One of the distinctions Christians really need to get down is the difference between fighting bad guys and ministering to the hurting. In Bible terms this is the difference between fighting wolves and binding up the wounds of the sheep. And there really are a number of things to try to keep straight in our minds.
First, the standards for all of these distinctions must be the Bible. Wounded sheep are not the standard, wolves are not the standard, and wounded wolves or healthy wolves posing as wounded sheep are not the standard. This will always make the wolves howl, but all the sheep should be greatly comforted by this fact. Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the Sheep. He knows what is best for His flock, and therefore we rest in His Word, not the words, impressions, feelings, or fears of anyone else.
So what do we see in Jesus’ ministry? We see Him doing both. He mocks the Pharisees and taunts the scribes and laughs at hypocrites of all stripes, and when the broken and hurting show up in front of Him, He is full of compassion and tenderness and healing. And so it must be the same for those who claim to follow this Jesus: fierce words for the wolves, tender words for the wounded. But one of the things that the broken and wounded need to understand is that they are in no position to give instructions on how to fight the wolves, apart from generally cheering the guys at the front lines on. Likewise, God equips certain parts of the Body of Christ to be expert healers, physicians of the soul, and they should be given all the support and encouragement possible in their hospital ministry. And they should not expect that the tactics they use in the hospital are what the lieutenants and sergeants should be using out in the field. In fact, this is precisely where the modern Christian Church is often confused and failing. We have nurses out on the front lines crying foul at all the guns and swords and rocket launchers, insisting instead that we wrap wolves up in gauze and roll them into our camps in wheel chairs. And at the moment we have hordes of hungry wolves only too willing to play the victim, flopping like a professional basketball player and moaning about how the Church has mistreated them and #metooing their way into the Church. But what your childhood fairytales should have taught you once and for all is that you can never trust a wolf. Never.
The challenge centers around the fact that our goal on the battlefield is to turn our enemies into friends. Jesus only saves enemies (Rom. 5), and this means that our goal in preaching the gospel is to kill wolves such that they rise again as fellow sheep. But wolves are conniving bastards, and they love to pretend that they have been killed, love to play dead and hurt and wounded, and pluck the heart strings of tenderhearted Christians who should not be allowed to call the plays on the battlefield. We need their tenderness with the truly wounded sheep, not with the conniving wolves. To be tender toward wolves is to be violent with sheep.
And related to the challenge of doing this well is the fact that we do not fight with carnal weapons. Our guns and swords and rocket launchers are not physical; our warfare is spiritual: primarily with words, with songs, with truth, with Scripture, with feasting and joy and grace. But this is such an uncommon way of waging war, it’s easy to confuse these tactics with not fighting. But fight we must. The Bible is absolutely clear (Eph. 6, 1 Tim. 1:18, 2 Cor. 10, 2 Tim. 4:7). The fact that our weapons are not carnal, does not mean we do not fight.
And our aim is the death of all wolves, all snakes, all lions — all the enemies of Christ. And all will die either in the cross of Christ or in Hell. But all who die in Christ are raised to new life. This is why it can be said truly that we wage this war in love. This is why we love our enemies, bless our enemies, do good to our enemies. But all of this must be biblically defined, and not defined by our feelings, by our sentiments, or by what Lifetime and Hallmark and Precious Moments have cooked up in their cheap knockoff, faux-love machines. Sometimes Jesus mocks His enemies; sometimes He is silent. Sometimes Jesus feeds His enemies; sometimes He confronts their errors with holy fury. Sometimes Jesus saves His enemies; sometimes He sends them to Hell forever. Jesus is love. He defines love for us and not the other way around.
Obviously, some of those particular actions are beyond the skills or wisdom of any Christian. But we do have the gospel, and we have been commissioned to proclaim this. In the cross of Jesus, all love and justice, mercy and wrath come together in God’s infinite and perfect wisdom. So we preach the cross of Christ. We tell the truth about sin, about evil, about wolves, and preach all of it mocked, scorned, condemned, and nailed to the cross of Jesus. Every kind of abuse, every kind of mistreatment, every sort of insult, every hypocritical #MeToo wolf charade, every manner of lustful looks, every imaginable wicked deed, whether done in the light or hidden in the dark — all sin was condemned in Jesus, and the holy, righteous, and infinite wrath of God was poured out for it all.
So when a preacher goes into battle, this is the center of his armory. He wields this sword, the sword of the Spirit which carries within it the holy fury of God against all sin and lies and injustice, and the mercy and compassion and love of God that sent His only Son to stand in the place of rebellious sinners, wolves and enemies all.
But this is the thing: God’s love cannot be divorced from the cross of Jesus. God shows common grace to all men, He sends rain on the good and evil, but God’s love, His lovingkindness, His covenant mercy is for those who fear Him, for those who hide themselves in Christ. So this is the key to the distinction between fighting wolves and binding up the wounds of sheep. The cross is the great fence, the Great Wall, the great divide, the Great Door. On the one side there is only condemnation; on the other side there is no condemnation. And yes, of course we do good to those under condemnation: we give our enemies food if they are hungry and drink if they are thirsty, heaping burning coals on their heads (Rom. 12). But the point of those burning coals is to invite the enemies God through the door of the cross, which turns out to be a tomb. And this means dying: dying to self, dying to pride, dying to all human hubris, but there is light on the other side.
So have you been hurt, mistreated, abused? Do not seek shelter in any of the makeshift wolf tents marked with #MeToo. They can put on a real show of compassion and sympathy with all their teary puppy dog eyes, but never forget: wolves eat sheep. They can swear up and down and on the grave Herod the Great, but be assured: they will always eventually eat you. And sure, I understand that some of Jesus’ undershepherds are a bit fierce, not too cuddly, and maybe sometimes overly Irish. But be thankful that they hate wolves. Be thankful they are fighting. Because they are fighting for you. They mock the wolfish offers of care and healing because they love sheep and they know the wolves are not really here to help.