Jesus uses the Shepherd/Sheep analogy often in Scripture going into great detail in the Gospel of John. He does this because sheep and Christians have much in common and if we study sheep characteristics we gain insight into the beauty of being sheep in the loving care of our good shepherd. Very often we conclude the reason Jesus uses the sheep analogy is because of their apparent lack of intelligence and dependence, thus He is revealing our lack of intelligence and dependence on Him. However, our dependence is not based out of ignorance or blindness but out of knowledge and trust in Him. Sheep are dependent on each other and their shepherds but that does not make them unintelligent. It would appear ludicrous that God would spend so much time comparing us to sheep if the only thing we have in common is stupidity.
Sheep are actually ranked as the fifth most intelligent animal along with cattle, behind pigs, elephants, dolphins, and primates. Tests demonstrate sheep recognize individual human and sheep faces and can remember them for years. Sheep are able to differentiate emotional states through facial characteristics, have shown problem-solving skills, have been taught to learn their names, and can be trained to be led by a halter. Sheep have survived in the wild for a couple thousand years so they must be fairly intelligent animals. Likewise, Christians have great intelligence, discernment, good memory capability, problem-solving skills, and can be trained and equipped.
A study of a few of the similarities between sheep and Christians will allow us to embrace the depth of revelation to be garnered as the sheep of His pasture. Establishing the truth Jesus does not compare us to sheep because we are dumb and dependent will open our hearts, minds, and ears to hear further truths about sheep and increase our desire to live as His sheep.
One of the most obvious and major characteristics of sheep is their gregarious nature. They are friendly and social, enjoying living and growing together in small groups. They naturally flock together because sheep love sheep. Christians are gregarious by nature as well. As such, we are to experience a deep emotional and spiritual relationship with other Christians and with God. It is in our very nature to demonstrate love and affection one for another. People might claim they are not overtly affectionate and do not feel comfortable demonstrating love but Christians express love because God is love. Love is action, not simply an emotion. Love is our heritage, our DNA as followers of Christ. It is unacceptable and unnatural to be unloving or unfriendly Christians. If a sheep appears unfriendly, it is likely caused by an issue such as parasites or disease making them uncomfortable, thus unsociable. Healthy sheep are friendly, attracted to one another, desiring to flock together. Unfriendly Christians have issues, such as pride, depression, low self esteem to name a few making them uncomfortable thus unsociable. When they get healthy, they will be friendly, loving, and desire to be with other Christians.
Hebrews 10:24-25 identifies how God graciously designed us to be gregarious. “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” These Christians gathered together in one place – it was and is the assembly of Christians. We are to do the same today. Christians do not live in solitary confinement. Just as sheep gather together so do Christians.
We see flocking behavior for Christians exemplified again in Acts 2:41-47 “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
Look what happens when we act like sheep with gladness and simplicity of heart! The Lord will add to our number. Why? People will see our gladness, our prayers, our breaking of bread together, and our fellowship. They will be attracted to our gregarious nature. All who believed were together (in one place) and had all things in common. The Greek words for “common” and “fellowship” are “koinos” and “koinonia”. Koinonia is the intimate bond of fellowship which unites Christians, a community of people intimately sharing communally. Koinonia is used again in 1 John 1:7 “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” This is not casual acquaintance or once a week we get together and say “Good Morning”. This koinonia is the deep bond of fellowship we are to have with a group of Christians. Even a large herd of sheep will arrange themselves in smaller groups to flock together. In order for the church to be healthy and whole, we might need to get back to assembling ourselves as did the early church, and as sheep do in their pastures.
Just as sheep are gregarious, Christians should naturally experience koinonia. Our English language limits the depth of intimacy God speaks of in koinonia but let me try to paint a beautiful portrait of this lifestyle for you.
† Koinonia starts and continues with a deep, intimate, and continuing relationship with the Living Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
1 John 1:3 “…and truly our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” Philippians 2:1-2 “Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship (koinonia)of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.”
† We cannot experience genuine koinonia and love without engaging with God and with people; in other words, we cannot have a deep fellowship with God alone, abstaining from fellowship and loving His people.
1 John 4:7,11,20,21 “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” “If someone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him; that he who loves God must love his brother also.”
† We cannot experience authentic koinonia with people unless we continuously fellowship and grow in our relationship with God
1 John 4:8,19 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” “We love Him because He first loved us.”
† It is not enough to “know” about fellowship but we must “live” in this fellowship
Acts 2:41-47 (above)
Living in koinonia includes embracing who we are in Christ. If we only know about fellowship but do not embrace the “communal” aspects and the totality of living together, we will not experience Godly koinonia. We will embrace koinonia when we understand our unique personalities but do not hide behind them. Christians need not suffer from identity crisis. We are children of the living God, His sheep, His bride, His disciples, created in His image. We are not introverts, extroverts, shy, outgoing, quiet, reserved, sociable, or any other “labels”. We can know, accept, and appreciate the unique characteristics God created in us, but then allow Him to use those to benefit the flock. Hiding behind descriptors of our personality only inhibits our ability to be with people and influence others with the gospel message. Knowing we have “tendencies” does not eliminate our gregarious nature. In other words, having traits like quietness, reserved, or shy does not negate friendliness. Koinonia demands friendliness, demonstrations of love and sacrifice, and a necessity to die to self.
In order to live in fellowship, to live as the gregarious people of God, we must step out of our comfort zones and walk as sheep of His pasture. We must flock together and live in intimate unity with one another. Jesus rarely if ever allowed people to stay in their comfort zones. He said get out of the boat and come follow Me. He said lay hands on the sick and they will be made well. He said raise the dead. He said cast out those demons in My Name. He said set the prisoners free. Jesus never excluded any believer from these works based on their personality. Jesus never says, “Well, that is not your calling. I know you are shy and have a hard time talking to people, so for you, I make an exception.” Instead, He challenges us and demands that we love one another in word and deed but adds, “Follow Me. Do what I do! Say what I say! Go where I go! “
My husband likes to say to people, “God not only loves you, He likes you, and He is proud of you.” I would like to add a new phrase. “Sheep not only love one another, they like one another, and are proud of each other.” That my friends, is social responsibility! That is walking in our gregarious nature! Let us live as intelligent, gregarious sheep of His pasture! Completely dependent on our good Shepherd, fellowshipping with Him and each other, casting aside those things which inhibit us, and embracing an authentic life of love.