Throughout God’s Word, the Scriptures, God speaks tough and tender words to his people. He curses and he blesses. His words kill and his words give life. He speaks law from Mount Sinai when He gave Moses the Commandments and he speaks gospel from Golgotha when Jesus died on the cross. This balance between tough and tender speech is rooted ultimately in the character of God himself. Subsequently, Paul calls the church at Rome to consider both the kindness and the severity of God Romans 11:22(HCSB)22 Therefore, consider God’s kindness and severity: severity toward those who have fallen but God’s kindness toward you—if you remain in His kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. Tender words and tough words, spoken in love, fill the pages of the Bible. These words are a gracious gift because they reveal to us the fullness of God so that our speech may echo his. In order to inform and transform our words, we will examine the Word of God to hear his tender and tough words to sheep,goats, swine, wolves, dogs, and shepherds.
The problem seems to be that some go too far, and some don’t go far enough. Some people won’t fight for anything. Some fight for everything.
Christians are to feed the sheep.
Jesus dealt with different people differently, He was harsh to the Pharisees & false teachers(wolves), He was tender to the people(sheep) and he was stern with His disciples. We deal with different people differently, and we have to discern who goes into what category. When we’re dealing with Christians, the effort should be to love, encourage, grow them.
Sheep are the most frequently mentioned animal in all of Scripture. Ezekiel 34:1-6(HCSB)The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy, and say to them: This is what the Lord God says to the shepherds: Woe to the shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding themselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds feed their flock? 3 You eat the fat, wear the wool, and butcher the fattened animals, but you do not tend the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bandaged the injured, brought back the strays, or sought the lost. Instead, you have ruled them with violence and cruelty. 5 They were scattered for lack of a shepherd; they became food for all the wild animals when they were scattered. 6 My flock went astray on all the mountains and every high hill. They were scattered over the whole face of the earth, and there was no one searching or seeking for them.
Ezekiel 34 is arguably the most comprehensive section in all of Scripture on sheep, false shepherds, true shepherds, and God as the Shepherd. Sheep are consistently portrayed there in less than powerful and awe-inspiring depiction. Sheep are prone to wander because they are foolish. Sheep are prone to follow false shepherds and be led astray because they are not discerning. Sheep are prone to get pushed around, leaving them hungry, thirsty, and weary. Sheep are so defenseless that they are commonly wounded and killed without even putting up a fight. The Bible is clear that Christians are sheep.
Perhaps the most clearly direct words for sheep is found in
Ephesians 4:29–32(ESV) Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
This section of Scripture is incredibly important because it reveals how sheep are to speak to other sheep and how shepherds are to speak to sheep, including tone and content. Paul’s phrase “one another” reveals that; however, there are Christians who would make these the defining marks of all true godly speech. Besides sheep & goats, the Bible also speaks of swine, wolves, and dogs. Thus, any attempt to require that every Christian speak to everyone as if all are a sheep is unbiblical. Why? Because not everyone is a sheep.
Our modern world is a very different world than the agricultural world of the Bible. This difference in lifestyles puts those of us who grew up in cities at a disadvantage when it comes to fully understanding some of Christ’s parables or biblical metaphors. We simply lack the background to truly understand it. For instance, the Bible’s use of goats and sheep as metaphors for Christians is beyond many of us. Most of us in the church seem to be more familiar with sheep. We hear a great deal about them in sermons and their attributes are fairly common knowledge: Christ is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep
John 10:14-15(HCSB)“I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me, 15 as the Father knows Me, and I know the Father. I lay down My life for the sheep.
We know many of the traits of sheep through studies into Psalm 23 and John 10.
Psalm 23:1-4(HCSB)The Lord is my shepherd;there is nothing I lack.2 He lets me lie down in green pastures;He leads me beside quiet waters.3 He renews my life;He leads me along the right paths for His name’s sake.4 Even when I go through the darkest valley,I fear no danger,for You are with me;Your rod and Your staff—they comfort me
But our mental picture of goats is usually vague. We may think they regularly eat soup cans and ram into people. We will see that the attributes of goats, however, should not to be taken lightly.
God uses the goat to symbolize evil in numerous instances in the Bible. In Zechariah 10:3 (NKJV)“My anger is kindled against the shepherds,And I will punish the goatherds.For the Lord of hosts will visit His flock,The house of Judah, And will make them as His royal horse in the battle.
Matthew 25:31-34(HCSB)31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and the Goats tells of His return and of judging the nations. Jesus begins the parable by saying it concerns His return in glory to set up His kingdom (verse 31). All those on earth at that time will be brought before the Lord, and He will separate them “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left” (verses 32-33).
The sheep on Jesus’ right hand are blessed by God the Father and given an inheritance. The goats on Jesus’ left hand are cursed with eternal hell-fire, “prepared for the devil and his angels” Matthew 25:41(HCSB)Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!
Hell was not intended for human occupancy, it was intended for the occupancy of Satan and the fallen angels. Our unwillingness to submit and depart from sin allows us to ride the coat tails of Satan and the demons straight into Hell.
Jesus then ends the discourse with a contrast: “They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” Matthew 25:46(HCSB)“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The sheep are then given eternal life, but the goats are cast into the Lake of Fire. It should be abundantly clear from this section of Scripture that we want the attributes of sheep and not those of goats!
The core message of the Parable of the Sheep and Goats is that God’s people will love others. Good works will result from our relationship to the Shepherd. Followers of Christ will treat others with kindness, serving them as if they were serving Christ Himself. The unregenerate live in the opposite manner. While “goats” can indeed perform acts of kindness and charity, their hearts are not right with God, and their actions are not for the right purpose – to honor and worship God.
What is it about goats that causes God to use them in such a negative light? Goats have many admirable qualities. They are intelligent, sensitive, playful, quick to respond to individual attention and affection. Sounds good, right?
But wait, there is much more! Goats are inconsistent. They are impulsive and unpredictable & devious. When they are grazing, it is not unusual to see several with their heads through a fence, straining to reach the grass that is always greener on the other side!
Non-shepherds find it difficult to distinguish such sheep and goats, but the shepherd knows the difference and easily separates them. For example, there are differences in behavior: sheep tend to follow; goats go their own way. Hebrews 13:20(HCSB)20 Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep—with the blood of the everlasting covenant, At the judgment, the Great Shepherd will know the difference and will separate those who followed Him from those who went their own way.
John 10:25-28(HCSB) 25 “I did tell you and you don’t believe,” Jesus answered them. “The works that I do in My Father’s name testify about Me. 26 But you don’t believe because you are not My sheep.27 My sheep hear My voice, I know them, and they follow Me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. No one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.
Differences between sheep and goats
1. Sheep eat grass and a few select herbs. – Spiritual sheep graze on the pure word of God and a few select books, websites and sermons. They are very careful to take in those things that will enhance their understanding of God, not interfere with it.
Goats will nibble on grass and herbs and weeds and trees and paper. – “Goats” will “eat” any thing.
2. Sheep will not try fences,They are content with what they have.
Goats are difficult animals to keep in. they will go under or over or through most any fence, unless of course they decide to just open the gate. Spiritual goats are always trying the boundaries; always trying to see how close to the edge they can get. They are not content with the boundaries placed by God in their lives.
3.Sheep have 1-3 babies at a time. They keep their babies by their side at all times, nursing them frequently. A mama sheep isn’t much of a threat to any predator, but she will stand and fight to the death to protect her baby.
Goats have many babies (2-5) at a time. They leave them for long periods of time coming back only to nurse a couple of times a day. If a predator comes it may fight the predator, But if it comes to a choice between her baby and her own life, she will run away; abandon her kids.
We should be spiritual sheep when caring for our spiritual lambs.
We should “mother” our new converts like sheep.
We should become a part of their lives, helping them to learn to “eat” the pure Word of God.
We need to teach them the dangers of “eating” the wrong things and trying the boundaries.
We should defend them from Satan to the death.
By now, a goat’s characteristics should be clear. They are not evil, but some of their traits could be deadly—spiritually—if found in a Christian. What would we call a Christian who is unpredictable? A goat! Or one who thinks he is above it all? A goat! Or one who independently does his own thing? A goat! What would we call a Christian who wants to take over, has trouble functioning in a group, and does not want to be led? A goat!
Goats in a congregation tend to divide it, leading the sheep astray.
Many of us probably have goat-like characteristics. Some good, some bad. Most of us know these things about ourselves, and we try hard not to admit them. But now that we understand the biblical metaphor about goats, and what Christ says their ultimate end will be, we can look on this side of ourselves in a more urgent light.
Jesus gave Peter a three-fold command to “feed my sheep” in
John 21:15-17(HCSB)15 When they had eaten breakfast, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”
“Feed My lambs,” He told him.
16 A second time He asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said to Him, “You know that I love You.”
“Shepherd My sheep,” He told him.
17 He asked him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Peter was grieved that He asked him the third time, “Do you love Me?” He said, “Lord, You know everything! You know that I love You.”
“Feed My sheep,” Jesus said. . Each time Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” it was in response to Peter’s three-fold declaration of love for Jesus. The setting was one of the last of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to His disciples on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus prepared a breakfast of fish and bread for them, and then commissioned Peter with the task of feeding His sheep and tending His lambs. Jesus is both our Good Shepherd and the Door of the sheepfold. By describing His people as lambs, He is emphasizing their nature as immature and vulnerable and in need of tending and care.
The second time, the literal meaning is “tend My sheep” (v. 16). In this exchange, Jesus was emphasizing tending the sheep in a supervisory capacity, not only feeding but ruling over them. This expresses the full scope of pastoral oversight, both in Peter’s future and in all those who would follow him in pastoral ministry. Peter follows Jesus’ example and repeats this same Greek word poimaino in his first pastoral letter to the elders of the churches of Asia Minor: 1 Peter 5:2 (ESV)“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers”
The third time, the literal translation is “pasture (tend) the sheep” (v. 17). Here Jesus combines the different Greek words to make clear the job of the shepherd of the flock of God. They are to tend, care for, and provide spiritual food for God’s people, from the youngest lambs to the full-grown sheep, in continual action to nourish and care for their souls, bringing them into the fullness of spiritual maturity. The totality of the task set before Peter, and all shepherds, is made clear by Jesus’ three-fold command and the words He chooses.
What is this food with which shepherds are to feed the flock of God? It can be no other than the Word of God. Peter declares that Christians are to desire the pure spiritual milk of the Word so that by it, we can mature in our salvation.
1 Peter 2:2(HCSB)2 Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation,. As early as the book of Deuteronomy, we see the Lord describing His Word as food for His people who live not by bread alone, but by every Word that proceeds from His mouth (Deuteronomy 8:3). Jesus reiterates this thought in His temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:4). The importance of the Word of God as food for our spirit cannot be over-emphasized.
Clearly, the job of the shepherds of God’s people is to provide them with the pure milk of the Word of God so they can move on to the meat and solid food of the spiritually mature (Hebrews 5:13-14(HCSB)13 Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Pastoral ministry should be primarily one of pastors feeding their people the Word of God. Only then can pastors declare, as Peter did, their love for the Lord Jesus.
We see this in the ministry of Jesus. He speaks to the woman at the well in a loving way. Jesus speaks like this to Zaccheus. Romans 14 shows us this as well. Paul says “It doesn’t matter what you eat or don’t eat. Love your brother.”
Ephesians 4:32 (ESV) “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” This is speaking of sheep. We’re NOT supposed to be kind to wolves or false teachers,swine,or dogs. We’re not to be kind to those speaking false doctrine. Some Christians, when you begin to critique others, quote Ephesians 4:32. We are supposed to be kind, but to one another. We are not to be kind to wolves. The importance of being under a solid leader who preaches just the Word, one that doesn’t put opinions in the Word or taint the Word, or proof texts the Word,One that encourages you and equips you to read and understand the Word is that when the Wolves or the False teachers come in you can discern the truth. Pastors(used that term loosely) that are too afraid to shoot the wolves or call them out are nothing more than hired hands, they are false teachers.
John 10:11-13(HSCB)11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. 13 This happens because he is a hired man and doesn’t care about the sheep.
So when the Bible commands pastors to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:1–3), the expectation is that loving, patient, kind, devoted, and humble shepherds will give their lives to care for their flock like Jesus Christ the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). The Gospels continually report how Jesus shepherded with loving honesty and gracious empathy. In John 4 he sat down at a well with a perverted, outcast Samaritan woman to care for her when no one else would. Similarly, Paul demonstrates the tender care of a good shepherd throughout his ministry.
A Christian cannot stand still, yet not all movement is proper growth. A Christian’s life must move in the right direction, along the path that leads to the Kingdom of God. We do not want to be sidetracked, to follow a road of our own choosing, on a whim or out of stubbornness or independence.
A sheep follows its Shepherd, peacefully moving forward with the flock. He is content to be led because he has faith in Him. A sheep responds to his Shepherd’s voice and goes where He directs.
A goat follows only its own lead, creating disunity when he comes in contact with others in the flock. Because of his independent nature, he often finds himself in contention with the Shepherd for leadership of the flock, leading some astray. A goat often eats things sheep would avoid because they have no value and cause sickness. These are serious spiritual characteristics. Which are you, a sheep or a goat?