Recall the context of these verses: The disciples had come to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah and that the establishment of His kingdom was imminent. As His closest followers they supposed they would occupy positions of importance in that kingdom, so that on their way back from Caesarea Philippi they had argued over which of them was the greatest (Luk 9:46) and had become condescending towards others with whom they disagreed (Mar 9:38). They were indeed His closest disciples, but because of their attitude toward others they were in danger of causing “little ones” to stumble and needed to become like children themselves in their concern for and acceptance of others (Mat 18:3). Although Mat 18:11 is not found in the oldest and best manuscripts but appears to have been interpolated from Luk 19:10, why is it particularly fitting here in this context? In what way does it summarize the reason why the disciples’ attitude was completely antithetical to the entire purpose for which Christ came and the nature of the kingdom He came to establish? Why should we remember this verse whenever we are at odds with someone else over a religious matter and we are about to completely wash our hands of them because they are caught in a snare and seem hopelessly lost in their own false understanding? Cf. 2Ti 2:23-26.
In Mat 18:12, what does it mean for a sheep to go astray in terms of one of God’s flock? Note: The Greek word used is planao from which we get our word planet, a wandering star; it means literally to be mistaken, misled, misguided, deceived. Consider the following passages where the same word is used so as to understand the many ways in which we as sheep may stray from our Shepherd: Mat 22:29 (by a wrong understanding of doctrine), 24:4,5,11,24 (by false shepherds; think: planets that wander often appear brighter than stars that are fixed), 1Co 6:9 (by sin), 15:33 (by bad company), Gal 6:7 (by supposing one will not reap what he sows), 2Ti 3:13 (by evil and evil men), Tit 3:3 (by worldly living), Heb 3:10 (in one’s heart though outwardly religious), Jam 5:19 (by straying from the truth), 1Pe 2:25 (by straying like sheep), 2Pe 2:15 (by being greedy for worldly gain), 1Jo 1:8 & 3:7 (by supposing we are righteous when we are not), Rev 2:20 (by false doctrine unto immoral living), Rev 12:9 (by Satan), Rev 13:14 (by the spirit of Antichrist), Rev 18:23 (by the sorcery of harlot religion). What does the use of this word in this context help us to understand about those whom Jesus refers to as “little ones”? Should we understand that He has in mind those whom we might compare to cute little toddlers who are basically innocent and more or less agree with us but are having a tantrum? Or should we think also in terms of those whom we might compare to a rebellious teenager or young man whom we would expect to know better? Cf. Mar 9:38 in this context, as well as the parable of the prodigal son in Luk 15:11-32.
Are there any people we know who fall under the Christian umbrella but we would consider to be mistaken, misled, misguided, or deceived in their understanding? What tends to be our attitude toward those sheep who have gone astray in these ways? Is it the same as the Shepherd who is so concerned over a single lost sheep that He leaves the 99 who are not straying and goes in search of it? If we are to be like our Father in heaven, should our attitude towards such straying sheep be to write them off and console ourselves in those whom we consider to be faithful? Should we say, “We can’t please everyone; there’s bound to be losses—a few offended or lost souls is to be expected”? See 1Co 9:19-23, Mat 18:14, Joh 3:16, 1Ti 2:3-4, 2Pe 3:9; see also Heb 5:2 that describes Jesus’ attitude toward the misguided. Do we deal as gently with those who have gone astray as Jesus does, especially considering our own weaknesses and failures? See this same parable in Luk 15:3-7; if there is such great joy in heaven over one such little one who is found, what is God’s response when a little one is offended and becomes hardened to stray even farther? See Mat 18:6-10, and again Mat 18:14.
What do these verses teach us about God’s concern for the individual? How is this different from the way the governments of men have typically been concerned about the individual throughout history? How is God’s concern for the individual much different from the “rights” of the individual that the world today has enshrined?