Sunday, December 10, 2023

Who is the Greatest? (Part 3)

By Clifton Angel
But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matt 18:6).
    Christ’s carnal companions quarreled over physical greatness in a kingdom (the church) that would be spiritual. Jesus confronted their conceit with a lowly child “in his arms” (Mark 9:36): “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3–4).
    The humble Christian convert is to be received with approval and hospitality. If we do not, we do not receive Christ — we ourselves can become a “castaway” (Matt 18:5; cf. 1 Cor 9:27). This point is impressed further by our verse at hand: Matthew 18:6.
    Let’s consider two things about which Jesus was NOT talking. First, He was not talking about merely hurting someone’s feelings. Many falsely attach the modern meaning of “offend.” Certainly, Christians should not be so selfish and uncouth to spew hurtful words, whether in earnest or jest (cf. Col 4:6; Eph 4:29; 5:4; 2 Pet 1:7). Second, He was not talking about the physical child in his arms. I am convinced that the physical child was not of an accountable age to have Biblical faith and the ability to sin, and these are two key descriptors in this verse.
    “One of these little ones which believe in me” refers back to one who is converted to Christ as a humble servant in the church: a spiritual child of God. And the issue at hand is that members of the church can “offend” one another. This means to “cause to sin.” Joseph Thayer adds “to put a stumbling-block or impediment in the way, upon which another may trip and fall;” “to entice to sin” (et. al. in Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament). Interestingly, the Greek word is the verb form of our English word “scandal.”
    How might we cause a fellow Christian to sin? Some ways include: Inviting them to engage in sinful practice (Acts 5:1–11; 1 Pet 4:1–5); Inviting them to violate their conscience (Rom 14; 1 Cor 8); Believing and teaching the Scriptures falsely (Matt 7:15–20; Rom 16:17); Comforting them or disregarding them in their own sinful practices (1 Cor 5–6; James 5:19–20); Creating unnecessary strife (Phil 2:3; 1 Tim 6:4; James 3:14–16); et. al. Contextually, Jesus is speaking directly to our reception (approval and hospitality) of the lowliest among us (cf. Matt 18:5). Notice how often these involve the words we use.
    A poor man was converted to Christ and he wore his dirty overalls to assemble that first Sunday as a Christian. He was met with prejudice, belittlement, and scolding by a long-time member of the church. He never assembled with Christ’s church, again. Do we need to remove the millstones and swim back to safety?

- Clifton Angel preaches for the Coldwater Church of Christ in Coldwater, MS. He may be contacted through that congregation's website:

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