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The Value of Each and Every Child of God
10“See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
12“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? 13And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. 14In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.
15“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18“I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19“Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Jesus had just warned us of the seriousness of causing others to stumble into sin: “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Matt. 18:7). God considers the causing of His children to stumble to be a great sin because He values each and every one of His children, and does not want any of them to wander away from Him. Jesus here speaks of how God values each of His children: “See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (vs. 10). The language “their angels” seems to imply that God assigns to each and every one of us one (or more) angels for our protection. And these angels have direct access to God for, as Jesus teaches, they “always see the face of my Father in heaven.” “Whatever may be the meaning of the remarkable expression ‘their angels’—whether it be designed to teach us that each child of God is under the special care of one particular angel, or whether it mean no more than simply ‘the angelic guardians of believers’—the information communicated here only, that they do always behold the face of Christ’s Father in heaven, is surely designed to teach us how dear to God and how high in His favor each of them is, when even their guardians have uninterrupted and familiar access to their Father on their account” [JFB]. That angels interact with us is spoken of elsewhere in the Bible. In the book of Hebrews, the writer tells us: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). “Their agency is represented as both concurring with, and controlling, the action of physical causes. They minister to God especially for the benefit of them that shall inherit salvation (Heb. 1:14, where ‘minister for them’ really meant this, but is popularly misunderstood as meaning minister to them). They protect the human servant of God when in danger and difficulty (see Ps. 91:11; Matt. 4:6). They are present during our worship, and we are enjoined to preserve decorum through respect for them (see I Cor. 11:10). In the judgment they will be agents in separating the righteous from the wicked (Matt. 13:41; Matt. 24:31). They can doubtless reach and affect our minds in the same way as is done by Satan and his subordinates, all of whom appear to be merely fallen angels; but like human teachers, they can influence the mind to spiritual good only by the help of the Holy Spirit, while our fallen nature offers itself readily to the influence of the fallen angels” [Broadus, 385].
Because of the great love that God has for each of His children, Jesus commands us that we are not to “look down on one of these little ones” (vs. 10). So, not only are we not to cause each other to stumble, but we are not even to “look down” on one another. As God values each and every one of us, so also we are to value each of our brothers and sisters. “We must not make a jest of their infirmities, not look upon them with contempt, not conduct ourselves scornfully or disdainfully toward them, as if we cared not what became of them… If Christ put such a value upon them, let us not undervalue them. If He denied Himself so much for their salvation, surely we should deny ourselves for their edification and consolation” [Henry].
Jesus goes on to illustrate the care God has for each and every one of His children through a parable: “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (vss. 12–13). It seems that there is no greater joy in heaven than when one who is lost is saved, for we are told a number of times of the rejoicing in heaven that goes on when this happens. This should not surprise us, for Jesus’ primary mission on earth was to “seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
In the same vein, Jesus goes on to instruct His followers how to deal with someone who has stumbled into sin: “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (vs. 15). This method of dealing with those who sin against us is somewhat radical, and unworldly. The way of the world is to hate those who sin against us. Jesus commands us to seek the good of those who do us wrong.
Note that we are to “go” to the sinning brother; we are not to wait until he first comes to us. We proactively go to him, just as the good shepherd goes out after the lost sheep.
First, we are to go to him in private. “Private admonitions must always go before public censures; if gentler methods will do the work, those that are more rough and severe must not be used” [Henry]. Our goal is not to embarrass our sinning brother by publishing his sin to the world, nor to show him up, nor is our goal to reproach him. No, our primary goal is, as Jesus said, to “win our brother over.” If his sin can remain private, and he repent of it, this is the best result.
However, if this does not work: “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” (vs. 16). Note, Jesus does not say, “But if he will not listen, then give up.” No, we are to persevere in seeking to return our stumbling brothers to the right path. “We must not be weary of well-doing, though we see not presently the good success of it” [Henry]. The next step is to bring along “two or three witnesses.” This will keep the matter reasonably private, while still giving the sinner the opportunity to repent. Further, the testimony of two or three witnesses will reinforce to the sinner that he is deviating from behavior befitting a Christian.
Then again, if this does not work: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (vs. 17). The continued stubbornness of the sinner warrants making the matter public. And then, if he, after all this, perseveres in his sin, the matter is closed: he is to be treated as if he no longer is part of the fellowship of believers, as determined by the judgment of the Church.
Jesus goes on to speak of the authority given the Church: “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (vs. 19). This somewhat enigmatic statement seems to be saying that the Spirit-led decisions made by the Church are sanctioned in heaven. “While ministers preach the word of Christ faithfully, and in their government of the church strictly adhere to His laws, they may be assured that He will own them, and stand by them, and will ratify what they say and do, so that it shall be taken as said and done by Himself” [Henry]. “The point is that the church has God’s authority to decide. The reference here is especially to the settlement of a difficulty between brethren, but the statement is a general one” [Broadus, 389].
The decisions of the Church must be settled upon through prayer: “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven” (vs. 19). In context, it seems that Jesus is still speaking of the Church’s power to admonish a brother for his sin, and to seek his repentance. Such an important matter must be brought to God in prayer. “Prayer must go along with all our endeavors for the conversion of sinners” [Henry]. As James exhorts us: “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16).
Jesus then gives us a wonderful promise concerning His special presence among the fellowship of believers: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (vs. 20). Note, this statement is an explicit claim by Jesus of His own divinity. Only God, of course, can be in more than one place at a time.
This promise of Jesus underscores the importance and the value of believers coming together in fellowship and prayer. This is the Church. The Church is not the Church without the gathering together of the saints, in worship, in prayer, in fellowship.