Matthew 18:1-9 (ESV) At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”… 7“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! 8And 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 crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
The Disciples wanted to know WHO would be the greatest, the top person recognized in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus answers a very different question. The WHO is not as important as the WHAT. In other words, what is the nature of greatness in this kingdom of heaven? What will that look like in an economy where God immediately rules and reigns? And there is no question that it will be far different than how we look at personal greatness here and now. For one thing (as we saw last time) those reckoned as “great” there, are those who don’t pursue greatness as we know it at all. That is not what they are after. Jesus is about to open this door even wider.
In verses 2-5 Jesus places the little child in front of them to give them the picture of one who would never even enter the discussion of who might be the greatest. This was an “adult” conversation. Those without social value yet (such as little chidren) don’t get to play at this level, which is Jesus’ point.
In verse 6 Jesus issues a warning which He fleshes out in 7-9. When it comes to these “little ones who believe in me” – who aren’t mindul of the greatness game – “woe” to the one who leads them into sin. And we might ask – is the idea just sin in general? Is His thought just to warn us from tempting one another period? Perhaps. But given the flow of the conversation, it would seem more natural that Jesus is warning them not to tempt those unmindful of this-worldly greatness, not to fall into that way of thinking.
The thrust of His words here indicate that it is no little matter to drag people into the wicked sphere of being concerned about human fame or or nototriety – especially in the Church. To take the original temption “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:5) and baptize it into Christianity by giving anyone the impression that there are people’s opinions and views to be catered to – eschelons to be sought after – circles to be found in, is to lead them into horrific sin. It is bringing Eden’s Fall back into play. It is to say “Jesus saves you, so you can be something in the eyes of ____.” It is to turn men and women from a whole heart and mind set on pleasing God, to pleasing someone or something other than the Father Himself. And it is just as exceable if the only one’s approval you are seeking is your own.
Verses 7-9 then describe just how violently we are to resist our own tendency toward this abomination. Spare no pains Christian. If you see the seeds of this in yourself, launch a full scale attack. And whatever you do, do not drag others into this filthy morass. If you work (i.e. do “ministry” ) for human recognition – cut off your hand. If you walk (i.e. pursue a “holy” lifestyle) for human approbation – cut off your foot. If you are always looking to see (preoccupied with and testing others to see) how others see you – pluck out your eye. “It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.” “It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” More emphatic words could not be utilized. Claiming to serve Christ when in fact you are motivated by what impression that service will make on others is deadly sin. Do anything and everything necessary to root it out. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5-8 (ESV)
Who will be great in the kingdom of heaven? Those who attacked their own inward desires for greatness in this life, and refused to place that yoke on anyone else.