3 REASONS WHY WE MUST NOT DESPISE ANY OF GOD’S VULNERABLE SHEEP SINCE THEY ALL ARE INDIVIDUALLY VALUED
David Turner: In addition to dealing decisively with sin in their own lives, disciples must also avoid contempt for fellow members of the community (cf. Rom. 14:3, 10, 15; 1 Cor. 11:22; 1 Tim. 4:12), described here, as in 18:6, as “little ones.” These must not be despised, because angels represent them before God (cf. Heb. 1:14). Such angelic ministry to believers is real, albeit mysterious.
Richard Gardner: When weaker members stray, therefore, the community must not despise them for their weakness, but rather act with loving care to find and restore them.
Bethany Bible Church: Here then, we see that Jesus calls us to greatly respect and highly regard the “little ones” who believe on Him.
- He calls us to make very sure that we never look down on them or despise them.
- He calls us to diligently seek them when they wander away.
- And He calls us to give ourselves to the pursuit of the Father’s good will for their lives.
Craig Blomberg: The main plot unfolds exactly as in Luke 15:3-7, but most of the details differ. These two passages probably represent similar teachings of Jesus from two separate settings in his ministry. In Luke Jesus uses the lost sheep to represent unsaved sinners. In Matthew he applies the parable to errant disciples, as the distinctive framework of the passage (vv. 10, 14) makes plain.
Matthew McCraw: God doesn’t want to lose any of His children. God doesn’t want to lose any of His followers. Because God has this heart towards His children, we should as well. Our hearts should reflect the heart of God, amen?
Part of our vision of developing disciples who love the church is that we will go after those members of our church who are lost and wandering. We must go after them with the love and compassion of God the Father, seeking to bring them back where they belong.
We should not look with judgment on those who are wandering, but with love and compassion. We all need the grace of God and it is God’s grace that brings us back and puts us back on the right path. . .
One lost sheep is worth seeking out and one found sheep is worth celebrating!
Donald Hagner: So important are the disciples of Jesus, these “little ones,” that they have “their” (αὐτῶν) angels, who presumably look after their welfare primarily through intercession, but perhaps also in other ways. This passage falls short of describing “guardian” angels (despite the “guardian angels” of NEB; corrected in REB to “angels”) assigned to each individual Christian, who attempt to keep her or him out of danger. A more general idea is in view, namely, that angels represent the “little ones” before the throne of God. The point here is not to speculate on the ad hoc role of angels in aiding disciples of Jesus but rather simply to emphasize the importance of the latter to God. If the very angels of God’s presence are concerned with the “little ones,” how much more then should also fellow Christians be for one another! They are to be received and esteemed; special care must furthermore be taken not to cause them to stumble.
I. (:10a) PROHIBITION – DON’T DESPISE ANY OF GOD’S VULNERABLE SHEEP
“See that you do not despise one of these little ones,”
Jeffrey Crabtree: “Despise” (Greek kataphroneō) means “to feel contempt for someone or something because it is thought to be bad or without value” (Louw and Nida I:763).
Grant Osborne: “Hold in contempt” (καταφρονήσητε) connotes both the attitude of despising a person and the contemptuous actions that result (so Gundry).
Who are the “little ones” here? Throughout Matthew the “little ones” are disciples. Yet there may also be double meaning: they are all believers as despised by the world (so it refers to all relationships in the community) and also those of lower status in the community (thus referring also to economic and ethnic prejudice in the community). It may also be the leaders of the church looking down on those under them (so Luz).
Charles Swindoll: Returning to the spiritual lesson related to those who appear to be least in the kingdom but who are actually greatest, Jesus urged the disciples not to devalue and discount such people. How easy to undervalue or discount little children, or, for that matter, other believers who are weak and fragile in their faith. By showing preferential treatment to those who are gifted or wealthy or famous or powerful, we turn our backs on those less noticeable members of the church who often exhibit the character of Christ better than others. Like children who live under a special watchful eye of heaven, those with simple, childlike faith are watched over by the angels themselves (18:10). The God-man Himself gave up His life for such seemingly insignificant ones, who would be utterly lost without Him (18:11). If heaven places such a value on lost and weak souls, shouldn’t we?
John MacArthur: Two main points:
- The Rule (:10)
The word “despise” in the Greek is very interesting: kataphroneō. Phroneō has to do with the mind and thinking, and kata is down. Don’t think down on people. Don’t put yourself up here and look at them as if they were below you, as if they were beneath you, looking at them with disdain, looking at them with indifference, as if they were valueless or useless or worthless, holding them in contempt, not worth your consideration.
- The Reason (:12-14)
II. (:10B) PRECIOUSNESS PROVEN BY THE MINISTRY OF ANGELS –
REASON #1 = EVERY SHEEP MATTERS TO THE ANGELS IN HEAVEN
“for I say to you,
that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.”
William Barclay: To say that these angels behold the face of God in heaven means that they always have the right of direct access to God. The picture is of a great royal court where only the most favoured courtiers and ministers and officials have direct access to the king. In the sight of God, the children are so important that their guardian angels always have the right of direct access to the inner presence of God.
Craig Blomberg: Heb 1:14 teaches that angels are concerned for believers and serve them. So Jesus’ words here are appropriate even if we cannot be sure of all the specific ways in which angels minister to us.
Daniel Doriani: Jesus says no one should despise little ones, for “their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (18:10). The passage does not necessarily imply that each child has one angel. One angel could guard many people. “To use an athletic analogy, the angels may be playing ‘zone’ rather than ‘man on man’ defense.” Still, the Lord has assigned angels to protect his “little ones,” and those angels have free access to the Father’s presence.
[Verse 11 not found in the best manuscripts —
“For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”]
III. (:12-13) PURSUIT OF THE LOST SHEEP – REASON #2 = EVERY SHEEP MATTERS TO THE GOOD SHEPHERD
(:12a) Call to Reflection
“What do you think?”
Stu Weber: What do you think? was a common way for a Jewish teacher to start his students’ minds working over a mental problem, as he introduced a new concept or teaching (17:25; 21:28; 22:42).
A. (:12b) Priority of Seeking the Lost Sheep
“If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray,
does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains
and go and search for the one that is straying?”
William Barclay: In Judaea, it was tragically easy for sheep to go astray. The pasture land is on the hill country which runs like a backbone down the middle of the land. This ridge-like plateau is narrow, only a few miles across. There are no restraining walls. At its best, the pasture is sparse. And, therefore, the sheep are always liable to wander; and, if they stray from the grass of the plateau into the gullies and the ravines at each side, they have every chance of finishing up on some ledge from which they cannot get up or down, and of being marooned there until they die. . .
The love of God is an individual love. The ninety-nine were not enough; one sheep was out on the hillside, and the shepherd could not rest until he had brought it home. However large a family may be, parents cannot spare even one; there is not one who does not matter. God is like that; God cannot be happy until the last wanderer is gathered in.
David Turner: Although it is not stated, one tends to assume that the shepherd would not jeopardize the entire flock in order to seek the single lost sheep (contra Huffman 1978: 211). The phrasing of the parable may allude to Ezek. 34:10–12, 16.
Craig Blomberg: The ninety-nine refer to faithful followers of Jesus who no longer need to repent because they are not straying from him. The wandering sheep is the believer—“one of these little ones”—who wanders away from intimate fellowship and consistent obedience. The Greek “one of [them]” (v. 12) employs the same wording as in vv. 5-6, 10 and reappears in v. 14, so it is clear that Jesus still has Christians rather than literal young people in mind. Leaving the ninety-nine does not imply they are unprotected; other shepherds would keep watch over them. At the spiritual level, of course, God is able to search for the wanderer even while still protecting those who have not strayed.
Stu Weber: This emphasis also drew attention to the Father’s grace. God wanted the universe to know that he is a God who pursues his own and rescues even those who rebel against him.
B. (:13) Joy of Finding the Lost Sheep
“And if it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you,
he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray.”
Grant Osborne: The μᾶλλον indicates God rejoices over the returned sheep “more than” those believers who remain in the fold. This hardly means he has no joy in the faithful but rather highlights the importance of restoration. Parallel passages are found in Gal 6:1 (the “Spirit-led” restoration of those caught in sin) and especially Jas 5:19–20 (those who “bring them back” will “save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins”). The latter passage provides further reasons for the joy.
R. T. France: The greater joy over the one recovered sheep than over the ninety-nine “good” sheep emphasizes God’s pastoral care: it is caused by the recovery, rather than by any inherent superiority in the sheep itself. The natural tendency to regard such discriminatory joy as unfair is firmly repudiated in the figure of the elder brother in Luke 15:25–32.
IV. (:14) PERSEVERANCE AND PRESERVATION OF THE SAINTS – REASON #3 = EVERY SHEEP MATTERS TO THE HEAVENLY FATHER
“Thus it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven
that one of these little ones perish.”
Grant Osborne: God’s sovereign will is for the security of the believer, as in 2 Pet 3:9, “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” From this standpoint, it is inconceivable that the church and its leaders would fail to do the same, seeking always to protect the sheep both from predators and from the tendency to wander off. The mention of “perish” raises the stakes, for the end result is not just loss of reward but destruction.
Donald Hagner: ἀπόληται, “perish,” is a particularly strong word to describe the fate of one who stumbles or falls away (cf. 10:28). This ultimate ruin or destruction is itself a further sobering reason for care in one’s conduct with others. This then is the reason that disciples, members of the community, are to be received and welcomed by their brothers and sisters in the faith and why one is to be careful not to cause them to stumble: each of “these little ones” is precious in the sight of God, whose very angels seek their welfare and whose will it is that not one perish.
D. A. Carson: Jesus drives the lesson home: the heavenly Father is unwilling for any of “these little ones” to be lost. If that is his will, it is shocking that anyone else would seek to lead one of “these little ones” astray. (Thompson, Matthew’s Advice, 187–88, follows the line of thought admirably.) This love for the individual sheep is not at the expense of the entire flock but so that the flock as a whole may not lose a single one of its members