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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Faith Bible Church, NY
May 1, 1994
God’s Care for His Children, Part 2
It is a given that parents love their children. They shelter them, clothe them, feed them, protect them, and 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.
Last week we began our examination of God’s care for His children. (See: God’s Care for His Children). 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. This is a very exciting concept both from the perspective that God is so closely related to us, and from the perspective that in showing hospitality to others, we are doing something for God. In Matthew 18:6-7 we found another aspect of God’s care for His children, and the reference is to believers of all ages, not just ones that are young in age. He is jealous for them 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 judgement to bear.
We need to remember that it is not only non-Christians that can be stumbling blocks. Those who profess Jesus as their savior can also be the cause of other people falling into sin. To be sure, some have a false profession, such as cultists, 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 causing other Christians to stumble into sin. True Christians will not receive the same judgement as non-Christians and those with false professions, 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 the 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 that someone join you in your sin. You might be asked to take part in lying, cheating, stealing, or an immoral entertainment or practice. It could be done by giving ungodly counsel to others as is so often done today, such as when a hurting spouse is encouraged to file for divorce even when there are no Biblical grounds for such action. You can entice someone to sin by the example you set before them too. You may not ever say anything to them, but just because you are doing something sinful an immature Christian could conclude it must be okay to do whatever you are doing since you are supposedly more mature than they are. Our manner of treating people can also induce a person to sin. Showing favoritism or demanding unrealistic expectations can produce frustration and anger. A critical spirit on our part can cause another person to lose heart and give up. When we are insensitive, unloving and unkind we can be the reason another person falls into sin.
I hope each of us takes this seriously because sin is a serious business. We need to be radical in our striving against sin in our own lives and in seeking to make sure that we are not the cause of someone else falling into sin. Just how radical should we be?
Jesus brings that out in his allegory Matthew 18:8-9 . 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. Of course 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, the other one will also lead you the same direction. 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 sinful heart desire for the sin. Jesus is calling for a dramatic severing of the sinful impulses in us and the enticements around us that push us to evil action. Are you willing to be that radical?
Whatever it is that hinders you from living a holy life is what you need to remove from your life. It could be an immoral relationship, the immorality on TV (and if you have not been able to control your viewing habits, you need to admit your weakness and perhaps remove the TV set altogether), pulp novels, gossip magazines, and since gluttony is a sin, it includes excessive food.
The pursuit of holiness will not only keep us from sin, but it will also keep us from being a stumbling block to anyone else. 1 John 2:10 says, “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
In Matthew 18:10 Jesus elaborates even 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 Ch rist. 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 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 treating them with contempt or to 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 inferior. 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 us how believers 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 could have had a right to despise others, it was Jesus. No one compared 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? Through many ways.
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, or popularity. Paul was ridiculed because of his appearance and less than polished speaking ability (2 Corinthians 10:10). James 2:1-8 strongly warns against such practice. 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 giving them anything.
We demonstrate our disdain to one another when we are indifferent to, or 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. Worse than if they had the plague because if they did have it we would at least be compassionate and some would seek to find a way to get them cured.
At the same time, when sin is confronted properly in love and graciousness, we sometimes find that one who has been bold enough to try to bring a fellow believer out of their sin is resented. And that resentment is not always confined to the person who is in sin and is being confronted. Other people will also sometimes join in and treat the person who is doing the confronting of sin like he was the evil one. Sometimes this occurs because of the blindness that can accompany blood ties and friendship. Someone might say: “don’t you dare say anything negative about anyone in my family!”. Sometimes it occurs because of a perverted sense of compassion that protects sin rather than deals with it. I know because I have been resented for confronting people about their sin. I have been called the names and rejected for doing so.
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
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 short, “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 or any other teaches the idea of an individual guardian angel assigned to a child. 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. 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 ministers of God, and that is what is being stressed in this passage. 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 every one of us that follows 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 highly values us. 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 verse 12, let me add a footnote here about verse 11. In many of your Bibles you will note that it is marked as being somewhat questionable. 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.
The Father’s Desire
Jesus uses a common teaching method to drive His point to the disciples. He asks them the questions.“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, because a shepherd would naturally leave 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 is wonderful because 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 child 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. He does not just wait for us to return on our own, but seeks us out to rescue us.
Matthew 18:13 adds, “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. 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. Ask Jim Baker & Jimmy Swaggart, or we can take a trip to a Rescue Mission or a jail and I am sure it would not take long to introduce you to a professing Christian who played with sin, and sin won.
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 in this passage 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, so He sternly warns those that would cause it to happen. Woe to those that are stumbling blocks to God’s children. We need to take radical measures to make sure that we are not stumbling blocks and that we do not trip over those who are. We should be humble and build each other up, not tearing each other down because of our pride and 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, we need to care for one another in the same way. Will you commit yourself to do it?
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