I struggle more to give a title to the teaching in Matthew 18 than I do for the other “sermons” in Matthew. Yet Matthew 19:1 gives us the same signal that a sermon has ended that we see after the Sermon on the Mount, the Mission Sermon, the Parable Sermon, and then later on after the “End Times” sermon: “When Jesus had finished saying these things.” Matthew 18 begins with a focus on children and ends with a focus on forgiveness. What seems to hold the sermon together is a recognition that we are vulnerable and that from time to time we lose our way.
The sermon begins with the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus’ answer is, “whoever takes the lowly position of this child” (18:4). The kingdom is about being a subject of the king in submission to his rule. Or you might think of a child who trusts and listens to the directions of a parent. It’s certainly not about being famous or powerful. “The last will be first and the first will be last” (20:16).
So being a member of the kingdom is about service and servanthood. It’s about humility and putting others ahead of ourselves. It’s not about ambition or supremacy. Christians should not “lord it over” others, enjoying domination over others and showing others that they are in control.
Someone might push back and say, “Someone has to be in charge” or “Nothing will ever get done if someone doesn’t jump in there and take control.” “Didn’t God tell Adam and Eve to subdue the land?” It’s true. There are a lot of people who have a built-in drive and natural ambition that they channel in the service of God. They accomplish what seem to be great things for God. They built big churches and lead big organizations. They become famous stars and athletes or take Christian values into the political arena. For them not to do these things would be for them to take the talent God has given them and bury it in the ground.
What’s important to realize from God’s perspective is that they are no more significant in the kingdom than some anonymous person who puts flowers on the front altar every Sunday. In fact, if the person who is successful by the standards of the world begins to think he or she should get the credit rather than God, they make themselves of lesser significance in the kingdom. To whom much is given, much is expected from God, but the one who tries to receive earthly honor from it is diminishing his or her kingdom honor...