A Shepherd looks at the GOOD SHEPHERD #6
And a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him: for
they known not the voice of strangers (John 10:5).
AFTER LONG AND intimate association sheep become beautifully
adjusted to their owner. They develop a touching and implicit
trust in him and only in him. Wherever he takes them they simply
"tag along" without hesitation. In quiet and uncomplaining
reliance upon him they accompany him anywhere he goes. In his
company they are contented and at rest.
This can be equally true in our Christian experience.
Unfortunately for many of us it is not always so. Despite the
tendency not to trust ourselves completely to Christ, there are
those occasional times when we have. Almost all of us have known
what a stimulating delight it has been to respond to the Master's
voice, to run to do His will, and thus discover His remarkable
provision for us. We call this living or walking by faith.
Because the world is so much with us and we are so much in
the world, our responses to Christ are not always as acute as
they could be. Because from early childhood we have been
conditioned to materialistic or humanistic or scientific
concepts, it is not always easy to distinguish God's voice from
the many other voices calling to us from the contemporary world.
Because we have been taught and trained to be busy, active,
energetic individuals, the main thrust of our times is to be
people "on the go." This is true even if we really don't have any
clear idea where we are going or what our ultimate destination
Modern man is often a frustrated, frantic, fearful person
racing madly on his own man-made treadmill. This is not just true
of the twentieth-century western world. It has ever been thus in
the history of our race. It matters not whether an individual's
life is spent in the feverish, high-pressure atmosphere of a
modern executive office in Manhattan or in the feverish, humid,
swamplands of the Amazon basin where a primitive hunter struggles
to survive. All men know something of the unremitting,
unrelenting fever of living.
And to all of us Christ comes with His incredible call,
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest" (Matt.11:28).
This invitation is not one to lethargy or indolence. It is
not a formula for opting out of life. It is rather the delightful
way of walking through the tangled turmoil of our times in quiet
company with Christ.
To put this down on paper is fairly simple. To put it into
daily practice is much more demanding and difficult. The reason I
say this is simply because it is not just Christ who calls us to
Himself. It is not just the Good Shepherd who invites us to walk
with Him in the paths of right living and right relationships. It
is not just the One who loves us deeply and desires our
companionship who would have us follow Him.
There are scores of foreign influences appealing to us. On
every side there are false pretenders to our ownership. We are
sometimes surrounded by counterfeit "shepherds" who would have us
believe they have our best interests at heart. When, in reality,
they are predators disguised in various cloaks of respectability
bent on our destruction. In some cases they are already among us,
parading themselves as one of our own, while at the same time
plotting our ruin.
In the Scriptures they have been given various names. In the
Old Testament they are referred to frequently as "the shepherds
which feed themselves and not the flock." Our Lord called them
"false prophets" or "wolves in sheep's clothing." Elsewhere they
are called "dogs" who devour the sheep.
In some cases these "strangers" have occupied places of
prominence in our society. They may be preachers, teachers,
writers, lecturers, broadcasters, or people of great influence
posing as our protectors. Some may well go beyond even this and
parade themselves as "saviours" to their fellowmen. They invite
their contemporaries to come along with them and follow in their
To a much lesser degree, but just as dangerous, are those
common people who in their own quiet, subtle way insinuate
themselves into our intimate circle of companions. They may be
members of our family, among our friends, in the societies we
join, in our business world, amid professional people, or even in
It requires constant alertness on our part not to be
victimized by imposters. We simply cannot afford to follow
strangers if we are to survive as contented Christians who are
attuned only to the call of our Master.
It may seem to the reader that this point is being unduly
labored here. But the simple fact is that it is literally
impossible to live in serenity of soul if we are torn between
trying to follow conflicting calls at the same time. Our Lord was
blunt about this. He stated emphatically, "No man can serve two
masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or
else he will hold to the one, and despise (ignore) the other"
Too many of us have tried too long to make the best of both
worlds. We have tried to live with one foot following Christ and
the other following the false ideas and teachings of our times.
And the plain position which the Good Shepherd takes is a simple
one: "My sheep - those who know Me - simply will not follow
strangers." How easy it sounds; how difficult to do!
It is, of course, outside the scope of this book to list or
even enumerate the false ideologies, misleading concepts,
damaging philosophies, and strange teachings which are so much a
part of the contemporary scene. They proliferate on every side.
They are spewed out in floods of printed matter, in radio
broadcasts and television shows that now engulf the entire planet
- to say nothing of the person to person contacts.
But broadly all of these strange and false concepts are
based on the following themes.
1) Humanism. Man is master of his own destiny. He is the supreme
being in the universe. There is no superior power or intelligence
to which he need appeal.
2) Materialism. The chief end of life is the attainment and
acquisition of tangible values. The measure of a man's success is
not the quality of his character but the quantity of things he
has accumulated, or knowledge (human) he has acquired.
3) Scientism. Only that which can be subjected to the scientific
method of examination is real. It must be evaluated empirically
on the basis of our five fallible finite senses. Any dimension of
divinity or deity is ruled out as invalid.
4) Atheism. Insists that there cannot be such a Being as God. All
that exists does so by pure chance. Existence which is
evolutionary has neither purpose nor meaning nor direction.
5) Religionism. Man's blind, unguided groping after God. The wild
guessing at what God may be like. An abortive attempt to
interpret the character and conduct of God from the distorted
viewpoint of a man still in the darkness of his own sin and
6) Spiritism. All of the occult, including demonism and satanic
emulation. This includes all aspects of contact with the realm of
evil spirits in opposition to God our Father, God the Son, Jesus
Christ, and ... the Holy Spirit.
7) Higher Criticism. In Christian circles it denies: the
authenticity of God's Word, the deity of Christ, the necessity
for the redemption and reconciliation of sinful men to a loving
If and when we detect these notes sounding in the voices
which call to us as Christians we should be on guard at once.
Paul, with his brilliant intellect, broad background of
education, and enormous spiritual perception warned the church at
Colossae: "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and
vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of
the world, and not after Christ" (Col.2:8).
Apart from the falsity of strange and unfamiliar teaching
there is a second way in which God's people can reassure
themselves that these imposters are in fact false shepherds. That
is by the actual character and conduct of their lives.
Invariably a man or woman lives what he or she truly
believes. Our lifestyle is an unconscious reflection of our inner
convictions, and inevitably it will be found that the behavior
pattern of the so-called "false shepherds" - "false prophets" -
wolves in sheep's clothing" will be a dead giveaway as to who
they really are.
Put in the language of Scripture we say, "By their fruits ye
shall know them." No matter how smooth, subtle, or reassuring
their words or manner may be, ultimately it is the quality of
their lives which will declare their true identity.
As Christians we are wise to not only examine carefully the
content of the voice we are called by, but also the character of
the one who calls to us. A person's words may drip with honey but
be potent poison coming from a corrupt conscience.
It is true we may be likened to sheep because of our mob
instincts. But we need not be always ignorant, dumb sheep. If we
have heard and known the delight in our Shepherd's voice; if we
revel and rejoice in His companionship, we are worse than fools
if we do not flee from strangers to Him.
Sheep are among the most timid and helpless of all
livestock. Though they will often hammer and batter each other,
both rams and ewes, they will run in panic from the least threat
of unknown danger. I have seen an entire flock rush away in blind
fear simply because one of them was startled by a rabbit bursting
out from beneath a bush.
Yet, in a peculiar manner they will sometimes stand still
and stare blankly when a powerful predator comes among them. They
will huddle up in tight, frightened little knots, watching dumbly
while one after another of the flock is torn to pieces by the
wolf, bear, leopard, cougar, or dog that may be ravaging them, or
similarly they may be stolen by rustlers.
The only sheep that have any chance to escape are those that
flee for their lives. They must get out of danger. There is
simply no other hope of survival. Somehow they must separate
themselves from the attacker who would destroy them.
Our Lord knew all this. He was thoroughly familiar with the
hazards of sheep management. No doubt many of the shepherds who
had come to His carpenter's shop in Nazareth to have Him build
tables and benches for their humble homes had regaled Him with
tales about the terrible losses they suffered from predators and
This is one of the favorite topics of conversation for sheep
men. And always, in the end, they know that the only place of
safe protection for the sheep is close to the shepherd himself,
within earshot of his voice.
The voice that is such an assurance to them is at the same
time a terror to their enemies. That voice, which speaks of
safety and well-being in the Master's care, instills fear and
respect in the raiders.
To thrive and flourish, the sheep have to be ever under the
sound of that familiar, friendly voice. To be lured away or
distracted by any other is to face utter destruction or complete
When I was an impressionable young man, one of the jobs
given to me was to paint a huge building. At that time, because
of a tempestuous boyhood and great adversity in my late teens, I
was bitter and hostile toward society. My early life had been a
tough struggle to survive amid severe hardships. So my mind was
fertile ground for subversive ideas.
Working with me on the big barn, teaching me the tricks and
skills of painting, was an old master craftsman. He was a Swede
and an excellent painter. But he was also an ardent and avowed
revolutionary. Day after day, sitting side by side high on the
swing stage, he poured his subversive propaganda into my
It remains a miracle that my entire life was not destroyed
by that invidious, crafty campaign. But some twelve thousand
miles away, half way around the world, my dear mother, widowed
and lonely, poured out her soul in tears that her wayward son
would be spared from the snares and attacks of the enemy. And one
day, unable to endure the perverse propaganda poured into my ears
by the old painter, I went to my boss and demanded another job
where I could work alone. I wanted to be free. I wanted to flee
from my foe. Something about that smooth, subtle voice of
destruction alerted me to my mortal danger.
I give God thanks that other work was provided for me. It
was possible to separate myself from the one who would have
ruined me. To flee from a strange voice that brought foreign and
damaging ideas was my only salvation.
Later in life, when my own children were teenagers, soon to
leave home, I counselled them to do the same. Whenever they found
themselves in the company of those who were not God's people, who
were endeavoring to destroy them, there was one simple solution:
"Just get out of there." "The sheep will flee from strangers for
they do not know their voice."
It is not weakness to do this. It is wisdom. Most of us, sad
to say, simply are not skilled enough nor astute enough to match
wits with our opponents. We are not sufficiently familiar, nor
can we be, to fully understand or master all the devious and
destructive devices of false philosophies, cults, religions, and
ideologies of our modern world.
But what we can do is to become so grounded in God's Word,
so familiar with our Master's voice, so attuned to His will and
wishes, so accustomed to His presence, that any other voice
alerts us to danger. It is a question of having our souls and
spirits in harmony with His. It is a matter of living in close
communion with the Shepherd of our lives. Then, and only then,
will the threat of strange voices be recognized.
This does not mean that if I live in an environment or
culture where one or two false philosophies predominate I am to
remain ignorant of them. No, I will learn all about their
insidious tactics to take God's people unawares. And in my
alertness to their depredations I may well save both myself and
others from their ravages.
Engaging the enemy in endless disputes and arguments seldom
achieves anything. Paul was aware of this when he wrote to his
young protege, Timothy. Over and over he advised him against
becoming embroiled in unprofitable debates with those who posed
pointless and false issues.
What Christ asks us to do as His followers is to concentrate
on keeping close to Him. Our major distinctive as His disciples
should be the unique life we have because of our intimate
association with Him. He resides with us and in us. We likewise
live with Him and in Him. Therein lies our strength, our
serenity, our stability, and our safety. There is simply no
substitute for this wondrous relationship with Him in a warped
His audience of that day, except for the young man born
blind, and the young adulteress, whose lives He had entered, just
could not understand what He said. Nor can most of our
To be continued