“How Can We Distinguish a Good Shepherd from a Bad One?”

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John 10:1-11

One of the easiest things to do is to twist a scripture around to suit our own needs.

When we read Matthew 7:7, for example, it is tempting to mold the scripture around our own desires. If we look at the context of the passage, we understand that this scripture refers to the gospel message. However, if we look to our own fallen hearts, we might misunderstand the passage to be an invitation to “speak into existence” the things we want.

By doing this, however, we limit the nature of God to a subservient being who unthinkingly bows to our fallen desires; rather than a God who frees us from them.

Of course, our fallen nature prefers the twisted version of God; a truth that cult leaders and false teachers know all-too-well. Cult leaders and false teachers are renowned for molding God in the shape of our own desires. They play upon our desires for prosperity, security, and secret knowledge; using these desires to lead us astray.

None of us wants to fall victim to a false teacher, but how can we distinguish the genuine from the false? One true sign of a false teacher is originality. If a teacher boasts, “Only I can interpret the scriptures correctly,” they are almost certainly a false teacher.

Run far away from that teacher.

Scripture tells us that upon baptism, the Holy Spirit comes to live in us—regardless of our education, our age, or our charisma. It is the Holy Spirit—not our own desires or ingenuity—that reveals the true meaning of the scripture to us. God does not limit understanding to any one person.

Of course, this does not mean that all of the conclusions we reach while reading the Bible are “spirit led.” One way to know if we are reading the scripture correctly is to see if our understanding matches that of the faithful church throughout all of history. Another is to ask two very familiar questions:

  • What does this scripture tell us about the character of God?
  • What is the context of this scripture?

If we answer both these questions, the true meaning of the scripture will become clearer to us.

To understand the context of John 10:1-11, we must turn back to John 5. In John 5, Jesus heals a man who has been paralyzed for 38 years. Could you imagine how the man must have felt? For several years, this man had to beg in the street. He lacked everything—even someone “to help [him] into the pool when the water stirred.”

Then Christ healed him.

Although the man was ecstatic, the Pharisees were outraged: Jesus had worked on the Sabbath day. In fact, they became so upset that made plans to murder him.

We see this again in John 9 when Jesus heals a man who had been born blind. Instead of sharing the man’s joy, the Pharisees kicked the man out of the synagogue.  Again, the Pharisees are fighting God’s work rather than rejoicing in it.

Why?

In Ezekiel 34:2-4, God says:

“Woe to you shepherds of Israel who take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled over them harshly and brutally.”

This is God’s charge against the Pharisee, the cult leader, and the false teacher: that God entrusted them with his own flock, but they betrayed this trust to please themselves at the cost of the flock’s own well-being.

Cult leaders are famous for living in splendor while their followers barely scrape together money to send them. Several false teachers boast massive houses, expensive cars, and private helicopters. Some have even been accused of sexual and physical abuse!

These are the thieves and the robbers that Jesus refers to in John 10:1. Instead of entering through the door, these individuals try to lure the sheep to them by twisting the scripture. They do not come to care for the sheep; they come to care for themselves.

This leads us back to the first question: what does this scripture show us about the character of God?

John 10 is filled with descriptions of God’s character:

  • “I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9)

The function of a gate is to keep the wrong people out and allow the right people in. Jesus, then, is our protector.

  • “I am the good shepherd, I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:14)

First, Jesus reveals that he is not elusive: his sheep know him. It is possible for any of Jesus’ sheep to know him—truth is not limited to one person. The Holy Spirit reveals the truth to all who earnestly seek it.

Second, Jesus says that he is the good shepherd. This should remind us of Psalm 23, a scripture passage filled with a description of God’s character.

  • “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

The false teacher sacrifices the sheep for his own life; Jesus sacrifices his own life for the sheep. He is truly selfless.

The most important revelation of God’s character, however, can be found in verse 30. When Jesus refers to Ezekiel, everyone understands that he is claiming to be the Messiah. However, in verse 30, Jesus claims to be something more than the Messiah: he claims to be God.

Knowing this, then, what must we do?

When we look through this scripture, we will find that there are no direct commands. However, scriptures without direct commands are not scriptures without commands. If we read more about the context of the scripture, we can easily understand the indirect commands given in a passage.

For example, if we read Acts 20:28, Paul instructs us to “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Christ is the good shepherd, but he has called us to follow his example, caring for the sheep that he has entrusted us. This is the indirect command in John 10:1-11.

The question is not whether you wish to be a shepherd: regardless of your choice, Christ has entrusted people to you. He has given you family, friends, and co-workers that he trusts you will take care of in the same way that he cares for you.

The question is what we will do with these people. Will we follow the path of a false teacher and use these people to benefit ourselves? Or shall we follow Christ’s example? Knowing that God will destroy “the fat and the strong”, we should carefully consider our answer.

This entry was posted in Lectionary Year A and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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