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.
Where are you getting a biblical distinction between ďfrontlineĒ Christians and this other type that isnít allowed to tell the frontliners what to do? Iím reminded of Dunkirk where the frontliner on the civilian boat had lost his mind completely and had to be reminded of his humanity.
Stephen, the distinction is not between “people” per se — it’s between two different sorts of ministry we see in Jesus (fighting wolves, binding up the wounded sheep). I think some folks are especially gifted in one or the other but we all need one another, deeply appreciating and valuing what both types of ministry do for the Kingdom — pastors are specifically called to do both. So long as both understand and appreciate what the other is for, there should be lots of communication between these fronts. The trouble comes when one thinks it is the only kind of ministry and wants to retire the other kind. That’s the thing neither side is allowed to tell the other side they must do (until we get to glory).
Valerie Jacobsen says
“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.”
I do not think you understand where the front lines are.
These women who are “wounded and broken” need to hear from the Body, “The Lord is with you, my sister. He is your strength, your rock, your fortress, and your deliverer. Psalm 18 is given to you, so that you will go forth with courage and in confidence, knowing that he is with you.
“What you see is being done, what you hear is being said, what you know is real, and what you remember really happened. As the Father’s precious, blood-bought daughter, he has put you where you are today “for such a time as this”, he has brought you near and even placed you in union with Christ, so you are never alone and never unwatched. You are even now indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who has consented to live your life with you and in you.
“All these things being so, we are trusting that God, the Living God, is making you strong and giving you the wisdom that you need for this hour. This is your life, and the consequences of your decisions and actions will be yours and your children’s. You are their Mother, and you are their leader. So, if we have any counsel for you, it is on this point, and on that one, for we are your friends and fellow-laborers in the Gospel, not your overlords. We advise. You decide.
“If we have any doubt that your stories are true–as finite creatures, we are sometimes suspicious and uncertain–we will keep that to ourselves and we bring it before the Living God whose hand is mighty in all things and whose will for history will surely prevail in this matter, for his own glory forever, and to bring forth the very best good for all the souls of us, his beloved people, forever.
“The end of all things will be glorious, so whenever the way seems treacherous and the outcome unsure, we will remember these things with you and we will even remember them for you when you are too tired to think, and we will keep our confidence in HIM.
“As he strips away your fears and strengthens you more and more, be bold. Even, if he enables you, be fearless. And we will trust him to strip away our fears and strengthen us, to be fearless with you.”
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The very last thing they should hear and the most harmful thing that they constantly hear is, “Step aside, woman. You cannot be trusted to see with precision or act with decision. We always hold people like you under suspicion, so go and sit at the sideline and watch while the men handle this. And do not think that you can so much as advise us. We are not your friends or your fellow-laborers in the Gospel. We are your lords, and don’t you forget it.”
I was on the front lines. Broken and wounded, indeed! I didn’t get PTSD on a picnic.
When I was leaning on my sword with the sweat running down my face, my eyes black, my lips bloody, and one arm hacked halfway off, there sure were a lot of people who had a much better idea than me what this “really was”, and they were very certain that I was “in no position to give instructions on how to fight”, not even to fight one lone wolf whose tactics and habits I had watched and countered for 25 years, protecting my lambs whatever it cost me!
Some of the “most valiant men” are wearing some mighty spiffy and mostly bloodless armor.
I went in with the naivete of a newborn lamb, truly I did, but I learned some hard stuff the hard way at very great cost. If you do not listen to women like me and hear what we learned from the wilderness behind the front lines, where things really are very gritty and very bloody, there are many things you will never understand.