Matthew 18:10–14 (ESV) 10 “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. 12 What do you think? If a man 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? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.
After warning against those who would cause temptation to sin, Jesus called his disciples’ attention back to the child near him. (18:2) He warns his disciples against despising the little ones. They are not to mistreat them or look down upon them. Rather, they are to humbly care for them and treat them with value. The mention of “their angels” is not so much to create a doctrine of guardian angels, as it is to highlight how important the little ones are to God.
To bring out that importance even more, Jesus tells the parable of the lost sheep. The diligence of the shepherd is clear. He has one hundred sheep so why would one be important? Clearly the one sheep that strays is a problem. After all, the other ninety-nine have no problem staying close to their shepherd. Isn’t going after it, more trouble than it is worth?
Not to the shepherd, and by way of application, no straying disciple is so unimportant that God would not pursue him or her. The structure of the parable emphasizes the act of seeking the lost sheep.[i] The context of the parable as related by Matthew suggests that the sheep are disciples. Jesus is teaching his disciples that He expects them to look out for one another. We are not to stand by calmly while a fellow believer goes in a dangerous direction. No matter how insignificant straying disciples may seem, we are to go after them, seek them out, and bring them back. Every disciple is worth restoring.
[i] Nolland, John. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2005, 740.