Monday, September 17, 2018

Daily Bread for Oct 9, Mat 18-19

Today's readings are Mt 18-19.

In Mt 18, Jesus brings us a teaching on humility, pride and discipline in the church. The lessons on being humble will be a thread that continues to develop in His ministry culminating in the washing of the disciples' feet at the Last Supper. This teaching on humility comes just as the disciples are arguing about who is greatest (again). It is followed by an admonition to be cautious about sinning (Mt 18:10-14). The flow of the chapter is designed to teach that self-idolization ("who is the greatest?") should be avoided no matter the consequences. Pride must be excised at all costs!

The parable of the lost sheep (Mt 18:10-14) is an addendum to the teaching on humility. It shows that no one is unworthy of pursuing for the sake of the kingdom. In short, no one is greater than the other. Any discussion of who may be greater will only foster pride or idolatry.

Developing the sin theme further, Mt 18:15-20 lays the groundwork for dealing with blatant, unrepentant sin in a brother or sister in the faith. This is not about someone who struggles with their sin. It is about the alleged believer that sins and refuses to repent while acknowledging that his behavior is sinful. This type of open rebellion is dangerous and can be cancer to the church. The procedure described is intended to restore, not punish. The church is to make every effort to win him/her over and encourage them to repent.

The authority to do discipline is established in Mt 18:18-20. Context is critical to understanding this passage. These verses are not a guarantee that Jesus will be present "whenever two or three are gathered in His name." Jesus is present in every believer, whether there are more than one or not! There is no need for some sort of spiritual quorum that guarantees the presence of Jesus. Nor is there a guarantee that, if enough people pray for the same thing, it will be given to them. Scripture is clear that there are times when people do not get what they ask for because they ask with wrong motives (Jam 4:2-3). The number of people praying will not change hearts with improper motives. So, this passage does not tell us that two or three command the presence of Christ. Nor does it prescribe a guaranteed answer to prayer if only two or more people agree.

What these verses in Mt 18:15-20 establish is the judicial authority to discipline based on two or more witnesses. What this short passage shows us is that God will bless the church when it stands for holiness and renders discipline to an unrepentant sinner. However, there is a check and balance. More than one person is required to be involved in making the decision (“If two of you agree…”). Mt 18:18 simply says that the same authority that is in heaven operates on earth. It is not about who has the power to "bind" or "loosen" as is frequently taught. This verse refers to the discipline of the church (“where two or three are gathered in My name”) when enacted upon according to Scripture. That discipline is recognized on earth and in heaven (“whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven”).

For clarity as to how Mt 18:15-20 is to be used, we see the parable of the unforgiving servant. The discipline taught in vs. 15-20 is intended to show grace and restore, not punish. Those who are unwilling to forgive will suffer harsh consequences. Forgiveness and grace are evidence of the indwelling Spirit.

Two significant but often overlooked life-lessons emerge from Mt 19. There is certainly a richness of teachings in this chapter, but these two might be easy to miss amidst the others.

First, there is the strange lesson about the eunuchs, which comes within the context of marriage, re-marriage, and divorce (Mt 19:1-12). Notice that there are three types of eunuchs, those who were born that way, those who were made eunuchs by man and those who consciously decided to become eunuchs. The ones that have consciously decided to become eunuchs do so for the "sake of the kingdom." This is not advocating that anyone mutilate themselves. It speaks about celibacy for the sake of the kingdom, rather than falling into sin. The text does not tell us that these people are any better nor more spiritual than anyone else. Their celibacy does not seem to qualify them for any specific position nor is it required of them. They make the decision to live celibate solely to honor God. Note, once they make that decision of celibacy, they are not transformed into something else more spiritual or closer to God, as some teach. They remain eunuchs. They decide that honoring God is preferable to pleasing themselves. Their decision is honored in these verses.

The second teaching is about the children (Mt 19:13-30). They would be easy to dismiss as unimportant or as not having anything of value to contribute. Jesus offers a reminder that they are part of the kingdom as well. Indeed, these children and those like them possess the kingdom of heaven. This should be an encouragement to all those people who minister to our little ones. They are inheritors of the kingdom and are just as precious in the Lord's sight as anyone else. 

The more profound lesson, however, is that everyone was once a child. All of us were young and weak, physically and spiritually. Children, if raised properly, will grow in strength and knowledge. Knowing this, the child becomes a valued member of the church but also a metaphor for a new believer. Like a child, a new believer needs to be cared for, nurtured, protected and instructed. Children and new believers will grow and become strong if they receive the blessing of a loving, compassionate, mature caretaker. As more mature believers, rather than looking down on any of these, we should see them as opportunities to see God work in and through them just as He did and is doing through us. 

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