the weblog of Alan Knox

Separating the sheep from the sheep

Posted by on Feb 6, 2009 in community, fellowship, unity | 10 comments

Last year, I published a post called “Separating the sheep from the sheep“. In many Christian circles, it seems that separation is the purpose of following Christ. When I read the New Testament, coming together seems to be more important than separating. Of course, coming together – having the same mind – living in unity – is much harder work and much more humbling than separating. Jesus and Paul and others seemed to think coming together was necessary.


Separating the sheep from the sheep

There are several interesting passages spoken by Jesus about his coming in the end times to separate from sheep from the goats (Matt. 25:33) or to separate from the wheat from the tares (Matt. 13:30). Most agree that these are eschatological (end times) images of those who are children of God being separated from those who are not children of God – or, believers being separated from non-believers.

Today, though, it seems that followers of Jesus Christ are often more interested in separating the sheep from other sheep. Of course, this desire to separate the “true” sheep from other sheep, didn’t start recently. If we look back at the early Christian writings, we will see that Christians were separating themselves from other Christians.

But, then again, we can look all the way back to the New Testament, and we see over and over again that believers were practicing sheep separation:

For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. (Galatians 2:12-13 ESV)

I [Paul] appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-12 ESV)

I [John] have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church. (3 John 1:9-10 ESV)

Each of these negative examples were corrected by Scripture. And, these negative examples are balanced by many positive encouragements to walk in unity, to fellowship with one another, to build one another up instead of attempting to destroy one another.

However, in spite of the many warnings and exhortations from Scripture, we continue to think that it is our duty to separate ourselves from other “sheep” who are not like us in some ways – and, of course, we get to choose which things are important and which things are not important. We pick which “doctrines” are necessary, which “doctrines” are important, and which “doctrines” are not as important, thereby separating ourselves from brothers and sisters in Christ.

Of course, if we were to allow ourselves to hang around with other Christians who are different than us, then it would mean that we would have to deal with them in love, peace, patience, humility, gentleness, kindness, perseverance… these sound familiar. I suppose that living in the unity that Scripture describes would require that we actually walk in the Spirit and not simply walk with those who are like us.

But, I wonder though… what would happen if we actually stopped trying to separate sheep from sheep? What would happen if we actually tried to live with other sheep – even those sheep who are different from us? I wonder what would happen…

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23 ESV)


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-6-2009

    I want you to know that I really enjoyed reading this post. I believe this is the best and one of my favorites. I think it is a message that Christians need to hear especially in todays world with all the fights and fusses that go on but I am afraid that to many ministers, pastors, and church leaders are just to afraid to preach such a message. I want to thank you for sharing this with us. I know I have been blessed and strengthened as always. I hope you, your family and ministry are doing well. You are in my prayers daily brother. God bless you and hope you have a fantastic weekend.

  2. 2-6-2009

    Good point.

  3. 2-6-2009

    I agree that we need to spend less time dividing ourselves into sub-groups and spend more time in fellowship with one another. Some of our closest friends in Christ are people we have serious doctrinal disagreements with. But…

    Where do we draw a line? What of a brother who is teaching something that is false? I am concerned that we not merely “go along to get along” The New Testament is replete with Paul correcting false teachings, not teachings outside of the Body but inside the Body and doing so strenously. We cannot leave Truth at the door as we seek fellowship with other believers.

  4. 2-6-2009


    What if that sheep doesn’t have correct sheepology? What if they eat their grass wrong, or they like their wool fluffy instead of compact? Isn’t important that the sheep have sound sheepology? I wonder what the Shepherd thinks of all this. Oh, yeah I think He prayed something right before some people killed Him for loving His sheep. It went something like “Father I pray that they be one as you and I are one”. Hmmmmm… I guess we know better than the Shepherd.

  5. 2-6-2009

    Another good post!

    Sadly, this seems to be human nature, as I think Jesus was recognizing in his prayer in John 17. There are always many who prefer to be “kings in their little kingdoms” rather than equals in one kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

    “Divide and conquer.” As one, we are strong. Divided we are weak. John 17:21.

  6. 2-6-2009

    Kinney (preacherman),

    Thanks for the kind words. I agree that unity is not an accepted message – well, it is in theory, but not in practice.


    Thank you.


    Since you brought up Paul, I think we should look to him, and the other authors of Scripture, for examples. When did Paul separate from other believers? I think, if we examined what Scripture says about separating from brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ll find that there are only a few reasons.


    I think that if they’re sheep and we’re sheep then we should remain sheep in the same sheep fold with the same Shepherd.


    Yes, I think it is human nature to separate from people who are not like us or do not think or believe like us. I also think that’s why Jesus included this in his prayer, and why Paul exhorted his readers toward unity… because unity is not in human nature. It would take a supernatural response for there to be unity.


  7. 2-7-2009


    I just wanted to let you know that I am challenged by this post and I will continue to think on these things!

    We recently went to a PCA church that was very involved with Act3 and John Armstrong. They were a VERY loving and generous church. The problem, in my opinion, was that the sermons were all very broad and spoke to everyone on a very superficial level. Sin and repentance were never addressed.


  8. 2-7-2009


    Perhaps they could learn about repentance from you, and you could learn about love and generosity from them?


  9. 8-27-2010

    Doesn’t some epistle urge us to “practice hospitality?”–and the Greek seems to suggest that “hospitality” is for the “other,” the people who aren’t like us?

  10. 8-27-2010


    Yes, hospitality is definitely important in the NT, and would be an exhortation to love and care for those who are different from us.