The disciples had an important question for Jesus. They were anticipating an earthly kingdom, freedom from the Romans, victory for the Jews. Jesus was going to be the hero and they were going to be his special inner group. Thus the important question that weighed heavily on their minds: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
Instead of giving an up-front, logical answer, Jesus decided to use an object lesson and a few stories. Matthew 18 is His response, which, in my opinion, is one of Jesus’ most powerful discourses on interpersonal relationships.
Be like a child
He starts out with the object lesson. He calls a little child to Himself and says, if you’re going to be in My kingdom, you have to be like this little one. You must be a child at heart. You must be humble. You must get down to this level. Then you’ll be great.
In the world, you climb to the top of the ladder to be great. But Jesus says, you descend the ladder to become great. Serving is better than being served. Giving is better than receiving. Others are more important than oneself.
Humility is the first ingredient to healthy interpersonal relationships.
Hate your own sin
Jesus takes the object lesson further yet and says, it would be better to lose a limb than to intentionally harm one of the least of these. Within the kingdom of God, hurting the person at the bottom of the ladder is serious business. In fact, it may incur the wrath of God (vs. 10).
Looking at our own shortcomings, judging ourselves before anyone else, hating our sins against our fellow teammates, seeing the log in our own eye before pointing out the speck…that is the next ingredient to healthy interpersonal relationships.
Jesus recognizes that all relationships will have their rough spots. Put two sinful people together long enough and they’ll sin against each other. Sin is not to be taken lightly. It is not to be ignored. It must be dealt with.
First, we are called to deal with our own sin and to treat it as serious. But it doesn’t stop there. We are responsible to share with our brothers and sisters when we see clear sin in their lives. I don’t take this to mean that one must point out every shortcoming and flaw in the lives of others. Jesus is talking about sin issues.
If the individual does not heed input, eventually it becomes necessary to involve others in the situation. This sequence is important. Go to the person first before pulling others into the issue.
Jesus continues with a story. He tells of a king who calls his debtors to account. They owe him lots of money—money they don’t have—and he forgives all the debts, both big and small.
Then he finds out that one of his ex-debtors, one who had owed him LOTS of money, goes and throws someone in jail for a small debt they owed. The king is furious and calls this man to account. He reminds him of the HUGE debt he owed and could not pay. He reminds him of the forgiveness he received, yet would not extend to another fellow debtor. Then he calls him to full account, which results in a lifelong prison sentence.
Jesus ends the story with “So my heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matt. 18:35, NKJV).
For any organization, any church, any team, any relationship to be healthy, there must be forgiveness. Again, this does not downplay the seriousness of sin. It simply means we recognize how much God has forgiven us and extend the same grace to others.
In summary, Jesus calls us to:
--Written by I.M.