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Can Sheep Think for Themselves?

Posted on July 20, 2021

If you’ve read the Bible, you know that it compares us to sheep, and it also compares God (and Jesus) to a shepherd. However, being called a sheep isn’t a flattering compliment. In fact, it’s almost an insult. Sheep are among the dumbest of any creatures in the animal kingdom. If a sheep wanders off, there’s no way it can find its way back. Also, a sheep might just walk right off a cliff if the shepherd isn’t paying attention. But God compares us to sheep for two important reasons (not necessarily because we’re dumb). 


First, sheep are completely dependent on guidance. Without the shepherd, the sheep are at a complete loss so as what to do. They depend on the shepherd to show them where to go, where to graze, and to protect them from danger. A sheep cannot defend itself—it has no claws, no fangs, and no courage. If one sheep is attacked, the other sheep won’t come to its rescue—they will run away in terror! A sheep doesn’t know where to find a nice river stream to drink from—the shepherd has to lead it to the water. In other words, sheep cannot think for themselves. They don’t know what is best for them, but the shepherd does. 


Second, sheep must follow a leader. You won’t see one sheep establishing itself as the leader with the rest of the sheep following it around. No, they’re all equally helpless. But sheep are natural followers, and they will strictly follow the shepherd. Wherever he goes, they will go; wherever he stops, they will stop. Sheep are completely loyal to the shepherd, and if some other person steps in to command them, the sheep won’t listen. They only obey the shepherd. 


I’m sure you’re seeing the parallels. We, like sheep, are completely dependent on God for guidance in our lives. When we act independently, we often get into trouble. This is why Psalm 23 tells us, “The LORD is my shepherd: I shall not want [lack]. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (v. 1-3). Here we see our Good Shepherd leading us to places of rest, places of sustenance, and places of righteousness. If you go on your own, you’ll quickly get lost. And without God, you’re helpless. Jesus said, “for without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5c). 


We also need to follow a leader, just like sheep. Now don’t get me wrong, there are people who are “natural-born leaders.” They’re good at taking charge, and they might quickly gain a following. But even these people have to follow something or someone. Like sheep, we tend to blindly follow someone’s advice if it sounds good (this was especially evident during the pandemic, when people were more than happy to shut everything down because they were told to). We need to be careful to follow our Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and not some person who thinks they know better than you. Jesus calls this person a hireling. “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep” (John 10:12). 


There are plenty of hirelings are out! But why would these people leave the sheep like that? Notice what Jesus says next: “The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (v. 13). The hireling is watching the sheep for money, not because he cares for the sheep. He cares about his own skin! But Jesus says that the Good Shepherd is willing to give His life for the sheep (v. 11). That’s remarkable! And of course, Jesus did give His life for us, and we’re nothing more than worthless sheep. 


So let me encourage you to be like sheep in these two areas. Be completely dependent on God to lead you, and wholeheartedly follow the Good Shepherd. Be on the lookout for wolves in sheep’s clothing, as well as hirelings. Praise God that we can think for ourselves, but at the same time, don’t get a big head, and don’t get out in front of the Shepherd. Stay in your place, and God will never steer you wrong. 

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