, it destroys their usefulness to God and to the Church as well as destroying their own joy and relationship with God and other believers. God does not want that to happen and so He sternly warns those that would cause it to happen. Woe to those that are stumbling blocks to God’s children. You need to take radical measures to make sure that you are not a stumbling block and that you do not trip over those who are. Be humble and build each other up instead of tearing one another down because of pride or envy. Do not despise one another. God loves us so much that He has angels assigned to watch over us, and He searches after us when we do stumble. That is God’s care for His children, and He includes us in His plan as we care for one another in the same way. Will you commit yourself to do it?
Matthew 18:5 – God identifies with the believer – to _____________a believer is to receive God
Matthew 18:6-7 – “little ones” = ________believers. God will take vengeance on those who cause stumbling
Both non-Christians and Christians can be _____________blocks – a cause of someone else falling into sin
_________________enticement to sin can be done by invitation to join in sin or by ungodly counsel
_________________enticement to sin can be done through example or manner of treating others
Matthew 18:8-9 – Jesus uses ____________to emphasis the need to be serious about dealing with sin
Get rid of whatever ____________you to sin and change the manner in which you live
Consider yourself to be ______________with Christ, dead to sin, and alive to righteousness
Mark 9:49-50 – it must be interpreted in its _______________to be properly understood
“Everyone” = all the ______________to whom Jesus is talking.
Without embracing God’s grace, trials produce resentment, anger or depression instead of ______________
The pursuit of __________will keep you from sin and from being a stumbling block to others – 1 John 2:10
The Father’s Warning – Matthew 18:10
Don’t Despise Them
Despise (katafronevw / kataphrone ) means “to think down on” – be condescending, treat with __________
Philippians 2:2-8 – how we are to treat fellow believers. ___________is our example
Contempt is shown by a weaker brother who _______others and a stronger brother who flaunts his freedoms
Disdain is demonstrated when __________________is shown – James 2:1-8
_____________help when you have the means and opportunity is another form of despising – James 2:15-16
Disdain is also demonstrated by either __________to or being judgmental of a fellow believer who stumbles
It is worse when __________is shown to those who are willing to confront sin and help a stumbling brother
They Have Angels Watching – Matthew 18:10
This passage does not teach that____ _______________have “guardian angels”
God has assigned a group of angels to ______________- Hebrews 1, Angels are ministering spirits
God has a host of angels in His ______________ready to carry out His will for our good
The Father’s Desire – Matthew 18:12-14
Search & Rescue – Matthew 18:12
Jesus uses an ______________well known to His disciples to express God’s care for every one of his sheep
______is patient with His wayward children and He seeks them out even when they hide from Him – Gen. 3
Rejoicing – Matthew 18:13
If he finds it – Not all who are in the visible church are __________________in God’s kingdom
Sin is dangerous – it can grab hold of your life and _______________it
There is rejoicing when a lost sheep is _______________
If Jesus cares so much for even wandering sheep, how can we even think about _______________them
His Will – Matthew 18:14
“Perish” refers to any _____________or loss
A believer in sin ________his usefulness to God, his own joy, his relationship with God and other believers
Take ___________measures to make sure you are neither a stumbling block nor tripping over those who are
Seek to care for one another in a manner that reflects _______________________of us
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down all the verses mentioned in the sermon and look them up later. 2) Count how many times the word “sin” is used. Talk with your parents about the importance of fleeing from sin and its temptations.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Why is it important to receive other Christian regardless of their status? What do “little ones” refer to in Matthew 18:6? Explain. What will God do to someone that causes such a “little one” to stumble? What are some of the ways that a person can be the direct cause of another person stumbling? What are some of the ways that a person can be the indirect cause of another person stumbling? How have others caused you to stumble? How have you caused others to stumble? Should Matthew 18:8-9 be taken literally or as hyperbole? Explain. What are some things you need to “cut off” to remove temptation to sin from your life? Why does Mark 9:49-50 cause such confusion to people? What is the meaning of that passage in its context? How would the disciples have understood it? What does it mean to “despise” someone else? What are the some of the ways that can be demonstrated? Read Philippians 2:2-8 – how does God want us to treat other believers? Why? Does Matthew 18:10 teach that children have Guardian Angels? Why or why not? Why is it important to know that God has angels assigned to humans? What is the comfort in the analogy of Matthew 18:12-14? Who does the searching? Are all “sheep” found? Why or why not? What is the response when a straying sheep is found? What is the meaning of perish in Matthew 18:14? Explain. What is the possible consequences of sin to a believer? Since God cares for His children in such a manner, how should you treat fellow believers?
(If you would like to receive Pastor Harris’ weekly sermons via e-mail, Click Here)
For comments, please e-mail Church office