The Bible refers to believers as sheep. Over the years I’ve heard preachers take this analogy to an extreme and come to some very unflattering conclusions about how dumb and helpless sheep are. Rather than coming to negative conclusions based on our perception of what natural sheep are like, we should look closely at how Jesus describes the relationship between himself and his sheep. Jesus makes some very positive and encouraging statements about the shepherd/sheep relationship.
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27 NIV)
The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. (John 10:3-4 NIV)
In these verses Jesus expresses a lot of confidence in the sheep’s ability to hear and follow him. He describes a personal connection and relationship with each of the sheep saying that He calls them “by name”. He also gives the sheep credit for being able to “know” his voice. This means he is confident in their ability to distinguish his voice from other voices and to understand what he is saying to them. When he says “they follow me”, he expresses confidence that the sheep understand where he is going and will actually go there with him.
I’ve heard pastors use the first part of John chapter 10 to establish their authority as the shepherd that leads the flock. However, the first 5 verses of this chapter must be interpreted and applied in light of verse 6. In the first 5 verses, Jesus starts out speaking in the third person, using the phrase, “the man“. Verse 6 says “Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them“. So, because they did not understand what he had just said, in verse 7 he switched to first person and said it again. By switching from “the man” to “I am“, Jesus makes it clear that he is talking about himself, that he is the shepherd, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. It is a misuse of scripture for any individual to take what is communicated in John 10:1-5 and apply it to themselves, claiming ownership of the sheep, that their voice is the voice that the sheep know, that the sheep follow them, and depend on them to be led out. While it is Biblical that there are men called to shepherd God’s sheep, it is wrong to use John 10 to define the extent of how that ministry functions. Jesus makes it quite clear that the shepherd/sheep relationship described in John 10 is his and his alone.
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd… (John 10:14, 16 NIV)
There are many believers in many churches that have no idea they are called to live life knowing Jesus’ voice, listening to Him, being led out by Him, and going where He tells them to go. Not only do they lack the confidence to live this way they also lack the desire. How sad that they have forfeited this amazing sheep/shepherd relationship with Christ himself and have settled for depending on men. When God calls men to shepherd His sheep it is never with the intent that they stand in for Jesus, that they diminish in any way the personal connection and one-on-one leading the sheep are supposed to have with Jesus, the good shepherd.
What a wonderful and extraordinary thing God did when He sent the Holy Spirit to live within each and every born-again believer!
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 16:13 NIV)
While the Bible recognizes that some in the Body of Christ have a special grace to teach the word of God, it is also clear that every born-again believer has the God given ability to hear from the Lord and to be personally taught and led by the Holy Spirit.
“As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things… (1 John 2:27 NIV)
In the Old Testament there were only a select few that had the anointing of the Holy Spirit and everyone else depended on them to know about God and to get direction for their lives. This changes radically in the New Covenant and the scriptures make strong statements that clearly communicate this change.
No longer [as in the Old Testament] will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (Heb 8:11 NIV, brackets are mine)
Not only does the New Testament proclaim that each of us will personally understand God and His ways, it says that every believer will actually have a role in teaching each other.
When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church. (1 Cor 14:26 NIV)
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (Col 3:16 NIV)
This is totally different from the Old Testament when Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and the people waited down below for Moses to come tell them what God said, or when Moses went into the tabernacle to meet with God and they waited at the door of their tents for Moses to come tell them what God said. In the New Covenant there is no such thing as someone that acts as a mediator between us and God. The only mediator is Christ himself, and because of Him each and every believer has access to God and we are instructed to fully participate in this personal connection to the Lord.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Heb 4:14, 16 NIV)
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (Jas 1:5 NIV)
The Bible has a lot to say about how believers are to love and care for one another but many believers today have developed such a dependence on other people that they are unable to get strength, comfort, guidance, and wisdom directly from the Lord. The Holy Spirit wants to impact our life in very real and tangible ways. The scriptures refer to Him as the Counselor, the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of truth, the Spirit of revelation, the Spirit of knowledge, the Spirit of holiness, the Spirit of power, and the Spirit of life. The riches of God that are available to us through the Holy Spirit are absolutely amazing! However, each believer must make it their goal to pursue and depend on God, so that they are consistently being filled with His Spirit.
Jesus does not want us to just wander along with the flock, to periodically look around and feel safe and content just because we’re surrounded by other sheep doing the same thing we are doing. The scriptures instruct all of God’s people to be diligently seeking the Lord. Seeking the Lord is an ongoing, never ending quest that every follower of Christ should be given to. It goes beyond a quick 10 minutes spent knocking out the daily bible reading. It involves a substantial amount of quality time spent studying, pondering, and absorbing His word. It also involves time in prayer; not just praying a needs-based checklist, but time spent pursuing and waiting on God. Many believers struggle with even the basic concept of seeking and pursuing God because they have adopted the attitude that their church looks after them and will tell them what they need to know. The hunger and desire that should be the driving motivation for seeking the Lord is often weak and has not been encouraged or cultivated. Spiritual discipline is sadly lacking because they have not been challenged with the Biblical concept that all believers are called to diligently pursue the Lord.
Seek the LORD and His strength; Seek His face continually. (Psa 105:4 NASV)
This scripture does not tell us to “find” the Lord, it tells us to “seek” the Lord, because no matter how well we know Him, no matter how much He has done in our lives, there is always so much more. God calls us to be “continually” seeking more and more of Him; deeply grateful but never satisfied.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matt 7:7-8 ESV)
In the Greek, the words “ask”, “seek”, and “knock” are present imperatives that convey the idea of an ongoing action. So Jesus is telling us to keep asking, to keep seeking, and to keep knocking. We are called to a perpetual, ongoing, never ending quest of all that God is and all that He wants us to be.
Along with desire and discipline, faith is also crucial to seeking the Lord.
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Heb 11:6 NIV)
It pleases God when we seek Him, but without faith it is impossible to please God. We “must believe” that God will respond graciously when we seek Him; revealing Himself, drawing us close, and transforming us to be more like Christ.
I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. (Prov 8:17 ESV)
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. (Jer 20:13 ESV)
Several times in the scriptures we find prayers that Paul prayed for other believers. Since theses prayers are recorded in the Word of God we have confidence that they accurately express the heart of God for all believers.
We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. (Col 1:9 NIV)
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. (Eph 1:17 NIV)
These verses are not addressing church leaders or theologians or some super-elite class of believers, they are written to the church and they convey God’s desire and expectation for every believer. If you are a born-again believer, if you are a follower of Christ, you need the faith and confidence that you have been enabled by God to hear His voice and to be led by Him. You also need the conviction that this is supposed to happen; not only are you able to do this, you are supposed to do this.
The ultimate goal of having “the Spirit of wisdom and revelation” is that we “may know him better”. That we have a deep and intimate connection with the Lord that leads to an understanding of his ways. That we live in genuine communion with Him so that His will is understood and lived out in our daily lives.
…that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. (2 Thess 1:11 NIV)