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What is the Significance of the parable of the lost coin?

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The parable of the lost coin is a short and sweet parable packed with lots of meaning. In this article, we will look into the deeper meanings behind the parable, exploring its context, subtle hints, and ultimate message of divine love and redemption. 

cartoon image of person with the text what is the significance of the parable of the lost coin?

The Parable of the Lost Coin

Found in chapter 15 of the gospel of Luke, the parable of the lost coin is as follows: 

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angles of God over one sinner who repents.”

Luke 15:8-10 (ESV)

This parable outlines a story of a woman who loses a coin. It seems as though losing the one coin isn’t a very big deal considering she has nine others anyway. Upon the first read, one may think its silly that she so diligently searched the entire house for this one coin, and even sillier that she felt the need to tell her friends and neighbors to celebrate with her.

However, there are some hints in this short parable of Jesus that makes the great lengths that the main character of the story went to for something so simple make a lot more sense. These hints also give more substance to the last line, “there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents,” and therefore the point of the parable, that we will unpack later on. 

Context of the Parable

The parable of the lost coin is sandwiched between two other famous parables of Jesus. The parable of the lost sheep precedes it, and the parable of the prodigal son follows it up. 

To summarize, the parable of the lost sheep tells the story of a shepherd who leaves his flock of ninety-nine sheep to search for one that has ventured off and become lost. When he finds the lost sheep, he rejoices and carries it back to the fold, celebrating its return with friends and neighbors.

The parable of the prodigal son is a story told by Jesus about a father and his two sons. The younger son asks for his inheritance early and then squanders it on wild living. When he inevitably hits rock bottom, he decides to return home to his father, who welcomes him back with open arms and celebrates his return, despite his wrongful actions.

The older son, who stays obedient to his father, becomes resentful, but the father reminds him of their bond and the importance of forgiveness and love. 

All three of these parables are told to an audience that consists of tax collectors, sinners, and grumbling Pharisees (imagine that). In fact, the triplet of parables is told in response to the Pharisees grumbling. 

“Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man received sinners and eats with them.”

Luke 15:1-2 (ESV)

Hints in the Parable

Getting further into the story of the parable of the lost coin, some background information is offered regarding the main character, the woman. However, do keep in mind that this is based on context clues and not anything directly said by Jesus in the story.

But I would venture to say that every word that came out of Jesus’ mouth and every word written in the entirety of scripture has great intent and purpose, as the apostle Paul tells his mentee in 2 Timothy. 

“All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)

The first hint into the woman’s backstory in the parable is that she had to light a lamp and sweep the house to find the coin. Think of a modern-day house, your own house if you have one. If you dropped a coin, would you not be able to look down and see it on the floor? Because of this, we know that the woman’s house must have looked different from what we picture today. 

Because of the necessity to light a lamp, we can assume that her house is dark, probably windowless. And yes, our nice first-world houses are on the darker side without lights on as well, especially at night when the sun isn’t shining through our windows. But even more so, she had to sweep to find the lost. She could not just look down and see it lying in its landing spot. This hints towards the possibility of dirt floors. 

photo of ancient roman coin for the post on the parable of the lost coin

When we combine this with the darkness, we can assume that this parable is the story of a woman in poverty. 

The great lengths to which she goes for this coin, when she has nine others, no longer seems so silly. Her ten silver coins could very possibly been all she had. The one lost coin was of great monetary value to her. 

That is why she calls all her friends to celebrate, even though that sounds strange to us. This leads us to the other hint into the woman’s life. 

Barry York from Gentle Reformation says, “Then consider that when she calls together people to celebrate with her, there is no mention of family. No husband or children, just her friends and neighbors, are summoned.  Most likely, we are to think of a childless widow, as the Lord’s concern for widows is a theme in the Gospel of Luke”.

Now, the woman’s desperation to find the coin and great joy in her success make even more sense. She did not have family members, no husband, no children, no parents, etc., near to help her out in her daily life. Her well-being and livelihood were on her and her alone. 

So why does any of this matter anyway? 

The Meaning of the Parable

The impoverished woman in this parable is symbolic of God. No, it is not saying that God is a female figure, nor is it saying that God is poor and lowly and needy. The focus of the analogy between the woman and God is the desperation to find the one lost coin, despite the nine others. 

The silver coins are each and every one of the human beings that God created in his own image. 

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 1:27 (ESV)

The nine silver coins that remain after the one is dropped are representative of those that have already repented and been redeemed and therefore belong to the kingdom of God. The one coin that the woman takes great care to find is representative of those who are still lost in their own way, leading a life of sin. 

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”

Ezekiel 34:11 (ESV)

The desperation of the poor woman to find this one piece of monetary value is the same desperation that the Heavenly Father has in seeking out the souls of his lost children. He doesn’t just sit there and hope that one day, the lost will change their mind.

But rather, in his amazing grace, he sent his one and only son to die as a sacrifice for the sins of every person to ever walk the earth so that through the works of the Holy Spirit, whom He also sent out, they might recognize the despair of their sin and the need of repentance and thus receive the gift of salvation so that the creator and the creation can live among each other in eternal life. 

God will diligently seek you. He will spend money on oil to light the lamp and dust and turn over every item until you have been found. But when you are found, he will rejoice in heaven.

God’s love for each soul he has created is so great that no matter how many have already accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, He and the entire kingdom of Heaven are filled with immense joy for each and every single soul saved. 

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Lessons Learned

There are two big lessons to take away from the parable of the lost coin.

The first is the vastness of God’s love and care for his people. God didn’t just create man for funsies, as a cool little project, out of boredom, etc. though he very well could have if he wanted to. Instead, he created man to have a personal, intimate relationship with them.

The original design of the world was for God and man to walk among each other in perfect harmony, but the deceit of the serpent and corruption of sin by Adam and Eve in the garden through a wrench in that harmonious relationship (not that God didn’t know exactly what would happen). 

God cannot be in the presence of sin, so the sin nature that entered into the hearts of man as a result of the fall meant an eternal separation between God and man. But God did not want this. He still wanted that intimate relationship with his creation, despite their continual disobedience and rebellion against him. 

We of course are not perfect even after salvation, for we will always be at war with our own fleshly desires and sin nature, and God knew that. That’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to live inside of us, fighting off the flesh and guiding us in the righteousness of Jesus.

It is because of this righteousness and the presence of God inside of us that we not only get to spend eternity in the house of God, but get to experience personal relationship with him here on earth as well. 

That personal relationship means that we no longer have to feel the defeat of our falling short, our sin. We no longer have to be bound by the effects of the sin of the world. Through prayer, we communicate directly with God in the midst of darkness, and through the Holy Spirit, we are equipped with everything we need to purge ourselves of the ways of that darkness and live in the ways of his light. 

The second takeaway is about our response, as members of the kingdom of God, to the repentance and salvation of others. Remember, it wasn’t just God that rejoiced in the parable, it was all of the angels of God. The parable of the lost sheep words it like this: 

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Luke 15:7 (ESV)

If we are saved followers of Jesus, then we are part of the kingdom of Heaven, and therefore should be a part of this joy!

The joy we feel with God and his angels in heaven whenever one single person receives the gift of salvation should be so great that it motivates us to be active warriors of the truth of scripture, seeking out opportunities to share the gospel with the world and plant seeds that the Holy Spirit can blossom, so that we and the rest of the kingdom of Heaven can celebrate each and every saved soul! 

You may enjoy this video by Strength in Scripture about The Parable of the Lost Coin – Explained.

Or one of these recommended resources for further study:

THE LOST SHIP: A Trilogy of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Prodigal Son by STANLEY SIMON 

Parables: The Mysteries of God’s Kingdom Revealed Through the Stories Jesus Told by John F. MacArthur

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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