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Passage: Matthew 18-19

On Saturday, October 17, 2015 (Last Updated on 10/19/2018), Yujin wrote,

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. (Matthew 19:8-9).

This is the second instance in Matthew, where Jesus used this same hyperbolic language to convey the seriousness of sin. The first instance was in the Sermon on the Mount:

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell (Matthew 5:29-30).

In Matthew 5 the instruction was in the context of Jesus' teaching against adultery. In Matthew 19 the instruction was in the context of Jesus' teaching against stumbling (i.e. sin). 

Normally, we understand these passages to be hyperbolic, that is, an exaggeration. Even if a person plucks out their eye or cuts off their hand or foot, we understand that this would do little to prevent sin. What is somewhat humorous is that Jesus only mentions plucking out one eye or cutting off one or foot, never both. If one eye caused to sin, and it was removed, would not the other eye simply take over? The same could be said for the hand or the foot. 

Jesus said elsewhere that sin is not external but internal. It arises from the heart (Matthew 15:18-19). James also wrote that temptation proceeds from one's evil desires (James 1:14-15). Then, why would Jesus command such extreme remedies for sin? 

Notice Jesus' words: "If your hand or foot causes ..." and "If your right eye causes..." In other words, if it is truly your hand or foot or eye that causes you to sin, it is most appropriate to remove that agent of sin. Jesus chooses this extreme remedy so that people will not flinch when they need to take lesser actions. For example, severing ties with a friend, who is causing you to stumble, or getting rid of a smart phone, cable TV or computer, which is causing you to stumble. The more severe remedy is prescribed to make lesser remedies more palatable. This kind of prescription also motivates more serious change from the heart, for who wants to lose their eye or foot or hand? Each of us would confess, "It is my heart, Lord, not my eye, not my hand, nor my foot, which causes me to stumble. Help me to change my heart." 


Passage: Matthew 18-19

On Saturday, October 18, 2014, Yujin wrote,

And I say to you,whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery" (Matthew 19:9).

This echoes what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount:

but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Matthew 5:32).

Everyone tries to focus on the exception rather than the rule. Yet. the fundamental teaching is that you must not divorce. The second fundamental teaching is that when divorced people marry each other, they are committing adultery. This latter rule stands outside the exception, so that it is always true. Normally, when people get divorced, they do not stay that way. They usually remarry, and when they do, they commit adultery or, at the very least, cause their new spouse to commit adultery. 

Yet, there is no sin if couples choose to stay together in spite of any presumed exception. I have written elsewhere that I do not believe anyone today, outside of a particularly ethnic Jewish practice, can claim the exception clause, so I will not reargue it here. But I reiterate that it is clearly better to stay married than to divorce. God hates divorce. This is an unqualified hate, so that even if it was shown somehow to be allowed, God still hates it (cf. Malachi 2:16). Marriage pictures Christ's relationship to the church (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33). How aweful to imagine that Jesus could divorce His bride, but the permanence of the marital union is to reflect the permanence of Christ's connection to the church.

Friends, if you or anyone you know is contemplating divorce, tell them, "Don't do it!" Encourage humility and reconciliation, and if there is abuse, temporary separation, but not divorce. If there is unfaithfulness in one or the other spouse, consider how often you have been unfaithful to the Lord. Would you want Him to divorce you? How longsuffering and forgiving has He been with you? 

If someone has already divorced, and the damage is done, exhort them not to remarry, unless they are reunited with the one they divorced, presuming their spouse has not remarried. Encourage them to stay single. Why should they add sin to sin and add adultery to the breaking of their sacred covenant before God? 

People who excuse their remarriage with words like, "God doesn't want me to be unhappy, does He?" show themselves steeped in the idolatry of their cravings and not submitted to God's Word. 

I'm on no high horse, speaking down to others. My own sinfulness weighs upon me. But my inadequacy does not change the truth of God's Word. I do not excuse my sins, nor will I condone those of others. Let us all humbly receive the rebuke of Scripture, repent, and seek the holiness that God desires for all. 

 


Passage: Matthew 18-19

On Friday, October 18, 2013 (Last Updated on 10/18/2014), Yujin wrote,

Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus *said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21).

Jesus commands Peter to forgive "up to seventy times seven." By this, does Jesus intend to set an upper limit? No. He is simply playing upon Peter's initial sense of magnanimous grace in forgiving someone up to seven times. It is as though Jesus was saying, "You think seven times is magnanimous? How about seventy times that amount?!" Jesus' words express limitless forgiveness, for this is the kind of forgiveness God has bestowed on us. This becomes clear in the story Jesus tells following this dialogue, where the debt a servant owed a king is far greater than the relatively tiny sum his own servant owed to him.

In view of such a great debt owed to our heavenly Father, how small is any debt owed to us. And in view of the great forgiveness we have received from our heavenly Father, how readily ought we to forgive one another. 

That said, as I have written elsewhere and now affirm again, there can be no true place for forgiveness apart from repentance.

Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 1&;3-4).

Where there is no repentance, there must be rebuke, as the Lord also commanded. Now, if there is no repentance after a private rebuke, then a more public rebuke is required. And if the person still refuses to repent, such a person must be ostracized from the church and treated like an unbeliever:

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Matthew 18:15-17).

Now, these passages should be clear enough; however, there are still some, who steadfastly hold to the belief that people should unconditionally forgive any wrong done to them, even when there is no repentance by those that sinned against them.

Since this is not how God forgives sinners, insisting on forgiveness of the unrepentant requires them to depart from God's model for forgiveness. Yet, passages like Ephesians 4:32 and Colossians 3:13 teach that we should forgive as God forgave. God's forgiveness is not so completely unconditional, for it necessitates repentance, which presumes an acknowledgement of sin and the acceptance of forgiveness.

I've heard this passage often quoted to support that idea of unconditional forgiveness:

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions (Mark 11:25).

It is preached that this passage gives no opportunity for repentance; therefore, it speaks of a unilateral and unconditional forgiveness. But is that right? There is also no suggestion of repentance with respect to God's forgiveness. Does this mean that as long as we forgive others, we will automatically be forgiven by God without any need for repentance and faith in Christ? What is more, in the verse just preceding this one, we read, 

Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you (Mark 11:24).

Shall we also apply this verse unconditionally? If we simply believe that we have received whatever we pray for, will God give it to us?

What I am suggesting here is that Mark 11:25 does not provide a complete picture. Yes, we ought to forgive anything anyone has done against us, but only if they repent. In light of other clearer and more detailed passages (e.g. Luke 17:3-4), it is not improper for us to presume the condition of repentance in the scenario given. The reason Jesus may have left out the condition in Mark may be because He wanted to focus attention on the one offering forgiveness rather than the one seeking it. If they had an attitude like Jonah, they would have refused to forgive even in the presence of repentance. This is also consistent with Jesus' story of the king and his servant (cf. Matthew 18:23-35), where the servant's refusal to have compassion on his repentant slave with a much smaller debt was incompatible with the king's compassion on the repentant servant, who owed a much larger debt. Notice how the lesson of the story is very similar to the lesson of Mark 11:25:

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions (Mark 11:25).

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?... My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart (Matthew 18:33,35).

Notice, in the story the king says that he had mercy on the servant because he "pleaded" with him. This is repentance. The king expected this servant to treat his fellow slave in like manner. Now, if you simply read the last verse (Matthew 18:35), you might miss the condition of pleading, for which the king forgave his servant. The rebuke is not simply for a refusal to forgive but a refusal to forgive where there was a similar pleading or repentance. In the same way, let us not look at passages like Mark 11:25 without considering the larger biblical teaching on forgiveness. The king is like the Lord, modeling the manner of forgiveness we should practice, namely, forgiving where there is repentance.

Here is a good treatment on the topic from Questions.org: http://questions.org/attq/should-i-offer-forgiveness-without-repentance/#cit1


Passage: Matthew 18-19

On Thursday, October 18, 2012, Yujin wrote,

And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3, 4 NIV)

There are not too many verses in the Bible that says unless you do XYZ you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. The only one that comes to mind involves something that is completely out of our hands, namely, the new birth by the Holy Spirit in John 3. Jesus says there, "No can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit" (John 3:5). Then Jesus goes to desribe this mysterious, supernatural and sovereign working of the Spirit in salvation.

But here there is an action commanded. It is not something out of our hands but something very much in our hands to do. Jesus says, "Unless you change and become like children." The first part suggests they were not "like children" to begin with. They had just asked Jesus in Matthew 18:1 about who was greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This already revealed that their hearts were wrong. In a parallel account Luke tells us more pointedly that the disciples were arguing "as to which of them would be the greatest" (Luke 9:46). This is what they needed to change. 

They needed to become like children. And Jesus explains what He meant. He adds, "whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Other translations read, "whoever humbles himself as this child..." (NASB). In the very next chapter Jesus would reiterate by saying, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." (Matthew 19:14 NASB)

What is emphasized is humility, a conscious dependence on the Lord. Like children seeking an undeserved blessing from the Lord, they too needed such an undeserved blessing from The Lord. Unlike the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-26), they had to trust God's righteousness rather than their own, and they had to hope in God's provision rather than in their own worldly wealth. No one with a self-justifying attitude can ever enter the kingdom of heaven. 

Friends, are you like children in being absolutely dependent on God? Are you enthralled by your own sense of self-worth or are you amazed at your total helplessless, spiritual bankruptcy and need for God? Jesus taught, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3). Are you thankful that you chose God or rather that He chose you?

If there is any condition for the kingdom of heaven, it may be this: one must recognize one's total inability and God's sovereign ability to save. In other words, "What is impossible for human beings is possible for God" (Matthew 19:26).


Passage: Matthew 18-19

On Monday, January 16, 2012 (Last Updated on 10/18/2012), Bill wrote,

The disciples ask Christ who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 

"At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. "  (Matt 18:1-5)
 
Jesus emphasizes child-like qualities are rewarded in heaven.  Jesus is referring to their faith - children tend to believe without question.  Its only after they experience deceit and dishonesty do they begin to question and doubt.  The world hardens our hearts and poisons our faith and hope.  Its a challenge for adults that have put their hope in people and things only to have been disappointed again and again to place our trust in a God we cannot see...
 
Faith often starts with hope - a desire to believe, then either smolders or kindles depending on what we do to grow our faith.  I know from my personal experience that a desire to serve God through obedience to his Word has made the difference in my faith, and stoked my flame for Christ.  Conversely, if we don't seek God daily (through prayer and reading the bible) our faith can be smothered with the cynicism of our world. 

Passage: Matthew 18-19

On Wednesday, October 19, 2011 (Last Updated on 10/18/2012), Unmi wrote,
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”  “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?" Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me. When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
 
Having read about the young rich man previously, my attention always went to the second half of Jesus' instructions..."sell your possessions."  Wow, that's a difficult thing to do!!! Everyone innately understands why the young rich man went away sad. However, I never really thought about first half of Jesus' instructions..."keep the commandments." Jesus tells the young man to obey the Law and the young man says "All these I have kept" 

So my question is: Did the young man really "keep the commandments" or was he blind and just thought he did?  It seems it was the latter situation.  I think that the young man was sincere in his questioning, but unfortunately was deceived....
 
Paul talking about the same law and says:
Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died.  I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death.  For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (Romans 7:9-11) Paul says the commandments actually brings about a realization of our sinfulness and results in death. 

However, for the young rich man who is seeking the keys to eternal life, it seems that the law did NOT bring about the realization of his own wretchedness for he boldly claims that he has kept all the commandments. Because of this, Jesus points more directly to this man's particular weakness: His riches. For this young man, his wealth was his "god."  He valued his money more than following God and thereby, broke the very 1st commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)
 
Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22)
 
Sincerity does not save...Salvation is found only through faith in Jesus Christ, not through the Law, not through works, not even in giving all your possessions to the poor...Only by FAITH.
 

Passage: Matthew 18-19

On Tuesday, October 18, 2011, Yujin wrote,

Friends, someone asked an interesting question about the family of Jesus.

Here, the brothers of Jesus are listed.  James, Joseph,Simon, and Judas.  Obviously, looking at these names and names of his disciples, there are multiple cross-over’s.  James, Simon, and Judas (and according to the footnotes, potentially even John versus Joseph).  If I recall correctly, this is virtually the only time we hear of his brothers (except when he explains that all believers are brothers) and never learn his sisters names, and I’ve never heard of his siblings being disciples.  Are these names common place during this era?  John and James are still two of the most popular names for children, and with 2 of the 12 named Simon (Simon and Simon-Peter), perhaps Simon is just as popular and it’s just coincidence the names overlap?

Here's my response...

Yes, I believe these names were common-place Hebrew names for children. And unlike the Roman Catholic Church's take on this passage (and its parallel in Mark 6:3), these are the biological brothers (but half-brothers) of Jesus and not His spiritual brothers. First, they are clearly associated with his biological father ("the carpenter") and mother ("Mary"). Also, they are distinguished from the Twelve disciples (see also Acts 1:13-14; 1 Corinthians 9:5). Jesus' brothers are also mentioned, though not named, in Luke 8:19-20 (also in the parallel passages in Matthew and Mark). James, the Lord's brother, is mentioned in Galatians 1:19. It appears that he did become a disciple of Jesus. He was likely the same James that became the leader of the Jerusalem Church and is the writer of the Book of James in the New Testament.

While these names were likely common Jewish names in Jesus' day, what you see in the Bible are probably the Greek equivalents of the Hebrew names since the New Testament writers wrote in the Greek language (e.g. Jesus is Greek for the Hebrew Joshua).


Passage: Matthew 18-19

On Tuesday, October 18, 2011, Yujin wrote,

Friends, on two occasions someone asked Jesus this same question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life." On one occasion it was a rich young man (Matthew 19:16-30 ). On the other occasion it was a teacher of the law (Luke 10:25-37). To both of them Jesus responded that they should keep the Law. Neither of them left the matter there but pursued it further. In the case of the young man, he boldly declared that he kept the whole law. In the case of the teacher, the Bible says that "he wanted to justify himself" (Luke 10:29). In both cases Jesus confronted them with a challenge that likely revealed to them the true condition of their hearts. Jesus told the young man to sell his riches, give the money to the poor, and then follow Him. But the young man went away sad because he had great wealth with which he was not willing to part. The teacher of the law asked Jesus "Who is my neighbor?" in order to show how he successfully obeyed the command to love one's neighbor. He was thinking that the command to love only applied to his friends and not his enemies, to Jews only, and certainly not to the despised Gentiles and Samaritans. But Jesus told a story that showed the exceeding kindness of a Samaritan. Jesus turned the teacher's question on its head, making the object the subject, changing the question from "Who is my neighbor" to "To whom have you been a neighbor?" 

The key to both of these incidents can be found in Luke 10:29, where the Gospel writer interjects the hidden motive of the teacher of the law. This was likely also the motive for the rich young man. They both wanted to justify themselves. They were reflective of the Jewish people in general, having a zeal for God but refusing to accept God's way of justifying them. Thus, Paul writes,

Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. (Romans 10:1-3 TNIV)

The words "(they) sought to establish their own (righteousness)" could also be written as "they wanted to justify themselves." In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax collector. The Pharisee prayed to God in defense of the good things he did for God. The tax collector humbled himself and confessed his sinfulness before God. Jesus said that the tax collector went home justified rather than the Pharisee. Jesus spoke this parable against those that wanted to justify themselves. We know this because the Gospel writer prefaces the parable with the explanation that Jesus spoke this parable for those that were "confident of their own righteousness" (Luke 18:9). Interestingly, this parable falls right before Luke's account of the rich young man. And sandwiched between the two accounts is Jesus' teaching that people must receive the kingdom of heaven like a little child in order to enter it. In every instance the message is the same: People cannot inherit eternal life by their own effort. 

Jesus would make this abundantly clear in response to the disciples' question, "Who then can be saved?" He said, "With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Salvation is a work of God alone. It is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:24-25). Those who try to justify themselves will always fail, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23). 

Jesus showed the rich young man that he fell short of what it takes to inherit eternal life. Jesus showed the teacher of the Law that he fell short of what it takes to inherit eternal life. As Peter declared in Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved." 

Therefore, for those who want to know what they must do to inherit eternal life, there is nothing per se for them to do, for they need to understand that they will not be justified by anything they do. But if they have been given the grace to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, let them acknowledge that salvation is from God alone and to Him be all the glory.