We’re all familiar with the parable of Matthew 25:31-46 in which the final judgment is likened to a shepherd separating the sheep and the goats.
It occurs to me that, in some ways, sheep and goats are very similar animals. At least, they resemble one another more than either resembles a baboon! But, all likenesses considered, there are also some distinct dissimilarities.
In this parable, Jesus may not be merely separating the Christians from the Atheists, nor even the Christians from the Pagans. These people represented by sheep and goats may well all be believers in the one true God, and worshipers of Him.
What separates the sheep and the goats? Whatever it is, it separated them in life before it separated them in eternity! And that’s encouraging, because it means we are able to do something about what happens in life that will ensure what happens in eternity. Right now, we’re living in such a way, if we persist in it, that will decide our eternal destination!
So, what separates the sheep and the goats, now and later? Many things, perhaps. But the focus of this parable is on the distinction between mere religion and a “Greatest Commandment” lifestyle—a love for God expressed in a practical, sacrificial love for our brother (Mt. 22:37-40). That, according to Jesus, is the identifying mark of the Christian (Jn. 13:35).
In his book, Disciple, Juan Carlos Ortiz says,
“We have many sheep in Argentina, and it’s interesting to see what happens when you try to move a flock of sheep. They all head in the same direction; they become one body. But if you try the same thing with goats, they all begin to butt each other and fight. So it’s very easy to tell a sheep from a goat. You don’t need the gift of interpretation or discernment or anything….if he fights, he’s a goat. If he loves, he’s a sheep.”
While the identification of God’s people may be a bit more complex than that, that is indeed the final test to which we must submit ourselves!
From Guest Editorial V
By R. Dean Catlett
Minister of the Church of Christ in Bend, OR