To summarize what we understand from the Bible:
1) There are sheep in our fold.
Basically, this means that many (hopefully most or all) of our sheep in our fold are saved people, wanting to serve God and please Him in some degree. Our ministry is to serve the sheep working God’s will and desire for them. On the one hand, we should help them grow spiritually, and on the other hand, we should confront their sin, rebuke it, pray for them, and see them get victory over there sins.
2) There are tares mixed in among the wheat.
There are some people among our church people that simply are not saved, and to every outward sign, they want to be counted as a truly saved person. They are deceived, and in some degree, they “are with us”, but to some other degree, “they are disturbing” the functions of the truly saved in the flock. Our responsibility towards them are the following: 1) we are not to root them out (pull them up, as the disciples recommended to Jesus and he told them no). 2) we are pressure them to be saved, and actually, we are to insist and “hold their feet to the fire” so that they understand and give in to this pressure. We are to point out that their character, actions, and attitudes indicate an unsaved person, and we are to constantly give them the gospel, and constantly encourage them to truly receive Christ. 3) We are not to allow them to ill affect the flock of God.
3) There are wolves in amongst our sheep.
These are false prophets who deliberately come into our church, identify themselves as one of the sheep of God, and want to participate and join our spiritual community. The problem with these people is that they are not saved, and deep down where it is difficult to see (because they hide themselves in sheep’s clothing, masking what their true heart, desire, and purpose are). These wolves are identified by being always on the edge ready to pounce (act quickly) when there is an opportunity for them to work their poison.
A wolf despises Christ and the Word of God while at the same time pledging allegiance to both. He ascribes his loyalty “to the death” to Christ, but the nature and character of Christ are not seen in him. He hates love, he hates righteousness, and he only pretends both to get into the fellowship and community of faith. He despises and undermines the true word of God constantly. He does this by bringing about question to the motives, intents, and power of God as expressed in his Word. If you consider how the serpent tempted Eve in the garden, “Hath not God said…”, is first a question of God’s Word, then a blatant denial of its efficacy and power, throwing evil motives on God for prescribing things that way, and thereafter he offers the correction, something “better” than what God has said.
Perhaps the most revealing element of the wolf is when he tries to turn others against Christ and the example of Christ. While no wolf will offer a leg to some other animal to satisfy their hunger, every wolf will attack the leg of any other animal they can bite into. This hypocripsy is also a tell-tale sign of a wolf, because they are vicious (cruel and impassionate Eze 34) towards others, not forgiving the brethren, but they are very sensitive if anybody touches them.
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The problem for us shepherds is that it is very difficult at times to handle all three of these groups in our church. Sometimes we get very strong and aggressive against something we perceive as “wrong”, and we get mixed up as to how we are to treat a particular person or situation. With the true sheep we must be very kind and gentle, always humble and forgiving. With the tares, we must be insistent, strong, but at the same time, trying to get them to Christ. I see no pity, mercy, or compassion in the Bible for wolves. They are to be soundly struck across the head and run off!
It would be extremely wise and prudent for every pastor to consider which of these situations a particular problematic person is. Most often we cannot clearly classify one of our problem members in any of the above groups.
In trying to get a handle on the differences here, let me point out that …
a wolf has a predisposition to harm the sheep (other Christians). His point is to oppose the way God has indicated things should be, and he desires “an alternative”. We examine the Pentecostal situation with women preachers, and we see a strike at men preachers, and an alternative for women preachers. This is prohibited, and it should be pointed out and keenly observed that the solution is simply is know the Bible, preach the Bible, and don’t accept alternatives!
Wolves also are known for their haughtiness and arrogance. The false prophet or false teacher thinks he knows it all, and one very clear manifestation of the wolf is his inability to accept any other position except his own. Either he will never apologize, or his apologizes are “slimly”. “Yes, I was wrong in not moving from my previous wisdom which God gave me and nobody else here in the church. I faltered, and now return to my supremacy of being right like always.” You hear these guys “apologize” or “admit to an error”, and after they are done, you wonder what error they are admitting to? It is more a convoluted bragging session.
Another clear mark of a wolf is that he cares nothing or very little for the damage he does to other sheep. The only time he “really cares” is when it becomes public, and there is shock and antagonism towards him from the other sheep (his sheep’s robe has slipped and people are noting his long ears and sharp teeth), so he pulls a humility routine on them, and goes to excesses to show everybody that he really isn’t a wolf, but a humble sheep. But with very little time, his true nature comes out again, and he is viciously tearing into another sheep.
A tare on the other hand is something extremely difficult to distinguish, and in reality, even though the person “probably” is not saved (you would conclude), he hides. His characteristic is that he wants to blend in, but he has no real desire to change other Christians to be like him, nor does he openly and blatantly proffer alternatives to God’s will. He is just there, not really causing as much of a problem as a wolf, but just the same, he doesn’t positively push God’s will, supporting it publically and vocally. This element has the effect of causing spiritual apathy among the church, but other than that, he is pretty mute in his infuence.
You cannot discern a tare by just looking at him. It is like sheep and goats. For somebody not really familiar with them, they are both the same. What distinguishes sheep from goats, or wheat from tares, is what they product, their fruit. When a tare is in a church, he basically just “occupies space” and does little more than that. I consider “goat’s milk” the trade off these people want to give us. If you know anything about goat’s milk (I really don’t), but it is milk, although the goat’s milk and cheese I have tried, I didn’t really like it. The taste isn’t the same. It is “inferior”, bitter, or just not right somehow. The tares in a church will fill the pews, they do give some money for the maintainence of the church, and in a sense, they “occupy space”, but they don’t give the real fruit of a true Christian. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is just lacking in their lives, and most of all, goats produce more goats, tares more tares, and sheep and wheat produce after their kind.
Although these people are targets for conversion to be truly saved, they don’t push God’s work very much. Usually they don’t oppose it much (except for spiritual apathy, they personally will not participate and sacrifice), but they don’t much mind it if others do. They like to see success in their church, so their focus is on biggness, money, and people. Many churches have had their entire ministry focus overwhelmed by these unsaved people who make the decisions, and there are whole denominations or fellowships of churches who pride themselves on bigness and success instead of obeying God and spiritual fruit.
The true Christian is a person who believes, obeys, and complies with God’s will, but at the same he is vocally supportive of it. He constantly seeks to know with certainty God’s will, and his thirst for biblical knowledge and understanding is unbounded. Although at times a sheep may be wrong in a position or something involving the church, he is always open to somebody correcting him, and when he comes to understand his error, he is equally open and vocal in correcting his previous position before the brethren, admitting his wrong doing, and affirming the correct way of God, i.e. humility is a commonly seen character of a sheep (he keeps his head down).
Don’t shoot the sheep, aiming for the wolves.
When we as pastors work handling these problem people in our midst, we must discern what class of people they are, and judge the amount of force, strength, and aggressiveness necessary by whether they are sheep (little aggressiveness rather humility), tares (firmness and insistence rather than allowance), or wolves (strike them hard)!