“See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:10.
This is the clearest verse I know of about each one of us having a specific angel or angels assigned to our lives, and it comes straight out of the mouth of Jesus Himself. It is also a verse where Jesus gives a command for us to obey. But that command is not about how we treat or respond to the angels.
Jesus did not bring the angels up in order to say “Be thankful for the angels” or “Be curious about the angels” or “Don’t talk to the angels” or even “Obey Me when I send you messages via angel,” as important as that is. He mentioned them as supporting evidence to back up a command He was making about how we treat human beings:
Never despise another human being, no matter how sinful, smelly, or small.
Well, for one reason, because they have angels.
That two-year-old with the runny nose,
That sarcastic teenager with all the piercings,
That drunk homeless guy who can’t take a bath,
They are all so special to God that He ‘wasted’ a powerful, brilliant, immortal, holy angel on them. He assigned an angel just to their care and keeping. And that angel has so much power and privilege and access, it can see the face of God.
So there are no insignificant people.
Just a few years later, Jesus could have given an even more powerful reason to not despise one of His little ones: because that toddler, that teenager, and that troubled traveler all so beloved by God that He “wasted” the most Precious thing He had and sent His own Son to die on the cross for them. And not only can their angel see God, Jesus is at God’s right hand to intercede and pray for them if they believe in Him (Romans 8:34)! So if we despise anyone, we’re despising Jesus’ prize, despising someone He thought was worth dying for.
Jesus couldn’t fully explain His sacrificial death that day, because it hadn’t happened yet. So He gave this secondary, mind-blowing reason to treat everyone we meet as if they are precious: because they have angels assigned to them.
And now we know both reasons are true.
What would happen if we interacted with people as if we saw the big shiny angel glowing behind them and hovering over them? What if we responded to everyone as if we always saw that God is at war for their souls and has mighty angel warriors assigned to fight for them? And what if we never forgot that we were privileged to be in the presence of someone Jesus loved enough to die for?
I’ve heard some dramatic stories of people who weren’t mugged when they were alone in the alley because the bad guys saw big bodyguards walking beside them. It seems that sometimes God makes the angels visible to those who would otherwise attack. But you and I have the opportunity to take Jesus’ word for it: whether or not we can see the angels, they are there. And if we wouldn’t say that critical comment or roll our eyes or ignore that person if we could see the angels assigned to walk beside her, then we shouldn’t do it at all.
In the context, however, I think the people Jesus is most warning us not to despise are believers who sin, people we might think should know better who go astray.
In this chapter, Matthew 18, Jesus is discoursing on how to respond to sin from a bunch of different angles. To respond to your own sin, He says, be incredibly ruthless. Cut anything out of your life that you have to, even your own eyeball, because there are people in hell right now for committing that sin that is tempting you and they would be better off to have lost their eyeball and still have the chance you have to repent! (Matthew 18:8-9). On the other hand, to respond to other people’s sin, be incredibly merciful. Forgive them seventy times seven times (vv. 21-22). And yet, that doesn’t mean you enable abuse. If somebody sins, you need to confront them honestly, and if they won’t stop, you need to go and get help (15-16). And if needed, get even more help, and start setting some boundaries and reducing trust (17).
And in the context of this message about our war with sin, this point about angels is one of three statements Jesus makes about the relationship between His Father and His “little ones,” His precious spiritual babies, “those who believe in Me” (6). The first point is that His Father will avenge Jesus’ little ones against those who lead them astray. The punishment for leading Jesus’ babies into sin is worse than death by drowning, He warns, so if someone is being tempted to sin, be sure it isn’t by you! (6-7).
Jumping ahead for a moment, Jesus’ third and final point will be that “your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish” (14). On that topic, Jesus tells the familiar story of the Shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to search for just one lost one. In the next breath after He was talking about hell, Jesus says His Father will be happier if you are truly sorry for what you’ve done wrong than He would be if you had been perfect in the first place! God has a rescuing heart.
And Jesus’ second point, the middle point, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven” (10). The opposite of despising someone is to see them with value and honor. If we could always see the angels God has assigned to people, I think we would remember to honor how much God values those people, even when they are messing up. Even (or especially) when they are messing up and we have to tell them so.
In every point Jesus makes, He is showing that God hates sin because He loves sinners and He loves sinners by hating sin. He is showing that God is at war for us and for everyone we meet, fighting not against us but for us against the destructive forces of sin, and that we must join in the fight on His side and not against Him. So, Jesus says, if you see somebody messing up, know that God will pursue them like a lost sheep, God will punish the living daylights out of you if you encourage them to do it more, and you should know better than to look down on them right now because God has assigned at least one heavenly angel to cheer for them and fight for their recovery.
Will it be easier to confront someone with a heart that honors them and forgive them with a heart that has mercy on them if we remember the angel assigned to them? Jesus seemed to think so. That’s just one of the beautiful differences that remembering the heavenly “servants in the room” can make.