Sometimes a cartoon says it all. In a “Peanuts” cartoon, Lucy says to Snoopy: “There are times when you really bug me, but I must admit there are also times when I feel like giving you a big hug.” Snoopy replies: “That’s the way I am . . . huggable and buggable.”
I suppose we can all identify with Snoopy. There are times when we are so very nice and easy to get along with and there are other times when we say what we think and could care less how it affects others. We are huggable and buggable. God has to put up with all kinds of attitudes and actions from His people. Sometimes I hear of churches that split over matters that should never have happened. Maybe you had some difference of opinion with another believer and you have decided it best never to talk anymore. You have drawn an imaginary line and said, “This person shall not get beyond this line.” Oh how it must hurt our Father in Heaven for us to act like that. I would be so disappointed in my two children or grandchildren if they had a falling out and refused to speak or forgive one another. Can you imagine how God, our Heavenly Father must feel?
Matthew 18 is a whole chapter on relationships in the church. Jesus says the greatest are the children, the little ones, those who have humbled themselves and admitted their need of a Savior and therefore have entered into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus warns against allowing sin to cause you to miss out on the beauty of relationships in the church or kingdom. In the latter part of the chapter, He warns about unforgiveness. Christians, children of God, followers of Christ must be forgiving even as they have been forgiven. He tells a parable in Matthew 18:23-34 and then notice the final verse: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”
I want to look more closely at the middle verses of this chapter this morning beginning at Matthew 18:10. “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.” This is more than about guardian angels; this is about the value of each little one in the church of Jesus Christ. No one is unimportant in the church. We come into the church through being born again, being regenerated, becoming children of God, and no child of God is without value. In fact each child has His Father’s constant, full attention. We all enter the same way by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we all are equally loved by our Heavenly Father. So we are not to look down on anyone in the church. Each member is important and valuable.
Look at Matthew 18:12, “What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?” The owner of the sheep leaves in good hands to the shepherds the ninety-nine and goes looking for the one absent sheep. He knows much about sheep. He knows they get lost easy and won’t find their way home by themselves. He knows they cannot take care of themselves, so he personally goes after the stray. Why does he care? Because each sheep is of great value to the owner. Let me say that each of us are of great value to God. He loves each of His children as if each were the only one He had. How it must break our Father’s heart to see what the world and Satan does to the strays who have dropped from bible study, prayer, church fellowship, and service. They could be so much happier and fulfilled if they stayed with the flock, but for some reason or another, they have wandered off. What do we do with the strays, the absentees? The temptation is to drop them, to ignore them, to pretend like they never belonged. But if we follow Christ we will not be content to leave them alone. We will pray for them, love them, contact them and we will welcome them back. Look at Matthew 18:13, “And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off” I am so thankful for those of you who have never wandered off from your church fellowship or fellowship with God. You are to be commended, but do not look down on or neglect to go after those who have.
We are about to enter March, the time of tournament basketball. They call it March Madness. We have a challenge to give each of you in Sunday school. We are planning on dividing you into four teams with a coach per team. The emphasis is not on attendance but on contacts. We want to spend the whole month of March contacting absentees and non-church attenders and inviting them to Sunday School and church. These can be friends, families, neighbors, AWANA kids, fellow workers and acquaintances. We will only do this one month out of the year, so please join us in this important outreach. We will call it March Madness at Elkton Baptist Church. Each team will get points for contacts. Three points for a person to person contact, three points for that person attending Sunday School or church, two points for a phone call invitation, and one point for a card. Email, or letter sent. We can do this if we will realize the value of each one person.
Now look at Matthew 18:14, “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” Normally when we think of lost, we think lost from salvation and on the way to hell. But Jesus is speaking here of being lost to fellowship, to discipleship, to Bible study, to active involvement with other members of the family of God. For all practical purposes they are living unfruitful and unproductive lives as strays or those who have wandered away from the will of God. Each child of God is too valuable to be left alone and lost to the will of God. What if you are the lost, the stray? What would you want others to do for you? I would want someone to care enough to come after me.
Let me just read to you the verses beginning with Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” The emphasis here is on restoring someone to fellowship with the church who has sinned or is living in sin. If you are personally involved, that is, he has sinned against you, and you are the right person to go to that person, then take the three steps if needed to reclaim that brother. Do so with humility, gentleness, prayer and love. If he refuses to listen to the church then he becomes a prospect for salvation, as were the pagans and tax collectors. Look at Matthew 18:18, “I tell you the truth, (I can’t imagine Jesus ever telling a lie) whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
This ministry is so important to God that as we seek His leadership through prayer and obedience in seeking to restore absent members, His authority from heaven will be given through us in seeking to restore each of His erring children. God is actively involved in this ministry of restoration. We have been given the authority from God to be involved as well.
Now hear the value of two or three. Look at Matthew 18:19, “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” Here we see the value of praying for others. This does not mean one person’s prayers are weaker than two, but it does promise when there is unity between two believers, then their prayer will be heard and answered by God the Father. The context calls for the matter of seeking to reclaim one from sin, but I know God has heard prayer partners pray and answered them. We have a wonderful promise from Jesus in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus doesn’t just show up on Sunday morning when there is the largest crowd, He’s in our small Sunday School classes, He’s with us on Tuesday evening when we go out visiting, on Wednesday evening in your AWANA, in Prayer Meeting, in Choir Practice, in small groups that will never make headlines. Jesus has promised to personally be there for us when two or three come together in His name.
Oh how Jesus is looking for believers who agree together in prayer, who study together from the bible, and who meet together in His name. With a church like that surely no one would want to miss or refuse to join.
Back in the 70s I read about a professional golfer by the name of Rick Massengale. Golf had become his life, more important than his wife and his wife knew it. She suggested they go to a Bible study, and he said “no”, that he felt he was a Christian and that a Christian was someone good enough to get into heaven. Bible study seemed to be for weak people. His problems continued, and to appease his wife, they went to the Bible study. There he found other golfers and their wives who he learned cared more about him as a person than about beating him on the golf course. That night he found out how wrong he had been about Christianity that it was not solely about getting into heaven. It was about a relationship, a fulfilling, unburdened and beautiful relationship between each person and Jesus Christ. That night he and his wife invited Jesus Christ into their hearts and what a beautiful change came over his life and their marriage.
Jerry Tracy is Pastor of Elkton Baptist Church in Elkton, KY.