Most Christians know the 23rd Psalm in which we proclaim “The Lord is my shepherd….” We know He is our good shepherd but do we know ourselves as sheep? We can appreciate this metaphor in relation to Jesus because at least a shepherd is a human being. But we do not relate so easily to the image of ourselves as sheep, as animals, thus we do not often seek understanding as to why God calls us sheep or what we have in common with them.
One thing we know about sheep is they are fairly vulnerable animals, helpless for the most part to defend themselves alone therefore they flock as their main form of defense. They have many natural predators such as coyotes, wolves, dogs, bear, and foxes. They learn quickly to be cautious by staying together because of these predators, which is also the reason shepherds use dogs to control and lead sheep. Dogs are predators so sheep naturally move away from them.
An interesting thing happens however if sheep are kept in zoos or other controlled areas. When there is NO perceived danger sheep lose some of their flocking behavior, thus losing their main defense mechanism, numbers. Sheep have a “flight zone” which is basically the area surrounding them that when encroached upon will cause alarm and escape behavior. This is a great built-in safety precaution for sheep so they know to move away from predators. The tamer the sheep, the larger their flight zone becomes because they do not sense danger close by. But when tame sheep sense no danger for long periods of time their flight zone ceases to exist altogether. They come to trust their shepherd and flock which is great, but lose all awareness of predators which is not good because sheep are also apt to wander. With no flight zone, and no flocking behavior, they have no sense of caution, thus place themselves in danger’s way quite easily when they stray.
Christians, like sheep, are helpless if they are alone. We need to remain in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17) in His shelter (Psalm 61:3) and never forsake the assembling of the saints (Hebrews 10:25) where we fellowship and are safe. (Acts 2:42) It is in these places we gain strength and find our defense. We like sheep have a shepherd we come to trust (Jesus) and He provides under-shepherds (pastors). We have flocks (church families) we stay close to for protection, encouragement, and fellowship. In John 10:14 Jesus declares He is the shepherd and we are his sheep. “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own.” But like sheep, we must hear, follow, and stay close to our shepherd because we will go astray if we have our own way. (Isaiah 53:6) Do we live in this consciousness and alertness of communion with the shepherd of our souls and with the saints?
Christians have natural predators just like sheep. We have the devil as 1 Peter 5:8 clearly points out: “…your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” Then we have thieves, robbers, and wolves looking for us. John 10:8, 10, 12 “All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. ..and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them.” As long as we live on earth we have predators attempting to destroy and/or kill us, stealing and devouring our life in Christ. Do we live in awareness of these destroyers?
Sometimes we, like sheep, lose our “flocking” behavior if we perceive no danger. We distance ourselves from other Christians for various reasons, lessening our ability to resist evil. We have a flight zone as well, but ours is to be based on fellowship with light and darkness. Though we are light to the world and salt of the earth we are still to distance ourselves from evil. (Matthew 5:13-14)) We do not fellowship or become one with the evil in this world. (1 Corinthians 15:33-34, 2 Corinthians 6:14) This is a built-in, God-given safety precaution for children of God so we know to move away from evil and darkness. Like sheep, the more trusting we are of our shepherd, the more we believe nothing can hurt us. This is great unless we lose our awareness of predators who are seeking to devour us, because like sheep, Christians are apt to wander, especially if they are alone, opening ourselves to the wiles of the enemy.
In other words we are safe when we fellowship with the saints where Jesus is Lord of our lives, and at the same time, we are sober, alert, and watchful for the enemy. We do not do one without the other. Christians oftentimes seem unaware of our adversaries and ignorant of what they do to us. Because of this, Christians accept much evil such as disease, torment, and fear, believing it is just part of living in this sinful world because we do not recognize it as the influence of our enemies.
It is true that in this world we will have tribulations. Jesus says in John 16:33 “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” As Christians we experience peace IN Jesus while we live on earth because He has overcome the world. The tribulation Jesus is speaking of refers to burdens, oppression, and pressure; not disease, fear, and uproar. Jesus has overcome! This means we overcome the world as well because we are IN Christ Jesus. We are to be of good cheer, not be of pain and agony, just waiting for the blessed day we are free from the shackles of earth. We are free in Christ, right here, right now!
Could it be we are unaware of our natural predators and their influence because like tame sheep we have gotten comfortable in the church, or in our faith, have stopped being alert, and stopped gathering together with the body of Christ where there is strength in numbers? Has our acceptance of disease, fear, and tumult in our lives kept us so busy fighting these “things” that we no longer see the enemy who has brought them? When we errantly believe God has brought disease, fear, and the like into our lives, we cease to be sober and vigilant because we have resigned ourselves to whatever happens to us in this world, just happens.
As Christians there is never a time here on earth when our predators cease to exist. We are not to fear this truth, but we are to be aware of the enemy and their desire to devour. When we are knowledgeable of what comes from satan and what comes from God, we will heed God’s directive in 1 Peter 5:8 because we will stay alert for protective purposes. “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” To be sober means to be calm and collected in spirit, temperate, offering prayer continually, serious, thoughtful, objective, and not influenced by emotion or personal feelings. When we are sober, we will be unmoved by the enemies strategies, but most importantly we will recognize them and not pawn it off onto God.
Sometimes we take this verse to mean we are to look for our adversaries and what they are doing to us. But actually it is a warning to be vigilant over our own faith in Jesus Christ. We are to watch over and give strict attention to our relationship with Christ and His body of believers so we are not led astray, into temptation, sin, or unbelief by the devil.
Understanding we are like sheep, sometimes getting too comfortable, perhaps even lazy, forgetting we still have predators, will refocus us to live in the shelter of our Most High God and also be watchful to the end. Ephesians 6:18 “..praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”