1) What to Look for:
“Sheep in the midst of wolves”
Jesus earlier had a concern for those who were lost and He called them sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36) Jesus was heartbroken for the people who were wandering aimlessly but Jesus also had to warn them of some of the people they would face.
The common enemy of the shepherd was wolves and it was because of those wolves that the shepherd lost sleep and sheep. Wolves were the biggest problem the shepherd had as they would constantly have to be on the lookout to fight off any attackers. The shepherd would have to give an account of the sheep and if a sheep was killed on a shepherds watch, the shepherd would have to bring back whatever was found of the sheep and present it to the owner.
For Jesus to call His disciples sheep would indicate the vulnerability they will face in ministry with attacks and mistreatment. Sheep were so vulnerable that they could never take care of themselves because they were known to eat a poisonous weed, kill themselves by beating their heads on a tree or rock to get rid of the flies around their face or even run themselves to death out of fear.
So by calling his disciples sheep He is now putting them in a category with those attributes and many more that describe the vulnerability of sheep. Jesus is also indicating that this would not be a natural act to send sheep into wolves territory but self preservation was not the focus but the focus was on the other sheep that were lost and needed to be found.
Jesus always made it clear what the cost of following Him would be before anyone decided to follow Him. He did not want His disciples or any others to be surprised when attacks came upon them for no reason and without warning.
John 15:18-20 If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
Many people get disillusioned with Christianity because they are taught something that Jesus did not teach and one of those teachings is that people may hate you for being a Christian.
We are a sent people out in the midst of it because we are not called to just stay back in a holy huddle in the safety and comfort of our churches and do nothing. We are called to go and reach out to those who need Jesus even if they hate us for trying to help them.
We live in a society that has made their god pluralism. Pluralism teaches that you do not have the right to declare another way of life or thought wrong. We will face more opposition as Christians as we see that more and more people are not willing to have their lifestyle choices questioned even if it is to their own demise. Pluralism is not concerned with truth only that everyone has the right to believe as they see fit for their personal lives. There is no right and wrong, no one way to God (if they believe in a God) and no moral standard by which everyone should live. To question someones lifestyle is to infringe on their rights and that act will not be tolerated. We are to be tolerant to the tolerant and intolerant to the intolerant so even the definition of tolerance has changed. The christian message is not tolerant because we cannot be accepting of everyone’s beliefs and especially the belief that all roads lead to God.
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Jesus message then and now is that you can only be right with God if you come through Him. Although it is good news that Jesus paid the price for our sins and we can be in right standing with God because of the work Jesus did on the cross, not everyone will see it that way and turn on you with attacks personally and possibly even physically.
The Jews had their own courts system in the synagogue and although they were not allowed to put anyone to death they could flog someone if they found them guilty. Until the Destruction of the Temple in AD 70 most of the persecution of Christians was done by the Jews. Jesus was warning His disciples that it is their own brothers (fellow sheep) that will turn out to be wolves. As we progress with this idea of live and let live you will see Christians turning on Christians as they disagree over issues that our facing our culture today.
Herod killed so many Christians that some believed him to be the anti Christ. According to Acts 12 Herod killed for no other reason than the majority liked it or to help the political process. When Christianity became a threat to the economy of Rome Christians were targeted and killed because they were viewed as a detriment to the whole of society. We have not had to face that extent of persecution in America yet but that day may soon be changing and Jesus is warning us that even our own country may turn on us at some point to keep us from sharing about Him.
The Middle East understands family much more than we do here in America because peoples lives evolve around their families. The family in America has become unclear to what a family really is. This will be debated more in the coming years but we will see that family and marriage will have no clear lines and the definition will be left up to individuals or so ambiguous that it will not have any defining lines. But in the Middle east or a country like Japan the family and honoring the family is the main priority. You did not want to bring any shame upon your family and so by people giving their lives to Christ would have meant instant banning from the family.
If a person becomes a Christian in some foreign countries it could mean instant separation from their family. Families would even have funerals claiming that the person is dead to them. Some reports of murdering the one who became a Christian by family members was honored because of the shame that was brought on the family by them.
As we continue to live in a society that does not believe in God and is taught that no one has the right to say something about another’s beliefs, there will be family divisions.
2) How to Act:
Shrewd as Serpents and Innocent as doves.
Doves: Gentle, Vulnerable, Harmless, innocent and Pure
Serpents: Smart, cautious, cunning, Shrewd
Everyone has an opinion and we need to be careful about sharing ours. We have to know how to handle those who oppose what we believe and to be gentle as we question their beliefs.
“Jesus ‘disciples must therefore be shrewd, prudent, avoiding attacks where possible, behaving wisely and with far-sighted realism; but they must also be innocent, open-not so cautious, suspicious, and cunning that hey become paranoid, elusive, fearful. Doubtless the balance is difficult…” (D.A. Carson, Sermon on the Mount)
1 Corinthians 4:11-13 11 To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, 12 and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; 13 when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
We are not to bring problems upon ourselves for no reason like burning Korans or by screaming at people to change. Our job is go and reach out to a world that does not see that what it is doing is wrong and even done in the most gentle way will be perceived as not just an attack of ideals but a personal attack on the one we are trying to help.
A) Don’t be Anxious
Read vs 19-20
This is not a license to be unprepared but a reassurance that as we prepare God will guide us and remind us what we should say. The Disciples spent years in training with Jesus day and night and He wanted to reassure them that they were ready and that the Holy Spirit would help them.
We are not supposed to be anxious because we are trying to win an argument or defend ourselves. Our goal is to show others that their thinking is not correct and when that happens then we will be attacked personally because they have an area of their life they do not want to evaluate.
John 3:19-20 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.
We are just witnesses as if in a courtroom, testifying to the truth. We may have our testimony challenged and ridiculed but our only job is to share what we know. Most people do not even know what Christians believe but they only know what they hear on talk shows and comedy routines which misrepresent true Christianity. We have to share what the truth is or their distorted view of Christianity will keep them from knowing Jesus and who He really is.
Read vs 24-25
If they called Jesus the Devil then what do you think they will say about you?
Most people do not see that they have a world view but you do whether you have thought through it or not. Jeff Foxworthy, Bill Engvall and Larry the Cable Guy have a section in their blue comedy tour call “I Believe …” They then share with you hilarious bits about what they believe. Everyone you meet has an “I Believe..” opinion and that is their world view.
If you believe in evolution then the rest of your world view of people, eternity and laws will stem from that belief. So our conflict with people is more about our over all world view than it is about that particular issue that they are trying to debate with us. We sometimes have to start where people are and show them how their world view is faulty. We need to be careful how we debate and get hung up on certain issues in our culture because the issue at hand may not be the issue we need to deal with. It is a world view problem and until they change their view of the world then the issues they are debating and trying to protect will always be the same.
Why are they asking you the question they are asking? Why do they want to defend a certain lifestyle so adamantly?
When people ask about Christianity and what we believe there is usually something behind what they are asking. Do they want to know the truth or are they trying to see where you stand on a certain issue?
This is where you need to be wise as a serpent because if you believe they are only trying to use something against you than it is better not to answer them.
Proverbs 26:4-5 Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.
You do not have to answer everyone because some people are not looking for answers they are looking to win an argument or make you look dumb so they feel better about themselves. Never allow a discussion with someone get to a point of personal attacks because that just leads them away from Christ and not toward Him. Jesus knew when to be quiet and when to speak up and we need to be guided by the Holy Spirit and do the sam.
1 Peter 3:14-16 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, 15 but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Read vs 22
This does not mean that if you endure you can earn your salvation because your salvation was already secured through Christ. What it is saying is that we are asked to endure what is thrown at us with patience and love looking past the insults and seeing the root of the problem. We are to love and care more about the person who is making the attacks than we are about what is being said to us and about us.
It also means that those who do endure such things can be assured of their salvation as they see God working in and through them in the midst of the difficult situation. Do not give up on them immediately and keep enduring with them because God loves them and wants them to know Him and it is our job to try and remove any obstacles that are in their way.
2 Corinthians 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
C) Stay on Task
Read vs 23
Keep the main thing the main thing. Our main goal is to tell others about Jesus not to prove our point or win an argument.When our ministry is no longer effective where we are it is time to move on because their are others who need to hear the good news.