Sheep Shepherding Sheep
Scripture: James 5:19
Sheep Shepherding SheepJames 5:19
Sunday, February 5, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith
For the longest time the most well-known Bible verse among unbelievers was John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." Now, the most well-known verse is Matthew 7:1: "Do not judge so that you will not be judged."
"Do not judge so that you will not be judged." On its face value I personally have no problem with that. As long as it doesn't bother me, I could care less if my neighbor is gay or has sixteen dogs or chooses not to work or cuts his grass in his dress socks or paints his house pink or watches X-rated movies. All the power to him, right? And this is what the world is ultimately pushing for! Even on moral issues, "I live my life and you live your life!" And to take it a step further, "I will accept the things you do and you must accept and approve the things I do." No one judging. No accountability. No universal standard of right and wrong. Blanket approval for all thoughts and behaviors.
Sounds fair, but it will not take long if you are a Christian to start struggling with this way of thinking. If we accept the biblical fact that only Jesus Christ died for sin, rose from the dead and made the only possible way to the Father, how can we sit back and watch people run headlong into their own eternal destruction because we do not want to judge them for worshipping the stars? The question is not, "Who am I to judge?" The question is, "Will I love these people enough to tell them the truth?"
The same attitude applies for those within the church. There is a point when judging people on nonbiblical issues is sinful, but what about the times when a brother or sister in Christ is violating a clear biblical command and we are made aware of the issue? Do we not judge them and allow them to continue in destructive behavior (the proverbial kid is playing on the GSP, but who am I to tell him he is wrong?), or do we speak with them allowing the Word of God to share its verdict? Which one is more loving? That is the question we need to address before we go to the Lord's Table this morning.
As we enter the final sermon from the book of James, we have been learning about some core issues in the Christian life. Perhaps more than any other biblical book, James has been giving us command after command as to how we are to conduct ourselves as Christians. This is how we are to live. But what do we do when we have a professing believer in the church failing to live this way? Again, do we refuse to "judge?" Do we let the pastors take care of this issue? Or do we each have a responsibility to be our brother's keeper? James will answer that question in the final two verses of this letter. Let's go to the Word of God.
1. THE WANDERING SHEEP
We begin with the first point, "The Wandering Sheep."
We must see right away that James is clearly talking about others in the church, others in the flock of God. The flow of thought makes this clear. Verse 13, "Is anyone among you suffering?" Verse 14, "Is anyone among you sick?" And now verse 19, "If any among you strays from the truth."
These are Christian responsibilities to other Christians. And regarding verse 19 in particular, we are not talking about people from outside the church that need to come to Jesus Christ. Here we are talking about people within the church that have apparently received Jesus Christ ("the truth") and have deviated from their fellowship with Him. They professed faith, potentially even joined the church, and now they have or are in the process of straying from the flock.
The word in the original Greek text for "wandering" (NIV) is "planao." It is from where we derive the English word, "planet." Back in antiquity people would gaze up and observe the planets move all over the evening sky. One day Venus is here. Another day it is over there. Another day it is gone. "Planao," the planets as they ran their orbits appeared to be wandering.
Throughout history, God's children have done the same. One minute he's hot for God. Then he shows up once a month. Then he leaves the church. James is not addressing one who commits a single sin. James is addressing one who has committed the greatest sin, apostasy, a defection from the faith they once professed, a sheep that has wandered away from the flock.
To some degree we are all guilty of this and apart from God's grace all of us could totally defect from the faith.
Robert Robinson captured it so well in his classic hymn:
Oto grace how great a debtor
Daily I'm constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander - Lord I feel it -
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart - O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
So I suppose we need to look first at ourselves. The third word in on verse 19 is the word "if." This is a real possibility! We know of the parable of the four soils (Mt. 13:1-9; 18-23). Many received Jesus, but only one out of four remained. John 6:66 informs us that there came a point in our Lord's ministry when "many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore."
So is there anything in our personal lives that indicates that we are not remaining with Jesus? Are we growing in our faith? Are we bearing fruit? Are we right now deeply implanted in the flock of God? Are we taking our marching orders from our Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ? He told us how we can know: "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine" (Jn. 8:31).
Is your life right now lining up with Scripture? Are you serious about applying the Word of God? If there is anything less, you are in a position of extreme danger!
2. THE REDIRECTED SHEEP
Let's move to the second point, "The Redirected Sheep."
So what do we do if we become aware of someone in this position of spiritual defection from God seen in his or her spiritual defection from the flock? Again, pretend you are a literal sheep. You know the other sheep in your fold. Over time you observe one of the sheep wandering from the shepherd and the rest of the flock. The sheep is in danger. Do you have a loving responsibility to bring the sheep back, or is that solely a burden placed on the shepherd?
Let's see what the Scripture says. Verse 19, "My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back." The people addressed? "My brethren." That's all of you! The problem? A wandering sheep from the fold. The people addressed again, "And one [of you]." Again, that's all of you! And the intention? To "turn him back." To redirect the wandering sheep back into the fold.
The point is this: You have a responsibility for your spiritual health and also the spiritual health of those around you. And since you know there is nothing more tragic than someone walking from the Lord, in love and gentleness you have a responsibility to go to them because I can tell you right now, in their condition they probably aren't going to be coming to you (unless it is to complain)!
Remember the words from our Lord? "What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying?" (Mt. 18:12).
Who exemplified this better than Jesus Christ? During His trials and crucifixion no one was more confused than the disciples. There was fear. There was doubt. The Shepherd would be struck and the sheep would scatter (Mt. 26:31b; cf. Zech. 13:7). Jesus even predicted it in advance: "You will all fall away because of Me this night" (Mt. 26:31a).
As you know the men were hiding for their lives. Peter even denied Jesus three times. Jesus said to him, "Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat" (Lk. 22:31). But then those classic words, "But I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again ["epistepho" - same word as in James 5:19], strengthen your brothers." In my own words, "Peter, you will come back and when you come back, turn your fellow disciples back to the flock as well."
Paul put it like this in Galatians 6:1, "Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted."
Among many other reasons, this is why we are doing the "Friendship Cards." As the chief undershepherd, I take this command very seriously. I am accountable to God for you (Heb. 13:17). I told you about a man who was backsliding and missing church, and then when he returned he rebuked me for not calling him. The problem was, I never knew he left! That is my fault! It is not because Pastor Randy is trying to build his little clubhouse; it is because Pastor Randy loves you and wants to help you when you place yourself in a position of danger. And I sadly admit, oftentimes I feel like I want it more for you than you want it for yourselves!
1 John 1:6, "If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth" (cf. Gal. 5:7). So when you observe someone straying from the truth, would you please realize that they are straying from Jesus Christ who is the truth (Jn. 14:6), and we are to bring them back using the Word of truth (Jn. 17:17).
3. THE HAPPY SHEEP
And what is the result when a sheep is turned back? Let's move to the fourth point, "The Happy Sheep."
Verse 20, "Let him know that he who turns ["epistepho"] a sinner from the error of his way" (stop right there). A person is in spiritual danger. Someone goes to him or her in love with the Scriptures. And the individual repents and returns to the fold. And what just happened? Verse 20 says this blessed result "will save his soul from death." We are talking about the potential of spiritual death (Jas. 1:15), hell, a soul's eternal separation from the benevolence of God.
The early church dealt with the same problem of people leaving the faith. The apostle John made these noteworthy comments: "They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us" (1 Jn. 2:19). When these people defected from the Lord, it showed they were never with the Lord in the first place.
When people demonstrate a repeated pattern of loving their sin more than loving Christ, we have a serious problem on our hands. They are giving an indication to themselves and others in the church that they are potentially not children of God. Of course only God knows the reality of that, but we do know what the Scripture teaches when people live in unrepentant sin, Galatians 5:21, "that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."
So when we see a teenager running for the crack house, we are not going to sit back. When we see a child running for the traffic, we are not going to sit back. And when we see someone who professes Jesus Christ running for hell, in love I hope we care enough to do something!
The second benefit is also found in verse 20. Turning someone back to the faith "will cover a multitude of sins." Here is the other side of the coin - saved from hell because the sins have been forgiven. Turned from the sin and turned to Jesus Christ.
Oftentimes in these situations the person comes to realize that he or she was never really saved. They may have identified with a church and even claimed to be a Christian, but they were never truly converted. They were a sheep of God in name only. And the loving brother or sister in Christ cared enough to go after them and lead them not to a "cleaned-up" lifestyle, but to Jesus Christ, the ultimate shepherd of the sheep, the One who covers the multitude of our sin, saves us from eternal death and cares for His sheep in the green pastures of His grace.
This is our desire to lead people to true joy. David expressed the happiness of this forgiveness in Psalm 32: "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!" (Ps. 32:1; cf. Psm. 85:2; 1 Pet. 4:8). The goal of our love for people is always aimed at those people experiencing the love of Jesus Christ and remaining in close union with Him.