The lost brother. 18:12-20


In our passage for study, Jesus reminds his disciples that the Father is passionate about restoring a "little one", a believer who has drifted in the faith, and he invites his disciples to take on a similar divine concern for a brother or sister who has fallen away.

The passage

v12-14. The story of a sheep-herder's determination to find his lost sheep serves to illustrate the Father's willingness to go all-out to restore a strayed little one. The story serves as an invitation to all believers to go out of our way to restore all who have strayed from the family of faith.

v15-17. Matthew now records a saying from Jesus which encourages believers to be proactive when a brother or sister drifts from the faith. First, it is important to note that the words "against you" are probably not original and so are best left out. Second, the words "won your brother over" should read "restored your brother." A believer, a little one, has sinned. A "stumbling block" of some kind has undermined their faith, v5-10. So, they need to hear the gospel again. If a single member of the Christian fellowship can't make any headway with the little one, then two members must try, and if that fails, the fellowship as a whole should apply themselves to the business of restoring the strayed member. If the little one refuses to listen, then they must be left to their own devices; another unbeliever among the many.

v18. In this saying the Christian fellowship is reminded of its authority to confirm the promises of the gospel. The fellowship of believers has the authority to remind a brother or sister, who has drifted from the faith, of the bad news of God's judgment and the good news of God's eternal grace in Christ. If they reject the gospel then their sin is bound to them, retained, but if they accept the gospel then their sin is loosed, forgiven.

v19-20. This saying restates to point made in v18. The good news of the gospel comes with a promise - whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will not perish but have eternal life, Jn.3:16. The members of the Christian congregation who have counselled the brother or sister who has drifted in their faith have the authority to confirm this promise on anyone who repents and believes. This authority is ours because Jesus stands with us in this matter.


Our passage for study is often used to teach a range of truths. For example: If a believer goes astray the Lord Jesus will abandon his flock to their own devices and go and seek after the one that went astray; If a brother or sister sins against us we should seek them out and remove the speck from their eye and if that doesn't work we should gang up on them; If the church fellowship decides on something, like the purchase of a new carpet, then it is agreed to in heaven; In fact, anything that at least two believers pray for in faith will be granted by God, which, by the way, is why we have major problems with unanswered prayer.

Actually, an old family friend always said that my grandmother had obviously taken to heart the parable of the Lost Sheep, because she went out of her way to look after her wayward son and hardly gave my father a second thought. So, what is Jesus on about in this passage?

I take it that Jesus' is speaking about divine acceptance and inclusion. The passage is all about forgiveness of a lost and wayward soul. Our God is passionate for the salvation of lost and wandering humanity and Jesus wants us to be fired by the same passion. When it comes to a brother or sister who has, as it was once called, fallen from grace, we should be as passionate for their restoration as God is. Some immorality, relationship, intellectual quest, even the demands of an impossible piety, has undermined their faith and they have drifted in their reliance upon Christ for their salvation. When this happens, we need to get off our tails and search them out; pull out all stops so that they hear again the grace of God's unconditional forgiveness in Christ.

Our Lord bestows upon us a wonderful privilege, We have the right to confirm to a fallen brother or sister God's offer of forgiveness, full and free, and with this, the privilege to pray for their forgiveness when they turn to Christ.


1. Who is the sinful brother and what are we to do with them?

2. Discuss the idea that the sinner we need to speak with is not actually someone who has personally sinned against us.

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