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Sheep Are Sheep

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Karate Kid is one of the greatest movies of the 20th century. The sage of the saga, Mr. Miyagi, rescues teenage protagonist, Daniel Larusso, from the beatdown of his lifetime at the hands of the Cobra Kai – a gang of high school miscreants who happen to be karate black belts.

Daniel pleads with Mr. Miyagi to teach him karate, so he can fight off his arch enemies. Mr. Miyagi responds with a line I’ve heard a thousand times but never paid much attention to. He instructs Daniel to approach the sensei of the dojo where the Cobra Kai are trained in hopes that the instructor will have sympathy and call off the dogs. Mr. Miyagi says, “There are no bad students; only bad teachers.”

Immediately, that statement struck me as a profound truth that’s biblically applicable. Throughout the scriptures, the mantle of responsibility for erring Israel is placed on the shoulders of those teachers whom God had placed in a position to teach, warn, prophesy, and care for His people, His sheep.

In Ezekiel 34, God levels a severe charge against the shepherds of Israel – those men who were responsible for His people.

The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.[1]

Characteristics of sheep

Sheep will always be sheep. God knows sheep need shepherds. Sheep need to be fed; sheep wonder off when not hemmed in or looked after. Wolves sneak in and drag them off. Sheep are sheep.

Every week, churches all over the country are filled with tens of thousands of people who hang on every word of charlatans and shysters promising fulfillment of every felt-need of their listeners. Countless churches follow cultural trends to assuage the cry of the world for a non-offensive, politically correct gospel. And, people tune in, online or in person, by the thousands to eat it all up. Why? We’re sheep.

There’s only one Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34:15). The rest of us are sheep. However, by His grace, God calls some of the sheep to shepherd (1 Peter 5:2). Their responsibility is to follow their Shepherd, all the while leading other sheep to do the same (1 Peter 5:3-4). They’re tasked to feed God’s sheep the only food that can satisfy a hungry soul – the Word of God, the Bread of Life (Matthew 4:4; 2 Timothy 4:2).

Attitude of shepherds

Under-shepherds must remember who they’re working with. They’re working with creatures who are prone to wonder. People often get ahold of bad food (from bad teachers) and are easily influenced by it. At times, shepherds may face temptation to strong-arm sheep or keep themselves out of harm’s way. Strong-arming translates to berating or belittling the sheep for being sheep, rather than patiently enduring hardships with them and consistently nurturing them along the way. Keeping themselves at safe distances equates to refusing to love and be vulnerable with the sheep out of self-protection in anticipation of the sheep wondering off.

Last year, one of my shepherd friends gave me this wise counsel. He said, “Hold people close, but hold them loose.” When sheep leave (for whatever reason, good or bad), pastors may want to retreat in reaction to the hurt they’ve experienced because people they genuinely cared about and cared for are gone. Our response ought not result in anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, or self-protection. Pastors will always be called to love, care for, and feed God’s sheep. You’ve got to get close to do that. Expecting sheep to be anything more than sheep may result in despairing disappointment if they happen to wonder off, as sheep often do.

That’s where the second part of my friend’s counsel comes in. Hold them loose. At the end of the day, the sheep belong to no single shepherd. They’re the Good Shepherd’s, and He can be trusted with them. He will take care of them, even in their wondering.

 

[1] Ezekiel 34:1-6; English Standard Version

Bj Erps