Matthew 18 - What is this Chapter About?

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Greetings Pilgrims,

This is a subject I have thought about for decades. What do you think?

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Matthew 18?
Like most Christians, you would probably say, “It’s about “Church discipline.”

I hate to tell you, but you would not even be half right. There are 35 verses in Matthew 18, and only 14.28% have anything to do with church discipline. And that is sandwiched between some of the most profound teachings on:
1. The absolute necessity of your personal childlike humility and your acceptance of fellow believers as necessary for your receiving Christ (verses 3-5)
2. The horrifying results of offending “one of these little ones.” (verse 6)
3. The extreme way you must put sin out of your life for the sake of the weaker child of God, and that upon the threat of hellfire if you do not. (verses 7-9)

The chapter begins this way. “At that time, the disciples came to Jesus, saying, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’” (Matthew 18:1)
Of the chapter’s 35 verses, all but three are the words of Jesus. Everything Jesus says in this whole chapter is by way of a rebuke of his prideful disciples.

But let’s back up a minute and consider the context in which Jesus answers the question of his disciples.

Comparing this verse with the same subject covered in Mark and Luke, we conclude that the disciples had been pridefully arguing which one would be the greatest in the earthly Kingdom of Heaven. (For continuity, I put Matthew Poole’s exposition at the bottom of this page).

4. What we saw through verse 9 above followed by the extreme way in which your Father in heaven loves every stumbling dear child of His, likening this to the love a Shepherd has for his lost sheep. (verses 10-14)

5. Then, after some heart and head adjustment of the disciples, Jesus now gives instructions for what to do in the worst possible case to a professing believer who doesn’t act according to the proceeding instructions of Jesus. All right, all right, call at church discipline if you like. (verses 15-20)

This “parenthesis” on discipline is immediately followed by Jesus’ shocking answer to Peter’s question in verse 21.
“Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’”
(Matthew 18:21)

Maybe the best thing to do is just paste the last 13 verses of the chapter. (paragraph breaks are mine)

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.​
“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.​
“When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.​
“So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.​
“But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.​
“So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.​
“Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.​
“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”​
(Matthew 18:22‭-‬35)​

So what do you now say that this chapter is about?

Matthew Poole Matthew 18:1
Mark, who relateth also the same history more largely, Mark 9:33, saith, that this discourse was in the house at Capernaum, and that our Saviour began with them, asking them what they had been discoursing of by the way. That they held their peace, for they had been in the way arguing one with another who should be the greatest; they might at the same time also ask Christ the question. Luke, in whom we find the same history, speaketh of it only as a question that had arisen among themselves, Luke 9:46. It had been the matter of their thoughts in the way, yea, and of their more private discourse also. Luke saith, Jesus knew the thoughts of their hearts. We had need set the Lord at all times before our eyes, for we are always in his sight. He encompasseth all our paths, as the psalmist saith. In the way, when we think also we cannot be overheard, he heareth us, and will call us to account for our travelling thoughts and discourses. They were at first ashamed to tell the Lord what they had been thinking and discoursing upon, for Mark saith, Mark 9:34, they held their peace. But by and by they propound the question to Christ himself; so saith Matthew. What do they mean here by the kingdom of heaven? or what gave them occasion to such a discourse? It is most probable that they did not in this question intend the kingdom of glory; but either the church, or gospel dispensation; or (which indeed is most likely) that earthly kingdom which the Jews thought the Messiah should exercise on the earth.
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