Based on a series of sermons preached in PCC Prayer Meetings in 2021
“At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? 2 And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them, 3 And said, Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me. 6 But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.
7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh! 8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.”Matthew 18:1-9
In our previous study on this passage, we skipped verses 7-9 and went on to verse 14. We did that because we wanted to focus on the Lord’s attitude towards the little ones from this chapter. Little ones are not just little children, but those who are weak, poor, discriminated against, sidelined, and powerless: those who need protection and help, rather than being taken advantage of or oppressed. Since the Lord Jesus has a special place in His heart for little ones, we must have a place in our hearts for them. We must protect them, defend them and pray for them.
But in this follow-up study, we must return to consider what we skipped. In particular, we want to look at our Lord’s abhorrence of sin in the context.
Why does the Lord talk about sin in this context where He expresses His concern for little ones? Well, because sin against little ones is especially abhorrent to Him.
That is why immediately after He says: “Whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me,” He adds: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
Notice the violent image. Does it not show just how much the Lord pities little ones, and how greatly outraged He is against those who “offend one of these little ones.” “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea,” He declares.
What is the meaning of the word ‘offend’ (v. 6)? Well, the original word, σκανδαλίζω (skandalizō), may also be translated “to scandalise,” “to cause to stumble,” or to “entice to sin.”
This can occur in a variety of ways. In the immediate context of the Lord’s warning, He is probably thinking about how the scribes and Pharisees scandalise the little ones, such as the publicans and sinners, by ostracising them from opportunities to hear God’s word. And they also lay “heavy burdens and grievous to be borne” upon their shoulders (Mt 23:4) as conditions for acceptance before God.
But there are many other ways of scandalising little ones today.
A rich man is involved in an accident. He immediately offers his security guard ten thousand dollars to take the rap for him. The otherwise honest security guard, thinking about how that money will help his daughter through college, and fearing he might lose his job, lies that he was the driver. He sinned. The rich man had scandalised him.
A young girl aspires to be a model despite growing up in a conservative home. A famous photographer calls her for an interview. During the interview, he realises how vulnerable she is, and starts to get her to do things she would not normally do. Initially, she is resistant, but he manipulates her with some sob stories mingled with the idea that if she wants to be famous, she must let her guard down. She trusts him, and so becomes more and more corrupted as her conscience becomes dulled. He has scandalised her.
The siblings, ten and twelve, grew up in a nominally Christian home. Mother is a gambler. One weekend, when the father is away on a business trip, she takes the two children to Sentosa, where she spends her day gambling. On the last day, she brought them to Universal Studios before they headed home. They enjoyed their time there. Then the mother said, “Well, if you want to come again, you must not tell daddy that I went to the casino. And if anyone in church asks you where you were, you just tell them that mummy was sick and could not bring you to church.” The children did as they were instructed. Their mother had scandalised them.
These are not entirely made-up stories that are unlikely to happen. The fact is that almost every detail is based on something that has already happened. And these are not the only ways in which little ones have been scandalised. There are also more subtle ways. School teachers can scandalise their pulpits by organising sports events on the Sabbath. Governments can scandalise their citizens by forbidding them from gathering for worship. Thus, governments must weigh their policies very carefully. They must ensure that any prohibitions from assembling must be biblically and cogently justifiable.
The Lord hates scandalisers, especially when their sin involves little ones or vulnerable ones who are believers. He thinks they should have a millstone hung around their necks and cast into the ocean.
But now—knowing that the disciples hearing him could also fall into the same temptation of causing offence or scandalising the little ones—the Lord turns to them to warn them:
7 Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!
Do you see what He is saying? We live in a fallen world, so there will be offences and temptations to sin. But woe, cursed, is the one responsible for stumbling any of the little ones. You must not take the possibility of falling into this sin lightly. It can happen to any of us, however unlikely we may think we will fall into it. We must take heed lest we fall.
It is to emphasise the seriousness of His warning that the Lord adds:
8 Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire. 9 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
Most of us will be familiar with these words. The Lord is repeating what He said in His Sermon on the Mount when warning against lust (Mt 5:29-30).
We know that He is not teaching self-mutilation. Instead, He is teaching us to take drastic steps to ensure we do not fall into sin. In this case, it is not merely the sin of sexual lust, but the sin of scandalising a little one or causing him or her to sin. He is teaching us to cut off all opportunities and situations of becoming a scandaliser—of causing a little one, or a poor, weak or defenceless one to fall into sin.
What shall we do with these things?
First, shall we not pray that the Lord will protect the little ones known to us—whether they are young, poor, weak, vulnerable or defenceless? We must not take for granted that they may not be scandalised. We live in a fallen world.
If the Lord Jesus took time to speak about how this sin is abhorrent to Him. Shall we not also feel great disgust for such a sin and pray that the little ones known to us may be protected?
Remember that we are not only talking about children and youth but also those who are weak, poor and defenceless. Thus, we should also pray for our government that it may be careful not to make any laws that may scandalise believers in this land.
Secondly, shall we not take heed lest we fall? Let us remind ourselves of how absolutely hateful the sin of scandalising little ones is to our Saviour.
Let us remind ourselves that if we are in a position of authority, influence or leadership, then the danger of falling into the sin increases manifold. Indeed, a father can scandalise His children, for example, by violating the sabbath day, for they will learn to do the same and think it is normal. Likewise, a superior at work can scandalise his subordinates by enticing them to cover up his failures and mistakes so that he does not look bad to his superiors.
Therefore, let us take heed lest we fall. If the Lord Jesus specifically warned His disciples about this sin, shall we not take heed and not imagine that it can never happen to us? Shall we not pray for one another that we may be kept from such sins?
Therefore, thirdly, if you are in a position of being a scandaliser or in danger of becoming a scandaliser, then will you not take drastic steps to stop that before it is too late? The drastic step may involve repenting of your sin, confessing your guilt, quitting your job if necessary, etc.
Remember that though the sin of scandalising is extremely grievous and hateful to Christ, it is not an unpardonable sin. Therefore, if you ever find yourself in such a situation, do not let it persist so that you heap wrath upon yourself. Instead, stop it immediately, confess your sin, make restitution where necessary and seek forgiveness in the blood of Christ.
No one who scandalises a little one, who refuses to repent of it will enter the kingdom of God. On the other hand, even the worst scandalisers, such as Paul, who compelled believers to blaspheme (Acts 26:11), can find forgiveness and restoration in Christ. Amen.