A man came to the village chief to complain about his brother, saying, “Chief, I am about to kill my brother because he has offended me seriously. I can’t tolerate him anymore. I know if I kill him, you will put me in prison. What should I do?”
The chief looked at him carefully to find out who this young man was, “Oh, I remember who you are. You are the young man who was almost killed by the wolf a while back. Am I right?” He said, “Yes.”
“Please tell me about the incident,” the chief asked. “Well, I returned to the village from work and discovered a vicious wolf followed me. So, I ran and quickly climbed up a tree. I had to stay up on the tree all night until the wolf eventually left in the morning.”
“Really?” the chief exclaimed, “What did you do to the wolf after that? Did you try to hunt for and kill it?” the chief asked. “No, I didn’t do anything. I’m just glad that it didn’t kill me.”
“Interesting,” the chief thought, “The wolf tried to kill you, but you don’t seem to be as angry as when your brother offended you.”
The man stayed silent for a moment and felt enlightened and left. (End of the story.)
That is another parable by Zhuagzi. The story doesn’t reveal the conclusion because it is for you to figure out the hidden wisdom. What would you do if you were in that situation?
The truth is sometimes we treat animals better than humans. We seem more patient with wild animals than our brothers and sisters, maybe because we expect more from humans.
The story stimulates a realization that we have better choices than revenge. With some effort, we can tame the wildest animals, even huge elephants. In the same way, with some social intelligence, God expects us to create harmony with fellow humans.
We live in a fallen world and must deal with fallen people. Human relationship is always messy. But God wants us to bring harmony out of the mess, just as God brought order from the chaos as described in Genesis. It’s called social intelligence or relational intelligence.
God created us in His image. When we bring order out of chaos, we exercise in God’s image and make God happy. The human mission is to create order out of chaos, and God promises to reward us abundantly when we attain and maintain harmony with one another. King David wrote:
See how good and pleasant it is
when brothers and sisters live together in harmony!
That is where the LORD promised
the blessing of eternal life. (Ps 133:1,3b GW).
Jesus also said,
Again, 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. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mt 18:19–20).
That means if you can figure out how to live in harmony with fellow human beings, you will be blessed with a ticket to eternity, your prayers will be answered, and you will experience the presence of God. In other words, you will find fulfillment if you exercise social intelligence.
So, today, we will look at how to develop social intelligence through Jesus’ teaching based on this week’s scripture lesson. Let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today is from the Gospel According to Matthew 18:15-20. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
“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. 16 But 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. 17 If 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. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, 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. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mt 18:15–20).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
At a glance, this passage sounds like Jesus is giving us a formula for conflict resolution, but when we put this in context, it turns out to be much deeper than mere conflict resolution. It’s about social intelligence.
This passage can be easily misinterpreted to justify excommunication and ostracizing bad actors in the church. However, the immediate context prompts us to interpret this passage differently and more profoundly.
So, let’s look at the context first. Chapter 18 begins with the disciples approaching Jesus and asking him who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus gave them an object lesson,
He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:2–4).
Here, Jesus reveals that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are the humblest. Note that Jesus says to “become” like children. It’s an attainment. He equates spiritual maturity to childlikeness.
He is not asking us to dumb down but to realize that we are born great, which can only be appreciated after we have explored other options. T.S. Eliot famously wrote,
We shall not cease from exploration,
and the end of all our exploring
will be to arrive where we started
and know the place for the first time. ~T. S. Eliot
Life is a journey to the beginning. Then Jesus demands the disciples to be kind to the little ones, those who are young in faith and new to the community. Those who may be doing stupid things because they are far behind you on the journey. He said,
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” (v. 5)
That’s profound. When you welcome those who have just started out on the journey, you welcome the Lord. Jesus cares about them so much that he made this even more intense comment next,
“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.” (Mt 18:6).
Jesus is not talking about a harsh punishment to those who put a stumbling block to the spiritually immature but revealing that they are doing something more regrettable than fasting a millstone around the neck and killing themselves in the deep sea.
Why? They failed to exercise their social intelligence to bring harmony from chaos. In other words, they perpetuate the chaos and make things worse.
Jesus used the word “stumbling block” at Peter when Peter rebuked Jesus for revealing that he would be crucified. (I covered that in detail in last week’s message). He said,
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mt 16:23).
Being a stumbling block is being Satan. Remember Satan (Saataan) in Hebrew is a verb, meaning “to oppose, to entice, and to be adversarial.” Mainly, anyone trying to counter God’s plan is a Satan, just as Satan contradicts God’s plan for Jesus by tempting him to seek worldly success rather than fulfilling the divine dream.
When we put a stumbling block on a beginner Christian’s journey, we are making a big mistake—we are Sataning!
Then Jesus reveals that God is watching over everyone on their spiritual journey,
“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.” (Mt 18:10).
Sometimes, we could develop “spiritual arrogance” or “spiritual pride” when we are ahead of others on the spiritual journey.” The Pharisees were a good example. They were so proud of their piety that they despised others, such as the Gentiles and tax collectors.
Here, Jesus warns us that everyone on the spiritual journey has an angel reporting to God. Don’t think just because you know better, you could despise others. The angels are reporting their progress to God. That means God has assigned an angel to watch over your journey as well.
Then, Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Sheep to illustrate God’s care for those on their spiritual journey. He said,
What 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? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. (Mt 18:11–14).
This story is counter-cultural or counter-intuitive, especially verse 13, “And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray.” You might wonder, if God rejoices more in finding the lost, does it mean God loves the 99 less than he loves the lost? No.
The point of the parable is that God doesn’t want anyone left behind. A lost sheep destroys harmony. 100 is a complete number. 99 indicates something is lacking and incomplete. God rejoices for the completeness and harmony.
With the context in mind, we can now correctly interpret the passage of the day. Jesus said,
“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.” (Mt 18:15).
Jesus is talking about another member of the church. That means he is someone on the journey, equivalent to the “little ones” Jesus mentioned in the context, and he is also equivalent to the “lost sheep” in the parable.
We don’t know how he sinned, but Jesus compares him to the lost. His being lost damaged the wholeness and harmony of the herd. Jesus wants you to point out his fault, not confrontationally, but with the spirit of gaining him back and restoring harmony.
Remember that God cares about the lost. Sometimes, a sheep can fall so deep into the gutter beyond one person’s ability to retrieve him. Then Jesus provides the next step in the procedure to restore harmony.
“But 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.” (Mt 18:16).
That is in line with the Old Testament law. You need two or three witnesses to prove someone is wrong. You need to bring those who are fair and spiritually mature, not just those who will side with you.
Remember that this chapter starts with Jesus teaching them humility. We need to be humble even when we are right.
That reminds me of when Jesus was on trial. They tried him quickly at night without allowing witnesses to testify for him. Their purpose was to kill Jesus, not to gain Jesus back. They act according to their spiritual arrogance. They should fast a millstone on their neck and kill themselves in the deep sea.
Anyway, the context reveals that this procedure should not be followed to punish people but to regain them and create harmony out of chaos. Then Jesus provides the third step if the second should fail.
If 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. (Mt 18:17).
That’s where the interpretation often falls apart. Some churches excommunicate or ostracize people when this third-level reconciliation fails. We need to treat the Gentiles and tax collectors the way Jesus did. The Bible says Jesus was a friend of Gentiles and tax collectors.
So, from Jesus’ perspective, treating them as Gentiles and tax collectors means keeping them as lost sheep and waiting for them to return, not permanently giving up on them. Then Jesus said,
“Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 18:18).
Jesus said the same in the Gospel of John after giving the disciples the Holy Spirit. The meaning is profound. Jesus gives you the power to send people to hell and teaches you to never use that power. It’s a quantum paradox. Let me explain.
You must forgive people, not because you have no choice, but because you choose love over vengeance. Just as Jesus asked Peter to put his sword in its sheathe, he wants you to choose love and harmony despite wielding the lethal weapon to do the opposite. That makes your love real.
Jesus himself has the authority to send us to hell, but he chose to go to the cross to redeem us, bring us home, and restore the heavenly harmony. We should use our power like that. Then Jesus gives you two promises for choosing love and maintaining harmony.
Again, 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. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Mt 18:19–20).
The first promise is that he will answer your prayers when you maintain harmony. The second is that he will be with you when you maintain harmony. Why? As I said in the beginning, you exercise God’s image when you create harmony out of chaos. That’s social intelligence. God loves those who behave like Him.
Jesus wants you to create harmony out of chaos. That’s our mission, and let’s live it. You will be blessed with your prayers answered and God’s presence with you.
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.