Despise – Part 2

In a previous post, we explored why we should not despise those in the church (Romans 14: 10-13.) Here, we try to understand the Lord Jesus’s command:

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 18:10 English Standard Version (ESV)

Much is said of these ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation. But what does this verse mean?

John Calvin, well regarded in some circles and not so well in others, said:

Beware of despising one of these little ones – As pride is the mother of disdain, and as contempt hardens men in giving offense, our Lord, for the purpose of applying an appropriate remedy for curing this disease, forbids his disciples to despise the little ones.

And certainly, as we have already hinted, no man who has a proper care for his brethren will ever allow himself, on light grounds, to give them offense. This conclusion of our Lord’s discourse has the same tendency as the commencement of it, to remind us that we ought to [compete] with each other who shall be most submissive and modest; for God embraces with wonderful love the little ones.

He goes on to explain the untenable position despisers put themselves in:

It would be strange indeed that a mortal man should despise, or treat as of no account, those whom God holds in such high esteem. He proves this love from the fact, that angels, who are ministers of their salvation, enjoy intimately the presence of God.

Yet I do not think that he intended merely to show what honor God confers on them by appointing angels to be their guardians, but likewise to threaten those who despise them; as if he had said, that it is no light matter to despise those who have angels for their companions and friends, to take vengeance in their behalf. We ought therefore to beware of despising their salvation, which even angels have been commissioned to advance.

And, in order to encourage the Church and thwart theological errors that are as common now as then, Calvin says:

The interpretation given to this passage by some commentators, as if God assigned to each believer his own angel, does not rest on solid grounds.

For the words of Christ do not mean that a single angel is continually occupied with this or the other person; and such an idea is inconsistent with the whole doctrine of Scripture, which declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly, and that not one angel only, but many, have been commissioned to guard every one of the faithful.

Away, then, with the fanciful notion of a good and evil angel, and let us rest satisfied with holding that the care of the whole Church is committed to angels, to assist each member as his necessities shall require.

Finally, he clarifies our relationship to the angels of God:

It will perhaps be asked, Do the angels occupy a station inferior to ours, because they have been appointed to be our ministers? I reply, though by nature they take rank above us, this does not prevent them from rendering service to God in dispensing the favor which he freely bestows upon us. For this reason, they are called our angels, because their labors are bestowed on us.

Let us always follow His command to: “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,” and beware, for: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” And finally, to those who esteem the Church lightly, scripture declares that the angels encamp around (Psalm 34:7) the godly who are in Christ Jesus.

Guardian Angel

The Guardian Angel, 1656, Pietro da Cortona (1596-1669), In the Public Domain in the United States

The Upper Hand – Bernhardt Writer

Some people always have to have the upper hand. My father was one of those people. He would do whatever it took to gain an advantage over those he met. He would be proper, humble, a terror, or a fool if it would give him power and control over others. Fundamentally, he both disrespected and feared them at the same time. He was an expert at what he did and I was a rebellious teen who rejected his ways (by God’s grace).

Such recollections remind me of the scripture:

And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 English Standard Version (ESV)

These prominent men displayed unwarranted pride and feigned humility as a cover for their real motive: greed. Further, we have:

But understand this: that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 2 Timothy 3:1-5 (ESV)

My father was such a one. He said he took communion because he was merely hungry:

But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all… 2 Timothy 3:9 (ESV)

It saddens me, even today, that he did not repent while he had the chance. But such things should not characterize our behavior:

But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 1 Peter 4:15 (ESV)

In a note to this verse, the New American Standard translation renders meddler literally as: one who oversees others’ affairs. NAS adds troublesome to modify the noun in case we would misinterpret it. It’s the attitude, so prevalent today, of: “I know better than you,” put into action.

This should not be our way. Instead:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17 (ESV)

Even further:

When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. John 13:12-17 (ESV) [emphasis added]

I’ve always heard the Lord Jesus’s statement in John 13:8:

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,”

as a rebuke to Peter’s:

“You shall never wash my feet.”

But what if it were a plea?

Listening to good doctrine (as important as we think that is) is not enough to soften our hard hearts toward others. Or as one of our poets wrote: “I need love…to melt the frozen sea inside me.”

‘I Need Love’ by Sam Phillips – performed by Sixpence None the Richer (with lyrics)

But, exhibiting genuine humility in all circumstances that proceeds from a changed, crushed, and submissive heart may just be our duty.