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Goats among the sheep

January 1999 | by David Fountain

We are all very much aware of the troubles that beset the churches on every hand. Has there ever been a time like it for difficulties within the local gospel church? Are there Scriptures we can look to that help us here?

Two of Paul’s letters are devoted to a church that was full of troubles. First and second Corinthians identify great difficulties within that local church but, at the same time, give us real hints as to what could be a basic cause of it all. In 1 Corinthians 2:4, the apostle warns about preaching in words of human wisdom, which results in ‘faith’ being in the ‘wisdom of men’; that is, it produces false conversions. We get a similar hint in chapter three of the same epistle, where Paul warns about the danger of building with ‘wood, hay and stubble’ as we labour in the gospel.

The need of new life

Here we see the possibility of a person’s ministry producing nothing more than empty professions of faith. In chapter 10, Paul further cautions the Corinthians by the example of those who came out of Egypt. They were all privileged, but they did not all please God. In chapter 13 he drives home the terrible danger of having an outward display of Christianity without the fruit of the Spirit, namely love. People can lack the essential evidence of new life. Clearly, there was (and still is today) a serious risk of boasting in an outward show of religion without having true inward spiritual life.

Hard sayings

At the end of his second letter to the Corinthians, in chapter 13 verse 5, Paul comes to the point unmistakably. ‘Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith’.

This question had to be asked because of the unchristian behaviour of many of the members. If the church at Corinth could get into difficulties so quickly after Paul had laid a good foundation, what of churches where the foundation is weak? Is there not a real possibility that we may have large numbers of unsaved people within our ranks?

Consider the way the Lord Jesus Christ dealt with those who followed him in large numbers. He tested them with ‘hard’ sayings. What was the result? ‘Many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more’ (John 6:60, 66).

No narrow way

We, alas, generally do the exact opposite. We are so keen to see people converted that we fail to challenge them as to all that is involved. If they are not prepared to follow the narrow way, it is because they have never entered the straight gate.The reason, surely, why so many behave as they do is because they have never found Christ. They have never sought him with all their heart. A goat may look like a sheep, and sound like a sheep, but it does not behave like a sheep. It wants to do its own thing, and it does not care what it eats. A few goats among the sheep can cause the shepherd endless trouble.

Let us be careful that the problems we face are not of our own making. Let us wait until there is genuine conversion before we encourage people to believe that God has saved them.