Beware of “the Voice of Strangers”
“A stranger they will by no means follow but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.”—JOHN 10:5.
1, 2. (a) How does Mary react when Jesus calls her by name, and what earlier statement of Jesus is illustrated by this event? (b) What enables us to stay close to Jesus?
THE resurrected Jesus observes the woman standing near his empty tomb. He knows her well. It is Mary Magdalene. Nearly two years earlier, he had cured her of demon possession. Since then she has accompanied him and his apostles, caring for their daily needs. (Luke 8:1-3) Today, though, Mary is weeping, overcome by grief because she saw Jesus die, and now even his body has disappeared! So Jesus asks her: “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?” Thinking he is the gardener, she answers: “Sir, if you have carried him off, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Then Jesus says: “Mary!” Immediately, she recognizes the familiar way he speaks to her. “Teacher!” she joyfully exclaims. And she embraces him.—John 20:11-18.
2 This account illustrates in a touching way what Jesus stated some time earlier. Comparing himself to a shepherd and his followers to sheep, he says that the shepherd calls his own sheep by name and they know his voice. (John 10:3, 4, 14, 27, 28) Indeed, as a sheep recognizes its shepherd, so Mary recognized her Shepherd, Christ. This also holds true for Jesus’ followers today. (John 10:16) Just as a sheep’s discerning ear enables it to stay close to its shepherd, so our spiritual discernment enables us to walk closely in the footsteps of our Fine Shepherd, Jesus Christ.—John 13:15; 1 John 2:6; 5:20.
3. What are some questions that Jesus’ illustration of the sheepfold brings to mind?
3 However, according to that same illustration, a sheep’s ability to recognize human voices enables it to know not only its friend but also its foe. That is of vital importance because we have devious opposers. Who are they? How do they operate? How can we protect ourselves? To find out, let us see what else Jesus says in his illustration of the sheepfold.
‘He That Does Not Enter Through the Door’
4. According to the illustration of the shepherd, whom do the sheep follow, and whom do they not follow?
4 Jesus states: “He that enters through the door is shepherd of the sheep. The doorkeeper opens to this one, and the sheep listen to his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has got all his own out, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. A stranger they will by no means follow but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:2-5) Notice, Jesus uses the word “voice” three times. Two times he speaks about the voice of a shepherd, but the third time, he refers to “the voice of strangers.” What kind of stranger is Jesus referring to?
5. Why do we not extend hospitality to the type of stranger mentioned in John chapter 10?
5 Jesus is not discussing the type of stranger to whom we want to extend hospitality—a word that in the original Bible language means “love of strangers.” (Hebrews 13:2) In Jesus’ illustration, the stranger is not an invited guest. He “does not enter into the sheepfold through the door but climbs up some other place.” He is “a thief and a plunderer.” (John 10:1) Who is the first individual mentioned in God’s Word who became a thief and a plunderer? Satan the Devil. We find the evidence in the book of Genesis.
When the Voice of a Stranger Was First Heard
6, 7. Why can Satan rightly be called a stranger and a thief?
6 Genesis 3:1-5 describes how the voice of a stranger was heard on earth for the first time. The account relates that Satan approached the first woman, Eve, through a serpent and spoke to her in a misleading way. Granted, in this account Satan is not literally termed “a stranger.” Nevertheless, his actions show that in many ways he was like the stranger described in Jesus’ illustration recorded in John chapter 10. Consider some similarities.
7 Jesus states that the stranger approaches his victims in the sheepfold in a roundabout way. Likewise, Satan approached his victim indirectly, using a serpent. This sly approach exposed Satan for what he really is—a devious intruder. Further, the stranger in the sheepfold sets out to rob the rightful owner of his sheep. In fact, he is worse than a thief, for his aim is also to “slay and destroy.” (John 10:10) Similarly, Satan was a thief. Deceiving Eve, he stole her allegiance from God. Moreover, Satan also brought death to humans. Hence, he is a murderer.
8. How did Satan distort Jehovah’s words and motives?
8 Satan’s dishonesty was evident in the way he twisted Jehovah’s words and motives. “Is it really so that God said you must not eat from every tree?” he asked Eve. Satan pretended to be shocked, as if he were saying: ‘How could God be so unreasonable?’ He added: “God knows that in the very day of your eating from it your eyes are bound to be opened.” Note his words: “God knows.” Satan said, as it were: ‘I know what God knows. I know his motives, and they are bad.’ (Genesis 2:16, 17; 3:1, 5) Sadly, Eve and Adam did not turn away from the voice of this stranger. Instead, they heeded it and brought woe to themselves and their offspring.—Romans 5:12, 14.
9. Why should we expect the voice of strangers to be heard today?
9 Satan uses similar methods to mislead God’s people today. (Revelation 12:9) He is “the father of the lie,” and those who, like him, try to mislead God’s servants are his children. (John 8:44) Let us note some ways in which the voice of these strangers is being heard today.
How the Voice of Strangers Is Heard Today
10. What is one way in which the voice of strangers is being heard?
10 Deceptive reasonings. The apostle Paul states: “Do not be carried away with various and strange teachings.” (Hebrews 13:9) What sort of teachings? Since they can ‘carry us away,’ it is clear that Paul refers to teachings that undermine our spiritual balance. Who are voicing such strange teachings? Paul told a group of Christian elders: “From among you yourselves men will rise and speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:30) Indeed, today as in Paul’s day, some individuals who were once part of the Christian congregation now attempt to mislead the sheep by speaking “twisted things”—half-truths and outright lies. As the apostle Peter puts it, they use “counterfeit words”—words that resemble truth but that are actually as worthless as counterfeit money.—2 Peter 2:3.
11 Peter further exposes the methods of apostates by stating that they “will quietly bring in destructive sects.” (2 Peter 2:1, 3) Just as the thief in Jesus’ illustration of the sheepfold does not enter “through the door but climbs up some other place,” so apostates approach us in stealthy ways. (Galatians 2:4; Jude 4) What is their aim? Peter adds: “They will exploit you.” Indeed, no matter what apostates may say to the contrary, the real aim of intruders is “to steal and slay and destroy.” (John 10:10) Beware of such strangers!
12. (a) How can our associations expose us to the voice of strangers? (b) What similarity is there between Satan’s tactics and those of strangers today?
12 Harmful associates. The voice of strangers may be heard through those with whom we associate. Harmful associations especially endanger youths. (1 Corinthians 15:33) Remember, Satan singled out Eve—the younger and less experienced of the first human pair. He convinced her that Jehovah had unduly restricted her freedom, when in reality the opposite was true. Jehovah loved his human creation and cared for their welfare. (Isaiah 48:17) Similarly today, strangers try to persuade you youths that your Christian parents unduly restrict your freedom. How may such strangers affect you? One Christian girl admits: “For a while my faith was weakened to a certain extent by my classmates. They kept saying that my religion was restrictive and unreasonable.” Yet, the truth is that your parents love you. So when schoolmates try to persuade you to distrust your parents, do not be misled as Eve was.
13. What wise course did David adopt, and what is one way that we can imitate him?
13 Regarding harmful associations, the psalmist David states: “I have not sat with men of untruth; and with those who hide what they are I do not come in.” (Psalm 26:4) Again, do you note the trait typical of strangers? They hide who they are—just as Satan hid his identity by using a serpent. Today, some immoral people hide their identity and true intentions by using the Internet. In chat rooms, perverse adults may even pose as youths to lure you into a trap. Young ones, please be extremely cautious lest you be harmed spiritually.—Psalm 119:101; Proverbs 22:3.
14. How do the media, at times, publish the voice of strangers?
14 False accusations. Although some news reports about Jehovah’s Witnesses are fair, at times the media let themselves be used to broadcast the biased voice of strangers. For instance, in one country a news report falsely stated that the Witnesses supported Hitler’s regime during World War II. In another one, a report accused Witnesses of vandalizing churches. In several countries the media accused Witnesses of refusing to give medical treatment to their children and also of deliberately condoning serious sins committed by fellow believers. (Matthew 10:22) Even so, sincere people who know us personally recognize that such accusations are false.
15. Why is it unwise to believe everything presented in the media?
15 What should we do if we are confronted with accusations spread by the voice of such strangers? We do well to take to heart the counsel of Proverbs 14:15: “Anyone inexperienced puts faith in every word, but the shrewd one considers his steps.” It is unwise to believe everything presented as truth in the media. While we certainly do not distrust all secular information, we do recognize that “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.”—1 John 5:19.
“Test the Inspired Expressions”
16. (a) How does the behavior of literal sheep illustrate the truthfulness of Jesus’ words found at John 10:4? (b) What does the Bible encourage us to do?
16 How, though, do we know for sure whether we are dealing with a friend or a foe? Well, Jesus says that the sheep follow the shepherd “because they know his voice.” (John 10:4) It is not the literal shepherd’s appearance that moves the sheep to follow him; it is his voice. A book on Bible lands relates that a visitor once claimed that sheep recognize their shepherd by his dress, not his voice. A shepherd answered that it was the voice they knew. To prove this, he exchanged clothing with the stranger. Dressed in the shepherd’s garb, the stranger called the sheep, but they did not respond. They did not know his voice. Yet, when the shepherd called them, though he was disguised, the sheep came at once. Thus, someone may look like a shepherd, but for sheep, that does not prove that he really is one. The sheep, in effect, test the caller’s voice, comparing it with the shepherd’s voice. God’s Word tells us to do the same—“test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” (1 John 4:1; 2 Timothy 1:13) What will help us to do so?
17. (a) How do we become familiar with the voice of Jehovah? (b) Knowledge of Jehovah enables us to do what?
17 Understandably, the better we know Jehovah’s voice, or message, the better we can detect the voice of a stranger. The Bible points out how we develop such knowledge. It states: “Your own ears will hear a word behind you saying: ‘This is the way. Walk in it, you people.’” (Isaiah 30:21) That “word” behind us comes from the Word of God. Every time we read God’s Word, we hear, as it were, the voice of our Great Shepherd, Jehovah. (Psalm 23:1) Hence, the more we study the Bible, the more familiar we become with God’s voice. That intimate knowledge in turn enables us to detect instantly the voice of strangers.—Galatians 1:8.
18. (a) What does knowing Jehovah’s voice involve? (b) According to Matthew 17:5, why should we obey Jesus’ voice?
18 What does knowing Jehovah’s voice further involve? Besides hearing, it involves obeying. Note again Isaiah 30:21. God’s Word declares: “This is the way.” Yes, through a study of the Bible, we hear Jehovah’s directions. Next, he commands: “Walk in it.” Jehovah wants us to act on what we hear. Thus, by applying what we learn, we show that we have not simply heard Jehovah’s voice but also listened to it. (Deuteronomy 28:1) Obeying Jehovah’s voice also means obeying Jesus’ voice, for Jehovah himself told us to do so. (Matthew 17:5) What does Jesus, the Fine Shepherd, tell us to do? He teaches us to make disciples and to trust “the faithful and discreet slave.” (Matthew 24:45; 28:18-20) Obeying his voice means our eternal life.—Acts 3:23.
‘They Will Flee From Him’
19. What should be our reaction to the voice of strangers?
19 How, then, should we react to the voice of strangers? In the way sheep do. Jesus says: “A stranger they will by no means follow but will flee from him.” (John 10:5) Our reaction is twofold. First, we “will by no means follow” a stranger. Yes, we resolutely reject a stranger. In fact, in Biblical Greek, the words “by no means” translate the strongest way to express rejection in that language. (Matthew 24:35; Hebrews 13:5) Second, we “will flee from him,” or turn away from him. That is the only right way to react to those whose teachings are out of harmony with the voice of the Fine Shepherd.
20. How will we react when we are confronted with (a) deceitful apostates, (b) harmful associates, (c) biased media reports?
20 Therefore, when confronted with those who voice apostate ideas, we want to do what God’s Word states: “Keep your eye on those who cause divisions and occasions for stumbling contrary to the teaching that you have learned, and avoid them.” (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:10) Likewise, Christian youths facing the dangers of harmful associates want to apply Paul’s counsel given to young Timothy: “Flee from the desires incidental to youth.” And when confronted with false accusations in the media, we will remember Paul’s further advice to Timothy: “They [those who listen to the voice of strangers] will be turned aside to false stories. You, though, keep your senses in all things.” (2 Timothy 2:22; 4:3-5) No matter how smooth the voice of strangers may seem, we flee from all that would subvert our faith.—Psalm 26:5; Proverbs 7:5, 21; Revelation 18:2, 4.
21. What reward awaits those who reject the voice of strangers?
21 By repudiating the voice of strangers, spirit-anointed Christians respond to the Fine Shepherd’s words found at Luke 12:32. There Jesus says to them: “Have no fear, little flock, because your Father has approved of giving you the kingdom.” Likewise, the “other sheep” eagerly anticipate hearing Jesus’ words: “Come, you who have been blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the founding of the world.” (John 10:16; Matthew 25:34) What a heartwarming reward awaits us if we reject “the voice of strangers”!
Do You Remember?
• How does Satan fit the description of the stranger mentioned in Jesus’ illustration about the sheepfold?
• How is the voice of strangers heard today?
• How can we recognize the voice of strangers?
• What should be our reaction to the voice of strangers?
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Mary recognized Christ
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The stranger does not approach the sheep straightforwardly
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How do we react to the voice of strangers?