If nothing in the universe is more important to God than the safety of His children, what does His word say to us when our children are in spiritual jeopardy?


No passage in scripture speaks to this more powerfully than Matthew 18, which is, largely, about new converts who have fallen away. Jesus used a physical child as an illustration, but we know He was talking about spiritual children because He said they have been converted (vs. 3), they believe in Him (vs. 6), and they have angels assigned to them (vs. 10). Jesus’ words could be broken down into 4 parts:


1)      A Warning

2)      An Illustration of God’s Concern and Empathy

3)      A Strategy

4)      An Encouragement


A Warning

First, at the beginning of the chapter, we see that some of the strongest words Jesus ever spoke are against those who become stumbling blocks to new converts:


“…whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea…” (vs. 6)


An Illustration of God’s Concern and Empathy

Next, in verses 12-14, we see God’s intense urgency to recover young converts who go astray. He illustrates this with a parable in which a man has a hundred sheep, one goes astray, and he leaves the other ninety-nine on the mountains to go in search of it. When he finds it, he rejoices more over it than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. This parable is easily understood by parents. How much more would any parent rejoice over finding a missing child than rejoicing that his or her other children that never wandered off to begin with? 


A sheep symbolizes a convert in this passage. Jesus tells an almost identical parable in Luke 15, along with the parable of the Lost Coin and the parable of the Prodigal Son. All of these are devoted to explaining God’s intense concern over His children when they go astray.


A Strategy

Next, after sharing His deep emotion, Jesus gives a clear, specific strategy for how to recover a lost spiritual child in verses 15-17. This involves lovingly confronting the sin or deception, first individually, then with one or two other trustworthy believers, then as a church community. If he still doesn’t repent, scripture says to treat him as a gentile or tax collector, which means to accept his decision not to repent and begin praying for him.  


An Encouragement

Whenever we grasp the danger a child is in who is falling away, it is easy to become fearful, which is counterproductive. Therefore, Jesus concludes the passage with possibly the most powerful words about prayer outside of the Lord’s Prayer that have ever been uttered:


“Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (vs. 18-20)


There’s nothing we can pray for that is nearer to God’s heart than the safe recovery of His straying children. However, He wants us to pray from a place of confidence in His power, not from a place of fear. So He tells us exactly how much authority we have in His name when we intercede for them. We have authority to bind the works of Satan that have deceived them and to loose God’s grace, mercy, and active intervention into their lives. Finally, if we join forces with at least one or two other believers, the power of our prayers increases exponentially. 


In 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s most famous passage on love, the very first adjective Paul used to explain what love is like is “patient”. Perhaps this is because when someone we love is in danger, we feel tempted to panic. If we are not careful, we can resort to pressuring or controlling, which only drives them away faster. However, when we remember God’s patience, we realize He is not panicking. He is not overwhelmed by their deception or intimidated by their bondage. He knows they are not beyond His power to rescue. He is filled with hope, not despair. He has not given up; He is in pursuit.


I Was a Prodigal

A number of people in my life know what it is like to have their hearts broken by a prodigal… because I was a prodigal. My mistreatment of Jenny and my spiritual deception were so great that our parents and pastors all began counseling her to move on. My own mother said she “gave up all hope” that I would safely return. My father said he never prayed more fervently in his life. Jenny’s parents and our pastor said similar things. Now each of them describes our restoration as miraculous… and I don’t think they even know half of everything that happened. My marriage should have died years ago, and any remnant of biblical faith right along with it. There is no good explanation for why they are intact today except for the faithfulness of God and the prayers of parents, pastors, and a wife who did not stop interceding even after all hope was lost.



The love a parent feels for his or her child is unlike anything else in life. But how do we guard against idolizing our children? How do guard against parenting them more for our own sakes than for their sakes? We will explore this topic in the next chapter.