Ethics is defined as the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group. As Christians our principles of conduct have one aim -- to serve God. This service to God will result in a home with God in Heaven. To miss that aim of service to God will result in being cut off from the Father and His care. Chapter 18 is dealing with Christian ethics -- those qualities that all Christians are striving for in their personal relationships. Much of this will be reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount in chapters 5-7, the Beatitudes, our relationship toward other Christians, our duties toward non-Christians to be the salt of the earth and a light leading them to the salvation found only in Jesus. But mostly, in this chapter we will be dealing with a Christian's personal relationships - our attitude toward ourselves as compared to our attitude toward others. Let's look at seven principles that this chapter says should mark the personal relationships of the Christian.
- HUMILITY. Jesus begins by telling us to get our perspective of ourselves and our aim straight. The disciples had been arguing about who was the greatest in the kingdom. Luke tells us they were arguing about which of THEM was the greatest. This wasn't going to be the end of this discussion. We'll see it again in chapter 20. Jesus tells them, "UNLESS YOU TURN and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Unless you turn In their attitude toward themselves they were completely turned around and aiming in the wrong direction. Their target, the kingdom of heaven, was to their backs. You don't hit your target when you're looking the opposite way. He tells them to turn and become like children. They have been following a King, the Son of God, and had been given powers beyond any dream. It just might be in their destiny to help overthrow the Roman government. Such power surely makes one great. That's what the world calls greatness - Power. Jesus is telling them, "You haven't seen power until you try on the HUMILITY of a child. Yes, Jesus is going to overturn the Roman government - by the power of humility, the humility of a child. A child doesn't wish for preeminence, until he's taught that by his well-meaning parents or others. He would just as soon fade into the background. Mark adds Jesus saying here, "If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all."
In humility you can allow yourself to be DEPENDENT as a child is dependent. A young child is content to be dependent on those who love and care for him. We need to relinquish our pride and become dependent on the One who loves and cares for us the most - our Heavenly Father. But, to be dependent you have to have the TRUST of a child. That instinctive trust that this person wants what is best for me. Although sadly, some children find that that trust is misplaced in their parents, our trust is not misplaced when we TRUST IN and DEPEND ON our Heavenly Father. He truly wants what is best for us. He wants His children to have a home with Him. We just have to turn from our pride in ourselves to HUMILITY to develop that dependence and trust.
"BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT" - those who realize their own utter helplessness and, therefore, can put their whole trust in God by surrendering in humility to God, "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:4.
- RESPONSIBILITY. (Verses 5-7.) We have a responsibility to help others aim in the right direction. We find one of the sternest judgements reserved for those who mislead others and cause others to misdirect their aim. A young child is a follower and will follow wherever they are led. We must be aware of the effect our deeds, words and examples have on others. Make sure our example is a light shining on the right target. Matthew 5:16 - "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in Heaven."
- SELF-RENUNCIATION. (Verses 8-10.) Our aim for heaven is worth any sacrifice and any cost. Whether we need to remove something out of our own lives or remove someone who is causing us to miss the target. It must be done no matter what the pain. The Christian must surgically excise from life everything which would keep him from rendering obedience to God. Cut it out before it infects the whole body. We mustn't let anything or anyone turn us around and put our back to the target, or we will most assuredly miss. Again from the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 6:22, 23, "If your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your body will be full of darkness." Renounce whatever will keep you from missing the target.
- INDIVIDUAL CARE. (Verses 11-14.) The story of the Lost Sheep teaches us that God doesn't think in terms of crowds. He thinks in terms of persons - each individual soul has value to the Father. His love for each individual is PATIENT when we are as foolish as sheep. He has SEEKING LOVE, to come and find us when we go astray. He has a REJOICING LOVE when we are brought back into the safety of the fold with no recriminations, just joy. And He gives us a PROTECTING LOVE. A love that seeks us out and saves us from our own foolish ways. His love makes the wanderer wise, the weak strong, the sinner pure, the captive free, and the first last. Again from the sixth chapter of Matthew, the Father who takes care of each individual bird and lily of the field, "Are you not of more value than they?"
- DISCIPLINE. (Verses 15-20.) We've been talking about the Father's love and kindness, but that does not mean we can do what we like. Proverbs 10:17, "He who heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof goes astray." Erring ones must be guided, corrected and, if necessary, disciplined back until their aim is sure once again. But the discipline must always be done in humble love and not self-righteousness condemnation. If all this fails, he is to be as a tax collector or Gentile. He loses that close, accepting fellowship of the Christian fold. This is not saying we abandon the erring, for even tax collectors and Gentiles can join the fold of safety in Jesus. But this is done as a challenge to win back the erring in hopes that once they are on their own, they realize they cannot possibly find the target. The erring must be made to realize that they are building their houses on sand as in Matthew 7:24-27. But the wise thing to do is to build one's house on the Rock of Jesus Christ - the one true foundation.
- FELLOWSHIP. (Verses 19-20.) God wants us to be together in one accord as He assures us His presence will be with us. He wants us to pray together as one unit. We will receive an answer. It may not be the answer we are looking for, but the answer will be that which our God in His wisdom knows to be the best for us. He wants us to be in fellowship with the fold. Since God is not a slave to numbers, He doesn't care if the number in the fold is two or three, or two or three thousand. He loves the fold as a unit no matter what the size, just as He loves the individual. The fold contains those who listen and worship together, and together seek the will of God, and who just can't get enough of God's righteousness. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." Matthew 5:6. And as a fold we can better withstand persecution when it comes our way. We have others who can push us into the arms of the Shepherd when Satan tries to pull us out of the safety of the fold. Let's stay in the fold and not wander off.
- SPIRIT OF FORGIVENESS. (Verses 23-35.) Does it seem like to you that Jesus begins and ends this chapter with the two hardest topics? Humility and forgiveness. The Christian's forgiveness of his fellow man is founded on the fact that he himself is a forgiven man. Matthew 6:14, 15, "If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you, but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." It is hardest to forgive when we haven't humbled ourselves enough to admit that we don't deserve God's forgiveness. We can't earn forgiveness. We never deserve God's forgiveness. It is His free gift to us if we will only accept it under His terms. It takes humility on man's part to be able to forgive others. I think the servant in our lesson today failed to realize that he didn't deserve the mercy shown to him by his king. After he leaves the king, he forgets to keep the humbleness he showed when he fell on his knees and asked for the king's patience. It is as if the servant thought by humbling himself once before the king that this EARNED him the forgiveness he received. When we refuse to forgive others, it is as if we are saying, "I deserve my forgiveness - you don't." We've un-humbled ourselves and proudly think we've somehow earned our forgiveness. But forgiveness is not earned. It is always a gift that has to be given freely. We must give it freely. If we don't understand that concept, then forgiving others of their errors becomes extremely difficult. When you've got your eye on other's shortcomings, your eye is not on the target, which can cause you to miss your goal.
If we can renounce all evil, humbly turn to our Father and Shepherd for our care, we will be headed in the right direction to aim for our goal of service to God.
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Ladies Bible Class, Spring 1991
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