Living Together Well, Part 1
This morning we continue through the Gospel of Matthew, and we’ve come to a section that is full of things we can, and should, begin to immediately apply to our lives. For the next several weeks we’re going to be looking at what Jesus says about how to live with other people – how to get along, how to value others, how to forgive them, and what God has to say about marriage.
You might want to share some of this with people in your life, people you care about – share the podcast with them, or invite them to come to church with you and hear in person, because the issues we’re going to address are important to life now and have major implications for our souls forever.
This morning we jump back into Matthew 18 where we left off a few weeks ago. And I want to begin by going back to verse one, so we see the whole picture, because what we’re going to examine this morning is part of a longer conversation Jesus was having. This morning we’re going to read some things you may have seen and heard before, they may be familiar to you, but I want to make sure you see them as part of the whole point Jesus was making. So let’s back up and take a look at:
Matthew 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
2 Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, 3 and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
The other gospel writers also tell us about this moment, but they let us know that the disciples were actually arguing among themselves about who was the greatest, who was the most important, and now, according to Matthew, they’ve brought their question to Jesus – they’re asking: “which of us is going to have the best position, the best title, which of us gets the best parking spot in Your kingdom?”
And Jesus responds by telling them – if you want a position in the Kingdom, humble yourself and reflect the heart of the King by valuing other people, even “little” people.
So keep that call to humility in the back of your mind as we look at what else Jesus has to say here, beginning in:
Matthew 18:10 “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven. 11 For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.
This mention of their angels is hard to interpret, but the meaning is not. Jesus is saying these little children, who are easy to despise if you’re just focused on yourself and your ambition or agenda, actually have great value in the sight of God. He goes on to drive that point home:
12 “What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
Now there are several things we need to note here.
First, Jesus is telling these men who are interested in being great, they’re interested in knowing God and having a place in His kingdom, Jesus tells them: make sure you value young children. In fact He tells them take heed that you do not despise them.
That’s an interesting instruction: take heed – that’s an active command. He’s saying pay attention; watch out for this in your life. It can happen without any planning, you need to take heed. He doesn’t assume they hate kids, He’s just pointing out what can happen so easily – you wind up paying attention to people and things that seem more valuable.
Few people, especially ambitious people, think the way to rise to power includes watching out for kids. And yet, Jesus says these are exactly the kind of people that God is focused on.
And, it’s not just kids. When you read the Bible you discover God takes a very keen interest in the lives of so called “little people,” the marginalized, the powerless, the afflicted, the persecuted, the overlooked. Read the Scriptures and you find God watching over the immigrant, the poor, women, social outcasts, and minorities. Whether it’s his own people Israel being oppressed by the nations around them, or individuals and groups in Israel being mistreated by their own countrymen, God is always showing an interest in the people most likely to be overlooked by the people in power or the people hungry for power.
So, in some ways this passage speaks directly into the Social Justice movement that is going on today by reminding us that God sees, and cares about the vulnerable.
But also, in very practical terms, Jesus speaks to moms and dads and those who could be, but aren’t yet by telling us: don’t despise your kids. Don’t get so caught up with your ambition and agenda that you overlook the kids. Some of you need to consider having kids or having more kids, or even adopting or fostering kids because God cares about kids as much or more than He cares about your career and your hobbies and your dreams and it’s easy to put off having kids or it’s easy to ignore the kids you have while you do the thing you want to do or the things you feel like you have to do.
I just want to pose this question to you married couples: are you despising little ones who God greatly values while you pursue and value the things you think will make you great or make your life better? Jesus said this to busy people who were off doing what they felt were good things, things they thought would advance their career. And Jesus told them, you’re overlooking what’s really most. I want to encourage you to pull back and ask the question: do we really value and prioritize children the way God does? I think that’s a very real question you need to ask.
And then, of course, this has specific application to ministry – that we, as a church and as ministry leaders need to make sure we’re keeping an eye on ministry to the next generation because God values them. If you serve in Children’s Ministry, or AWANA, or with the Youth, you need to know that you are doing ministry that God highly values. And, as a parent of children in those ministries, I highly value it, so thank you to those of you who do serve in that way – you’re showing people the heart of God.
And, I want you notice that Jesus talks about leaving the 99 to chase down the 1. This is where I think it’s so important to understand the context, the big picture, to see the whole conversation. You remember that He is talking to the disciples who were just arguing about who was going to be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, and now Jesus is talking to them about chasing down a single sheep. One of the points He’s trying to make here is that sometimes our ministry, sometimes our service, sometimes the way we spend our time and lives will be spent out of the spotlight, where no one else is around. Most of us want to be noticed for what we’ve done, we want to do it in front of the 99 so everyone knows, every one sees, we want to be recognized.
Now that doesn’t mean we’re all arrogant or proud or self-obsessed, it just means we all want to know we matter. We want to know we’re doing a good job. We want someone to notice the time and energy we’re putting in, the sacrifice we’re making. But Jesus says ‘go chase down that missing sheep, the one that wandered away. And when you do, you’ll be noticed by God.’ Other people might not see what you’re doing, they might not understand, but God does. They might not say thank you, or understand what you’re doing or how much it costs, but God knows what you’re doing over there in the shadows, behind the scenes, off the platform and out of the spotlight. He sees your faithful ministry to people that matter to Him – and that includes the least, the last, and the lost.
So, if you want to be holy, if you want to be spiritual, if you want to be mature in ministry be concerned about others, especially the overlooked, and now be reconciled to those around you.
Matthew 18:15 “Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ 17 And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.
18 “Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19 “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”
So here we have Scripture based conflict resolution training, and it’s better and more important than any other training you’ve had on the subject. It’s simple stuff – Madeleine and I have been doing this with our kids for years – you can walk out of here and begin applying this stuff today. But also remember the greater context, this was said to the disciples, who were just arguing about who was going to be the greatest – that’s the kind of discussion that could easily get heated. Competition can quickly lead to conflict whether it’s among siblings, or spouses, or disciples.
So let’s look at some of the details here. First, notice that Jesus says, “if your brother sins against you.” He’s telling us how to handle conflict between Christians – He assumes the one offending you is a Christian brother or sister. And, He assumes there is a congregation of other believers that may potentially get involved. That’s important to keep in mind – this process isn’t meant to work with those who are not Christians.
And notice He says “if your brother sins against you.” One thing that is important to know is that we all have preferences, we all have opinions, we all have convictions about our way of doing things or what we think is best. The problem is: not everyone agrees with us. And when you and I don’t agree, we can begin to argue or experience friction and frustration in our relationship. But, that’s not sin.
Just because you and I see things differently doesn’t mean you’re in sin. Just because I “feel” annoyed, irritated, rejected, disrespected, or hurt, doesn’t mean someone is actively sinning against me. You have to distinguish – is this a matter of doctrine, character, or preference?
I like to ask it this way: is it sin, or sandpaper? Sandpaper is one way to think of things that you just don’t like or things that are not your style. Even if they annoy you, they’re not violations of Scriptures or offensive to God and therefore, they are not sin. People can’t sin against you unless they actually sin, no matter how irritating or annoying they are.
We need to learn how to absorb differences of opinion and priorities, differences in ways of doing things, even how to absorb petty offenses and little slights, especially when there’s no intent to harm because it is in situations like this, where love doesn’t come so easily, so automatically, that God teaches us to love with a deeper, a stronger, a more mature love – a love that is more like the love that He shows to us. Remember, we reflect to others what we first receive from God.
And that needs to happen first in our relationships with the people we are closest to. Roommates and siblings provide us with a valuable introduction to this concept, but they can never finish the lesson – because we can always look forward to the day when we or they move out, or we can avoid them to the extent possible; neither of which is an option in marriage.
Marriage guarantees your preferences and opinions will occasionally bump into those of your spouse and the jolt experienced in those collisions isn’t pleasant. But think about this – if wood could feel, it probably wouldn’t enjoy the sensation of rubbing against sandpaper, and yet, the process of being sanded is usually a part of making the wood better and preparing it for greater use. The purpose of sandpaper is to make something smoother, more perfected, not to destroy it! God may be using your spouse as a carpenter uses sandpaper, to make you better.
So, before you go carrying out the process Jesus outlines here, remember: not everything is sin. Some things are, but let’s also recognize that some things are just matters of preference and opinion requiring us to be increasingly gracious, tolerant, and accepting of the people around us – like God has been with us.
Let’s move along and notice that Jesus says: “If your brother sins against you.”
Some of your Bibles will say “if your brother sins” some will say “if your brother sins against you.” Let’s stick with “if your brother sins against you” because it’s the more narrow application, and let’s make a point about this: I need to be aware of my motives in responding to your sin.
Most of the time, when I get frustrated with my children it’s because I think they’re getting in my way. It’s bedtime, but they won’t lie down and go to sleep and I get angry. Why? Is it because they have broken God’s command for children to obey their parents and I’m concerned for His judgment on their souls?
No. It’s because I have these emails that I need to read, or this show that I want to watch. I’m not grieved by a sin they’ve committed, I’m frustrated by the inconvenience they have caused. I’m not really focused on them, I’m focused on me.
But that probably only happens in my life, right?
Of course not, think about it – how many times have you gotten bitter or angry at someone because they got in the way of you getting what you wanted or they slowed you down – in almost every one of those cases, we aren’t angry because the other person is opposing God, we’re not sorry for the pain we know their sin will cause them, we’re angry because they’re opposing us. ME. I want things MY way and you won’t give it to me, or I know how much I am worth and you won’t recognize it.
So, before you go reacting to someone’s sin against you, make sure you’ve got the right motive – that you have their best interest at heart, not your own righteous cause. When your brother sins against you, the first and best thing you can do is pray, get your own wounded heart in the right place before you ever say a word to them. And while you’re at it, pray that they would have an openness to receive what you’re going to say, because Jesus says: “go and tell him his fault.”
So, let’s say a word about that. Some people have no problem whatsoever with conflict. They even seem to thrive on it. Going to someone else and giving them some feedback is not an issue. Other people are prone to avoid confrontation – no matter what the other person does or says, they would rather find a reason to let it go than bring it up.
My encouragement is: don’t hide behind your personality style, do what’s right, even if it’s uncomfortable. Yes, there will be times when you should let something go, you can’t go around pointing out every sin in the lives of people around you. But there will also be times when you need to point out sin, in love, and help someone grow.
But when that happens, do it “between you and him alone.”
This rules out:
- soliciting sympathy from others for your grievance and all that you’ve put up with
- talking bad about the offending party to others
- nursing a grudge in your heart, letting a weed grow
The goal of confronting someone about their sin is always restoration and reconciliation – we point out what has gone wrong, with the hope that growth will occur in their life. We approach them gently as if they did not know they sinned against you, as if they acted in total ignorance.
The attitude we have when we approach the other person is important – if we’re just doing this because we’re feeling hurt or offended and it’s more of a retaliation than an attempt at reconciliation, it’s probably not going to go well.
Unfortunately, even if you approach them with the best of motives and the purest of heart there is still the possibility that it doesn’t go well. In that case, go back and take two or three witnesses.
This has several benefits. First, it requires you to explain what’s going on to someone else and get their perspective. Maybe you’re just seeing things wrong, or taking them wrong. Maybe this is a case where you just need to let love cover over the other person’s wrong – involving other mature Christians can help you get another perspective.
And second, if you all agree it is necessary to approach the individual, the others can provide another set of ears and an objective evaluation of what is happening. They might pick up on things you didn’t understand at first.
Proverbs 18:17 The first one to plead his cause seems right,
until his neighbor comes and examines him.
In other words, there always two sides to every story, and these witnesses can help sort that out.
They can also (third) provide a protection to you by vouching for your loving, brotherly or sisterly conduct if you conduct yourself well.
But, even if you take this step, some people still may not respond, and at that point, Jesus says to tell it to the church. This is a difficult and rare step. In my own experience I’ve only seen it happen twice. Most often what happens is the individual who has done wrong cuts themself off from the church, they stop being involved in fellowship and the opportunity for reconciliation is lost because they don’t want it and they don’t want growth.
If things get to this point – whether the church puts them out or they cut themselves off, notice Jesus says you are to “treat like a heathen and tax collector.”
But let me ask a question: how did Jesus treat heathens and tax collectors? He had a loving concern for them and regularly sought to draw them near. So this means you don’t despise them, you don’t look down on them, your heart should break for them, and you should desire for them to repent more than anything.
Paul dealt with a case like this in the church of Corinth, and he told the church there to deliver the one who would not repent:
1 Cor 5:5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
Notice that because it’s very important – the hope is that being put out of fellowship, no longer assuming they’re a part of the church, might be sobering to the individual and lead to their actual salvation.
Let me touch upon one more point and we’ll wrap things up this morning.
Jesus says when two or three gather in prayer and agree on earth He is in the midst of them and God will grant them whatever they ask. The Greek word here for agree is symphoneo and it’s where we get our English word symphony. You have all these artist playing together on different instruments and everyone is playing well together, creating something more powerful, beautiful, and rich than any single instrument could produce.
These are verses you often hear quoted about prayer, but I just want to point out that the immediate context of what Jesus is saying here is dealing with reconciliation in the church. That if a group of you pray for issues of reconciliation and repentance, Jesus is there in your midst because that is His heart too.
And think specifically of the current context – Jesus is speaking to disciples who were bickering about which of them would be greatest in the kingdom. Is that something they could pray for, in agreement with each other? Is that a prayer that Jesus would join in with?
We’ve had a lot to consider this morning, but the big idea I want you to walk away with is: God values those we are prone to overlook and despise, and He values reconciliation with those who sin in the church. He proved that by sending His Son to seek us out when we were lost, and pointing out our sin to us, but even more than that, by actually doing something about our sin on the cross at Calvary.
God cares about the little sheep that wander and He cares about the brother who sins. That means He cares about you. And He wants to use you to show that same care to others – will you let Him? Will you receive His love and correction, and gently model it to others?