Matthew 18:01-10 –
“The Poison of Pride”
and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ The Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS, 06 Jan 2013
18:1 During that time, the disciples
approached Jesus saying,
“So which [of us] is greater in the kingdom of the heavens?”
18:2 Then Jesus summoned a child and
stood it in the midst of them, 18:3 and He said,
“Really, I’m telling y’all, unless your [direction] happens to be turned
and y’all become like the children,
you shall never enter into the kingdom of the heavens.
18:4 Therefore, whichever one [of you] will humble himself like this child,
it is this man who is the greater one in the kingdom of the heavens,
18:5 and whoever shall receive this child on the basis of my name is receiving
18:6 But whoever shall scandalize one of these little ones who believe in me,
it bears together for him that a donkey-millstone might be hanged about
and that he might be drowned in the deep part of the lake.
18:7 Woe to the world from its scandals, for it is a necessity for the scandals
Woe moreover to that man through whom the scandal comes.”
18:8 But if your hand or your foot scandalizes you, cut it off and throw it
away from you.
It is better for you to enter into The Life crippled or maimed
than to be thrown into the eternal fire while having two hands or two feet!
18:9 And if your eye scandalizes you,
snatch it and throw it away from you;
it is better for you to enter into The
than to be cast into the Hell of fire
while having two eyes.
18:10 Keep seeing to it that y’all don’t
start despising one of these little ones, for I’m telling you that their angels
in heaven are always seeing the face of my Father in heaven.”
Yesterday, while I was preparing this sermon, I wandered out of the
study to fix myself a cup of tea. Upon reaching the tea shelf, I discovered
loose tea leaves scattered all over the shelf… and the counter below it… and on
the floor below that. That’s when it hit me: my four-year-old daughter had
asked me an hour before if she could make herself a cup of tea. Oh, why didn’t
I just tell her NO? What a mess! Why couldn’t she see what a mess she had made?
Why didn’t she clean up after her clumsy self rather than leave me to waste
precious time cleaning up after her? I have better things to do than to clean
up a little kid’s mess – I have a sermon to write! An important sermon! A
sermon on not despising little children. A… Oh dear. Applying this passage
isn’t going to be so easy! Are you ready to tackle more of the
flesh-challenging teachings of Jesus together with me?
18:1 During that time, the disciples approached Jesus saying,
“So which [of us] is greater in the kingdom of the heavens?”
εκεινη τη ωρα
τις αρα μειζων
εστιν εν τη
- The timing of this
was when Jesus and His disciples were in Capernaum after their retreat in
Caesarea Philippi. The wording here in Matthew seems to indicate that this
happened while Peter was off fishing for the temple contribution.
- Perhaps the other
disciples were beginning to feel that Peter was getting special treatment
from Jesus, so, while Peter was away, perhaps they were complaining. Whatever
the case, Mark’s account seems
to indicate that they were already talking about this even before they got
to Capernaum and before Jesus sent Peter to get the coin out of the fish’s
- According to
Thayer’s lexicon, the Greek interrogative particle here in Matthew “implies
anxiety or impatience on the part of the questioner” and is also “denoting
an interrogation to which a negative answer is presumed.” Reading between the lines, this question is expressing a hope that Jesus will say that
Peter and the other disciples are not greater than the disciple who
actually voiced the question!
would you answer that one?
18:2 Then Jesus summoned a child and stood it in the midst of
εν μεσω αυτων
- This indicates that
there were children in the house where Jesus and His disciples were
living. Possibly this was Peter’s son. Even these private sessions with
Jesus and the 12 were not just a bunch of adult men, but an integrated mix
with women and children around – just like our church is!
- Jesus also indicates
later in v.6 that these “little children”
were “believers” in Him. Children can
believe basic things about Jesus at very young ages.
- Without saying a
word in response to His disciples, Jesus answers the question of who is
the greatest in his kingdom. He reaches outside the circle of the 12 men
and places a small child right in the central and most important place
beside Him. By this action, Jesus is saying to His disciples, “None
of you is the most important, but this child – and all who are like him or
her – are most important.”
- In Mark’s parallel
account, Jesus explains verbally, “If anyone wants to be first, he
shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35-36, NASB)
18:3 and He said, “Really, I’m telling y’all, unless your
[direction] happens to be turned and y’all become like the children, you shall
never enter into the kingdom of the heavens.
λεγω υμιν εαν
και γενησθε ως
τα παιδια ου μη
- What does it mean to
“turnESV/ be converted/ changeNIV and become like
- In the Gospel of
Matthew, we see that “turning” meant looking in a different
direction, such as when Jesus “turned” to look at the woman who had
touched His robe for healing (9:22, cf 16:23).
- It also includes
changing the direction that you are moving (Mt. 7:6)
- What is it
specifically about children that we should be looking at and changing our
direction of movement toward?
- Let me preface this
by remembering that there are characteristics of children against
which the Bible warns us, such as “folly,” which “is bound up in
the heart of a child” (Prov. 22:15), and necessitates that children be “trained”
and “instructed” (Prov. 1 and 22:6), so it would violate the whole
counsel of scripture to say that children are to be imitated in every
respect by adults.
- However, it is
a general characteristic of children to be willing to follow and
to learn, because they know that they need the help of their
parents and teachers.
you ‘shall willingly become by spiritual process what the child is by
nature…’” ~Marvin Vincent
- When King
David’s son Solomon began his reign over Judah by telling God that he was
“like a child” who didn’t know it all and that he wanted wisdom from God,
the scriptures tell us that this was “pleasing” in the sight of God (1
- Until we are
willing to “be servant of all” (Mk. 9:36) and willing “rejoice together
if one member of the body is glorified” (1 Cor. 12:26, NAW) – even when that
member is not us, we still have room to grow in becoming like a little
- But the 12 disciples
are proud and jockeying for priority, so Jesus issues a strong warning:
not only does pride not make you the greatest in God’s economy;
pride puts you in danger of not even being in the kingdom at all.
Because the very nature of pride is a denial of the kingship of God over
you. The moment you think you are great is the moment you think you don’t
need God. That’s why pride puts us in danger of not even being able to
- “The things that
belong to our salvation halt even in the chiefest point, if [humility and
simplicity] be not with us.” ~John Chrysostom
- The Greek grammar
(with the subjunctive in the apodosis) is nuanced in such a way as not
absolutely to deny that a person who struggles with pride could
ever enter heaven, but the negative is emphatic as it says,
“never/by no means.” I think this grammar underscores the facts that God
can save whoever He wants, yet at the same time it is a very serious
thing to be excluded from heaven.
- “[T]hose who desire
to obtain greatness by rising above their brethren, will be so far from
gaining their object that they do not even deserve to occupy the lowest
corner… because it is humility alone that exalts us.” ~John Calvin
- It is also interesting that the Greek word for “turn/ convert/
change” is passive, which means that this change of direction is imposed
upon us from outside ourselves. Jeremiah 31:18 puts it, “Turn me and I
shall be turned, for you are Jehovah my God.” Jesus is using
theologically correct terms which He will explain later, but these terms
mean that in order to make it into heaven – in order to stop running your
life and humbly acknowledge God to be your king, God Himself has to change
your naturally-rebellious heart so that you can accept His kingship over
you, and when you do start thinking that God is right and that you are not
always right, then it is a sign that God has indeed “converted” or
18:4 “Therefore, whichever one [of you] will humble himself
like this child, it is this man who is the greater one in the kingdom of the
εαυτον ως το
ουτος εστιν ο
μειζων εν τη
decided to diverge from the standard English translations by translating ‘ο μειζων
as “the greater one” rather than “the greatest” because this
Greek word for “great” is spelled in the comparative “greater” –
not the superlative; God alone is the superlative “greatest” in the
kingdom of heaven, and it answers the disciple’s question about which one
of them is greater relative to the other twelve.
- What does it mean to
- In the books of
Genesis and Exodus, God “humbled” His people by slavery in Egypt, so one
aspect of humility is doing the will
of someone else rather than what you want to do (Lev.
- Then, in the book
of Leviticus, God exhorted His people to “humble” themselves by stopping
work on the Sabbaths and offering sacrifices to Him. Humility is worshipping God rather than
doing your own thing.
was another way in the Old Testament of humbling oneself before God (Ezr.
8:21; Ps. 39:2) – prioritizing God’s interests above your own
interest of eating food.
- In the New
Testament, we see that the word has the same meaning, such as in Philippians
2:8, we have the example of Christ who “humbled” Himself by becoming “obedient.”
Humility is doing what someone else
(especially God) wants you to do rather than what you want to do.
- So how do we begin living out the kind of humility that would make
us great in God’s economy?
- Mark 9:36 tells us
that Jesus then picked up the child in His arms, visually demonstrating
the receiving of a child and said,
18:5 “and whoever shall
receive this child on the basis of my name is receiving me myself!
και ος εαν δεξηται παιδιον τοιουτο[ν] επι τω ονοματι μου εμε δεχεται
- Luke 9:48 adds, “…and
whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me; for the one who is least
among all of you, this is the one who is great.”
- So we can begin
Godly humility by “receiving” children:
- Fathers and mothers,
we see movies like Courageous
and read Focus on the Family
articles reminding us that spending time with our children is important,
but here it is in the Bible. You want to be great in God’s eyes?
- You don’t get it
by being more wealthy,
- You don’t get it
by being more politically influential,
- You don’t get it
by getting more people to listen to you when you talk;
- You start by
loving the children in your life!
- Kids, you don’t
have to be a father or mother to get in on this greatness. Many of you
have little brothers or sisters to whom you can show kindness and
acceptance. You can start there.
this limited to children? I don’t think so. The
principle extends to any despised person, whether it be a homeless person
or a foreigner with a thick accent.
- Now, Jesus continues
His lesson by stating the opposite of what it means to be humble
and to receive little children, and that is to be insensitive to
18:6 “But whoever shall scandalize one of these little ones
who believe in me, it bears together for him that a donkey-millstone might be
hanged about his neck and that he might be drowned in the deep part of the
εις εμε συμφερει
- The Greek word
translated “little ones” is “mikrwn”
– Our word microscope also uses this word. Things that are
microscopic tend to get overlooked.
- For millennia
nobody knew about bacteria or viruses because they were too small to be
seen. They got overlooked, and people got sick because they didn’t filter
harmful microorganisms out of their water and wash them off of their
- Jesus says we need
to be humble enough to consider what would “scandalize/ offendKJV/
trip up” even the “micro-little ones” among us and cause them to stumbleNASB
- Have you
overlooked children or other lowly people in your life because they seemed
too small or unimportant? The little kids that run around our feet after
church are unutterably precious and earthshakingly important.
- I once heard
an anecdote about Charles Spurgeon, a famous 19th Century preacher
in London. He was returning from an evangelistic service, and someone
asked him how many got saved at the meeting. “Two and a half,” he
“Oh,” said his companion, “You mean two adults and one child became
“No,” Spurgeon replied, “Two children and one adult.”
The children still have their whole life in front of them, but the
adult’s life was half used up! Spurgeon was thinking along the lines of
what Jesus is saying here.
- Children are
learning from us how to worship God. They are learning how to live godly
lives from us. They are watching and listening. If we want them to believe
in Jesus, we’d better do all we can to encourage that faith rather
than destroy it by our own doubts and our own hypocrisy and
our own pride.
unwillingness to submit to King Jesus and be a servant not only threatens
our ability to be in the kingdom of heaven ourselves, it also is one of
the biggest faith-killers for children. Pride is poison to faith.
- The offense of
hurting a child’s faith in Jesus is so great that it would be “better” – a
“fitting” judgment – for such an offender to be drowned in the deepest
part of the sea with a heavy stone tied around his neck so that he will
sink to the bottom and die. That’s how
serious a problem pride is.
10:16 calls pride and rebellion a “stiff neck” and, although it sounds
severe, Jesus says that having a millstone tied around that stiff,
stubborn neck is a fitting judgment.
- I am
reminded of the scene in The Count of
Monte Cristo where the man is thrown off a cliff with weights
attached to his legs, and, as he is pulled down and down into the water,
he wonders if he can get those weights off before he drowns.
- For the record, the
kind of stone Jesus is talking about is not the little portable millstones
the Israelites carried with them to grind manna while they were wandering
for 40 years in the desert; this is literally a “donkey millstone” – a
millstone so big that a long wooden beam would be anchored into the stone,
and a donkey would then be hitched to the beam, and they would walk the
donkey around in a circle to make the millstone turn around and grind meal
or flour. (It’s probably what the Philistines forced Samson to do instead
of a donkey to humiliate him.)
- I find it interesting that the
Apostle Peter has already been faced with this “have faith or drown”
predicament: the only other use of this word “drown” in the N.T. shows up
when Peter tried to walk on the lake and Jesus chided him for how small
his faith was (Matt. 14:30).
- When we discover
pride in our hearts, we should recoil with the kind of horror we feel
about drowning. “Oh God, help! This is dreadful; please save me from
- And, if it is
appropriate under certain circumstances to drown a man for causing
children to stumble, then how much more appropriate it is for us to protect
the faith of the children (and other vulnerable people) in our lives by turning
off the faith-damaging messages of proud and foolish men and women
that bombard us through every media channel, and instead speak
words that will build up their faith in Jesus.
- “[T]hough it is
impossible to eradicate temptations, by God’s grace it is
possible to prevent oneself from belonging to the company of the tempters.”
18:7 “Woe to the world from its scandals, for it is a
necessity for the scandals to come.
Woe moreover to that man through whom the scandal comes.
τω κοσμω απο των
ελθειν τα σκανδαλα
τω ανθρωπω εκεινω
δι ου το σκανδαλον
- Remember that Jesus
is talking specifically of the scandal of proud adults hurting the faith
Greek word anagke has to do
with things that are “necessary” yet dreadful at the same time. They
generally have to do with the results of sin and living in a sinful world
that must be judged by a holy God.
- In a world
that has been messed up by the sin of Adam and Even (and every human since
them), it is inevitableNAS that there will be temptations to
- I believe
there couldn’t have been a creation of morally-responsible humans without
a fall and a crucified savior. It’s all or nothing, and that’s why the
scriptures say that Jesus was a “lamb slain from the foundation of the
world” (Rev. 13:8, KJV).
I know this point is debated by Christians, but that is my interpretation
of what Jesus meant by saying that sinNIV/ offensesKJV /stumbling
blocksNAS/ temptationsESV “must needs be”KJV/
that it is a “necessary”ESV part of history incorporated into
God’s universal plan.
- However, the existence of sin in the world is no excuse for
personal pride and rebellion against God in ourselves. God will bring each
one of us to account for our own sins against Him (2 Cor. 5:10). We can’t
pass the buck and say, “Oh, I couldn’t help it; I just live in a sinful world”.
- Woe be unto anyone
who sins and causes other people to sin. The wrath of God against sin is terrible;
it is to be feared more than we would fear being drowned in the depths of
the sea with weights tied to our neck. God’s wrath is eternal.
18:8 “But if your hand or your foot scandalizes you, cut it
off and throw it away from you. It is better for you to enter into The Life crippled
or maimed than to be thrown into the eternal fire while having two hands or two
δε ‘η χειρ σου η ‘ο
και βαλε απο
σου, καλον σοι
την ζωην χωλον
η κυλλον η δυο χειρας
η δυο ποδας
το πυρ το αιωνιον
18:9 And if your eye scandalizes you, snatch it and
throw it away from you; it is better for you to enter into The Life one-eyed
than to be cast into the Hell of fire while having two eyes.
ει ‘ο οφθαλμος
και βαλε απο
σου, καλον σοι
εις την ζωην εισελθειν
- The parallel passage
in Mark 9:43 and 48 calls this “eternal fire” the “unquenchable fire of
hell” (γεενναν εις το πυρ το ασβεστον). “…where
their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched…”
- Some people say that
hell is just a state of mind, and that we create our own “hell” on
earth when we are negative. Now, that may be true to some extent, but
Jesus makes it clear that Hell is much more than that: Hell is a place
of judgment into which sinners can be “thrown,” and “Hell” is not a
description of temporal life on earth, but rather describes eternal
punishment. Hell is terrifyingly real and
- This is a recapitulation
of the teaching that Jesus gave concerning avoiding adultery in
Matt. 5:28-29, “So, if your right eye scandalizes you, snatch it
and throw it away from you, for it bears together for you that [only] one
of your members might be destroyed and not the whole of your body
be thrown into hell. And if your right hand scandalizes you, cut it off
and throw it away from you, for it bears together for you that [only] one
of your members might be destroyed, and not the whole of your body
depart into hell.” (NAW)
Pride should be dealt with the same
way lust should be dealt with – using radical measures to get rid of a
terrible threat to your eternal well-being.
healed the haltKJV/ crippled/ lame and maimed back in Matt. 15:30-31,
but there is no cure for a hardened heart.
of course, comes from the heart, and no amount of chopping off body parts
will really destroy pride. The only way to keep from committing the sin of
pride is to be even more extreme than cutting out your eye or your hand,
and that is to take up your cross and die to yourself. That prideful heart
must stop beating and die and be replaced with a new heart. If you need a
new heart, beg God until He gives it to you!
new heart must be nourished with the truth of God’s word rather than the words
of pride which the world all around us spews forth in its attempts to
ignore King Jesus.
- The Greek grammar
here (the conditional ei +
indicative verbs in the apodosis and protasis) indicates that Jesus saw
that this condition was actually happening. People were actually being
scandalized by the behavior of the disciples, and the disciples needed to
start chopping things out of their lives, as it were, in order to bring an
end to the scandal.
- In their case, they
needed to stop jockeying for position under King Jesus. Stop worrying
about whether Peter is going to get greater honor than you. Stop harping
on one another’s faults in a petty attempt to look better. Would the church of Jesus Christ follow such men as leaders if they kept up this arrogant behavior?
- “Better to enter The
Life short an eye or a hand…” Mark 9:47 uses the phrase “the kingdom of God” as a parallel for “The Life” – the word “The” is there in Greek in Matthew’s
account. It is worth loosing possessions, it is worth loosing status,
it is worth losing friends,
it is worth losing abilities IF IT MEANS GETTING INTO HEAVEN!
will it take for you to enter the eternal life of God in
Heaven? Is there anything in your life that fuels your pride and makes you
look down on other people? Anything that makes it hard to keep Jesus
Christ on the throne as King of your life? Will you let that ability or
privilege or asset go?
- Finally we get the
command from Jesus that sums up these 10 verses:
18:10 Keep seeing to it that y’all don’t start despising one
of these little ones, for I’m telling you that their angels in heaven are
always seeing the face of my Father in heaven.”
γαρ υμιν οτι οι
πατρος μου του
- “Take heed/See/be
watching out…” – A continuous vigilance is required by this Present
- “Keep seeing to it that
you not despise/look down onNIV” – This Aorist Subjunctive
Prohibitive means “Don’t even start!” When you feel that haughty
urge to roll your eyes at someone else’s ignorance or stupidity or
naïveté, nip it in the bud; hold your tongue; stop that thought!
- Why? Well, they might be better connected to God than
- This bit
about little children having angels that are always in front of God the
Father in heaven is fascinating; it makes us wish we knew more about these
angels and what they do.
- The Greek wording here
does not necessarily indicate that every child has their own
personal angel in heaven, neither does it preclude the possibility of a “guardian
angel” on earth, but what
it does indicate at least, is that a plurality of angels in God’s
heavenly presence serve in some way on behalf of certain children – I
believe “these little ones” refers to a particular class of
children: those who are loved by God, who are living out a humble trust
in Jesus in growing measure, and who will be saved.
- Hebrews 1:14
informs us that angels are “…ministering spirits, sent out to render
service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation…” (NASB)
- “[I]t is no light
matter to despise those who
have angels for their
companions and friends, to take vengeance in their behalf. We ought
therefore to beware of despising their
salvation, which even angels have been commissioned to advance.” ~John
- The fact that these
angels “always see the face of” God could be an indication that they are
high-ranking angels with special favor in heaven. Our Lord does not attach
the lowliest and humblest of His children to the lowliest and humblest of
His angels; His ways are not man’s ways.
- Now, it would be awfully
easy to get sidetracked chasing this rabbit trail about angels, but we
need to stick to the flow of Jesus’ teaching:
- The point is that pride
is incompatible with Godliness, so the moment I look down at somebody
else, I am out of favor with God, but if I have childlike humility, I have
a connection with God.
- The Apostle Paul
addresses this in Colossians 2:18-23, saying that those who are
“inflated/puffed up” with pride “have lost connection with the headNIV”
of the Church. God “hates” pride (Prov. 8:13). The remedy is to “die with
- The Apostle James
also speaks to this in his epistle: “‘GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO
THE HUMBLE.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and
he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you...
Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
(James 4:6-17, NASB)
James goes on to mention two specific ways where people show pride, and
that is 1) speaking judgmentally about other people – a form of
“despising/looking down on” them, and 2) “boasting” about what you are
doing – or are going to do. The
antidote to the poison of pride is to submit to God’s will rather than pursuing your
own will and looking down at others.
Let me conclude with the words of a poem translated from Dutch by
Make me, O Lord, a child again, So tender, frail, and
In self possessing nothing; In Thee possessing all.
O Savior, make me small once more, That downward I may
And in this heart of mine restore The faith of long
With Thee may I be crucified – No longer I that lives
O Savior, crush my sinful pride By grace which pardon
Make me, O Lord, a child again, Obedient to Thy call,
In self possessing nothing, In Thee possessing all.