Matthew Chapter 18 Children and Forgiveness

Outline of Chapter 18

  1. Who is the greatest in the kingdom? The one with childlike humility and faith (Matthew 18:1-5).
  2. Do not be a stumbling block (Matthew 18:6-14).
  3. The procedure for dealing with sin by an assembly member (Matthew 18:15-20).
  4. How often should I forgive someone (Matthew 18:21-35).


  1. Who is the greatest in the kingdom? The one with childlike humility and faith (Matthew 18:1-5). Childlike humility and faith and the kingdom of heaven.
    • Humble as a child.
      • Children have no illusions of greatness. They accept people without cynicism.
      • Children were looked down upon in the ancient world of the NT times. The disciples were questioning Jesus about rank and honor in the future kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:1). Jesus called a child to him and used the child as a prop to illustrate his answer to the disciples. The child came to Jesus, apparently without hesitation (Matthew 18:2).
      • This paragraph is not about gaining eternal salvation. The disciples are believers in Jesus Messiah (Matthew 16:16). The word “converted” in the NASB misleads people. The word is strefw.  It generally means to turn, to change, to turn around. Here Jesus is saying that the disciples need to change from seeking honor and prestige and first place and become like children. A child is trusting. A child is not as concerned about the first place of honor.
    • Change from cynicism and pride and become humble and trusting like a child. In verse 3 Jesus speaks of entering the kingdom of heaven. Does that mean a person must do something to gain entrance? There are at least two ways to handle this. Both appear to be correct, but the second seems to fit the context best.
      • Faith in someone to do something for us requires humility, because there is a sense in which we know that we cannot do something to gain what we want. Humility characterizes little children. They are accepting of people. They are not arrogant and self sufficient. So, without a childlike humility a person will never believe the gospel and hence not enter the kingdom of heaven, or
      • Another way of understanding this “will not enter” is to realize that Jesus is using strong statements to get his point across. Here then in the context “enter” would refer to enter and enjoy the full benefits, e.g., be one of the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, verse 4.
    • Humility is the key to service and to rewards and honor (Matthew 18:5).
      • It requires humility to receive a little child in Jesus name, or in the same way that Jesus receives the child. One cannot be arrogant and properly receive a child the way Jesus does. And, if one does this, he also is identifying with Jesus and accepting him and his will.
    • In summary, the Lord puts a premium on childlike humility and faith. That conduct is necessary for pleasing him now and for honor in the kingdom. The saying is true, character counts.
      • Doctrine of humility.
      • Class discussion on good character traits.
  2. Do not be a stumbling block to children (Matthew 18:6-14). To be a stumbling block is bad. There will always be stumbling blocks in life, and there will always be bad people who are stumbling blocks, but the disciples (and we) are not to be among them.
    • A stumbling block is something or someone that causes a believer or unbeliever to fall or become injured physically or spiritually such as sin or to have doubts about the faith. Here the stumbling block harms a person’s faith by 1. giving a bad example of how to live or 2. giving bad doctrine or 3.  treating someone ungraciously.
    • There will always be stumbling blocks in life.
    • God judges the stumbling block person (Matthew 18:6-7). This section outlines the judgment against a stumbling block.
      • Matthew 18:6. Anyone who hinders the Christian life of a believing child (6). By application this warns against anyone who harms the faith of a believer. Anyone who contradicts God’s word or ridicules God’s word to believers is under God’s judgment. This is a serious warning with many applications. The millstone and drowning depicts the serious judgment. Drowning would stop his attacks on believers and hence prevent even worse judgment. Drowning was especially feared by the Jews.
      • Matthew 18:7. The world has stumbling blocks (7a). They are inevitable. Beware. The person who promotes the block is judged by God (7b). A person is a stumbling block because he causes another to reject the message of Jesus.
      • Matthews 18:8. Anything in an individual—his hand, foot, or eye are examples—that causes himself to stumble at the gospel and reject Jesus Christ is a stumbling block to himself. He would be better off without the stumbling block in life than to miss the gospel and enter eternal fire (8).
      • Matthew 18:9. Therefore get rid of whatever causes you to stumble. Fiery hell in verse 9 speaks of judgment by God. The point is that relationship with God is the most important thing in all of life. Anything that blocks or hinders or confuses that issue is dangerous and should be avoided.
        • Barclay on the fire of hell.  “But there is one clue which we do have. This passage speaks of the Gehenna of fire. Gehenna was the valley of Hinnom, a valley below the mountain of Jerusalem. It was for ever accursed, because it was the place where, in the days of the kingdom, the renegade Jews had sacrificed their children in the fire to the pagan god Moloch. Josiah had made it a place accursed. In later days it became the refuse dump of Jerusalem; a kind of vast incineration. Always the refuse was burning there, and a pall of smoke and a glint of smouldering fire surrounded it.” (The Gospel of Matthew : Volume 2, ed. William Barclay, lecturer in the University of Glasgow, The Daily Study Bible, Rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 2000, c1975. 182.)
      • The heavenly father searches for stray believers, especially children (Matthew 18:10-14). These strays may have been made to go astray by stumbling blocks.
        • To despise little ones is to think against them (καταφρονήσητε aorist subjunctive with mh.  It is a strong command means to look down on or to consider of little value. It is a strong command.
        • The little children have angels, apparently protective angels who have access to God the Father. The implication is that God is very interested in them and their welfare. The disciples would have a tendency to get above themselves and ignore children. That was not Jesus’ desire.
        • Verse 11 is not in the Egyptian text, but is in Luke 19:10. This is why the messiah came to earth.
        • Matthew 18:12-14 teaches that Jesus values all of his sheep, here probably children believers. Just like a good shepherd, he searches for the stray and returns it to the fold. The word “perish” in verse 14 seems to refer to physical death from straying from the messiah. Bad decisions cause believers to stray from living in fellowship with the Lord. Here we see God’s value of believers and his desire for them to remain safe in his flock. He even seeks to recover them. The Prodigal Son in Luke 15 presents the same principle.
    • In summary:
      • It is very dangerous for a person to be a stumbling block or cause of failure of faith or sin in another believer, and especially in young children.
      • Furthermore, God tries to bring the stumbling or stray believer back into fellowship with himself and the other believers. That is important to him. See Galatians 6:1 for the church believer’s privilege of helping a believer to recover.
  3. The procedure for dealing with sin by an assembly member (Matthew 18:15-20).
    • In the story there is a brother—a spiritual brother in context who has sinned against you (singular). “Against you” is in the Majority Text, but not the Egyptian text (Critical Text). Luke 17:3-4 has a similar teaching and there Luke does include “against you” (sing) in both Egyptian and Majority Text. The one sinned against is the one to go to the brother and to privately convince him [of his wrong]. This protects the sinner and the assembly. See Matthew 18:21-22 where in this context Peter asks how many times he should forgive his brother when his brother sins against him.
    • Verse 16 is the next step if the sinning brother will not respond. Take one or two witnesses with you to confirm that you are attempting reconciliation. This follows the court procedure of Deuteronomy 19:15. The point of all this is to bring about repentance and restoration and not to make matters worse (Leviticus 19:17; James 5:19-20; and 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15).
    • Verse 17 is the third step. If the sinning brother will not listen to you or to you and the witnesses, then you (sing) bring it to the group. If he still is obstinate, then you stay away from him—let him be to you (singular) as a Gentile and a tax collector. The primary rift is between the sinning brother and the one sinned against, not with the assembly. “Tell it to the assembly” probably simply means that the brother has sinned and refused repentance. It does not necessarily mean tell all the details to the assembly. Notice that the instruction is to stay away from—not to excommunicate the person.
      • The purpose of all this action is restoration, not more division. The more details and the more public it all is makes it very difficult for restoration.
      • The word translated church is the word ekklesia, which means church or body of Christ later in the New Testament after the church began. The first use of church after the Matthew passage is in Acts 5:11. Here it likely refers to the assembly—either synagogue or group of disciples. The latter seems the best in context. The disciples surely would have understood it in the sense of the Jewish assemble or their own band of disciples. These disciples will have their fights.
    • Verse 18 reminds them that this is God’s procedure and he is ahead of them. We have plural pronouns and Jesus is referring to the disciple group.
    • Verse 19 and 20 are part of this context. It likely means agreement about praying for the sinning brother or prayer for the right way to deal with this case. I doubt whether it is an open prayer promise.
    • In summary, this section gave a procedure to bring about restoration of a fellow member who had sinned against one in the assembly.
  4. How often should I forgive someone? This is how kingdom citizens should forgive (Matthew 18:21-35).
    • This follows the previous context. Obviously if there is sin against you and it is repeated, the natural question will be “how often should I forgive?” The answer is as many times as necessary (Matthew 18:21-22).
    • The slave asked for mercy with regard to paying his debts. The master gave him compassion and released him from the debt. This is forgiveness by grace. The debt was legal and right. The master took the loss. This is the lesson for us. Compassionate forgiveness (Matthew 18:23-27).
    • The next part of the story has the forgiven slave doing exactly what he begged his master not to do to him (Matthew 18:28-30). He went to one who owed him and demanded payment. The fellow slave asked for compassion and patience (29), but the forgiven slave would not show compassion and forgive him. He had him arrested (30).
      • This was not forgiveness. The first slave did not learn and he did not apply. Hence the lesson for him was wasted. He rejected the grace forgiveness that was shown to him. This was not applying what he had experienced.
    • The lord learned of what had happened and judged the slave guilty. He required payment of the debt. The slave was disciplined.
    • We learn that the disciples (and we) should forgive as the Lord forgave them (and us). Lack of forgiveness brings God’s divine discipline (Matthew 18:35). This tells us that disciple to disciple was a high priority with God, and should be for us.


Doctrine of Forgiveness

Tod Kennedy, October 24, 2007

  1. What does forgive mean?
    1. To grant pardon and to stop blaming someone, to no longer hold guilty.
  2. Who has the authority to forgive?
    1. God
    2. Scripture: Matthew 9:2-6; Mark 2:5-10; Luke 5:20-24; James 5:15; 1 John 1:9; 1 John 2:2.
  3. Who appreciates forgiveness the most?
    • The one who realizes he has been forgiven much.
    • Scripture: Luke 7:36-48.
  4. What is the basis for real forgiveness?
    • The substitutionary sacrifice of one who takes the punishment for another—Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God.
    • Scripture: Acts 5:31; Acts 13:38; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; Hebrews 9:11-14 and 26-28.
  5. How often should one forgive others?
    • As often as one sins against me.
    • Scripture: Matthew 18:21-22; Luke 17:3-4; Ephesians 4:32.
  6. What is required for judicial forgiveness?
    1. Faith in Jesus Christ, the lamb of God, who was judged in our place.
    2. Scripture: Acts 10:43.
  7. Whom do we forgive and when?
    • Believers who have sinned against us and when ever needed.
    • Scripture: 2 Corinthians 2:7, 10; 2 Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13.
  8. Illustrations of forgiveness.
    • Old Testament.
      • Joseph forgave his brothers (Genesis 50:17-21).
      • God forgave David (Psalm 32:5).
    • New Testament.
      • Paul and the church forgave the sinner brother in Corinth (2 Corinthians 2:1-11).
      • Jesus forgave the prostitute (Luke 7:36-48).
      • God forgives believers (1 John 1:9).
  9. Who will not be forgiven?
    • Those who rejected Jesus the Messiah during his ministry on earth. They slandered the Holy Spirit him by saying that Satan produced the miracles through Jesus and not the Holy Those disciples who refused to forgive others (Matthew 6:15)
  10. What happens to believers who will not forgive others?
    • God disciplines them (Matthew 18:35).
    • Not forgiving others becomes like a festering wound that is painful and will break open and contaminate others.