Life-Study of Matthewby Witness Lee
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Printed Copy: Available Online from Living Stream Ministry
Chapters eighteen, nineteen, and twenty are a distinct section of the Gospel of Matthew dealing with the relationships among the kingdom people. In previous chapters we have seen the King’s decree of the constitution of the kingdom, the King’s ministry, and the revelation of the mystery of the kingdom. We have also seen the pathway to glory and the practical matters that followed the Lord’s transfiguration. Now we must see the relationships among the kingdom people, that is, how to be related to one another in the kingdom. This is a practical matter. It is not merely doctrinal, as the constitution of the kingdom, or prophetic, as the mystery of the kingdom. In particular, chapter eighteen deals with how to be in the kingdom of the heavens: it is to become as little children (vv. 2-4); not to stumble others or to set up any stumbling block (vv. 5-9); not to despise even a little believer (vv. 10-14); to hear the church and not be condemned by it (vv. 15-20); and to forgive a brother to the uttermost (vv. 21-35). All this indicates that to enter into the kingdom of the heavens we must be humble and not despise any believer, but love our brother and forgive our brother.
Before we consider 18:1-20, we need to have an overall view of these three chapters, which cover five matters. The first is pride. If we would relate to others in a proper way in the kingdom, our pride needs to be dealt with. We need humility. Not one of us is a humble person. Every fallen person is proud. In the past certain brothers and sisters have told me that their wives or husbands were humble. Later these brothers and sisters had to admit that their wives or husbands were not that humble. Some brothers who had told me that their wives would never give them a problem later came to me in tears telling me of the trouble they were having with their wives. There is no such thing as a humble person.
Being in the kingdom is a corporate matter, not an individual matter. However, whenever we come together as a company, there will be difficulties. This is the reason certain young people do not want to get married. Although it will cause them problems, the young people nevertheless need to get married. Because it is difficult to be together in company, Matthew includes these chapters covering our relationships with one another. We have no choice concerning this. If I had my choice, I would prefer to stay by myself, devote all my time to prayer, and wait alone for the kingdom to come. But we have been predestinated to be together. However, in our being together pride is the first problem.
The second problem is our inability to forgive others. The matter of forgiveness is covered in the second half of chapter eighteen. We all must learn to forgive others, something that none of us enjoys doing. Deep within our heart, we do not want to forgive others.
According to the Bible, to forgive is to forget. For us, to forgive a person may mean that we simply do not care about the particular offense. However, we still remember it. How difficult it is to forget an offense against us! Without the Lord’s mercy and grace, we would remember others’ offenses even in eternity. But when God forgives, He forgets. Hebrews 10:17 says, “And their sins and their lawlessnesses I will by no means remember any more.” To forgive something absolutely is to forget it. Our Father in heaven considers us as if we have never sinned, for He has forgiven and forgotten our sins. But when we forgive an offense, we often remind others of it. For example, a sister may say, “The elders treated me very poorly; however, I have forgiven them. But let me tell you a little about what happened.” Genuine forgiveness means that we forget the offense.
The root of our unwillingness to forgive others lies in our dispositional anger. No matter how nice you may be, you still have dispositional anger. The reason you are offended is that you have such a disposition. I may strike a chair again and again, but the chair will not be offended because it has no disposition. But if I strike you, you will be offended because of the dispositional anger hidden within you. We all are subject to dispositional anger. Sometimes when I have offended a brother, he has said that he does not care about the offense. Actually, we all care when we are offended. The outward reaction or appearance may be different, but the dispositional anger, the anger hidden in our disposition, is the same. Because of our dispositional anger, it is difficult to forgive others.
This dispositional anger shows up between husbands and wives. I advise the young sisters never to offend their husbands. If they do, it will be hard for their husbands to forget that offense. Although your husband may say that he has forgiven you, deep within he has not done so. Every man has a disposition that makes it easy for him to be offended, especially by his wife. Women find it easy to complain to their husbands. The reason there are so many separations and divorces is that the women complain and that the men find it difficult to forgive. Sisters, try your best not to complain to your husband. If he is late, forget about it. Do not make an issue of it. Brothers, I advise you to ignore the complaints of your wife. I advise the sisters not to complain and the brothers not to be offended.
We have seen the matters of pride and of our inability to forgive others. Now we come to the problem of lust, which is indicated in chapter nineteen. In the constitution of the kingdom of the heavens lust was thoroughly dealt with. It was also touched in chapter thirteen, the chapter concerning the mystery of the kingdom of the heavens. Lust is a great problem to the kingdom people. Many separations and divorces are related to lust. Therefore, in chapter nineteen the Lord Jesus touched this matter of lust. Apart from the Lord’s grace, none of us is able to overcome it.
The fourth problem is the problem of riches. It is very difficult for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of the heavens, even more difficult than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. The matter of riches is a great frustration to the kingdom life, and it is also dealt with in the constitution of the kingdom of the heavens and in the parable of the sower in chapter thirteen.
The last problem is ambition, which is covered in chapter twenty. Zebedee’s wife, ambitious that her two sons would enjoy a high position in the kingdom, said to the Lord, “Say that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and one on Your left, in Your kingdom” (20:21). The Lord told her that she did not know what she was asking. Matthew records the story of Zebedee’s wife making requests for her sons, but John does not record it because his Gospel is not the Gospel dealing with the kingdom. Matthew records this incident because in the kingdom there is the problem of ambition for position.
Ambition has been a problem both in the East and in the West. Many times when elders were appointed in the churches, brothers were offended because others were appointed instead of them. Although, at the most, a church needed three or four elders, the number of self-appointed candidates for eldership might have been more than fifteen. Whether or not those brothers prayed about being appointed elders, I do not know. But I am rather certain that they expected to be appointed. When they realized that they had not been appointed elders, they began to speak negatively about the church, simply because they did not receive the position they desired. We have encountered this problem in the church in Taipei, a church with more than twenty thousand members. Every time a new home meeting was opened, there was a need to appoint two or three leading brothers and leading sisters to manage the practical affairs of that home meeting. Nearly every time the leading ones were appointed, some sister was offended because she was not among those appointed. Because they were offended, they stopped coming to the meetings for a period of time. This exposes the problem of ambition.
These three chapters actually cover these five things. They deal thoroughly with pride, dispositional anger, lust, riches, and ambition. All these problems are within us. If we would get into the depths of these chapters, we would certainly be touched. For instance, we would see that we are people full of pride and that anger is hidden in our disposition. No matter how patient or forbearing we try to be, anger is still deeply rooted in our disposition. This is what makes it difficult for us to forgive others. Furthermore, we are troubled by lust and riches, both of which damage the kingdom life. Finally, there is the problem of ambition. Matthew purposely covers these five problems in his Gospel to show that we must take care of them in order to be in the kingdom. Pride, dispositional anger, lust, riches, and ambition are all “scorpions.” We need a divine pest control to kill these “scorpions.” Under God’s inspiration, Matthew selected various cases and put them together in order to expose these things. Now we need to consider them one by one.
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