Black Sheep of the Family?

Listen to the message here:

“…Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he fids it?” — excerpt Luke 15:3 (NLT)

Ever felt like the black sheep of the family? I must admit that I have, and still do at times. But what does it mean, where does the saying come from, and is it a term that should still be in use today?

According to phrases.org.uk it is most likely to have derived from a misunderstanding of the Bible as it was translated into English in the 1500’s. We, as Christians, have a lot to answer in history – we have not always behaved well – and it is unfortunate to see that certain factions of our Christian family still do not behave well at times. But that is subject of another topic, far too large to explore here! In our modern Bibles it says:

Let me inspect your flocks today and remove all the sheep and goats that are speckled or spotted, along with all the black sheep. Give these to me as my wages.

Genesis 30:32 (NLT)

And then in the next verse, it goes on to say:

In the future, when you check on the animals you have given me as my wages, you’ll see that I have been honest. If you find in my flock any goats without speckles or spots, or any sheep that are not black, you will know that I have stolen them from you.

Genesis 30:33 (NLT)

Readers of the early Bible versions thought that the sheep were removed because they were worthless. However, they were, rather, a mark of honour and integrity, rather than the more modern view of the black sheep of being of disrepute. It is actually the complete opposite!

The first use of the term ‘black sheep’ in a derogatory sense (according to phrases.org.uk) was by an English evangelical Christian Puritan, Thomas Shepard, in his text, ‘The Sincere Convert’ in 1640. I guess with a name of Shepard, he had to write about sheep! Today, the term has been adopted to describe odd or disreputable members of a group – those that stand out against the crowd, because of their differences.

But, rather than being derogatory, the opposite remains as true today as it was in the original meaning in the Bible. Black sheep are regarded as bringing good fortune and are prized in certain cultures. Being rarer than white sheep, the wool is more highly valued. 

So, if you feel like the black sheep of the family today, may you know that you are honourable and of integrity, prized and highly valued above the white sheep. And regardless of your colour, Jesus will always seek you. In the parable of the sheep, Jesus asks:

“If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbours, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’”

excerpt Luke 15:3-6 (NLT)

I like to think of that sheep that went astray as the black sheep of the family. We black sheep are far more likely to stray than the other white sheep; we are more likely to feel left out, different, unwanted, unloved; and we are far more likely to stray. But when we do, rest assured that Jesus left the ninety-nine – for us! Yes, He left ninety-nine behind to find the one – we, black sheep who have gone astray. He left the ninety-nine behind because He knew they were safe and wouldn’t stray away. He came for us because He calls us honourable, He calls us valuable, He calls us prized. And when He finds us and brings us home, He rejoices! Not only that, all of heaven rejoices:

… there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

Excerpt Luke 15:7 (NLT)

Makes you think, doesn’t it? “There is more joy over one … who returns to God than over ninety-nine others … [who] haven’t strayed away!” Is that you today? Have you strayed away from God? The black sheep of the family? God is calling you back today, Jesus is out looking for you, and the Holy Spirit is calling you – can you feel it in your heart? Come back to God today, and let us all rejoice together with those in heaven.

May we pray: Thank You, Lord, that you seek us out. Thank You, that you call us honourable, valuable and prized. Help us realise how valuable we are to You, and help us return to You today. We ask this in the precious name of our Saviour, Christ Jesus; Amen.


If you’re struggling with life right now, we would like to pray for you – please get in touch. Don’t feel as though you have to battle alone – Jesus is out looking for you! May God Bless You.

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