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The Greatest in the Kingdom
Summary —Who Shall Be Greatest? Becoming As Little Children. Causing the Little Ones to Stumble. Despising the Little Ones. How to Deal with an Offending Brother. Forgiving Those Who Injure Us. Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.
1. At the same came the disciples unto Jesus. Compare Mark 9:33–50; Luke 9:46–50, and also Matt. 19:13–15. Mark says the conversation occurred at Capernaum. At that time. As Peter returned from paying the tribute money. Who is the greatest in the kingdom? The disciples had disputed in the way (Mark) as to which of them should be chief ministers in the earthly kingdom that they still supposed Christ would establish. Mark also says that before calling the child, Jesus said: “He that would be greatest among you, let him become the servant of all,” the rule of true greatness.
2. And Jesus called a little child unto him. In order to enforce the words that Mark reports, he uses a striking object lesson. This method was a prominent feature of Oriental teaching. Thus it was that Christ washed the disciples' feet (John 13) and Agabus bound his hands and feet with Paul's girdle (Acts 21:11).
3. Except ye be converted. The Revision translates, “Except ye turn,” which is correct. The Greek word translated in the Common Version “be converted,” is found in the New Testament in the active voice in every instance but one, and means to turn. It means something that the subject is to do, not something that is to be done for him. Become as little children. Humble, teachable and free from selfish ambition, like little children. Shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Instead of discussing who should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven, they had better inquire whether they were going to get in at all.
4. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child. This explains the great feature in which they must become as the child. Greatness in the kingdom is not secured by seeking to be greatest. There is a lesson here for Christians, and especially preachers who are ambitious of distinction.
5. Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name. Receiving in my name is serving with Christian love, and as belonging to Christ. Receiveth me. Observe that the true way to receive Christ is to receive into our heart, for Christ's sake, those who need our sympathies.
6. Whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me. The Revision makes this plainer by rendering it “cause to stumble,” or to go astray. The term “little ones” not only embraces children who have learned to believe in Christ, but all lowly and humble disciples. Better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck. Better that a man should lose his life in so terrible a way than to destroy the souls of others. Drowned in the depth of the sea. Which was within sight. This method of capital punishment was practiced by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, and possibly occasionally by the Jews. It is still practiced by the Turks.
8, 9. If thy hand or thy foot offend thee. Cause you to sin or stumble; ensnare you into evil. The meaning is, if an object dear as the right eye, and useful as the right hand, lead you into sin, that object however dear, you are to part with. See Matt. 5:29. Into life halt or maimed. The meaning is, not that a man hath no better way to avoid sin and hell, but if he had no better, he should choose this. Into hell fire. “Into the Gehenna of fire.” This phrase, in verse 9, is synonymous with “everlasting fire,” in verse 8. See note on Matt. 5:22, for Gehenna.
10. Despise not one of these little ones. Not merely one of the children, but those saints whom the world regards as insignificant and unimportant. “To despise” is, literally, “to look down upon,” and hence, to neglect. This forbids all caste in the church. In heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father. The doctrine of guardian angels is emphatically taught in the Scriptures. See 2 Kings 19:31; Ps. 91:11; Heb. 1:13; Acts 27:23. Who can afford to despise the children who have representatives right at the throne of God?
12, 13. How think ye? This illustration of the anxiety of the shepherd for a lost sheep is used to show the deep interest that God feels in any one of the straying “little ones.” If a man have an hundred sheep. The man having a hundred sheep is plainly the Son of God—the Good Shepherd.
14. Even so it is not the will of your Father, etc. As the shepherd feels a deep and anxious interest in the straying sheep, and seeks to hunt and to save it, so the Father above seeks the salvation of all the humble ones in his kingdom.
15. If thy brother. Compare Mark 9:38, and Luke 9:49. Brother in the church. Sin against thee. Personally. Injure you or do you wrong. Shew him his fault. Go to him privately and have a kind, brotherly talk over the matter, and try to show him his fault. Gained thy brother. For thyself, by restoring good feeling; for God, by leading him to a sense of sin and repentance.
17. Tell it to the church. If neither effort is of avail, then report it to the church for action. This is the second instance in the New Testament of the use of the word “church.” The first is in Matt. 16:18. If he refuse to hear the church. The admonition and entreaty of the church through its elders. The church has power to admonish and to exclude. Let him be to thee as a heathen man and a publican. Have no religious fellowship with him, more than you would have with a heathen, or a publican. The publicans were usually apostate Jews. The orthodox Jews had no social intercourse with heathen or publicans.
18. What things soever ye shall bind. What was said to Peter (Matt. 16:19) is addressed to all the apostles. It is spoken to all a second time (John 20:23). All had the keys as well as Peter. The apostles were, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, to establish the rules of the church discipline, as well as to announce the conditions of salvation by the gospel. These rules and conditions, found in Acts and the Epistles, bind and loose men. As they were to speak and write as moved by the Holy Spirit, what they announced would be ratified in heaven.
19, 20. If two of you shall agree. Two shall constitute a Christian fellowship. The united prayers of this fellowship for any legitimate object shall be heard. The assurance of this is found in the fact that Christ will be present wherever two or three are gathered in his name. Their united prayers will ascend, made mighty by the intercession of the Son of God. By his presence it becomes his prayer. In my name. As followers of Christ.
21. Then came Peter to him. The Lord had just spoken of the duty of seeking reconciliation with those who trespassed against us (vs. 15–17), and there seems to have been some doubt in the mind of Peter how far this principle should be carried. Till seven times? It is stated that the Jewish Rabbins held that forgiveness must be extended to one who confessed his fault, but this was limited to three repetitions of the offence. Peter had an idea that the Savior's rule would insist on still greater forbearance.
22. Until seventy times seven. That is, there should be no limit at which it shall be refused if it is asked in the spirit of sincere penitence. By reference to Luke 17:4, one can see the condition of forgiveness. It is that the offender professes repentance. We are to forgive men their trespasses on the same condition that God forgives us ours, and he does not forgive the impenitent. Our mercy must be just as unlimited as that of God.
23. Therefore is the kingdom of heaven likened. The Lord next enforces the great doctrine of forgiveness to our fellow-man in a parable. To a certain king, which would take account of his servants. The king is the Lord, the servants those who profess to serve him as King; the kingdom is his church on earth, but reaching beyond the earth.
24. One was brought unto him. Observe that he had to be brought. A defaulter does not willingly come to settle his accounts, any more than a sinner would seek the bar of judgment. Which owed him ten thousand talents. An immense sum. The talent was a weight, not a coin, and its value would depend on the purity of the precious metal used in the coinage. If the Greek silver talent is meant, the ten thousand talents would amout to about $7,500,000. What is meant is that the sum was beyond human ability to pay.
25. But forasmuch as he had not to pay. He had used his king's money and was not able to settle his accounts. He represents the sinner, who has no way to settle the debt of his sins. See Luke 7:42. His lord commanded him to be sold. An absolute king is represented, who could do according to his will with his servants. It was common, even until modern times, for persons to be sold for debt. In many nations the wife and children were involved in the hapless fate of the debtor.
26. Fell down, and worshipped him. In Oriental countries, almost all who approach monarchs prostrate themselves and offer homage. This is especially true of those who urge a petition. See Esther 8:3. Have patience, … I will pay thee all. This promise was one that could not possibly be fulfilled, though the servant might think it possible.
28. But the same servant went out. His own exhibition of brutality was immediately after the great mercy he had received. What follows shows that he had only been frightened, not converted. An hundred pence. The denarius, or penny, was a silver coin equal to from sixteen to eighteen cents. The whole debt would therefore be from sixteen to eighteen dollars. Its smallness compared with his debt to his lord is intended to show that our neighbors' sins against us are insignificant when contrasted with ours towards God. We need such boundless mercy that we ought to be prepared to give mercy freely. Took him by the throat. The great defaulter, who had been treated with such mercy, had no mercy.
31. His fellow-servants … were very sorry. Unmerciful treatment of the unfortunate is always wont to excite compassion. The servants were not only sorry for their wretched comrade, but they carried the case to their lord. It is always proper to carry the wrongs of fellow-beings which we cannot redress to our Heavenly Father.
34. His lord … delivered him to the tormenters. This language is to be interpreted by customs that still prevail in the East, where torture is still used to compel debtors to confess where they have hidden treasures that they are suspected of having concealed. In both Greece and Rome torture was used on prisoners to compel confession, and until within a century or two it was still employed in Great Britain and Europe. Till he should pay all. As, however, he never could pay, he was condemned to perpetual imprisonment.
35. So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, etc. Observe Christ says, “My heavenly Father,” not your. God will not be their heavenly Father unless they emulate his spirit of mercy, and are as ready to forgive others their trespasses as he is to forgive their own. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” “As ye mete to others it shall be measured to you.” “Forgive us our trespasses even as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” If we are hard and unforgiving to our fellow-men, we can never expect our heavenly Father to overlook our own sins. It is a vital doctrine that we, by our own mind towards others, determine what shall be the mind of God towards us.
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