The Seriousness of Power Sins
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
People of God
After we have read this passage, I invite you to keep your bibles open because we will look a little closer at some of the themes that arise from the text.
Matthew 18:1-10 (NIV)
1 At that time the
disciples came to Jesus and asked, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom
People, precious to God
It is in all of us - the tendency, the desire, the temptation, in all kinds of ways. The temptation is to gain a little on the side. The tendency is to make a profit from service or religion. This inherent drive demonstrated itself in even the disciples that Jesus chose, like us they wanted some gain for all their service, they had just seen the transfiguration on the mountain, they had seen power and glory and now they wanted positions of status and power, a return for their service to Christ. In short, they were using their discipleship to an alternative selfish end. That's where their argument came from.(Mark 9:33f) And they wanted Jesus to resolve it. "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?" They were ready to climb over one another's shoulders to get to the top, use each other if they had to, just to get there.
In answer to their question, Jesus called a toddler to come to the group.
"What's this now?" the disciples may have asked themselves. What does he want with this child that does not count. As in a similar passage, certainly some of the disciples wanted to shew the child away. They were involved in important business where children did not count.
But Jesus insisted, with the child standing among them he said: "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus was pointing his finger at his disciples, at us. Unless you change! What was he pointing at in the disciples that needed changing? What was he pointing at that was so different from the child?
There are many possible answers. Simple trust. Dependence is clearly a theme. Human children cannot survive by themselves, they need adults to take care of them. In like manner, for our lives, for our eternal lives, we depend totally on Christ. It does not matter on our accomplishment as church members. It does not matter first of all how much we know of the scriptures, how much we know of our doctrines, what matters is our dependence on Christ and Christ alone for our salvation. Our accomplishments count for nothing. Again, the call of the word of God is to place your faith in Christ alone. Become as a child, dependent upon Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life and you will be saved.
There is however the theme of power and powerlessness. One thing that was very characteristic of children in Jesus day is that they were without power. Under Greek law, a father could take the life of his unwanted young child without penalty. Child abuse was common. In Jewish culture, when it came to power, children simply did not count. A child's worth or value was in their destiny, not in who they were in the present. Unlike our culture, they were powerless, totally subject to the will of those in authority over them. They were totally unable to be the greatest in society. Children were powerless, it was not their position to be the greatest.
Jesus, in confronting his disciples power hungry behavior told them first of all that to become a child of heaven, we first must drop all issues of power and glory and become totally dependent on the only one who has the power to save us, that is Jesus Christ, the son of the living God.
But then, to these power positioning disciples, Jesus went on in his lesson about how they were to treat children, children valued and precious to God, just as they were.
He said "And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me."
In short, he said to these disciples who were about to ignore the children on their way to the top: "What you do to these children, you do to me." The way you treat the children, you treat me. The way you disregard children, you disregard me. The way you devalue children, you devalue me. The way you use these little children, you use me.
With each succeeding verse, Jesus focus sharpens on how the powerful treat the powerless. With each succeeding sentence, Jesus demonstrates the gravity of power abuse and how he identifies with the powerless in society.
"But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
The wording in verse 6 is important to us. Our translation says "if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin" - literally, in the original it says, "if anyone places a snare or trap for these little ones to fall into."
The picture becomes clear. Desire for gain, which is at the root of all sin, is also the root of abuse. Adam and Eve thought they might make gain, become a little more like God, if they took of the the fruite of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Jesus instruction, the focus has now moved from a disregard for the children who are valuable to him, to the abuse of children valuable to him. Those who trap children have no other intent but to make personal gain at a child's expense. The trap is the design of the powerful over the powerless. We call it abuse. And Jesus said for those who, in his kingdom abuse, "it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
Such strong words of warning to his own disciples about how they use their power for selfish gain. It started with an argument about who is the greatest. Jesus seeing the root of this power sin goes all the way to talking about its most abusive demonstrations, using children, abusing children of God for selfish gain, and he tells its consequence, "it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea." There is no doubt that power will be abused in this world, but woe to the man through whom that abuse happens.
We have all heard about child abuse, in families, even in the church. We have read stories written by victims of such abuse in our denominational magazine, in the news. We have heard about their destroyed lives because of snares and traps set for them by people who had the reputation of representing God to them. And we tend to think that this is an exceptional issue that happens way out there, far away from us. But the truth is, if Jesus gave these warnings to his hand picked disciples, his most honored disciples who had even seen his transfiguration, then he is warning us too. The danger, the tendency to abuse power is within us, it is not just out there, it is in here (point at heart), in me, in you.
In verses 8 and 9, Jesus gives some very important instruction for those who understand that tendency within and the instruction is basically this: Do everything within your power to prevent the possibility of such sin. Listen to Jesus words
"If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell."
Some think what Jesus is saying is hyperbole. That is, he is overstating his case to make a point, saying things in extreme ways. That is not accurate. Jesus is making it very clear that power sin requires extreme preventative measures. But instead of hyperbole, he is using an analogy. Everyone of us knows that our hands, our feet, our eyes don't lead us into sin, it is the human heart that leads us into sin. But we cannot cut out that evil old nature within us. What Jesus is saying is, get rid of the opportunity for your sinful tendency to act out. Cut off the chance. Gouge out the possibilities of abuse. Take extreme measures. It is better to take extreme measures to prevent this sin than to be thrown into the fire of hell.
Most of us here are aware of the abuse policy that our church has been putting in place over the last two years. Some of you may have noticed that there are now windows in classroom doors. We are doing what we can to make this church, this community a safe place for children of all ages. They are precious to Jesus, they are precious to us. After this mornings service, our clerk is going to come forward and give an update on our progress of implementing our Abuse Policy. He is going to introduce a form for us to fill out, including a police records check. It sounds like extreme measures - yes. Some of us have some difficulty with that - yes. But extreme measures, cutting off the opportunity for power abuse sins, is far better than entering into hell.
And so people of God, I encourage you, as we join together in implementing this abuse policy, let us together, in obedience to Christ, make this church community the safest place we can, for the little ones, the powerless ones, the broken ones, the hurting ones, so that coming here vulnerable, they may be loved, and through us see the true character of the love of Christ for them.
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."
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.