out eternal welfare

Painting by Carl Bloch

The first nine verses of Matthew 18 are full of symbolism and warning. They clearly demonstrate Christ’s concern for our eternal welfare.



Who is greatest

The question arose among the disciples as to who was the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. When they finally asked Jesus their question, the following verses taught his answer.


1 At the same time came the disciples unto Jesus, saying, Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?

And Jesus called a little child unto him, and set him in the midst of them,

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.

Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

As usual, the way God rates and values things doesn’t match how the world rates and values the same things. In the world, the greatest is the one with the most power, wealth, prestige, etc. But Jesus set a child in the midst of them and pointed to the child’s humility, declaring that they all needed to humble themselves as this child was humble. This means God values the ability to be taught and take correct and direction over any other accomplishment. Might that be because He already knows everything? How can we learn to be like Him if we aren’t able to take correction and direction? This makes these two things very important to God.

Have you noticed that one of the chief qualities Jesus uses to describe himself is that he is meek, i.e. humble and teachable? So being humble and correctable/teachable are the most important traits we need to learn to develop in this life. This is what will make us more like that child Jesus was using to teach his followers. For the first time I also noticed that Jesus told his disciples that in order for them to be the greatest in heaven, they must first become converted. It is only after they are converted and become as humble as a child that they can become great in the eyes of heaven.

And finally, in verse five we learn that those who are humble enough to receive the meek and submissive who come in Christ’s name, also receive him, personally. This goes along with his ageless doctrine that whether by his own voice or the voice of his servant, it is the same.


I’m not a linguist, but the words translated as “offense” or “sin” in Greek seem to be closely related. In the first uses of the Greek word that we get as “offense” it can be translated into a “stumbling block.” In another use of the word it can be translated into that which “causes us to stumble.” And yet another version of the word actually refers to the word sin. This opens a whole discussion on this block of verses in Matthew 18 starting with verse six.

Since I can’t give you an exact translation of the first number of verses, let’s look at some possible meanings of the verses with these possible translations in mind. This should open some avenues for understanding what these verses might be saying to us. See how you feel about them.

Possible messages

Here is Matthew 8:6-9. Read these verses. We’ll talk about them in a moment.

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.

¶ 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!

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.

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.

Verse 6 – The Greek says, “But whoso shall cause to stumble one of these little ones …” How can we cause one of God’s little children to stumble? What do we do as parents or as someone who comes into contact with a child? Are we teaching them to be calloused and hard of heart by the things we allow them to watch on television or in the movies? Do we let them listen to music that in not wholesome? Do we know what they are reading or who they spend their play time with? What used to be pretty safe, now can be quite dangerous. 

When I was a child, playing at a neighbor’s house was usually a safe activity. But even then, as I now recall, there were select people I shouldn’t have been allowed to play with. My parents trusted our neighbors completely, but I was offered beer in one home at the age of 5, and had unhealthy music played for me in another home. Since we don’t know what is going on in other people’s homes, the best place for your child to play with friends is in your own home, under your supervision. My own children were exposed to drugs and pornography multiple times, because we weren’t more careful about whose home we let them visit without us being there.

We can also offend, or cause our children to stumble in their faith, by making expressions of doubt that hurt their faith or cause them to doubt their budding testimonies. It can be easy to forget that we have had a lifetime of exposure to the truth and to the world, but they are babes in the woods, and will believe what they think we believe. If we say the wrong things that cause them to question God or the faithfulness or truthfulness of the leaders of the Church, it is we who will answer to God for their lack of trust or belief. Parents and those who are around children, and set examples for them, should be aware that children are living sponges. They see through our hypocrisies and see us for who we really are.

Verse 7 – Offences here can be hurts, reasons to falter in our faith, or even sins. These things simply exist in this life. We can’t prevent all the things that cause these offenses, but God says, “woe to that man by whom the offence cometh.” What kind of example am I setting for my family, friends, and for perfect strangers on the street? In this verse I think we are safe to assume that an offense is anything that will cause us to not believe in God and His chosen representatives, be they the prophet or our ministering brothers and sisters who have been sent to us by our Bishop. This leads us directly into verses eight and nine.

Verses 8-9 – I wonder how many people down through the ages have read and taken these verses literally. I certainly did. It wasn’t until this time that I finally admitted the obvious, that Christ isn’t just literal, but speaks in parables and figurative language. There is almost always another level to what he says that serves to teach us deeper meanings to his words.

As a courtesy to you I have recopied these two verses so you can read them again. I have added to verse nine what Joseph Smith added to this verse in the JST.

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.

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 fireAnd a man’s hand is his friend, and his foot, also; and a man’s eye, are they of his own household. (underlining added)

Christ is not talking about our literal hand, foot, or eye. He is referring to those people in our life who can hold us back from believing more fully in Christ and his gospel. And lest we forget and only look outward, he is also referring to us, who may be causing someone else to believe less in Christ because of our behavior or attitudes. Jesus was always very clear that his mission was one of division, not of unity. His message divides families and personal bonds, because one will believe and the other will not. He plainly stated that the person who is not willing to give up family member or friend for his sake is not worthy of him. That is a bold statement, but it is true. If severing a bond between us and a loved one keeps us out of hell, isn’t it worth the pain of that separation?

Finally, the other obvious message we can take away from these two verses has to do with those things we have adopted to live with in our life that detracts from our spirituality or retards are growth. Our habits that don’t promote the presence of the Holy Spirit should be treated just like an unhealthy relationship with another person that hurts us spiritually. It is better that we get rid of those habits by replacing them with better ones that invite the presence of the Holy Ghost in our life.

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Matthew 18:1-9