Shepherds, Beware of Wolves
Scripture: Titus 1:10–16
Shepherds, Beware of WolvesTitus 1:10-16
Sunday, October 8, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith
One of the difficulties we have in understanding the Bible is our lack of familiarity with the culture in which it was written. We know very little about a first century lifestyle. We live in an age of microwave ovens, mutual funds and titanium golf clubs. They dove for pearls in the Mediterranean while we perform "cannonballs" sizing up the biggest splash. They repaired their dragnet while we seek to recover files from a "crashed" computer. They planted vineyards while we dust off our artificial geraniums.
In our metropolitan and technological mindset, we are clueless to events from the first century. But the Bible often ties a spiritual lesson to events well known in that culture. Hence, when we fail to understand their culture, we often fail to understand the Scripture.
But when we become acquainted with the ancient culture, the Scriptures unfold in a beautiful way. When go back to the first century, we see the intent of the original author. We are able to understand the meaning of the passage and then return to the twenty-first century and draw application appropriate for today.
A good example of this principle is the metaphor of shepherding. When I was in Armenia a few months ago, I was exposed to that profession as I often observed a man, usually with some instrument in his hand, guiding large herds of domestic animals. This occupation, still common today in the Middle East, has not changed much since the time of Jesus Christ. Since people in the first century were so exposed to shepherding, quite often in the Scripture we see the biblical writers employ this familiar concept as a teaching device to illustrate a spiritual truth.
The most popular example is found in John 10 when Jesus compared Himself to the Good Shepherd who tenderly loves and skillfully guides and if necessary lays down His life for the flock (Jn. 10:11). Another example is the repeated occurrences that identify God's people as a flock of sheep who require human leaders called shepherds or pastors (as we have learned the past few weeks).
So to understand these spiritual lessons, we must become more familiar with the role of a physical shepherd. The shepherd of animals had many responsibilities, but the one I wish to focus on this morning was his need to protect the flock.
One author wrote:
The Eastern shepherd was, first of all, a watchman. He had a watchtower. It was his business to keep a wide-open eye, constantly searching the horizon for the possible approach of foes. He was bound to be circumspect and attentive. Vigilance was a cardinal virtue. An alert wakefulness was for him a necessity. He could not indulge in fits of drowsiness, for the foe was always near. Only by his alertness could the enemy be circumvented.
There were many kinds of enemies, all of them terrible, each in a different way. At certain seasons of the year there were floods. Streams became quickly swollen and overflowed their banks. Swift action was necessary in order to escape destruction. There were enemies of a more subtle kind - animals, rapacious and treacherous: lions, bears, hyenas, jackals, wolves. There were enemies in the air; huge birds of prey were always soaring aloft ready to swoop down upon a lamb or kid. And then, most dangerous of all, were the human birds and beasts of prey - robbers, bandits, men who make a business of robbing sheepfolds and murdering shepherds. That Eastern world was full of perils. It teamed with forces hostile to the shepherd and his flock
Charles Jefferson, The Minister, p. 41-42
Add to all this the fact that sheep are by nature defenseless animals. They are utterly helpless without the aid of their shepherd. Listen to the account from author and sheep rancher, Phillip Keller:
It reminds me of the behavior of a band of sheep under attack from dogs, cougars, bears, or even wolves. Often in blind fear or stupid unawareness they will stand rooted to the spot watching their companions being cut to shreds. The predator will pounce upon one then another of the flock raking and tearing them with tooth and claw. Meanwhile, the other sheep may act as if they did not even hear or recognize the carnage going on around them. It is as though they were totally oblivious to the peril of their own precarious position.
Phillip Keller, A Shepherd Looks at the Great Shepherd and His Sheep, p. 25
Understanding the culture, let's now make the spiritual transfer:
God to Ezekiel, "Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel" (Eze. 3:17). Jesus told Peter to "shepherd My sheep" (Jn. 21:16). Later, Peter told his fellow elders to "shepherd the flock of God among you" (1 Pet. 5:2). Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood" (Ac. 20:28).
Just as physical sheep need physical shepherds to protect them from danger, God's spiritual sheep are also under constant attack. This calls for spiritual shepherds to oversee the flock (Tit. 1:7) through diligent and vigilant (Ac. 20:31) watchfulness and protection. And from the get-go I am here to tell you this morning that there are countless threats to the well-being of this flock.
My friends, if I would have heard that comment ten years ago I would have received it without an ounce of concern. I probably would have laughed it off as over-exaggerated hype. I mean, the church, the bride of Christ, how can we possibly have any dangerous people in our midst? Who would want to hurt the church? How effective could their tactics be? Everything seems fine to me?
A decade later, my attitude has definitely changed.
The Bible is chalked-full with people who have sought to destroy the work of God. It appears that every time the Spirit of God moves, there is hostile opposition. And every divinely appointed leader in Scripture had those who sought to derail the work of God by discrediting their ministry. Think about them: Moses, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Paul and especially Jesus Christ, faced repeated and gut-wrenching opposition for seeking to do the Lord's will. Occasionally, their opposition came from without, but most often the attacks on their character and on the flock they sought to lead came from within. Teammates, fellow-country-men, professing disciples, partners in ministry were their chief antagonists and greatest source of hostility. Are we naive enough to believe that the Grace Tabernacle and her leaders are exempt?
Beyond Scripture, personal experience and the testimony of other pastors has taught me that the greatest dangers to God's flock come from within - wolves disguised as sheep, just as Paul told those Ephesian elders in Acts 20. He said, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Ac. 20:29-30). That sounds like the words of Christ: "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Mt. 7:15). Therefore, Paul's words to the Romans: "Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting" (Rom. 16:17-18).
Do we believe the Word of God? Is this a wake-up call for some of us?
In guarding the flock, sometimes it is necessary to deal with the attacks from the world, but the majority of the time we spend at elder/deacons meetings are the efforts and prayer we put forth to protect this church from spiritual, emotional and physical harm brought by those who identify with us, or as Paul said in verse 16, "(Those who) profess to know God." With our front doors open to the world, we as your leaders are forever on the lookout making your safety a top priority every time you enter this building.
I dislike conflict. I would love nothing more than to bury my head in the sand, just teach the Bible and pretend in my little fantasy world that nothing would seek to harm this church. But experience and Scripture speak to the contrary. Because God is working here, Satan, more than anything else, wants to pull us down. And he will use whatever subtle and deceptive and cruel methods available at his disposal to accomplish his purposes. Dealing with these issues is often complex, controversial and explosive. Oftentimes we are misunderstood and maligned. But we as your shepherds are accountable to God to keep watch over you (Heb. 13:17). And we plan to do just that in obedience to our Lord regardless of the personal discomfort.
We affirm the words of John Stott: "(When problems arise we will not) sit idly by and do nothing or turn tail and flee (only to) earn the terrible epithet 'hirelings.' (We will not) abandon His sheep and leave them defenseless against the wolves to be like 'sheep without a shepherd.' (We will not be) content to see the flock scattered and individual sheep torn to pieces" (Stott, Ideals of Pastoral Ministry, p. 8).
God's sheepfold is under attack!
The times have not changed. Paul, in his letter to Titus, immediately warned his young spiritual son of these impending dangers and his need to take action.
You will remember that Paul left Titus on the island of Crete, verse 5, to "set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city." Then verses 6-9 outline the qualifications for these elders. The final verse in that section provides a smooth transition to our passages this morning. In verse 9 Paul said the elder must "(hold) fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict."
Today as we study verses 10-16 of chapter 1, we will see why an elder's character is so important and why an elder must be able to teach sound doctrine and refute those who contradict as verse 9 indicates so he can deal with wolves that intentionally or most often unwittingly seek to destroy God's sheep.
1. TEACH THE SHEEP
In order to protect the flock, verse 9 says the shepherd must be able to handle the word of God. He must be one who accurately interprets the Scripture and is able to present truth to the sheep without confusion, compromise and error. Just as a healthy sheep will be better prepared to ward off the attacks of disease and hostile animals, healthy Christians who have received their food from the Word of God will be better able to stand firm against spiritual opponents. They will be more equipped to discern false teaching, reject counterfeits and oppose falsehood. Their mind will be sharp and their spirits will be enlightened to resist every pull that gravitates them toward the domain of darkness. Understanding the truth makes it easier to expel error.
Therefore Titus was called to choose elders that were capable to exhort in sound doctrine. He was to look for guys who were trained and able to feed the sheep not through junk food, but through the nutritious proclamation of God's Word. Throughout the ages, a healthy pulpit is always necessary for a healthy church.
The church in Crete was fairly new. They were spiritually immature. And to add to the problem these people came out of a culture that was notorious for being grossly immoral. You can see in verse 12 that Paul quotes one of their own pagan prophets to testify to this blatant reality.
The man's name was Epimenides. And roughly six hundred years earlier this native of Crete said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." In the beginning of verse 13 Paul adds his affirmation: "This testimony is true!" Put all this together and you can see how the Cretan church was easy prey for spiritual wolves.
Therefore Titus himself and the men he selected for elders were to (verse 13) "reprove (the Cretan church) severely so that they may be sound in the faith." You see, verse 14 indicates that this church was "paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men (which was turning them) away from the truth."
So how could they be brought back to the truth? Answer: Teach them the truth. What is the truth? As Jesus said to the Father, "Your word is truth" (Jn. 17:17). How could they be sound in the faith? Answer: Verse 9, exhort them in sound doctrine (cf. Tit. 2:1; 7).
The best offense is a good defense. That is why one of the greatest ways a pastor can protect his flock from spiritual pitfalls is to faithfully teach the Word of God.
At times, this will require what verse 13 calls a "severe rebuke." But the shepherd's goal is never to hurt the flock, but only to lovingly prepare it for the inevitable dangers ahead often unknown to the sheep. Like a skilled surgeon, the cut is only intended to bring a greater good down the line. So as the church becomes more built up on the Word, she is better equipped to sustain the multi-faceted assaults from the enemy that seek to destroy the church and shipwreck their faith.
2. REFUTE THE WOLVES
The second defense against wolves in verse 9 is a direct confrontation. At times these people need to be approached with a gentle rebuke or polite appeal, but it may be as severe as the process of church discipline (Tit. 3:10) or requesting that such a person leave the church immediately.
You can see in verse 10 that Titus had some heavy opposition. In speaking of the situation on Crete, Paul said, "For there are many rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers." The young pastor had his work cut out for him. Is it any wonder that he needed to appoint some elders and appoint them immediately!
Since these three characteristics from verse 10 transcend time and so aptly describe people who endanger the flock, let's briefly look at them one at a time.
First, Paul says they are "rebellious." Most often this is the clearest identification of wolves. They are unteachable. They defy correction. They are a law unto themselves, unwilling to be subjected to any authority God has placed in their lives (2 Pet. 2:10; Ju. 8). As we learned last week they are "self-willed" (Tit. 1:7; cf. Ju. 12). They drive their own agenda.
Second, Paul says they are "empty talkers." In the words of Shakespeare, they are "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." They speak "empty chatter" (2 Tim. 2:16). They are as Jude said "clouds without water, carried along by winds" (Ju. 12). They may sound persuasive and contain some accuracy, but their talk is often empty and worthless in the administration of godliness (Tit. 3:9; 1 Tim. 1:4). Like Paul told Timothy, "(They are) conceited and understand nothing; but (they have) a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions, and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth" (1 Tim. 6:4-5a).
Third, Paul says they are "deceivers." This is their forte. Oftentimes they believe they are doing good but being greatly deceived themselves they are misled only to mislead others. Paul gave Timothy this same description that he gave Titus. "But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim. 3:13).
Another element that describes the character of spiritual wolves is their absence of spiritual fruit. Jesus told us we would know them by their actions (Mt. 7:15-20). Likewise Paul said in verse 16, "They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed."
Though the character of wolves is generally the same, the methods they employ to destroy the church often differ. Specifically, the men that needed to be confronted by Titus were introducing false teaching that was causing great harm. And though we know very little about them or their error, we do learn in verse 10 that they were "of the circumcision." And their teaching itself had a distinctly Jewish flavor because in verse 14 we read they were turning people away from the truth through "Jewish myths and commandments of men" (cf. 1 Tim. 1:3-7; 4:1-3; 6:4-6; 2 Tim. 4:4; Tit. 3:9). (This is also the reason for Paul's comments in verse 14 - also see Mk. 7:5-9).
What motivates these wolves is often the same. They are driven by their need for power, the need to control through intimidation, manipulation and exploitation. Specifically those in Crete were moved by the latter, by greed. As verse 11 says, they acted "for the sake of sordid gain."
Nevertheless, despite their character and their methods and their motivation, their results were the same. This is what makes them so dangerous. In verse 11 we read they were "upsetting whole families." They were "picking off" on individuals to the point that whole households were being ruined.
So what is the diligent and vigilant shepherd to do? Just sit back and watch whole families get destroyed? No, such a response is the action of a hireling seeking to protect his own hide (Jn. 10:12-13). The true shepherd, out of a sense of duty and love for the flock must respond. As Paul says at the beginning of verse 11, he must do whatever it takes through godly means to "silence them!"
My friends, I want you to see that no punches are pulled. There is a spiritual war going on. The church of Jesus Christ is under constant spiritual attack. And when it comes to dangerous people in our midst, we as your shepherds give it everything we've got to ensure your family is physically safe and you receive accurate biblical instruction across the board.
We find no pleasure in this difficult work and despite the slander, misunderstandings and confrontational encounters, we have the calling and authority from God (Tit. 2:15) to act in a responsible manner to silence such people.
And the mere fact that many of you feel safe in this church and are unaware of these issues is an indication (and I say this with humility) that we have proven faithful in this responsibility. Please don't think for a moment that the safe and peaceful environment you enjoy here at the Grace Tabernacle just happens by chance.
We must be aware of the battle. Satan wants you and he wants this church. There are warnings all over the Bible (2 Pet. 2:1-3). We are warned by Jesus Christ himself (Mt. 7:15). Do we for some reason believe we are exempt? Do we dare behave that foolishly? Do we pour contempt on the warnings in Scripture? Have we been deceived in this area?
Shepherds were necessary to watch over their physical sheep in the first century. God has appointed spiritual shepherds over His spiritual flock that must protect the sheep from wolves and other potential threats of danger. But most importantly, we have One that watches over the church in complete perfection. He is the One who guides and directs and sustains the church according to His perfect will. He is Jesus Christ, the ultimate shepherd who laid His life down for the sheep and one day will return to be physically with His sheep forever. We long for the day when the church triumphant will be eternally delivered from Christ's enemies. But for now we are the church militant, enlisted soldiers in the Lord's army called to stand united to promote peace within God's flock.