Discerning Spiritual Leaders
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. — John 10:1-3a
So chapter ten begins with some parables. Jesus is now teaching and speaking in parables that confuse even his disciples. The first one has a couple of parts. We will deal with the first part today.
At the top of this parable, Jesus imagines a protected area for sheep. The sheep within the area are under the direction of two authorized people. First, a shepherd. Second, a gatekeeper. But the tension of the story comes with the insertion of a third man. The thief and robber who threatens all of them. This thief enters in an unauthorized way with one goal — to brutalize the sheep.
Now if we read this parable in context, we will discover a brutal condemnation by Jesus. Jesus is stating that the spiritual leaders of Israel are the thieves and robbers. The spiritual leaders of their time are unauthorized and are the ones who brutalize the people of God. And they look like, dress, teach, and are educated like God's leaders — but they are not. They are thieves and robbers brutalizing the people.
This forces me to ask the obvious question. Is this happening today?
And the only answer I can come up with is "Yes." Of course, it is happening today. It happens all the time.
Let me give you an example. John 10:10 states this:
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I [Jesus] came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
Great words, are they not? But here's the issue. Most pastors and spiritual leaders use this text entirely out of context. They often suggest that the thief is merely the devil. But the thief is not the devil. Jesus told us who the thief was. The thieves and robbers are spiritual leaders who have gained unlawful entry and are now brutalizing the people of God with their teaching. And just so you know, I have never heard a pastor get up in a platform and preach this message that way. Never! Not once. Why? Because the teaching is against them. We have spiritual leaders at the helm of our churches who are not held accountable to Scripture. Therefore, they have climbed the fence and are leading people away from the life and abundance Jesus wants us to experience. They have gained unlawful entry and are brutalizing the people of God.
This is why we, God's men, have to get back to God's Word. Our spiritual leaders are letting us down just as much today as they did in the time of Jesus. I don't know about you, but I have trouble trusting the teaching of almost any spiritual anymore. I actually believe most in our country are not teaching the truth. And the road back is with men who are dedicated and fully invested in following God's Word as it is written.
So let me suggest a path forward for us. First, prioritize Scripture. You must read and know the Scripture, especially if our spiritual leaders don't. Second, let the Scripture tell you the truth about who is authorized and who is not. Don't just follow a spiritual leader because someone listens to them all the time, they have some new book out, a particular denomination endorses them, or that's the way your family has always done it. Third, you need to be much more discerning about what you are listening to and how you are responding to it today.
And let me offer this invitation to you. If at any point something I say does not match with Scripture, please let me know.
- How can we cultivate discernment in our spiritual journey and distinguish between authentic shepherds and those who may be unauthorized or leading astray? Reflect on the importance of studying Scripture and seeking the guidance of the Holy Spirit in recognizing true spiritual leadership.
- In what ways can we hold our spiritual leaders accountable to the teachings of Scripture while maintaining an attitude of love and unity within the body of Christ? Consider practical steps to foster transparency, open dialogue, and a culture of accountability within our churches.
DO THIS: Read Scripture, let it speak the truth, and be discerning.
PRAY THIS: God, grant me discernment to recognize true shepherds from false ones. Guide me in studying Your Word and holding our spiritual leaders accountable to the teachings of Scripture. Amen.
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