Kingdom Values: Matthew 18:1-6
“1) At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2) And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, 3) and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 4) Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5) And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; 6) but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Matthew‬ ‭18‬:‭1‬-‭6‬ ‭
Tragically, the disciples were competing for favored status. They each wanted the top seat in the kingdom of heaven. They wanted to be “number one.” They wanted to sit at the right hand of Jesus.
They had totally missed the concept of servanthood. They missed the idea of putting others first. They bought into the worldly notion of “self promotion.” They were embracing the boastful pride of life.
To appreciate what Jesus did next, you need to understand the status of children in Jewish culture. Girls were lowest in cultural status. They were seldom even named in the Old Testament. Boys were not even considered as legal heirs until around age twelve. The first born was most valued, and like David, those toward the end of the birth order were treated as servants and not even invited to family events.
From this text, Jesus called a child to Himself most likely from the street children. Though not stated in the context, the child may have been an orphan. That would fit the object lesson best.
Then He said, “Whoever humbles himself as this child, he is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” These children were servants of all. Anyone could enslave them or force them to work. They had no rights and no defenders. They often labored all day for a mere piece of bread or a place to sleep in the stable.
The illustration was powerful. Those most despised by society have great value with God! Those the world puts last, God puts first. To despise the most unwanted child or exploit them is an eternal offense. But like the boy David out in the pasture, these boys and girls often developed a simple faith in God. To make one of these stumble defines a tyrant.
By this illustration, Jesus was striking a blow to pride, self promotion and rivalry of any kind. The servants of heaven are often despised by the world. They labor to glorify and honor God and not to promote self.
Of the twelve disciples, Judas became the example of greed and self promotion. He was in ministry for the money. Most of the others became martyrs for the gospel. Only John lived to die of natural causes associated with aging, and that after years of imprisonment for the cause of the gospel.
Paul said it best in Acts 20:24; “But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.” Any attitude more self focused than this demotes Jesus and the gospel. It puts self and not God on the throne.
This story cuts me to the core. To embrace Jesus, I must be willing to forsake the world and it’s value system. I must humble myself. It is so hard to do because self promotion and pride are natural. We are programmed to subconsciously look out for #1. We live with an eye to self comfort.
Peter and James both state that “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6-7; 1 Peter 5:6-10) In both contexts Satan is prowling about seeking to exploit unsuspecting prey. Beware lest your pride and self promotion devours you.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global