… the sons are free. However, not to give offense … Matthew 17:26b-27a
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:4
With verse 24 of chapter 17 of Matthew’s Gospel, we move into another section of teaching that is relevant for our life together as Christ’s church. In these next three chapters (18-20), we will look at congregational ethics (Matthew 17:24-18:35), domestic and monetary principles (Matthew 19), and servanthood (Matthew 20:1-28). God willing, we will cover this section in the next seven sermons, which will contain some very practical lessons about life in the church, at home, and in the work environment.
Coming out of chapters 13-17 with the call to “walk by faith” still ringing in our ears, in this next section we see what “walking faith” looks like among the people of God. In our text for Sunday we will cover the first two of six accounts in chapter 18, that teach how self-denying love: 1) limits personal freedom (17:24-27), and 2) redirects ambition (18:1-5). In the first story about the payment of the temple tax, we learn that “the children (of the kingdom) are free” (vs. 26); however, it is a central truth of Christian love that freedom is limited out of concern of offending others – that is, of driving them away from the Faith. Of course the non-Christian community around us is going to be offended by certain Gospel truths that we uphold. However, in the application of our Christian walk we must be careful that those around us are not stumbling over the political and cultural views that we may count as important, but are personal freedoms and not Gospel truths. In the second story, Jesus uses a child to illustrate the posture of a true Christian’s faith. Self-denying love takes one’s own personal ambition and success and relegates it to a place behind serving others.
In the first account, we see how as Christians, we have been set free to love others. In Christ we become the free servants of others. In the second story we learn that humility is the path to greatness. Both of these anecdotes are so antithetical to the world’s philosophy and way of living. The world sees freedom as a pathway to do whatever one wants; and the world links greatness with personal ambition. We are called to live with an “out of this world” self-denying humility that considers others better than ourselves.