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Saturday, May 9, 2020

Shepherdly Care for ODD Believers


For a long time I have had to labor over the discrepancy between the joy of the obedient-faith life we are called to and the joylessness of the ODD (oppositional defiant disorder) life that is supposed to be a thing of the past.[1]

We have all seen it. Our good-behavior Christian living works for a while as everyone seems to get along, but all it takes is one person starting to question how we are really doing and suddenly a psycho-ninja-warrior springs out of the darkness of our basement dungeons and starts fighting against EVERYTHING God is doing to find us and set us free.

My quandary is, where do I focus my ministry when the ODD sin is so evident? In other words, when all my efforts to teach the goodness of God’s word as it applies to anything involved in our drive to ROAR (resistance, opposition, arrogance, rebellion) is met by more ROARing, what is a Shepherd-Guy supposed to do?

The answer is given very clearly in God’s Book so that every pastor/shepherd can tune his heart to the Father/child relationship in which the pastor can rest in doing his part while trusting the Father with the responsibility for everything else.[2]

First, the broader view of the plan involves both a positive and negative focus. The positive is, “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”[3] The negative focus is, “Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.”[4]

The understanding here is that, before addressing any distinctive problems among God’s people, there needs to be a general character of pursuing “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”[5] When the pastor has enough people in his church seeking God in such ways, and calling on the Lord together with pure hearts, the foundation is in place for addressing any specific discrepancies in the Spirit-filled lifestyle of the congregation.

Second, the specific plan for helping an ODDly behaved Christian also begins with a general clarification of the pastor’s character in relating to everybody, and then narrows the focus to the ODD behavior forced on the church.

The pastor’s character in relating to everyone in the church is, “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil…”[6] If that is the way a pastor is growing in the Lord,[7] he is a blessing to all the people who are not quarrelsome or ODDly behaved, but then quite ready to add the ODD churchian to his ministry activities.

The specific instruction to the pastor in relating to ODD congregants is, “correcting his opponents with gentleness.”[8] Yup. That’s it.[9]

What is the chief characteristic of the person in question? Opposing.

What is the primary aim for a pastor in helping this person? Correcting.

What does an ODD person need to see in a kind and patient teacher who is seeking to correct him or her? Gentleness.

Now here is an issue that many pastors will have difficulty with because it seems to be inherent in our fleshly tendencies: leaving all the rest in God’s hands.

I say this because the present church culture seems to be poisoned with a demand for “results” that is idolized above the hunger and thirst for righteousness.[10] Pastors need to let themselves treasure the value of “correcting his opponents with gentleness,” as the focus of his righteousness-by-faith while also trusting God with whatever he is pleased to do in the other person’s life.

God’s part in the picture is described as, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.”[11]

To clarify, all the things we wish would happen in the other person are GOD’S WORK!

Repentance: It is God’s kindness that is meant to lead someone to repentance.[12]

Knowledge: The “fear of the LORD (not of the pastor)” is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge in the other person.[13]

Truth: Jesus is “the truth,”[14] and the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth”.[15]

Come to their senses: Jesus showed, in bringing the demonized man of the Gerasenes “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind,”[16] that he can bring anyone to their senses, and demonstrated this further in Paul’s Damascus Road experience that he can do this for anyone.[17]

Escape from the snare of the devil: We are told how to be safe from the devil’s snares through equipping the church with the whole armor of God so we can “stand against the schemes of the devil.”[18] The devil is described as “a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[19] Paul is now telling Timothy how pastors help those believers who have succumbed to a snare and need help getting out.[20]

I find much comfort for the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”[21] This covers both the Scriptures that guide us into how to avoid succumbing to temptation, and our need for deliverance when we fall prey to the devil’s schemes. Ultimately, we have a Savior who came “to destroy the works of the devil,”[22] and what he has already accomplished on the cross is always available to apply to any works of the devil that are holding God’s sheep captive.

As older brother John wrote, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”[23] It is this advocate the pastor trusts to help the ODD believer escape the devil’s snares. The pastor simply continues a relentless ministry of gentle correction in faith that Jesus will deal with the other person in the way that accomplishes the greatest good.[24]

After being captured by him to do his will: this helps the pastor understand why God is the one who changes the ODD believer’s heart. The wayward sheep has been captured by the roaring lion to now do his will instead of God’s. God has to work on that ODD Christian’s heart to set him free.[25]

I have no idea how this got to be such a long blogpost! I think it’s because I needed to counsel myself in these things (joining the Spirit in his work of counseling me) as much as to share them with anyone else.

I simply know that pastors can face a lot of disillusionment in trying to help ODD believers, especially if they have an ODD Believers’ Club going on in the core group. The more we can simplify our ministry to such people in the gentle correction kind of way, while walking in such love-relationship with our Shepherd so that our own need for comfort and help is satisfied, the more our perseverance and waiting on the Lord will help the most people.

Now, if the unthinkable has happened, and an avowed ODD person has seen themselves in the mirror with this post, perhaps you have a gentle under-shepherd who would love to hear from you. Go share with him that Jesus has seemed to grant you repentance as you read along, leading you to know and understand the truth, and that you have suddenly felt like you have come to your senses and desperately want to escape the devil’s trap. If you have a pastor trying to follow Paul’s example, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith”,[26] go and share your surrender to Christ so you can rejoice together. You can be quite sure that your pastor may very well need that encouragement right now.

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” cries the Psalmist.[27] And so we join God’s work to this end.

Email: in2freedom@gmail.com
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.)


[1] I in no way agree with the world’s assessment of the ODD life, their explanation for this propensity (which is far more common than they imagine), or their treatment. God’s view of sin, pride, idolatry and rebellion is the superior one. I simply present this for those church folk who have already hardened themselves against anything the Bible says to describe their resisting-the-Spirit behavior because they can’t let anything ruin the “good Christian” fa├žade they have created to hide in. They would rather look like an awful Christian who self-justifies what they are doing than be transformed through the renewal of their minds into the Spirit-filled Christian they could be in surrender to their heavenly Father.
[2] While I absolutely denounce the Touched By an Angel (I know I’m dating myself) heresy that salvation is about us reaching up to God as best we can and God reaching down to cover the rest, and I absolutely trust the good news of great joy that our Savior has saved us by grace alone through faith alone, we cannot escape that the Christian life now involves us joining God in his work with things we are supposed to do on our side while trusting God to do the things that are on his side.
[3] II Timothy 2:22 (yes, I know that “flee youthful passions” is a negative, but the primary focus of the exhortation is the positive side of what we pursue together in Christ)
[4] II Timothy 2:23
[5] Romans 14:17 (context: Romans 14:13-23)
[6] II Timothy 2:24
[7] I say “growing” rather than “perfecting” because even pastors can only make progress in this lifetime, with none of us ever achieving perfection until the return of Christ. Paul told Timothy, “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress (not perfection)” (I Tim 4:15).
[8] II Timothy 2:25
[9] This can be elaborated with other Scriptures that describe different qualities of a pastor’s ministry to the flock, but this keeps the focus on the aim as it especially applies to Oppositionally Defiant Christians, that they need gentle correction.
[10] What Jesus introduced in Matthew 5:6 as, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied,” is characteristic of the gospel’s effect on God’s children, that there is a “righteousness of God” that is “from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith” (see Romans 1:16-17). Everything is about the righteousness of faith, and so we let ourselves always hunger and thirst for what we are still lacking in this regard.
[11] II Timothy 2:25-27
[12] Romans 2:4
[13] Proverbs 9:10 (plus: Proverbs 1:7; Isaiah 11:2; Isaiah 33:6)
[14] John 14:6
[15] John 15:26 (plus: John 14:17; 16:13; I John 4:6; 5:6)
[16] Luke 8:35 in context of Luke 8:26-39
[17] Acts 9:1-18
[18] Ephesians 6:10-20
[19] I Peter 5:8
[20] Jesus showed the church that he does not take lightly people letting Satan fill their hearts with sin when he addressed Ananias and Sapphira’s sin of lying to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:1-11). The apostles addressed a similar situation when Simon the Sorcerer received Christ and then came to covet the Apostles’ ability to lead new believers to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-24). Peter rebuked Simon for his sin and told him that he was “in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:23). My point is simply that believers can and do fall into such snares and need rescuing as quickly as possible.
[21] Matthew 6:13 in context of the Disciples’ Prayer of Matthew 6:9-13
[22] I John 3:8
[23] I John 2:1
[24] Since we’re dealing with how to handle ODD Christians rather than dead-in-sin unbelievers, Paul’s encouragement that, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28), most definitely applies, and the pastor’s faith in this reality helps him stick to his side of the work!
[25] For anyone who still objects to the idea that any of these ODD things can happen to Christians, every warning to stand firm against the devil’s work is because the devil’s work can work on Christians if we do not stand firm, or do not resist what Satan is doing. God calls us to both stand firm, and also to, “have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:22-23).
[26] II Corinthians 1:24
[27] Psalm 133:1 in context of Psalm 133:1-3.

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