These small group studies of Matthew contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, verse by verse commentary, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

Matthew 18:12-20 Inductive Bible Study – Discussion Questions and Verse by Verse Commentary


  1. The parable of the lost sheep (12-14)
  2. Dealing with a sinning brother (15-20)

I. Parable of the lost sheep (12-14)

Discussion Questions

How much effort should we give to those who are astray?
What can we learn about God’s will toward the lost in verse 14?
What observations do you have about this parable?
Is there any actions you need to take based on the lessons inside?
Do we need to make an attitude adjustment?
Do you rejoice when the lost are found? Any examples?


2 Peter 3:8-10 – It is not God’s will that any should perish.

Luke 19:10 – The Son of Man came to seek and save that which is lost.

Ezekiel 34:16 – I will search for the lost and bring back the strays.

Luke 15:8-10 – Parable of the lost coin.

Luke 15:11-32 – Parable of the lost son.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. Verse 12 – You are not likely shepherds so we do not have personal experience with this. But it makes sense and I am sure each of us has similar experiences. If you have ten thousand dollars in the bank, but you lose a $100 note, you will surely spend time looking in your pockets and the wash to find your lost $100 bill. A few weeks ago I took three of my kids out in our neighborhood complex to play. I turned my head away from the smallest (2 years old) for just a moment to play with the older two. When I turned around she was gone. The three of us searched around for a couple of minutes before I found her. I was nervous when I couldn’t see her and rejoiced when I found her. So I can easily understand the parable that a shepherd may leave the ninety-nine and go in search of the one who is lost. More time, energy, and attention may be given toward the one who is not doing well and needs salvation and/or restoration than to those who are faithfully serving God with little need for active involvement from us.
  2. Lost sheep – Is the lost sheep a believer or an unbeliever or either one? Of course we are to seek the unbelieving lost. However, in this parable it appears that the lost sheep are in fact believers. They are sheep. They were not always lost. They belong to the shepherd. But they strayed away. Somehow they lost their way and went away from the rest of the flock and away from their shepherd. We may hear or know of believers like this today. Genuine believers may struggle and go astray for a period of time. Perhaps a busy job is a drag on their time and they slowly drift away from the Lord. Perhaps a serious trial weakens their faith and they are confused and struggling. Perhaps another brother or sister has sinned against them and they are hurt. Perhaps they are fighting against a sin, but have not yet achieved victory. See Luke 19:10.
  3. Search – This word shows the type of attitude we are to have toward the lost sheep. Before you can search for the sheep you must know that it is lost. How would a shepherd know a sheep is missing?A shepherd has the responsibility to know his sheep. He knows how many he has. He knows their habits. He knows where they like to graze and sleep. If one is absent out of habit then he knows there is a problem. Leaders in the church must know their sheep as well. They should be aware when a sheep is missing. But it does not only apply to the leaders. Every brother and sister has a role to play. It may be difficult for a leader to keep an eye on so many sheep. A long time ago Cain asked the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Are we? Actually yes. See James 5:20. So first we must be observant to know when there is a problem. Once you know when there is a problem, what next? What can you do to help? Firstly, we must search. Searching means we must make an effort to reach out to this person. It may not be easy. The parable describes them as lost. A sheep who cannot find his way back again. When we relate this parable to people, we know that they may intentionally leave the church or avoid fellowship. A straying believer may hide from us. You likely won’t be able to help this person unless you make a very strong effort to get in touch with this person and meet with them. I myself had this experience with a close friend who left the church we attended and was very hard to get in touch with. It took a lot of effort just to meet with this person. It was like searching. I wasn’t successful on the first or second try. It took initiative and perseverance. Application: What do you do when a believer you know starts to stray? Are you apathetic? Do you ignore it and hope they will come back? Do you think “that is his problem!” God wants us to take up our responsibility. He wants us to care for the other sheep. He wants us to get up off our seats, to get out and search! He wants us to care enough to spend time and effort to reach out to those who are straying.
  4. Finds it – You are not going to find the straying believer, unless you search. When you do find it the goal is to restore him, to bring him back again. You need to have a plan for what you will talk about with this person. Sometimes it might require a listening ear, a light touch, a caring heart. Other times a firm word or stern rebuke might be necessary. Every situation is different so you need to pray for wisdom and be discerning.
  5. He rejoices – Here we see the heart of a shepherd. A good shepherd really loves his sheep. He cares deeply for them. They are not just a number or a statistic. See Isaiah 43:1-2 and John 10:14-15. If a shepherd rejoices when the sheep is restored, how does he feel when the sheep goes astray? How should you feel when a brother or sister goes astray?God calls us to love and care for the brothers and sisters around us. We should care enough for them that we are moved emotionally when they struggle or go astray. We often see Paul’s heart for his disciples and the churches. When they sinned, it truly distressed him. This distress and sadness was part of the motivation to write to them and deal with the sin. See Romans 12:15.
  6. Verse 14 – Here we get a glimpse into God’s heart. He does not want any of his believers (the little ones) to perish. And indeed they do not. His ultimate will is for the final salvation and glorification of every true believer. And part of the means to this end is our searching for and restoring the lost.

II. Dealing with a sinning brother (15-20)

Discussion Questions

Give some examples of some common sins this could be.
Go and tell him his fault. What attitude should you have? (Verses?) What should you say?
What do you learn from the word “go”?
On what basis can you decide whether it is his fault or your fault? What if it is your fault? (Matthew 5:23)
What is the goal of the meeting?
What should do if he doesn’t listen? Who should you take with you the next time? What if he won’t meet with you again?
What does it mean to let him be to you as a “Gentile and a tax collector?”
What do verses 18-20 mean?
Does verse 20 refer to the fact that even two people together comprises a church? Why or why not?


Matthew 16:19 – Similar verse about binding and loosing.

Matthew 5:23 – You should also go to your brother if he has something against you.

Verse by Verse Commentary

  1. If your brother sins against you – Note the context of this situation. It is a sin against you.  It does not mean that we are to go to every person who has a different opinion with us. It does not mean that we should attempt to correct every personality that we don’t like. It is limited to a sin issue. And we must use the Bible to ascertain what is a sin and what is not. So this should be a clear black and white issue where a person clearly violates a biblical principle in how they deal with us. Perhaps they are rude to us, lie to us, slander us, gossip about us, or unkind to us in some way. This sin has created a division between you and him. So you need to attempt to resolve it and restore the relationship. Note that it is also limited to a sin “against you.” Should you correct someone’s sin if it is not against you? Here we need to somehow strike the right balance. Imagine you go to a church of 500 people. You cannot possibly approach every person for every sin. And you probably shouldn’t either. In this passage we are commanded to approach the person who sins against us. However, in the above passage about the straying sheep it also tells us to go after the straying brother. And in James 5:20 we learn a similar lesson. Moreover, the leaders of a church should correct clear sins they see. So it is reasonable that we should approach those who sin directly against us or those who within our circle of influence or authority.
  2. Go – Here is a very simple, but very key word. Restoration will not happen naturally. Approaching this person may be the most difficult thing you have ever done. As an American, it is difficult for me (I have done it on several occasions and it is far from fun.) But for Asians who often like to avoid conflict, it may be even much more difficult to do this. It is not optional. It is not a suggestion. It is commanded to go! You must take initiative. You must approach this person. You must leave your comfort zone. You must seek them out and find them. You must pursue them. What if they don’t respond to your messages?Call! What if they don’t respond to your call? Knock on their door! Go to their work to meet them. No, it is not stalking! Stalking is following a person to do them harm. You are simply trying to restore a relationship and help this person turn back to the Lord. If you go through the process and they are not responsive, then you let it go. But first you must make a good faith effort.
  3. Tell him his fault – Don’t beat around the bush. Be clear. Use Scripture. If there is any confusion or miscommunication, give ample opportunities to listen to his side. If you don’t understand something, ask. If you have any faults, admit it and apologize. Even if you think they are very small.
  4. Second step – What should you do if he doesn’t respond? Who should you ask to go with you?Don’t give up or stop after step one. Perhaps this person does not respect you. Perhaps he is biased or thinks you are prejudiced. Get one or two people (authorities or leaders if possible) whom are respected who he may be more likely to listen to. At the very least he will know that it is not only your opinion.
  5. Third step – Tell it to the church. Why? Two reasons. Firstly, it encourages that person to repent. It shows him that he is clearly in the wrong and that he is not currently in fellowship with God. Doing this tells him that “no, everything is not ok.” It also allows every person to then pray for and encourage this person to repent.
  6. Fourth step – Treat this person as a Gentile or tax-collector. Jews shunned such people. Should we then shun such people?How did Jesus treat Gentiles and tax-collectors? I believe it does not mean we should shun them. But we should treat them as if they were an unbeliever. We do not hate unbelievers. We do not turn our faces in disgust at them. We are to show God’s love for them. We do this by praying for them and witnessing to them. But we do not need to call such a person brother or sister. When we see a person who has reached the fourth step we should plead with them to repent and come to the Lord. This should be the main content of our communication with them. I have personally seen this go through all the steps twice, once as part of a leadership team of a church. The first time was for unrepentant adultery. The second was for preaching false doctrines/prophesies in the church repeatedly and not turning away from them even when they were verifiably disproved (after the date the prophesies were supposed to happen having passed.)
  7. Do most churches practice this type of church discipline?What is the result of not doing this? How might churches be different if they did do this?
  8. Verses 18-20 – The simple explanation of these verses is that God will be with and support believers who collectively follow the instructions in this passage. It is not easy or enjoyable to go through these steps with someone, but if you are seeking the Lord and collectively as a church following these steps then you are on God’s side and you have nothing to be afraid of or ashamed of. The decision by the church to declare this person is not walking with the Lord is endorsed by the Lord Himself.
  9. Application: Obey this instruction. It is a way to safeguard the church and our brothers and sisters and us from sin. Do what needs to be done. Say what needs to be said. Do it prayerfully and with the right attitude, but also be bold and stand firmly on the Word. The goal is complete restoration of the sinning brother.

Activity (You may try this roll play activity in your small group.)

At times we may not know how to approach someone who has sinned against us. We may feel nervous or even scared as to how they will react. So we are going to practice a bit of role play. Others can observe and offer feedback as to what was done well and what could be improved.

Role Play #1

Person A: You used to have a close relationship with person B. You often talked together and did activities together. But then you made some hurtful jokes about that person. You thought it was funny, but it hurt person B deeply. You felt embarrassed and so you avoided person B. You normally didn’t return his phone calls or what’s up. You know your wrong and are willing to confess when person B talks with you.

Person B: You used to have a close relationship with person A. You often talked together and did activities together. But then person A made some hurtful jokes about you. He thought it was funny, but it hurt you deeply. He normally didn’t return your phone calls or whats up after that. You decide to meet this person and talk about it face to face.

Role Play #2

Person A: You don’t like person B. You went to person B’s Bible study. But he always talks about the Bible and sin. You prefer to have more free talk. You are tired of being made to feel guilty every time you come to the group. Sometimes you skip the study because you are tired or want to watch a movie. Person B often annoys you by asking where you are and why you didn’t come. Since you dislike person B, you start saying bad things about him to the other people in the group. These things are not completely true, but you are just annoyed at this person. In the group you begin to be disruptive by often challenging person B or arguing during class. When person B talks with you, you don’t pay careful attention, but instead argue your own position. You are not willing to admit you were wrong because you don’t believe you were.

Person B: Person A has come to your study for a while. Lately he has been skipping the study more often because he is “tired.” Lately he has grown disruptive and disagreeable. He prefers more time to be spent on free talk than on the Bible. He has started dividing the group by saying bad things about you, which are not all true. And he is creating disruptions by arguing during the Bible study. You believe you should talk to this person face to face. .

Role Play #3

Person A: Person B asks your help to prepare the praise song PPT for church. You say “sure,” but then something else comes up and you don’t do it. You do send her a message and say “sorry.” The next week she asks for help again. You know you are busy, but want to help so agree. But your work becomes so busy that you don’t have time. You feel a little embarrassed, but tell her you cannot do it after all. Soon after this person B asks your help to pick up her friend and take her to church. You are not sure you can arrive there on time, but agree anyway. When you arrive she is already gone. Person B meets you to talk face to face.

Person B: You ask person A to help you prepare the praise song PPT for church. She says “sure,” but then she doesn’t do it and doesn’t tell you why, but does say “sorry.” The next week you ask her for help again and she says “sure,” but then doesn’t do it. She doesn’t offer an explanation. You don’t plan to ask her for help anymore, but one week you really need her help to pick up a friend and take her to church for you so you ask her for help. She says, “no problem,” but then does not show up to pick up your friend. You decided to meet and talk with her face to face.

Study Matthew 18:21-35
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