a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

True Greatness


At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2He called a child, whom he put among them, 3and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

Temptations to Sin

6 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. 7Woe to the world because of stumbling blocks! Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to the one by whom the stumbling block comes!

8 “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep

10 “Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 12What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.

Reproving Another Who Sins

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”



21 Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” 22Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

23 “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. 24When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; 25and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. 26So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. 28But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. 31When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. 32Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?’ 34And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. 35So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”


16. But if he shall not hear thee. The second step is, that he who displayed obstinacy, or refused to yield to one man, should be again admonished in presence of witnesses Here some object, that it will serve no purpose to call witnesses, if we have to deal with an obstinate and rebellious man, because their presence will be so far from leading him to acknowledge his guilt, that he will only make a more wicked denial. But this difficulty will be speedily removed, if we distinguish between denial and evasion He who explicitly denies the fact, and declares that he is falsely and calumniously accused, must be left alone; for it would be ill vain to press him by calling witnesses But as, in most cases, men shamelessly evade, or impudently excuse, the improper and unjust actions which they have committed, till greater authority is employed, towards such persons it is useful to observe this method.

That Christ’s discourse ought to be understood in this sense is evident from the word used, ἔλεγξον, reprove, or argue; for to argue is to convince by demonstration. 555555     “Car arguer signifie convaincre par argumens, et remonstrer par bonnes raisons;” — “for to argue signifies to convince by arguments, and to show by good reasons.” And how could I argue with a man 556556     “Or comment pourroit on arguer ou convaincre un homme, que ce qu’il a fait est mauvais?” — “Now how could we argue or convince a man that what he has done is wrong?” who boldly denies the whole matter? for he who has the effrontery to deny the crime which he has committed shuts the door against a second admonition.

We now perceive for what purpose Christ proposes to call witnesses. It is, to give greater weight and impressiveness to the admonition. As to the slightly different meaning to which he has turned the words of Moses, it involves no absurdity. Moses forbids sentence to be pronounced on a matter that is unknown, and defines this to be the lawful mode of proving, that it be established by the testimony of

two or three witnesses. At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established,
(Deuteronomy 19:15.)

Alluding to that law, Christ says that, when two or three witnesses shall rise up to condemn the obstinacy of the man, the case will be clear, at least till the Church be prepared to take cognizance of it; for he who refuses to hear two or three witnesses 557557     “Veu qu’il n’a pas voulu recevoir l’admonition qui luy a este faite en prive par deux ou trois;” — “since he did not choose to receive the admonition which was given to him in private by two or three.” will have no reason to complain that he is dragged forth to light.

Tell it to the Church. It is asked, what does he mean by the term Church? For Paul orders (1 Corinthians 5:5) that the incestuous Corinthian shall be excommunicated, not by a certain chosen number, but by the whole assembly of the godly; and therefore it might appear to be probable that the power of judging is bestowed on the whole of the people. But as at that time no Church as yet was in existence, which acknowledged the authority of Christ, and no such order had been established, and as our Lord employs the ordinary and received forms of expression, there can be no doubt that he alludes to the order of the ancient Church, as in other places also he accommodates his modes of expression to what was known and customary. 558558     “Comme aussi en d’autres passages il s’accomodi a ce qui estoit lors ordinaire, et use des termes communes;” — “as also in other passages he adapts himself to what was then customary, and employs common terms.” When he commands that:

the offering, which we intend to present, shall be left at the altar, till we are reconciled to an offended brother,
(Matthew 5:23,)

he unquestionably intends, by means of that form of the worship of God which was then in existence and in force, to teach us, that we cannot in a right manner either pray, or offer any thing to God, so long as we are at variance with our brethren. So then he now looked at the form of discipline which was observed among the Jews; for it would have been absurd to propose an appeal to the judgment of a Church which was not yet in existence.

Now since among the Jews the power of excommunication belonged to the elders, who held the government of the whole Church, Christ speaks appropriately when he says that they who sinned must at length be brought forward publicly to the Church, if they either despise haughtily, or ridicule and evade, the private admonitions. We know that, after the Jews returned from the Babylonish captivity, a council was formed, which they called Sanhedrim, and in Greek Synedrion, (συνέδριον) and that to this council was committed the superintendence of morals and of doctrine. This government was lawful and approved by God, and was a bridle to restrain within their duty the dissolute and incorrigible.

It will perhaps be objected that, in the time of Christ, every thing was corrupt and perverted, so that this tyranny was very far from deserving to be accounted the judgment of the Church But the reply is easy. Though the method of procedure was at that time depraved and perverted, yet Christ justly praises that order, such as it had been handed down to them from the fathers. And when, shortly afterwards, he erected a Church, while he removed the abuse, he restored the proper use of excommunication. Yet there is no reason to doubt that the form of discipline, which prevailed in the kingdom of Christ, succeeded in the room of that ancient discipline. And certainly, since even heathen nations maintained a shadowy form of excommunication, it appears that, from the beginning, this was impressed by God on the minds of men, that those who were impure and polluted ought to be excluded from religious services. 559559     “Ne devoycnt estre receus a participer aux choses sacrees appartenantes au sarvice de Dieu;” — “ought not to be admitted to take part in the sacred things belonging to the service of God.” It would therefore have been highly disgraceful to the people of God to have been altogether destitute of that discipline, some trace of which remained among the Gentiles. But what had been preserved under the Law Christ has conveyed to us, because we hold the same rank with the ancient fathers. For it was not the intention of Christ to send his disciples to the synagogue, which, while it willingly cherished in its bosom disgraceful filth, excommunicated the true and sincere worshippers of God; but he reminded us that the order, which had been formerly established in a holy manner under the Law, must be maintained in his Church

Let him be to thee as a heathen and a publican. What is here added as to heathens and publicans confirms the interpretation which I have given. For heathens and publicans having been at that time regarded by the Jews with the greatest hatred and detestation, he compares to them unholy and irreclaimable men, who yield to no admonitions. Certainly he did not intend to enjoin them to avoid the society of heathens, of whom the Church was afterwards composed; nor is there any reason at the present day why believers should shrink from associating with publicans But in order that he might be more easily understood by the ignorant, Christ borrowed a mode of expression from what was then customary among his nation; 560560     “A use d’un terme convenable a la coustume du pays;” — “used a term in accordance with the custom of the country.” and the meaning is, that we ought to have no intercourse with the despisers of the Church till they repent.

VIEWNAME is study