26(Ezek 34,01-19) Spiritual Obesity Transcript
One of the major health problems facing our State and country today is the problem of obesity. Our land of plenty seems to have created a people who eat more than ever. Obesity might simply be defined as not turning the nutrition you consume into energy or work. When that happens, even good, healthy eating habits will result in weight gain, fat, and even obesity. A person can consume nutritious food and yet become overweight. Why? The body is designed to burn off the intake of food.
Metaphorically, I fear this is the diet of too many churches today. They receive good nutrition in the form of teaching and preaching from the Word of God. No doubt many have graduated from the elementary principles of the oracles of God to the meatier and richer truths of God. But there has not, by and large, been a measurable expenditure of energy and work to burn off all of that spiritual food intake! The result: a problem of spiritual obesity in our churches! In our churches in Arkansas, we have members who are long on the intake of nutritious spiritual food, but woefully short on the expenditure of that spiritual nutrition in the service of God.
This morning I invite your attention to the book of Ezekiel, chapter 34. The Apostle Paul tells us that the Old Testament was given to us as examples for our admonition or training (1 Corinthians 10:11). As we look at a prophecy for Israel, let us not dismiss this as inapplicable to our own lives, but rather find in this passage admonition for our lives today.
I. Obesity in the Pulpit (Ezekiel 34:1-16)
In describing the conditions of the people which are bringing judgment upon the nation, our Lord lays responsibility squarely at the feet of the spiritual leaders of Israel. To paint a picture of accountability God uses the metaphor of shepherd and sheep. As spiritual leaders, the priests were to be the shepherds of their congregations. They were to lead the sheep in such a way that the flock grew and became strong. This meant finding still waters, green pastures, and safely navigating the darkened valleys of life, as David alludes to in Psalm 23. However, the leaders were not doing the job of a shepherd. Rather than ensure that all of the sheep were eating and growing, they lazily fed themselves from the best of the sheep with no thought to the future of the flock (vv. 2-3). Eating from the prime sheep of the flock was not a sin among shepherds; they were expected to derive their own livelihood from their flock. The problem occurred when a shepherd did not continually raise more healthy and edible sheep. One can see that if no attention was paid to the future, the flock would soon be depleted. A shepherd also had to care for the sheep that became injured, mending their injuries and giving them special treatment until they were back on their feet. They were also to be ever vigilant for sheep who wandered from the fold, and to seek out those missing sheep in order to rescue and return them.
Yet God said the spiritual leaders of Israel were not being good shepherds at all. Rather than investing time and energy into the lives of the children of God, they were instead selfishly enjoying the benefits of the priesthood without concern for future generations. They had quit feeding spiritual food. They had quit being concerned when one of the flock was spiritually wounded. In fact, they avoided those who were hurt and broken. When a person wandered from the worship of the temple and became absent in spiritual things, they failed to ever seek them out to rescue and restore them. In short, they did not shepherd at all – they led only by cruelty.
Many here today are the pastors, the shepherds, of your respective churches. What kind of shepherd are you? Are you found diligent to care for those under your charge, the sheepfold of God which comprises your congregation? Or have you quit tending the flock, instead enjoying the fat of the position of pastor without investing into the future of your flock. Not everyone here pastors a huge church, but most everyone here would have to admit they have a good job. They are paid enough to have a normal life whether or not they do the extra level of care incumbent upon a shepherd. Most will still get the same pay and benefits if they preach at the appointed times, even if they fail to care for the hurting, the wounded. Most will still draw a paycheck even if they avoid the broken. But God is challenging us today through the prophet Ezekiel! While we may enjoy today, while our church may be adequate today, if we fail to look to the future of our flock we will be wasting the heritage given to us and the opportunity before us. Many here today have the privilege of pastoring churches that were well established before they arrived. Rather than starting with no sheep at all, you have been given stewardship of a well-fed, well-trained, doctrinally sound, mission-minded sheepfold. Don’t be like the cruel shepherds of Ezekiel and fail to continue to shepherd. Don’t just enjoy the benefits of pastoring a fine church without the constant shepherding needed to insure a flock for the future. Don’t feed off the fat of loving people without nurturing and growing a new generation that loves you and the Lord even more!
A good shepherd is concerned with the future of his flock. A bad shepherd may rest in how good he has it now without risking more effort. A bad shepherd does not lead. A good shepherd always leads, always finds the green pastures and the still waters. We need pastors to lead our churches into a healthy future. Enough with lazy, selfish shepherds! I understand that when it comes to leading a church, shepherding a group of people, that you may feel you have no authority. A church has the autonomy to hire and fire and majority rules on decisions, sure. But they did not call you as moderator, they called you as pastor! Last time I checked, that means overseer, leader, example setter, and shepherd.
A shepherd must care for the sheep more than himself, his future, his job. He takes career-ending risks all the time (John 10:11, 15). Of course one should never be a part of risky, sinful behavior, but rather the risk that naturally comes when you lead through the valley of the shadow of death. The risk to lead a congregation through troubled doctrinal issues, through contentions, through times when they need to be encouraged to move on and to grow physically and spiritually. And the shepherd must carve the trail through a shadowy valley in a way that they have no fear – because they see Christ through you.
And notice that God will rescue the lost sheep (12-16). God has not forgotten his people, but if you fail to shepherd, you he will leave to wallow in mediocrity! Don’t leave them to starve spiritually. Don’t fail to do the job of feeding the flock spiritually nourishing food. Feed them in a good pasture. (Jeremiah 3:15)
And care for those who are broken-hearted. Mend those who have suffered the wounds of sin in their life, whether by another’s hand or their own. (16) Bind up the broken. Carry gently those who need time to heal, until they are mended and ready to resume their personal walk. Make the effort to seek those who have become lost from the fold. Don’t ignore the absent; they are of great value to the owner of the herd, Jesus!
II. Obesity in the Pew (Ezekiel 34:17-22)
Ezekiel does not leave the warning with the priests alone. God also has a strong message for those in the flock who have abused their strength and privilege. Both pulpit and pew alike have got to turn theory into reality. The laity have a responsibility before God as well. They have accountability and a stewardship responsibility with the weaker sheep of the fold. The job of a shepherd is to turn lean sheep into healthy sheep. The job of a shepherd is to put feet to faith and find the forgotten fold. So what about the rest of the fold? The role in the pew is to quit muddying the waters, quit wasting the heritage. Ezekiel describes sheep who have enjoyed the best of the water, but walk their muddy feet through it as they leave, and have no concern or thought for those who will follow. It is wonderful to have fellowships, to enjoy the friendships of others in church. But there must always be a concern for the future. Too many churches run the risk of drying up on the vine because older, comfortable, established members have quit reaching out to a lost and dying world. The inconvenience of evangelism causes many to say no thanks to growth and outreach.
Even worse, Ezekiel speaks of the bully sheep. For us today, this represents those who use their position, their influence, even their family name to get their way. And their way means the weaker sheep are left to starve spiritually. Their way means nothing uncomfortable and nothing unfamiliar to them will be tolerated. But the Lord says here that the bully sheep must give way to the shepherd to heal the wounded, not run over them.
You have been left with a great heritage: a fully functioning, self-supporting church. Don’t sit down in it! Don’t let the pool of blessing run dry. Quit fretting over a draught when there are showers of blessing on every horizon. (26) Instead of hanging on till Jesus comes, why not let’s roll? Instead of slowly watching your flock shrink to a few, realize your stewardship before God and shepherd for the future of your church and the kingdom of God. Take your precious and awesome title seriously. Be a pastor! Be a shepherd! Be a leader.