The Good of the One vs. The Good of the Many

Editor’s Note: This is the eighth in a series on the The Ministry of a Shepherd from Ezekiel 34.

My kids are watching the new Star Trek movies. The most recent movie, Into Darkness, is currently in theaters. But those of you close to my age may remember the OLD Star Trek movies. The 1982 movie Wrath of Khan was famous for the phrase, “The good of the many outweighs the good of the few.” In the movie, Spock sacrifices his life to save the ship and all those on her by exposing himself to a lethal dosage of radiation to repair the damaged engineering deck.

“The good of the many outweighs the good of the few.”

However, in the sequel, The Search for Spock, Captain Kirk and the crew risk their lives, their careers, and even the Federation to rescue Spock who has been regenerated but has no memory of his career on the Starship Enterprise. At the climax of the movie Spock realizes the lengths that Kirk went to in rescuing his friend and asks the Captain why he would go to such effort to save him? Kirk replies, “The good of the one outweighed the good of the many.”

“The good of the one outweighed the good of the many.”

Maybe it wasn’t logical, and it is just a movie, but the message is true. Sometimes the good of the one outweighs the good of the many. Scripture also affirms this principle. Jesus told the story of a shepherd who was willing to leave the 99 sheep (possibly risking their safety in his absence) to search for one sheep that was lost. In that moment, the urgency for the salvation of the lost outweighs the necessity to preserve the security of the found!

It is only in understanding the heart of a shepherd who would leave the 99 unlost sheep to seek the one that is unfound that one begins to understand the heart of a true shepherd.

In Ezekiel 34:4, the Lord rebuked the shepherds for not searching for the sheep that were lost. The word used in the Hebrew to describe the lost literally means “the ones perishing.” The charge is for shepherds to rescue lost sheep who are perishing.

In 1869, Fanny Crosby wrote the Hymn Rescue the Perishing. In it she captured the heart of the true shepherd.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Though they are slighting Him, still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Down in the human heart, crushed by the tempter,
Feelings lie buried that grace can restore;
Touched by a loving heart, wakened by kindness,
Chords that were broken will vibrate once more.

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

Rescue the perishing, duty demands it;
Strength for thy labor the Lord will provide;
Back to the narrow way patiently win them;
Tell the poor wand’rer a Savior has died.

The unmistakable charge of every shepherd is to search after lost sheep. Duty demands it. In our work as shepherds, we must not occupy all our ministry resources only managing found people. True shepherds seek the lost.

Andy Stanley gives an excellent illustration of an unlost credit card. He observes that when we lose a credit card, our attention immediately leaves the unlost credit cards and focuses on the one that is missing. We do not call the credit card companies to report that unlost credit cards remain found. Instead, we focus our attention on the one that is lost. We call; we retrace; we persist until it is found. Shouldn’t we apply at least that same effort to those spiritually lost?

In Ezekiel 34, God gives us five reasons why shepherds must seek the lost.

  • First, they are perishing (vs. 4). They are destined for an eternity absent from the Good Shepherd. How can we not seek them out?
  • Second, they have been scattered (vs. 5). Some are scattered of their own doing and others from the neglect of shepherds.
  • Third, they are prey for beasts (vs. 5). Sheep are vulnerable to attack and destruction by enemies who hunt them.
  • Fourth, they are wandering (vs. 6). They lack clear direction. Shepherds must rescue the sheep to help them find their way.
  • Finally, we must seek the sheep because of the command of the Good Shepherd (vs. 10). Shepherds will be held accountable by the Lord for accomplishing the mandate of seeking lost sheep.

Shepherds, there are lost sheep from your fold. Go find them. Seek them out. Leave the safety of the pen and go rescue sheep from the dangers inherent in lostness. Ironically, you’ll find that seeking them is not only for the good of the one, it is also for the good of the many.