I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. John 10:10 (AV)
This well known verse, set in the context of a shepherd and his sheep, is usually interpreted in an emotional sense. Abundant life is 'joie de vivre' or 'life to the full' (NIV) or 'life in its fullness' (NEB).
But can we not go a little deeper by looking at the context? The first half of the verse provides a contrast. The thief comes to steal and to kill and to destroy. The shepherd comes to bring life. The difference is stark. The thief steals for his own purpose, perhaps to fatten and put on his own family table. He kills -- and the word used means to make a sacrifice presumably for ritual purposes. He destroys, and for what other reason than malice?
The shepherd came to the fold to bring life. But he did not want the sheep just to be able to exist. He wanted them to have the fullest possible life of which a sheep is capable. But can we define what this means to a sheep? What is a sheep's abundant life? We care told in the preceding verse. It means to 'go in and out, and find pasture'.
To 'go in' means security. The fold, guarded by a shepherd, offers safety for the sheep when wolves prowl and thieves are more likely to be active. Just so, we Christians are secure in Christ. No man shall ever be able to pluck us out of his hand.
To 'go out' spells liberty. We are free to wander where we like, always provided we keep within range of the Shepherd's voice and follow his lead. And if we happen to stray, he will be watching and will give us a call or come after us.
To 'find pasture' speaks of sustenance, of food and water enough for every day. Even in mountains or desert the Shepherd knows our need and provides for it.
If this is the kind of abundant life the Shepherd offers, there is only one thing to do, and that is to stock close by him.
Good Shepherd, may I sing your praise
Within your house for ever.
Further reading: Jn 10:10-15. Ps 23.
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