AND WHAT TO DO WITH THEM WHEN YOU DO.
"THE THIEF COMES ONLY TO STEAL AND KILL AND DESTROY; I HAVE COME THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE, AND HAVE IT TO THE FULL." — JOHN 10:10
We all have enemies.
Whether or not we think we do, we do. I know. It’s an aggressive statement. But frankly, ours is an aggressive verse. Not the second half though, that’s the part you’re probably familiar with, the part we often frame and hang on the wall: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” It’s so good and wonderful and true. But that first part of the verse really does give us quite the opposite kind of “feels,” doesn’t it? “The thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.” I’ve never seen that on a t-shirt or a mug. But that first part is just as true and important as the second half of the verse. We need to know our enemy (the thief that’s out to get us), just as much as we need to know that Jesus is out to save us and give us life. So, today, we’re gonna sit in the difficult part of the verse, and figure out just exactly what to do with our enemies when we find them.
Not just one enemy
In the context of John 10, we’re actually called to consider three enemies. Our verse is part of a shepherding metaphor that Jesus uses to contrast his loving care for his people with the exploitation they receive from their enemies. He contrasts a good shepherd (himself) with three enemies of the sheep: the thief, the hired hand, and the wolf. First, we have the thief, who climbs over the gate in order to steal, kill, and destroy the sheep for personal gain. Unlike the thief, the shepherd enters by the gate (as rightful owner), cares for his sheep, and leads them to safe pasture. Next Jesus talks about the hired hand and the wolf. The hired hand cares nothing for the sheep (only money) and runs away from the wolf, who devours the sheep and scatters them. Instead of running off like the hired hand or eating the sheep like the wolf, the good shepherd willingly lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus wraps up his metaphor by saying he is the good shepherd who sacrifices his life for his sheep in obedience to the Father. And he doesn’t merely give his life for them, he takes his life back up again because he has the authority and power (as God) to do so.
Our enemies—the thief, the hired hand, and the wolf.
So, let’s take a closer look at these enemies of God’s people. I think we might be tempted to say that the enemies here are all Satan, and certainly they have the same motives as Satan. But in the context of our verse, Jesus is talking about any and all who would come to exploit his people. The first enemy, the thief, is identified as someone who doesn’t use the gate. Jesus tells us that he’s the gate, meaning that he’s the only means of safety and salvation. So, a thief is a false teacher, claiming something other than Jesus as means of safety and salvation. This false teacher’s motivation is personal gain. He wants what he doesn't have, and he’s prepared to steal, kill, and destroy the people of God in order to get it. The hired hand is also selfishly motivated, only he’s harder to spot. A hired hand is actually paid to care for the sheep. The problem is, when hardships or dangers arise, his true motivations are revealed—he’s just in it for the money. He’s a mercenary, abandoning the sheep to the wolf when he comes. This leads us to the prowling wolf. This is someone bent on devouring the people of God at every opportunity, leaving any survivors in a scattered mess. These enemies are a triple threat to God’s people, and they have one thing in common: they don’t love the sheep, only themselves.
Sadly, we’ve all known people like this.
We’ve known false teachers who teach something other than the true message of salvation by Christ alone—preachers who peddle promises of health and wealth in return for donations and devotion. We know others who teach morality and obedience as salvation or those who tell us Christ is a great emotional coping mechanism—a mere feel-good metaphor. Friends, these are the thieves in our passage. We’ve also known people (at least from afar) who serve the church as mercenaries, abandoning the flock when things get tough. These are the hired hands, out for their own gain. And finally, there are those outside the church who are outright candid about their hatred for God and his people, some going as far as martyring Christians. It’s all sadly true. We have enemies. We just do.
So, what do we do with all of this?
Our first instinct might be to wall ourselves off from our enemies or to retaliate. But Jesus would counsel us otherwise. When he sent out his disciples on their first missionary journey, he talked about how to respond to enemies by saying, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16, ESV). We should be wise about the intentions and potential dangers of our enemies, and yet innocent in how we treat them. Or to take it even one step further, we ought to even love them. I’m reminded of what Jesus says in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” What? Why? Jesus says we should resemble our Father in heaven, who is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked” (Luke 6:35).
Kind to our enemies
Jesus did this firsthand; he resembled his Father’s kindness. Ironically, his kindness here is calling out his enemies. He tells this story to a group of Pharisees as a clear rebuke of the Pharisees and their treatment of his people. Jesus is out-and-out calling them thieves, and they know it! Many of them are hot, saying Jesus is insane and demon-possesed. You see, mostly these Pharisees hate him, mostly they reject him, and most of them scheme and maneuver his death. Most of them do, but notably, some don’t. Some hear Jesus’s words and turn and repent. John makes this clear at the end of his gospel, pointing out two particular Pharisees, Pharisees who Jesus rebuked and challenged, Pharisees who Jesus exposed as sinners. And yet, those two Pharisees, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, are the very men who prepared the broken body of Christ with costly spices and salves, bound it up in burial clothes and laid it in Joseph’s own new tomb. They did this at great cost to themselves and even greater cost to their reputations. These are not the actions of thieves. They are enemies no longer, but devoted sheep—sheep who entered through the gate, following the good shepherd, who gave his life for them. If this is how Jesus treated his enemies, shouldn’t we do the same?
How do we spot an enemy?
How can we be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves?
Who is an enemy of the gospel that you could love, bless, and pray for?
Thanks for reading,
Meet Natalie,Dwell co-founder
Hi there, I'm Natalie. I'm so glad you're here. I'd love to connect with you and hear more about what God is doing in your life!
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A Movement to Memorize the Bible // April Harper
Have you ever wrestled with discerning your calling or choosing a career? You’re not alone! We know you’ll be encouraged by this episode today with Natalie Abbott, co-founder of Dwell Differently, and April Harper, Dwell Differently’s CEO. Listen in as April shares her story of how God changed her course and brought her to be part of the Dwell team, how she has learned to make decisions differently as a result of growing in listening to the Holy Spirit, and her heart and passion for the work she is doing to help people know and love God’s Word. We are so grateful for her leadership and passion here at Dwell, and are so glad to officially introduce you all to her today!