The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So [the sheep] were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. – Ezekiel 34:4-5 ESV
The Lord gives each of us a responsibility toward others in the world. He gives us responsibility that varies from person to person. Some have a great deal and are responsible for many, while others have little and therefore are responsible for little. It could be anything from a pastor over a church to a CEO over a company to a parent. It could be a friendship that God’s asked you to invest in or someone who needs mentorship. No matter what kind of relationships you’re working with, how you handle them is important to God. How do we know if we’re handling it the right way?
Ezekiel 34:4 lists several responses that should be happening, but doesn’t when we are selfish. Healing the sick, helping the injured, seeking the lost, and being kind are several things that we must be doing. This is not a “would be nice” category. God isn’t politely asking, if we wouldn’t mind, could we help him out and take care of others? He’s saying this is what needs to happen to keep us all healthy and protected.
In addition, there’s one thing that’s listed here that we should not be doing: leading with force and harshness. When someone is lacking or hurting, they are vulnerable. If we are a “have” in a world of “have not’s”, we must be very careful to not put burdens on people that they can’t live up to. It’s a huge risk when we are helping others to want to help them to be like us and have what we have and think like we think, but that’s not the goal. We are not the ultimate; God is.
Most people would agree with everything said so far here, but I want to take it to another level. I have never knowingly oppressed someone. I have not intentionally withheld food from a hungry person or even blocked someone’s access to healthcare. So, how does this apply to me? How am I supposed to actively seek the health and wellness of the less fortunate when I don’t feel like I’m actively part of the problem?
I am fully convinced that the first place that these factors come into play for us is in our words. Are our words full of life for all people in all situation? Our words are an indicator of what’s going on in our hearts, and our actions are an extension of what our hearts believe. If we want to know if we’ve lined ourselves up with the teachings of God’s Word, we need to start by listening carefully to our words.
Another factor that must be talked about but often isn’t is this: harshness is cultural. Meaning, you can’t compare your words to the words of people around you in order to determine if your words are harsh or not. What’s acceptable to say and how to say it is determined by many factors, most of which have to do with the people that surround you and the ideals you grew up in. If your culture and mindset and circumstances are filled with harshness, you will not be able to tell that you are harsh. You will blend in and you will be just like everyone else. Harshness, unkindness, and hypocritical thinking can only be identified in one place: the presence of God. Only by comparing yourself to the one source of true love in the world can the light of awareness shine on your words.
We must be willing to put ourselves in the light of God and humble enough to allow the truth of what’s there to fill our mind. It will not be pretty; seeing sin in ourselves can be a heavy weight. However, when we are holding tightly to the hand of God, that weight is lifted as He takes over renewing our mind and teaching us to be like Him.
We cannot let our culture determine our righteousness. We cannot even let our culture ask the questions for us that need to be asked about who we are and what we value. We must step away from what circumstances tells us is right and allow the power of the Lord to lead us and guide us. Only the will we know how to step into building up relationships and people instead of damaging them with every word we speak. Once we know that our words are in line with the truth of God, we can begin to see if our actions and our words are lining up. What we speak is powerful and when we are consciously choosing our words, we can begin to consciously change our world.