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Matthew 18:1-5, Personal Ambition?



Text .  Matthew 18:1-5.

Who among the disciples is The Greatest in the Kingdom?  Who is the most important person in our church?  Who is the most influential Christian of our day? Who is that all the other believers look up to the most?

  1. A Great Ambition? V1

The disciples had been having an argument.  Which of us is the greatest in the kingdom?  I can just imaging them!  Vying for position, struuting their abilities and their personal qualities.  ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’.  Is there, as part of our sinful nature, a remaining desire among believers to be ambitious for ourselves? A desire for greatness in the eyes of others, our peers, our family, our community – and even our church.  Matt 23:8  

The disciples were convinced that one of them had the star qualities needed to be a great leader, the greatest in the kingdom.   Such ambitions were present in the very early Church.  I wonder who were the ringleaders?  We might get a hint if we read Mark 10: 35   Now this matter is so important that all three of the Synoptic Gospel writers have recorded this for us. Mark 9:33-37, (Luke 9:46ff.)

  1. A Gospel Analogy. V2 And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them.

Jesus responds with a visual aid. A child. I wonder what age?  Young enough to make the point, and yet old enough to respond to a call to come. Not a baby then, probably a toddler. Maybe a two-year-old?  So what was the point of this visual aid?  What would a toddler ‘say’ to the disciples?  Innocence!  “That’s it, the baby is innocent isn’t he, so Jesus is telling the disciples that in order to be a Christian we have to clean up our lives and stop sinning and be like him! – Right?”  WRONG. There’s nothing innocent about a baby!  These disciples would have known more about the true nature of mankind than modern society with its grandiose self inflated egotism. The knew that the baby was like all other humans, conceived and born with a sinful nature already programmed into its hard drive.   So what then?

  • Toddlers are helpless. Put a toddler out in the town centre and will he do?  He’ll stand there, he’ll cry, he’ll wander into the traffic, he’ll be at the mercy of every miscreant in the street and even if he does manage to make some attempt to find his home he’s incapable of it, he just becomes more and more lost. Jesus is reminding the disciples of the depth of their inability and their own helpless lostness without Him.
  • Toddlers are willing take what others provide. Mummy and daddy feed him, clothe him, keep him safe and warm, protect him, love him…  His response is just to cry out when he needs help, and to sleep, restfully when he knows that help has come and his wants and needs are provided for.  What a great lesson for the disciples. Although we cannot save ourselves or rescue ourselves, our Saviour has already done the saving work for us, and our only response is to recognise our spiritual hunger, cry out to him in our distress and rest, trustingly in the work that he has done for us.
  • Toddlers can and do sin. They quickly learn to say NO! And in these days of indiscipline…  so Jesus teaches his disciples another lesson. Like rebellious children, we must learn about REPENTANCE. “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
  • Toddlers need discipline. The disciples would have known that patient, moderate corrective discipline is an important part of childhood development, and would have known that as children of God, we too would be corrected and chastened and disciplined bu our heavenly father.  Hebrews 11:5-8  

So you see the powerful teaching analogy that Jesus uses here.  We are ALL DEPENDANT CHILDREN. None of us is ‘the greatest in the kingdom’ – we are all wayward spiritual toddlers, dependant upon our Father right throughout our earthly journey.

  1. A Grim Application.

So the teaching content has been handed down to the disciples and they have been reminded to apply the gospel to their dispute. (To every dispute). Consider the greatness of my sin and lostness, consider Christ who in mercy came to my rescue and in thankful gratitude let that put everything else into that perspective.   But there are two great applications yet to come in this passage:

  1. a) To receive a brother or sister in the Lord is to receive Christ! Every disciple is a child – and responding to their spiritual needs is in some measure imitating and responding to Jesus. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.   Remember that, when next comes the temptation to put other believers down, and exalt yourself.
  2. b) To hinder a ‘spiritual child’ a believer, is to endanger our own soul. There is so much spiritual abuse in the visible church. Abusive churches, abusive elders, abusive pastors… Jesus warns us, whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Frightening isn’t it?  Yet we read these words so glibly and gloss over them. Are my desires for success, and lordship of my brothers and sisters, my personal greatness over others really worth that?  The thought that our selfish ambitions and egotistical attitudes – our desire to be someone important in the church – might trample on some other child of God, cause him to sin, in thought or deed, – and God holds me responsible  and it becomes a great millstone around my neck.


© Bob McEvoy 2018

From → Bible Study, Matthew

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