There is a concept in science called synergy. It is when different things interact so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of the individual parts. A congregation of 200 members in the body of Christ is more than just 200 individuals. A power proceeds from each individual heart; and all these separate powers, when combined and blended, constitute another and a higher form of power. All of us, together, can do more for the Lord than if each one of us were just serving the Lord separately.
Ecclesiastes 4:9 tells us that two are better than one. We could unleash 200 individuals to serve God alone. But if we combine in the church, we can accomplish much more together than if each one served separately. Why? Because of Holy Ghost synergism. According to Matthew 18:20, where two or three are gathered in His name, the Lord adds an ingredient.
There is power in our concerted action. This is especially seen in our worship. When one person is worshipping and touching the Spirit, that is good; but when 120 or more are all worshipping together, and are filled with the Holy Spirit, it is awesome. The entire church is edified. The church is a building, a holy temple. It is a building of the Lord. Ephesians 2:20-21. It is a spiritual house, made up of lively stones. I Peter 2:5.
In a building, a stonemason puts in each stone individually. Modern technology has not found a way to put multiple stones in at a time. A bricklayer handles each brick as he places it in the wall. We do not have a means to lay a whole row of bricks or a whole section of the wall at one time. Brick walls are built one brick at a time. Even nails are still driven one at a time.
This is true in the spiritual house of God. The Master-builder handles each lively stone individually, and places each one in this building right where He wants them. See I Corinthians 12:18. To be effective, we must be put into the building. We don’t want to be a broken brick that is discarded. He has placed us here, where He wants us to be.
By itself, a brick is not particularly useful. But when combined with other bricks in a wall, it becomes part of an edifice. Ancient cultures displayed the support structures of their buildings and made them beautiful. The Parthenon in Athens is an example of a building that is beautiful because of its ornate pillars. The temple in Jerusalem had beautiful pillars. Yet a beautiful pillar, standing all alone, has no useful purpose. Pillars are supposed to support a building. If they are not doing that, then why have them? Revelation 3:12 speaks of those who are made a pillar in the house of the Lord. Hannah rejoiced prophetically about the pillars the Lord will set the world upon. I Samuel 2:8. But nobody will be a pillar in the coming kingdom who was not first a pillar in the house of the Lord in the church age.
Blend in; become a part of the church. Don’t be a lone brick away from the wall, or try to be a pillar without supporting a building. Don’t try to pull yourself out of the wall where the Lord placed you. For us to function as lively stones in the building of the Lord, we should become a force for good in the church, in our homes and in our community. If we learn to do well, we will cease to do evil. If we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Galatians 5:16. Evil is overwhelmed and overcome, not by just focusing on the things that are bad, but by turning the people’s hearts toward the things that are good.
It is up to us, then, to blend together in attaining righteous and worthy goals – as the church of God. Together, Holy Ghost synergy will allow us to do more for the kingdom than if we all worked separately, or even as separate little families.
I believe the family is the basic unit in the fabric of society, and the strength of the church. But never forget that your families are to be built into the family of God. Your family is to be working with the other families to build the church that Jesus died for. He came to build a church, and not to empower families to function independently.
A small collection of bricks, hidden away in a family home, is not the church of the Lord. The body of Christ finds its strength and power in the local church. The apostles of the first century did not concentrate on the strength of the family; rather, they built churches wherever they went. Church-building is the theme of the work of God in this present time.
We are to have strong families, but the strength of the family should never weaken the church. If so, something is wrong. Any time the strength of the family weakens the strength and the unity of the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, that home is out of God’s order. You cannot steal the building material of the church to use it to build your own house. Haggai 1:4 shows it is wrong to have nice homes and a feeble church. There is power in our unity.
As blood-bought, Spirit-filled members of the body of Christ, our entire purpose and reason for living is to bring glory to God. Paul’s statements in the first chapter of Ephesians establish that we are to live lives that reflect praise on His glory. We were born to serve the Lord, and to show this wicked world what the grace of God can do in the lives of sinners. Let us fix that concept in our minds: we exist to glorify God. I Corinthians 6:20 says we are a bought slave; so we should glorify God in our body and spirit. In John 21:18-19, we learn that by our death to self, we glorify God.
So, if our lives are to bring glory to God, what is the ultimate aim of marriage? Is it procreation? Companionship? Sex? Happiness? The ultimate purpose for marriage is not any of those; but rather the ultimate goal of marriage is holiness! We speak of holy matrimony. Jesus said that what God has joined together, let not man part asunder. Matthew 19:6. Children of a godly marriage are holy children. I Corinthians 7:14. God instituted marriage in the Garden of Eden. It is something He gave to mankind. Why did He do it? God gave us marriage to make us holy, more than to make us happy.
Marriage among Christians is supposed to reflect the glory of God. While marriage is very real, it is also highly symbolic. Holy matrimony is a very visible symbol of the relationship between God and His people. Before we can really address how to improve our marriages, we need all understand the great symbolism our marriages are supposed to demonstrate. Whether we are married or single, we need to understand this point. The Apostle Paul was unmarried, but he understood this important symbol perfectly well.
Hosea 2: 16 says, “And it shall be at that day, saith the LORD, that thou shalt call me Ishi; and shalt call me no more Baali.” The center column reference in most Bibles will say that “Ishi” means “my husband;” and that “Baali” means “my master.” Speaking to Israel, God said they would call Him their husband instead of their master. Verse 19 explains why: “I will betroth thee unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies.”
There is a big difference between “husband” and “master.” The relationship between God and His people is not one based on fear, and force; but one based upon love, intimacy, trust, loyalty, etc. God wants a relationship like that of a husband and wife; and not like that of a master and slave. How do you view God – as master or as husband?
Isaiah 62:5 tells us that God rejoices over His people like a husband over a bride. In Matthew 9:15, Jesus is described as a bridegroom. I know the bride of Christ is a limited company of 144,000 overcomers, but in some respects, the entire body of Christ is like a bride. This is seen in Revelation 12:1, where the church is a woman, a married woman who is pregnant. In Isaiah 54:1, the church is the married wife.
At one time, God was the spiritual husband of Israel. But in Jeremiah 3:8, we see that God divorced Israel because of her spiritual adultery. When speaking to backslidden Israel in Mark 8:38, Jesus deliberately used “adulterous” to describe them – not because of sexual adultery; but spiritual adultery. The Lord expected a relationship of fidelity and trust between Himself and Israel. But the natural Jews played the harlot spiritually, and He divorced her. He is now married to the church, at least in a symbolic sense.
Why is this important? Because our marriage as members of the church is supposed to demonstrate the relationship between Christ and the church. This is why Paul said after writing about marriage in Ephesians 5:32: “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.” Paul’s writing in Ephesians 5:22-33 demonstrates this relationship between marriage, and Christ and His church.
This is not just an interesting analogy. If you really want to understand how your marriage, or any marriage, is to bring glory to God, you must comprehend this point. God did not create marriage just to give us a pleasant way to populate the earth. Marriage is to point to the loving, caring and close relationship that God wants to have with His own chosen people.
So, does every marriage in the church showcase the loving relationship between Jesus Christ and His own ransomed church? Sadly, no. But our marriages, in the body of Christ, should.
Love is a Decision
My purpose here is to present the concept of forgiveness within the framework of a Christian marriage. It should be so very easy to forgive the person you love. But let me say something first about loving the spouse you married. You should love that person even during those times when you don’t like them very much.
Jesus said the second greatest of all the commandments is to love thy neighbor. He taught that we are to love even our enemies. Divine love, or charity, is greater than both hope and faith – Paul so taught. We can sometimes love our enemies better than we love our own spouse. Those whom ought to be closest to us, those who promised and swore before God to love and cherish us, are sometimes the ones we love the least. Little children, such things ought not to be.
Hate springs quickly from the human heart. It doesn’t have to be taught. Whenever we are provoked, hatred rises up. But love isn’t that way. Love never springs up instantly. Nobody “falls” in love. Infatuation and lust are quick to appear, but not true love. Love is not an unbidden natural response. It is something that must be acquired. It must be pursued, sought for, and attained.
It is really sad when one spouse says to the other: “I don’t love you.” In truth, that statement is an admission of failure. The person who says that is really admitting that he or she didn’t learn to love their spouse. The Christian thing to do is to learn to love people – even your enemies. If you haven’t acquired love for your spouse, then you haven’t acted as a Christian. Please let me state this without you being insulted: If you don’t love your spouse, you are admitting you have failed to live as a Christian.
There is a common misconception in society. It is not only common, but dangerous. Society thinks love is an emotion. It is not. It certainly has emotional contexts and connotations, but love is not an emotion. It is a decision. You decide to love someone. If you say to your wife, “I don’t love you;” you are saying you have decided not to love her. How does that statement compare with the truth of Scripture?
I John 4:20 asks, how can you love God, and not love your brother or sister? Can you love God and not love your spouse? Jesus said love was the greatest commandment. In the midst of debates and arguments in the home, somebody has to rise up above the din and implement the greatest commandment. Your spouse is your neighbor. Love your neighbor.
Jesus said to love God, and your neighbor. It is easy to love God. He is good all the time. He doesn’t get on our nerves. He doesn’t yell at us. He is always loveable. But loving your marriage partner, well that isn’t always easy. But he or she is your neighbor. And think about it: how can we love God? He is so different from us. He is a Spirit; we are flesh. He is sinless; we are thoroughly infused with sin. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, as far as the heaven is above the earth. He is eternal; and we are temporal. He is unlimited; we are beset with limitations. We are not much like God. How can we love Him? Yet we do.
But if we can love God when we are so different from God, how much easier should it be to love another human being; the one you married? We have many more similarities with our spouse than we do with our God. We are both flesh and blood; we live side-by-side with them. They are much more like us than our God is. Can we decide to love them?
Matthew 5:43-44 is where Jesus told His followers that they cannot just love neighbors; He said to love your enemies. This again proves that love is not an emotion. Nobody naturally “feels” like loving an enemy. You have to decide to love them – despite what they have done or are doing to you. It is the Christian thing to do. If a child of God can decide to love their enemy, why can’t they decide to love their spouse? Is their spouse their enemy? It doesn’t matter whether they are or are not. Our only response to them is to love them. “What if they don’t love me back?” It doesn’t matter. Your enemies probably won’t love you back either; but you are still to love them. Remember, love is a decision.
Too many people are confused. They have been told that love is a many-splendored thing. They think they fall in love. They think love is over when the “spark” is gone. They feel love is some giddy, emotional attachment. They are wrong. Love can have wonderful emotions connected with it. But the decision to love is not an emotional decision. It is a choice. If you base your choice of who to love on emotions, you are going to have a lot of trouble in life. Base your decisions on higher things than emotions – duty, commitment, responsibility, service, and such noble criteria.
God’s Word commands in Colossians 3:19: “husbands, love your wives.” It teaches in Titus 2:4 that wives are to love their husbands. These are not biblical suggestions. This isn’t optional. This is the Word of God for your life. If you are married, decide to love your spouse.Decide right now. Whether you feel like it or not; choose to love the person you swore before God that you would cherish and honor in sickness and in health, till death.
The Virtue of Forgiveness
There are so many things I could cover about Christian marriage. I remind you that the purpose behind it is to demonstrate the love of God for His people. There are biblical guidelines that will improve your marriage. But the number one step in this is to choose to love your spouse. That choice means it doesn’t matter what he or she does. It doesn’t matter whether they are nice to you. It doesn’t matter whether physical relations are good or absent. Love is constant and abiding. Love is deliberate. You are supposed to love your wife. You are supposed to love your husband.
But let’s move to the heart of this subject: forgiveness in marriage. They say to err is human, but to forgive is divine. There is some truth in that. Forgiving is very god-like. It is one of the most noble and most honorable acts a human being can perform. It separates mankind, who were made in the image of God, from baser animals. Animals cannot forgive. They can forget, but have no capacity to forgive. And forgiveness is an identifying characteristic of a Christian.
Forgiveness is not just some noble dispensing of your pleasure on someone else. It is a commandment for Christians. We aren’t given a choice in this matter. We are required by our Lord and His Holy Word to forgive those who trespass against us. The requirement is stated in Matthew 6:14-15: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”
Then Jesus said in Matthew 18:35 that God will be angry with you if you don’t forgive, from your heart. “From your heart” means a full pardon – as if the transgression never happened. It is not just words from the mouth; there must be a removal of the pain of the injury from your heart. You must decide to treat a guilty person as if he or she were not guilty; as though they had not committed the transgression.
A powerful scripture on this is Ephesians 4:32: “And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” What does it mean to forgive as God forgives? Our Lord forgives those who don’t deserve to be forgiven, and He forgives them completely. We are to forgive like that – forgiveness is supposed to be both undeserved, and unreserved.
Earlier, I pointed out the biblical requirement to love your enemies. Now, in the context of forgiveness, I am giving you the scriptural admonition to forgive your enemies. In this context, sometimes your spouse is your enemy. So forgive your spouse. I doubt anybody can hurt you as much as your spouse can. He or she knows your weaknesses. That person knows your darkest secrets, your secret faults, your vulnerabilities. The very close and frequent association in marriage creates so very many opportunities to hurt and offend.
You will have more opportunity to forgive your loving spouse than you will a persecuting world. Unless you are married to a perfect overcomer, you will have an endless set of opportunities to demonstrate the mercy of God through forgiving. Remember that God chose marriage to display His grace to the world. How can you claim to be a Christian if you cannot display the primary godly principle of forgiveness by forgiving the person you married?
To forgive means to pardon or overlook an offense. It means to treat an offender as not guilty. But usually he is guilty! And forgiveness means you choose to treat him as though he did not offend. Forgiveness is not justice. It is not fairness. It is a deliberate decision to leave the scales of justice unbalanced. Your enemy somehow hurt you, and you choose to treat them as if it never happened.
Too many marriages are in trouble because one or both parties are demanding justice, when they should be practicing forgiveness. Retaliation and getting even are never the road to happiness. Revenge is a poison to your own soul. In I Corinthians 6:7, Paul made this statement in another context; but even in marriage, a true Christian learns to take wrong and to suffer being defrauded.
I am not talking about meekly submitting to true abuse, and maybe it is too hard for you to forgive unfaithfulness; but I am saying you can and must forgive your spouse for the accumulated hurts, slights, and emotional and spiritual failings that you know he or she possesses.
You are to do so because the Lord has commanded you to forgive. You do it because your forgiveness is a display of the glory of God to your spouse, your family, the church and the world. And you do it for your own benefit. Because the hatred, anger and bitterness of refusing to forgive are poisonous to your own heart, forgiveness is also an act of self-defense. It not only releases the other party; it releases you from the toxic effects of these seething emotions. Hebrews 12:15 says that bitterness is poison. It is toxic to your spiritual life.
Forgiveness is not easy; nor is it a light thing. But I am asking you to consider deeply, and make a deliberate decision to forgive a lot of hurts you have already received. And then prepare your heart to forgive more of them in the future. You cannot have a long term relationship with anyone you are unwilling to forgive. It is the requirement of God for every Christian; be quick to forgive.
Colossians 3:13: “Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.”
Few if any situations in life give us so frequent an opportunity to practice the godly virtue of forgiveness as does a marriage.
There is animosity between Christ’s true church and the devil’s world. They cannot co-exist in harmony. Either the church will triumph and separate the saints of God from the world; or the world will win out and separate the saints of God from the church. The influence of the world separated Demas from the work of the Lord. See II Timothy 4:10.
Satan’s greatest tools are iniquity and idolatry. Iniquity is a direct attack on the church. It may be subtle, but it challenges the teachings of the ministry, the authority of the church, or the operation of the Spirit. God hates iniquity. Psalms 5:4-6. But sadly, most workers of iniquity do not know that they are working iniquity. See Ezekiel 33:30-33.
Its doubtful Hymenaeus and Philetus knew they were the workers of iniquity. See II Timothy 2:17-18. Diotrephes thought he was doing the right thing; but worked iniquity. See III John. They probably spoke dreams and words – but they were not of God. Jeremiah 23:25-28.
Idolatry is even more subtle than iniquity. It is an indirect attack. Idolatry, today, means far more than just worshipping an idol. Idols today are anything that lessens your love and committment to the Lord and His church. There is much idolatry in the 21st Century. It isn’t the mere bowing down to worship statues; rather, it is a frame of mind. Anything that diminishes your ability to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is idolatry. Matthew 22:37-39.
That can be a job, your family, your leisure activities, money, prestige, pride, or a multitude of other things. These are the things that choke the Word, and render you unfruitful in the things that really matter. See Luke 8:14; 21:34.
Satan’s greatest tools are iniquity and idolatry. Ezekiel 14:3 says that the people of Israel had set up idols in their hearts; not statues in their living rooms. Worldliness and materialism are idolatry. If the enticements of this world separate you from your first love, you have become an idolater.
If we align with the worldly order and system, we commit spiritual adultery. God’s people have a mission; to be a light to the world. Isaiah 49:6. To fulfill that mission, there must be a separation from the world. Ezra 9:1-2, 12-14.
Ministers are to feed God’s people with knowledge and understanding. Jeremiah 3:15. God sets watchmen to warn His saints. Ezekiel 3:17. Someone must warn them against iniquity and idolatry – lest they grow cold and draw back from the very thing that can prepare them to inherit eternal life.
Persecution will not destroy the church. Never has; never will. But iniquity and idolatry have destroyed many once-powerful churches and movements. “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” Ephesians 5:15-16.
The two greatest threats to the church are the two greatest threats to your salvation. Satan destroys the church one person at a time. I Peter 5:8. He is unremitting in his attacks. He marshalls forces and pressures to defeat the work of God by enticing the saints to defect.
The two greatest threats we face are iniquity and idolatry. Iniquity causes saints to stumble into unbelief; idolatry is placing anything on the throne of your heart other than the Lord. God said through His prophet: “Son, of man, these men have set up idols in their heart, and put the stumblingblock of their iniquity before their face…” Ezekiel 14:3. Note that idolatry was in their heart; not a statue on a shelf.
The light of the glorious Gospel has shined in our hearts. We are the temple of the Holy Ghost. If we are not careful, the light of God can go out in our lives, and in our churches. See I Samuel 3:3. But like the priests of old, we are to see to it that the fire of God never goes our on the altar. Leviticus 6:13.
There are forces in this world that would extinguish the light. The true church of Jesus Christ does not belong to this world. Romans 12:2. It is a small outpost of heaven, surrounded by hostile forces, deep in enemy territory. It’s only chance of survival is to be protected by “air cover” from heaven – with regular supply drops. There is a war of epic proportions being fought between the forces of good and evil. Ephesians 6:12.
Make sure the young people growing up in your home, or your church, are involved in the work of the Lord. Are they engaged or disengaged? Do they participate or observe? Do they know how the Lord added their family to the church? Do they testify in church? Engage them in conversation. Ask them about their salvation, their understanding of the mission of the body of Christ, and the future. Above all, make sure they know they are a part of the church. It is easier to walk away when someone feels no attachment. They will not be the church of tomorrow if they are not an active part of the church today.
Chains of iron will not stop the church from completing its mission. Not even martyrdom can stop God’s work; the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Jesus prayed for the church in the seventeenth chapter of John. He prayed for the success of the church; His prayer will be answered.
Christ loves the church – enough to die for it. Ephesians 5:25. Do you think He will refuse to use His power to protect the church He died to build?
Jesus said that He would be with His people to the end of the world. Matthew 28:20. Because of that, we need have no fear. “For he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee. So that we may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me.” Hebrews 13:5-6. Christ loves the church. His love was so great that He died for the church. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” Ephesians 5:25.
Do you think that He will refuse to use His power to protect the church that He died to build? Of course not. He will use all power in heaven and earth to protect this wonderful institution.
The church is both fragile and strong, powerless and powerful, temporary and permanent. It is fragile because it is a voluntary association and iniquity can weaken and destroy any local expression of the church. But it is strong because it is training the rulers of the world to come. It binds the devil in the lives of believers. It is powerless because it has no authority in society.
It cannot legislate morality, nor force its will on anyone. But it is powerful because it is infused with the power of God. The gates of hell itself cannot prevail against it. The church is temporary because every local assembly eventually becomes lukewarm and then cold.
The candlestick is eventually removed from each location. But it is permanent because the institution continues after the local expression dies out. And overcomers that have been laid away to await the first resurrection will be back!
The Lord gives power to His church. Really, it is given a lot of authority.
Though despised and often-rejected, the church is the way to everlasting life. The power the Lord gives to the church includes: The Keys to the Kingdom. Jesus said to His ministry: “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:19. No one can enter into the kingdom without using the keys. The church is the vestibule, or entry way, into the kingdom. An entrance into the kingdom must be “ministered” to the believers. See 2 Peter 1:11.
That is why excommunication is a meaningful sanction. Server the Lord in the church is the route to being in the coming kingdom. Power Over the Devil. Jesus gave His church power over devils. Luke 9:1. The first sign that identifies true believers is that they cast out devils. Mark 16:17. The evil spirit knew who Paul was. Acts 19:15. Authority to Heal Diseases.
Those whom Jesus ordains, He gives power to heal sickness. See Mark 3:14-15. When a child of God gets sick, he or she is to call for the elders of the church. James 5:14-15. There must be a church for there to be elders to pray for the sick. The church has always been healing in the name of Jesus. See Acts 3:6, 4:10. Authority to Speak in the Name of Jesus. The church represents the Lord to the world, much like an ambassador represents a foreign country. The church speaks and teaches in the name of Jesus. Acts 4:18. Paul preached in His name. Acts 9:27, 29.
The church is instructed to do all in the name of Jesus. The church, through its ministry, is authorized to “command” in the name of Jesus. See 2 Thessalonians 3:6 and Acts 10:48. Ultimately, Great Power. At the end of the church age, the church is going to receive “great power” from the Lord. Revelation 11:3. So, the church is the instrument that the
Lord is using in this age. He died for the church, He is the head of the church, and He is committed to seeing the church fulfill its mission. We do not have to be a part of His work, but we pray that we are, and that we will continue to be.
The Bible often refers to God’s people as sheep. There are many reasons for that analogy. This is seen clearly in the 23rd Psalm where David, as a sheep, looked to the Lord as his shepherd. But there are other scriptures. We are called sheep in Isaiah 53:6, which says, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.”
Jesus, of course, is the good shepherd and the chief shepherd. John 10:1-16 is a lengthy passage, but it tells us much about the heart of a true shepherd and contrasts it with a mere “hireling.” Because that is so significant to this chapter, we will quote it in its entirety:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.
“And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.
“This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”
The other lengthy passage that needs to be set out in its entirety is the 23rd Psalm:
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”
We will refer back to these passages several times. But for now, we take them to mean that we, as saints of God, are referred to as sheep. In fact, the Bible makes reference to sheep some 220 times. Why use that analogy? Why not something powerful and majestic, like a horse; or strong like a lion; or graceful like a leopard? Perhaps the answer is because the Lord knew some things about the nature of sheep.
In some sense, every leader in the work of the Lord is a shepherd. Certainly a pastor is a shepherd, and Jesus Christ is the Chief Shepherd. The Hebrew word that is translated as “pastor” in the Old Testament, “ra’ah,” means “shepherd.” The Greek word for “pastor” in the New Testament is “poimen,” which also means “shepherd.” But every person in a leadership position at times “shepherds” his followers. Therefore, every leader needs the heart of a shepherd. Since God compares His people to sheep, and leaders of His people to shepherds, we should also understand some things about the nature of sheep. To understand the heart of a shepherd, you must understand something about sheep.
The Nature of Sheep
1. Sheep Aren’t Intelligent
Sheep are relatively-unintelligent animals. They aren’t cunning, and they ignorantly wander into danger. They aren’t aware of their own safety. Maybe that isn’t a bad thing in an analogy for disciples of the Lord. We aren’t going to be saved by our own intelligence. We aren’t smart enough to figure out God, or salvation. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 3:19 that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. The smartest disciple of the Lord can ignorantly wander into the snares of sin.
No leader in the body of Christ is smart enough to know how to lead the flock. When Solomon became king, he told the Lord he needed wisdom to lead the flock of Israel, and God granted his request. See II Chronicles 1:8-12. Yet the shepherd has to know more than the sheep – about dangers, about where there is still water and green pastures, and how to get where they want to go. Leaders need the wisdom from above, which James said was pure and peaceable and gentle and easily entreated. James 3:17.
To be able to feed the flock with knowledge and understanding, shepherds have to have knowledge and understanding. They must study to show themselves approved unto God. II Timothy 2:15. They must know the important things of God – knowledge of salvation, of God’s plan, of the vision of the body of Christ, of the snares of the devil, and such things. Pray, study, meditate, and listen to the preaching and teaching of anointed ministers. Be sure you, as shepherd, have the wisdom and knowledge you need to lead God’s sheep where they need to go.
2. Sheep Respond to the Shepherd’s Voice (only their own shepherd)
Jesus said in John 10:3 that His sheep hear His voice. Because it is the voice of the shepherd, “the sheep follow him; for they know his voice.” Verse 4. Then Jesus said, “And a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers.” Verse 5.
In Israel, shepherds sometimes brought their flocks to a sheepfold for the evening. This was often a cave that had only one entrance. The sheep were safe in the enclosure, and the shepherd (the porter) would lie down and sleep in the entrance. He became the “door” to the sheepfold. Predators could not then get to the sheep without first going over the porter. Sometimes many flocks would gather overnight. But in the morning, when the sheep were all mixed together, a shepherd would begin to sing. His flock, and only his flock, responded to his voice and would leave the sheepfold following the voice of their shepherd.
In a fellowship meeting of the body of Christ, the sheep should mix together, and function as one flock. But when the meeting is over, they hear the voice of their pastor, and follow him back to their home assembly. But more on point: there are a lot of voices in Babylon, but they aren’t the voice the sheep should hear. And sin sings a siren song, calling out to God’s sheep. Like the lewd woman in Proverbs, “With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him.” Proverbs 7:21. But the sheep are not to listen to that voice, because it isn’t the voice of their shepherd.
3. Sheep are Directionless
Sheep wander with no real sense of direction. They may drift too close to the cliff, they may wander far from safety, and they don’t know how to get back. The shepherd has to go to find a lost sheep. Jesus said that in Matthew 18:12, where he said a shepherd will leave the ninety and nine sheep, and seek the one gone astray.
Unless the shepherd leads them to tableland, and green pastures, the sheep will overgraze where they are, or will wander into grassless rocks and dangerous cliffs. The work of a shepherd includes leading the sheep where they need to go.
4. Sheep are Weak and Need a Shepherd
Sheep are helpless against predators. In Biblical times, predators such as lions, wolves, panthers, leopards, bears and hyenas were common in the countryside of Israel. Before he became King David, the shepherd boy David defended his sheep from lions and bears. The problem is that if some kind of predator finds a flock of sheep, the sheep don’t fight back. They don’t try to defend themselves. Sometimes they don’t even try to spread out or run or get away. Instead, they huddle together – giving the predator a nice, big, easy target.
Other times, predators drive into the flock, scattering them in multiple directions. Alone and defenseless, the sheep then become easy to devour. There is a reference in Jeremiah 50:17 which says that the lions have driven away the sheep. That was a common occurrence in those days. Ezekiel 34:16 says the Great Shepherd will seek the lost, and those driven away. The entire 34th chapter of Ezekiel is important to this topic. To preserve space, we won’t quote it at length. But everyone should be familiar with the contrast between false shepherds in the first six verses, and the Lord as a good shepherd in the rest of that chapter.
Leaders in the body of Christ have to be there for the sheep, to protect them, to lead them, to feed them, to point out the dangers and care for the flock.
5. Sheep Become Restless
Sheep eat grass all day. If not lead to new pastures, they will eat everything in sight, and then starve. But sheep can’t digest all the grass they’ve eaten until they lie down – but they don’t always lie down on their own. So the shepherd sometimes has to make them lie down for their own good. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Psalms 23:2.
When they do lie down, sheep cannot get up very quickly. This means they are afraid to lie down whenever they sense danger is near. An important role of a leader is to inspire confidence in his followers. They need to know that they are safe, that their shepherd cares for them, and that the Lord will shelter them from danger.
6. Sheep Need Plenty of Food and Water
Sheep require a lot of water, just like saints of God need a lot of God’s Spirit. And they essentially eat all the time. So they need green pastures, just like we need to eat a daily portion of God’s Word.
The water must be still. Sheep fear running water. They will not drink from a raging torrent. If sheep fall into moving water, they can drown. Their coats are already heavy, and their wool rapidly absorbs water. And they can’t swim. The end result is that sheep actually fear moving water and are reluctant to drink from a lake or stream unless the water is still.
A pastor or elder who cannot feed the flock, and lead them to where the Spirit of the Lord is like still water, will have a malnourished flock of sheep. Some may die of spiritual starvation or thirst.
7. Sheep Cannot Get Up if They are “Cast Down”
Under certain circumstances, a sheep can get turned over on its back and is not able to get back up. This can actually be fatal! Many of a sheep’s vital bodily functions depend on gravity. When a sheep is turned over on its back, the blood drains out of the legs, the stomach can’t digest food, and breathing is blocked. If the shepherd doesn’t act quickly, the sheep will die.
The Bible calls this being “cast down.” Many verses use that phrase to refer to being unable to rise again. Revelation 12:10 foretells a day when the accuser of the brethren is “cast down.” Paul said in II Corinthians 4:9 that he was “cast down, but not destroyed.” We are to be “casting down” iimaginations, and every high things that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God.” II Corinthians 10:5.
If a sheep is cast down, it will be destroyed unless the shepherd comes and stands it up again. David wrote in Psalms 37:24 that a good man falls, but isn’t utterly cast down, because the Lord (like a shepherd) lifts him up again. It is God “that comforteth those that are cast down.” II Corinthians 7:6.
The Lord is the only one who can lift up a sheep who is cast down, but He often uses shepherds to do it. They lift up the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees, and extend a helping hand to those who are downcast. But Ecclesiastes 4:10 warns: “woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up.”
8. Sheep are a Personal, Prized and Precious Possession
Nathan’s parable establishes that sheep are not treated like most farm animals. They can become a personal, prized and precious possession. The Prophet Nathan gave a parable about one ewe lamb to David after the king had sinned with Bathsheba. He spoke in II Samuel 12:3 of a poor man who “had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.”
Sheep learn the shepherd’s voice and learn to trust his care. They come running when he calls or sings. Cows and pigs don’t do that. There is a special relationship of trust that develops between a sheep and a caring shepherd.
In presenting these eight points about sheep, we have also seen the need for a shepherd. But be sure you have the heart of a shepherd; a big heart, a loving heart.
The Shepherd’s Heart
A pastor in the body of Christ is not a CEO of a business. Department leaders in the church are not sergeants over the privates. Every leader is called of God to care for and love and lead a flock of sheep. Every leader is to pattern his or her leadership in the mode of a shepherd.
In Mark 6:34, Jesus bewailed the fact that His flock was like sheep without a shepherd. Sheep need shepherds. They need good shepherds who will naturally care for the flock. Sadly, there are people all over the world who were once members of churches in the body of Christ. But now they sit at home, and feel like they are okay because they live a relatively-moral life, and remember the doctrinal teachings they learned years ago. But they don’t have a church, and they don’t have a shepherd. They aren’t being led to green pastures, but overgraze where they once were. They aren’t drinking from still waters, and they have no protection in the valley of the shadow of death.
In I Peter 5:1, the ministry was told to “fed the flock of God which is among you.” Paul wrote in Philippians 2:20 that Timothy had the heart of a shepherd: “For I have no man likeminded, who will naturally care for your state.”
The 23rd chapter of Jeremiah contrasts wicked shepherds and good shepherds In verses 1-2, we read about wicked shepherds: “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD.” In verse 4 we are told about the blessing of having good shepherds: “And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD.”
Phillip Keller wrote a book called A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23. It should be required reading for every leader in the body of Christ. That book goes deeper into the 23rd Psalm. But we can consider it briefly again here. It was quoted above. This Psalm tells us about the Lord as our Shepherd. But it also reveals much about what is in the heart of every good shepherd, and how we are to feel and act as shepherds. It is written from the perspective of a sheep.
Psalms 23:1 The Lord condescends to assume the lowly office of shepherd. When He is my shepherd, I will never want.
Verse 2 He leads me to green pastures: lush, life-sustaining promises of salvation and hope. I can drink from still water: not swift, dangerous currents, but still, refreshing drinks from His Spirit.
Verse 3 He revives my flagging spirit and leads me away from danger.
Verse 4 No fear! Even in the shadowy valleys, where I cannot see the dangerous predators hiding: His rod is there to protect and discipline; and His staff is there to draw and comfort me.
Verse 5 He prepares the tableland – spreading minerals to promote lush vegetation, pulling poisonous weeds before I even arrive. He watches for enemies – wolves and snakes. He anoints my head with healing oil, which keeps the flies away and lessens friction when I “butt heads” with other sheep. My cup is more than full.
Verse 6 This is an indisputable fact: goodness and mercy will follow me all my life, and then the I’ll inherit the joy of forever in a glorious new heaven and new earth.
The Lord is the perfect example of a shepherd. He has the heart of a shepherd. But every leader in the body of Christ must follow that great example and develop a shepherd’s heart.
Let’s make five important points about fulfilling the role of a shepherd.
1. Shepherds must be Focused on the Flock
Sheep require constant attention. They cannot be left unattended. They can get their wool stuck in branches, and will die if the shepherd doesn’t free them. They will eat poisonous weeds if the shepherd doesn’t pull up those weeds or lead the sheep away from them. They will wander too close to the cliff, and follow one another off that cliff to their death if the shepherd doesn’t pay close attention to what they are doing.
Sheep have very limited endurance. If they are driven too far or too fast, they become sick and die. Jacob said to Esau in Genesis 33:13, if men should overdrive the sheep even one day, all the flock will die. We mentioned above that Jesus said if a sheep wanders off, the shepherd will seek and find that lost sheep. Ezekiel 34:12 is a biblical reference to seeking the lost sheep: “As a shepherd seeketh out his flock in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.”
2. Shepherds Sacrifice for the Flock
The shepherd takes car e of the sheep; the sheep don’t take care of the shepherd. The shepherd receives his reward from the owner of the flock – based upon how well the flock prospers under his care. This requires sacrifices on the part of the shepherd. A good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. John 10:11.
Shepherds sit up on cold nights, watching over the flock. They are in the fields in the rain, and the wind, and the hot sun. Israel didn’t have fences, where you could leave the sheep in an enclosed area. If the shepherd didn’t pay attention, the sheep could wander off into danger. If he wasn’t alert, there might be poisonous snakes, or wolves or even lions that would stealthily approach and attack the flock. A shepherd had to face dangers or else lose his flock.
3. Shepherds Feed the Flock
Sheep must be fed and watered. Else, they won’t prosper and multiply. Shepherds feed and care for the flock: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11.
A good shepherd will feed the flock. Ezekiel 34:23. This means he leads them where they can eat in safety. If not fed and watered, the sheep will faint and scatter. Matthew 9:36.
4. Shepherds Protect the Flock
Predators love to attack sheep. They have no natural defenses. They cannot outrun most predators, they have no scales, no effective goring horns, almost no ability to defend themselves. They depend upon their shepherds to recognize and drive away all predators.
Sheep scatter without a shepherd. II Chronicles 18:16 says, “Then he said, I did see all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd.”
When scattered, they are destroyed by predators. “And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high hill: yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them.” Ezekiel 34:5-6. See also verse 8: “My flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd.”
Sheep are not a wild animal. They will not survive alone in the wilderness. The beasts destroy the sheep. Sometimes the shepherd gets there too late to save the sheep. Amos 3:12 makes that point: “Thus saith the LORD; As the shepherd taketh out of the mouth of the lion two legs, or a piece of an ear; so shall the children of Israel be taken out that dwell in Samaria in the corner of a bed, and in Damascus in a couch.” Remember, like a roaring lion, the devil seeks sheep to devour. I Peter 5:8.
5. Shepherds are Close to the Flock
There are no absentee-shepherds. A shepherd does not work an 8 hour day, or a 40 hour week. Shepherding is a 24/7 occupation. Sheep cannot be left alone. They have no defense if left alone; they wander into danger if left alone. Jesus said in John 10:12-13 that the hireling leaves the sheep in danger. That’s because a hireling only seeks wages, he doesn’t love the sheep. Job 7:2.
Zechariah 11:17 pronounces woe to the shepherd who leaves the flock. But in John 10:11, Jesus said the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. Asaph said in Psalms 80:1 that God, as a good shepherd, leads Israel like a flock. Every leader in the body of Christ must develop the heart of a shepherd, to lead, protect, feed, and care for the flock of God.
The Bible tells us that rebellion is as wicked, as vile, and as reprehensible as witchcraft. I Samuel 15:23. Elihu, in Job 34:37, said you can add rebellion to your sins. So many people do. In the Bible, we read of Judas Iscariot, Hymaneaus, Diotrephes, and others. Rebellion is common today: children rebel against parents, saints rebel against the church order and teaching and backslide, elders sometimes even rebel against the pastor and split the church.
Rebellion isn’t an instantaneous act; it’s a journey. There are usually seven steps to rebellion. I’d like to point them out – using Joab and Absalom. Rebellion is a particularly wicked sin because you can backslide alone but usually rebellion takes others down with you.
Joab was King David’s general. He was also David’s cousin. Many times he was loyal and faithful to David, but eventually got caught up in rebellion against David’s choice of Solomon to be successor-king. Absalom was David’s son. When Absalom’s sister was wronged, Absalom plotted revenge against Amnon. He was then banished from the kingdom, then returned, then plotted rebellion against David. His rebellion was nearly successful in driving David from Jerusalem, and gaining the throne for Absalom.
But anyone who goes down the road to rebellion will usually follow these seven steps:
1. Independent. The person headed for rebellion says he can decide for himself what is best. The church may teach against it; but this person says, “I don’t see anything wrong with it.” As if God’s got to clear everything with them, personally. The church may teach against women wearing pants, or body piercing, or certain worldly entertainments and activities, but the independent person chooses to ignore the pastor’s teaching, and do it anyway.
Joab was like that. David met with Abner, with a goal of reconciling Israel and ending a civil war. Joab felt he knew better than David and killed Abner. II Samuel 3:17-30. Then when David decided it was best to banish Absalom, Joab schemed and brought him back. II Samuel 14:1-33. Later, when David specifically said not to kill Absalom, Joab felt he knew better, and killed him. II Samuel 18:12, 14. Finally, when David felt the Lord wanted Solomon to succeed him, Joab acted independently and supported Adonijah. I Kings 1:7.
Absalom’s journey to rebellion also started with this step. He never really submitted to David. When David didn’t do what Absalom thought should be done, he plotted and killed his brother, Amnon.
A person with an independent spirit never settles into church order and discipline. She refuses to conform; he picks and chooses what teachings he will accept and which ones to reject. Proverbs 18:1 says, “Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.” It means that a person who keeps himself separate by making his own decisions, countermanding the wisdom of their pastor, isn’t very wise.
2. Hurt and Offended. The second step in this journey is to become hurt and offended – like Absalom after his sister was wronged. Every child of God will be often hurt, but you don’t have to be offended. Jesus warned in Matthew 24:10 that many shall be offended – but you don’t have to be one of them.
The word, “offended” in that verse is from the Greek word: “skandalizo” – the part of trap upon which bait is hung. Be careful, the desire to be offended is just bait on a trap! Don’t take the bait! David refused to be offended when he was wronged by King Saul or when Shimei cursed him as he fled from Jerusalem. Those who are offended over their hurts are moving toward rebellion.
3. Passive. A person on a journey to rebellion starts to withdraw from their prior commitment to the Lord and their loyalty to the church. They resign from activities, etc. Where once they burned with passion; now their ardor cools. Jesus said in Matthew 24:12 that when iniquity abounds, love waxes cold. But we are supposed to be actively involved; not passive and hurt. We read in Judges 5:23: “Curse ye Meroz.” Why? Because they were passive; they came not to help when help was needed. And Jeremiah 48:10 says cursed be he that doeth the work of the Lord deceitfully, and cursed be he that keepeth back his sword from blood. When there is a battle to be fought for the Lord, we need every soldier.
Absalom went through this stage before open rebellion. II Samuel 13:22 says, “Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad.” People taking this step develop an unnatural nonchalance; they “don’t care” what the church is doing; they “aren’t interested” in serving; they want to remain distant and uninvolved.
4. Fault-finding. The fourth step is to become hypercritical. They mull their offense in silence for a while, but then begin to speak out criticisms and express their grievances. Be careful when you criticize and complain. It can happen to anyone. It is easy to do; Miriam became critical of Moses.
This is a critical time; a dangerous step toward rebellion and insurrection. Judas Iscariot criticized Jesus for letting costly spikenard be put on Him to anoint Him for death. See John 12:3-6. Moving from withdrawn passivity to fault-finding is a big step in the wrong direction.
Absalom reached this step in II Sam 15:1-3. He was critical of David because there was no man deputied of the king, to right the grievances of the people.
5. Political. A person taking this step is seeking allies and gathering support. Politicians say whatever they have to say to gain supporters. They want others to agree with them, to feel sorry for their wrongs, and to “take on another’s offense.”
Absalom, in II Samuel 15:4-6, stole the hearts of the men of Israel through his political agitation and complaints. He convinced others that David wasn’t right, wasn’t doing right, and that Absalom’s grievances were legitimate. Those who have been offended always want the support of allies.
6. Deception. The next step is when the rebel deceives himself and others. Seeing that he has allies convinces a man (or woman) that their cause is just. Absalom deceived by his apparent success. And he deceived others – they thought he was right, that he should be king, that insurrection was God’s will.
Not everyone really knew what was happening. Some innocents were caught up in what was going on. Verse 11. It seems as if some innocent people always get swept into any conspiracy. They weren’t malicious; and if Absalom had not defected, they would have probably remained loyal to David all their lives. But your rebellion doesn’t just affect you; it affects others. Even if the rebellious repent, usually innocent lives are lost. You can rebel against the church, leave and take others with you, and even repent and come back – but will the others you influenced to leave make it back too? How are you going to explain to the Lord that your rebellion caused innocent lives to be lost?
Rebels always think they are right; and usually believe God with them. Absalom did. Be very, very careful in rising up against God’s established leadership. David may have had every “right” to rebel against King Saul, but he wisely chose not to do it. He refused to strike out against Saul, and was blessed. Just because you are “right” doesn’t mean you have to act – you might be better off suffering yourself to be defrauded. I Corinthians 6:7.
7. Open rebellion. The final step is open insurrection against the established order. It might be leaving the church, or splitting the church, or launching a social networking campaign against the church. The law of God forbids setting fire to the field. Exodus 22:6. The Bible says that “an evil man seeketh only rebellion.” Proverbs 17:11. Don’t take the bait; don’t fall into the trap of rebellion.
What to do?
What should you do if you find yourself with someone who is on this seven-step journey to rebellion?
A. Be careful who you associate with. Proverbs 22:24-25 says to make no friendship with an angry man; it may ensnare your soul. Don’t become one of the innocents caught up in a rebellion against God’s order.
B. You might have to become the north wind. Proverbs 25:23 says, “The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.” Rebellion is not so easily spoken where it is not easily heard.
C. What if you suddenly realize the person on this path to rebellion is the man in the mirror? First, analyze where you are on this path, and then get off it! Get back on right path. If you are independently ignoring the teaching of the church, start being loyal instead. If you are withdrawing into an unnatural nonchalance, get more involved. If you are criticizing, start praising. Etc.
Don’t keep going down the road. If you find yourself headed towards destruction, like driving 90 mph toward a cliff, if doesn’t do any good to slow down to 60 mph. If you are going to destruction, don’t change your speed; change your direction. Even if you have legitimate grievances – like David had about Saul – give them to God and submit (not to obvious sin, of course, but that is a whole different lesson). God can make right whatever isn’t quite what it should be.