What we follow ultimately determines who we become and what we do. Wrong following is turning aside to do evil and pervert justice because God is not in it.
You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. (Exodus 23:2)
All good things come from God, and the Internet is truly an incredible development. With the click of a few keys, we have the world at our fingertips. We have the ability to reach millions from our desk at home. Bibles studies and scriptural resources are disseminated to so many who would never benefit from them otherwise. In my work and ministry, it is a limitless benefit for which I give thanks often. But, like all things created by God, Satan is able to pervert it to His own ends. The Internet is perhaps the greatest weapon in this ongoing war between the spiritual kingdoms. Yet it’s power can be broken down into the simplest of terms. Today’s verse stirred up a challenging question I believe is relevant to every believer in our cyber-society. Who do we follow?
To follow is a wired-in instinct.
This is why Internet following is so powerful. We only have to look at nature as a perfect illustration. Every living creature possesses an instinctive need to ‘belong’ with those of its kind. It has a lot to do with security and stability, but as much to do with a sense of being part of bigger something than ourselves. People need assurance and validation from others, and we’re often not that cautious about where it comes from. Peer pressure, gangs, cliques, and political parties all manifest the desire to belong to a common ‘something.’ We justify it to ourselves with the old ‘what I believe in’ excuse, but all too often, it’s simply because we must have something to follow.
The danger of this, if the belief, behaviour, or people we follow are flawed, is that we’re seduced and deceived. Who or what we follow will, ultimately, begin to shape our identity. What we fill our minds with also fills our hearts. And what fills our hearts is what we eventually become. We learn at a very early age to become ‘crowd-pleasers.’ It makes for a comfortable and seemingly popular existence. To belong to something that appears powerful makes us feel powerful and in control. In reality, though, the opposite is true.
The biblical basis of follow.
There is nothing that this world has to offer that does not originally come from God. The concept of follow is one written in at creation. God does nothing for a reason, and creating sheep – if we look at how often they pop up in the Bible – most definitely had a powerful allegorical purpose. To understand ourselves, we need only look at sheep. Our vulnerability to pressures and seductions that lead us to follow almost anything is the same that besets the poor ‘dumb’ sheep who will chase after almost anything.
But God always has a perfect purpose. Because He understood the gullible nature of man and the driving need to belong and feel good, He also created shepherds. To meet our need to follow, He supplied the perfect shepherd – Himself. The irony, of course, is that when we follow the Good Shepherd, we actually set ourselves apart from other sheep and in turn, become leaders. Only the almighty God could get that right, because it talks transformation.
To follow has become a mighty weapon in Satan’s hands.
This is dark side of the Internet, a perfect example of how the enemy has snatched what belongs to God for his own purposes. I don’t believe that the Internet is accidental. In these end times, the power for evangelism and right teaching is critical. All men must hear the Word before Christ’s return. The Bible also states that the whole world will witness His coming. It doesn’t take a cyber-genius to recognise that both of these are possible through the viral power of the internet. It’s little wonder that Satan has moved swiftly and decisively to gain control of this platform. The seemingly simple, useful, and fun follow buttons are a perfect tool in His hands. Sheep, after all, must follow. It’s in their nature.
Of course, the principle of following is essentially good. If we, as we should in all things, examine and evaluate what we choose to follow in the light of the pure Word of God. The problem is that subtle drive to be a crowd-pleaser. If it’s viral, we get sucked in. We forget that the root of viral – disease – isn’t exactly something we chase after outside the cyber-context. We happily ignore the destructive cyber-virus context for the feel-good sense of belonging, of hanging with the popular crowd.
The good side of the ability to follow.
There are many people I follow because I’ve tested and examined their words and behaviour. I follow because I believe God provided access for me to their teaching, mentoring, and shepherding. But while I follow, I know I must constantly measure their words and actions against the Word of God. Following them enables me know, in a busy schedule, when new teaching is available and to benefit from it. But the essence of we follow is not the person we ‘follow’ but the fact that God is in and working through them. We don’t follow the people. Rather, we follow the God who directs them.
The Internet is, I firmly believe, an opportunity created by God to evangelise and disciple His people. But it has taken what is an integral part God’s blessings and perverted it. While digging around – yes, on the Internet – I came across many memes and cartoons about the people of God as mindless, spineless, sheep without the ability to think for themselves. We are often portrayed as having ‘blind faith’ – that to follow the Good Shepherd is the perversion. It all comes back to the simple question of who and what do we follow? Do we follow the good or the evil?
To follow is a decision each of us must make.
Today’s verse is a harsh and sobering reminder of the very real results and consequences of what we follow. Once again, it’s not a suggestion. It’s a command. ‘You shall not’ is about as clear as it gets. We must decide what we follow and what we don’t. It’s our choice, and at the end of the day, will determine where we end up – as sheep or as goats. The reality is that the evil and wickedness in this world cannot be laid at God’s door. It’s our choices in how we manage what God has given that have allowed the enemy the powerful stranglehold he has on what was created for our benefit.
Anything we follow that is not of the Good Shepherd is essentially crowd-pleasing. The principle of God and Mammon still applies – it’s one or the other. We cannot do both. When we follow something other than God and His Word, we are turning away to follow the crowd, and ultimately, to do evil. This is the heart of the issues of things like peer pressure. It plays on our vulnerability and need to belong. We’re often willing to ‘compromise’ on the ‘little issues’ to keep our position in the crowd. But little issues pile up and soon, compromising – following the crowd – become a way of life. It’s a daily, moment-by-moment decision.
To follow implies being part of what we follow.
There are two parts to today’s verse. We’ve touched on the first, that of turning aside to follow the crowd to do evil. Realistically, not everyone sets out to deliberately do evil. Mass protests that turn to bloodshed are often a case in point. Disagreement fuels anger which fuels mass hysteria. Many tragedies could have been prevented if the sheep had only not followed the hot-headed goat. When we follow, we commit ourselves to the common belief and behaviour of what we follow. We conform in order to validate our belonging.
The second half of the verse highlights the very real danger – the outworking of being a follower of the wrong things. This is powerfully illustrated in the example of the Internet. Cyber-bullying, for example, has caused violence, bloodshed, and suicide in alarming proportions. A reputation that has taken years to build is shredded overnight, destroying people and families in a viral-instant. Of course, there are always the level-headed people who don’t throw themselves into the frenzy. They may even try to be the voice of reason. But the tragic reality is that those who follow all too often throw themselves into the frenzy of slander, hate, and public vilification. This happens in the non-cyber world. But with the Internet it is a powerful tool to pervert justice. Sway your followers and sway the battle, no matter what it costs others.
The danger of what we follow in the church.
Believers are not ‘automagically’ exempt from temptation to follow the wrong things, and it’s certainly not a modern or cyber-phenomenon. We only have to look through the persecutions and tragedies perpetrated in the name of Christianity over the centuries to see evidence of that. God’s people all too often turn aside from His pure teaching with results that must please the devil enormously. The truth is, we did it, not Him. We’re to blame when we choose to follow the crowd rather than God. Crowd-power should never be underestimated. Fortunately, God has provided a safeguard – intimate, Word-based, Spirit-led following of the Good Shepherd.
Do a quick Internet search on ‘outpourings,’ or ‘new revelations,’ or even ‘revival.’ It’s absolutely heartbreaking to see what God’s sheep are following today. Self, more often than the devil, has become the greatest enemy in the church. I don’t diminish the work of Satan or underestimate His power. But the reality is that, most times, He only has to let loose a single goat to get the sheep chasing after. Thereafter, all he needs to do is sit back and watch the ‘fun.’ The natural assumption of sheep is the safety of the flock – another God-given blessing to sustain, support, encourage, and safeguard us. But assumption leads to presumption. We deceive ourselves into believing that if it happens in church, it must be God. Our personal responsibility to test it is swept aside on the follow tide to deception.
When we follow, it must be God only.
The Bible, thousands of years ago, painted powerful images of what it was to follow. Think of the Exodus, one of the greatest ‘followings’ in history. Whatever the debate on the exact number, it was a good few million men, women, and children, along will all their flocks and herds. They were commanded to follow Moses out of Egypt, but it was God in Moses they were really called to follow. The multitudes that followed Jesus are another example. Wherever He went, there were multitudes. He fed the five-thousand and the four-thousand who followed him. Ironically, it was these same followers who turned on Him and demanded His crucifixion, fuelled by the perversion of justice perpetrated by their ‘leaders.’
Who and what do we really follow?
It all comes back to this simple question. We must follow only what is rooted in God’s Word and which reflects Him. Is our ‘Christ’ the real one or the false one? Do we examine what we follow and test it by the Bible? If we follow something or someone simply to meet our needs for self-gratification, we turn aside to follow the crowd. We will inevitably be swept up in gossip and slander, parties to the same perversion of justice that crucified Christ. While we should absolutely take hold of the blessings God has provided – and the Internet is one of those – we must weigh them before we follow them. If we keep our eyes on the Good Shepherd, and seek Him in all things, He will lead us in righteousness.
Thank You, Father, for Your great and abundant gifts. Help us to seek You in all, to fix our eyes on You and test all things by Your Word. Grant us the grace to only hear the voice of our Good Shepherd, and to follow only where You lead.