The Responsibilities of the Shepherd
There is a good reason for the illustration of a shepherd with his sheep, which was used so often in biblical times … because it’s an illustration people could easily identify within their cultural context. The illustrations we use are most effective when they are understood easily by the culture to which God has sent us to minister. Spiritual Baptist understood what shepherding is all about. It is a text that is preached daily within our churches. It is about feeding the lambs and the sheep, bringing them to good pasture lands and water, grooming and clipping them, delivering new lambs, leading them and teaching them to stay together, going off after the wandering lost ones, and protecting the sheep in the field and in the fold. We are all under-shepherds and Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd. We need to emulate what the Good Shepherd does for the sheep. John 21:15-17 “So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” He saith to him again the second time, “Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” He saith unto him, “Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee.” He saith unto him, “Feed my sheep.” He saith unto him the third time, “Simon son of Jonas, lovest thou me?” Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, “Lovest thou me?” And he said, “Lord, Thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love Thee.” Jesus saith unto him, “Feed my sheep”.
There are many other aspects of this deep passage I could dwell on such as the Lord’s use of the word “agape” (God’s love for humanity) and Peter’s use of the word “phileo“, (brotherly love) or the paralleling of the three denials with Peter with the three commands of Jesus … but I want to look at the three statements of Christ and think about the excellent illustration of shepherding by the Shepherd Who is showing us how to be good under-shepherds (or assistant).
FEEDING: First Jesus says “feed my lambs.” Emulating the foundational apostles such as Peter, we are told to feed the lambs. Lambs need milk. (As newborn babes desire the sincere milk of the word that they may grow thereby 1 Peter 2:2) They need the basics of the Gospel and simple biblical precepts to grow. We are then to “take care of the sheep”. That means we are to do everything we can get into in a moment. Finally, we are to “feed my sheep”. Remember, these are the sheep of the Lord, not our sheep; not sheep of the church. We are caretakers of sheep that belong to the Master. The point is we are to move beyond feeding the lambs’ milk to feeding the sheep solid food. Hebrews 5:12-14 and 6:1-3 in fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic or simple truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
What then is solid food? It is training in righteousness so that the sheep can be fully equipped, able to stand in the day of testing. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good work. Stories, pop music, psychology worldly pleasures and gossip do not feed sheep. They must be fed on the written Word of God as it is explained properly and applied by the Holy Spirit. Watering Genesis 29:3 “And thither were all the flocks gathered: and they rolled the stone from the well’s mouth and water the sheep, and put the stone again upon the well’s mouth in his place.” Water, in the Bible, is often used as an allusion to the Holy Spirit. It certainly is in the case of water baptism. An under-shepherd will lead his flock to water regularly. He will roll away the stone of hard hearts and prepare those hearts to be receptive to the nourishment of the Holy Spirit. This can only be accomplished by rolling away the stone of the “self” culture (in other words get yourself out the way, and let God work) so the light of God’s written Word can shine through teaching and proper explanation, through prayer, and live in obedience to the commands of Jesus Christ.
Grooming: The shepherd grooms his sheep, keeps them clean and free of contamination, from the world, the flesh and the devil. He then prepares them to be disciples, followers of the Good Shepherd, so they will, in turn, go out and minister to others. Matthew 28:19-20 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
SHEARING: Deuteronomy 18:4-5 “The first fruits also of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the first of the fleece of thy sheep shall thou give him. For the LORD thy God hath chosen him out of all thy tribes, to stand to minister in the Name of the Lord, him and his sons forever.” At times sheep must be sheared. This is a useful and profitable process for both the sheep and the shepherd. This is an offering to the Good Shepherd. For the benefit of all, the sheep must be sheared … disciplined encouraged and rebuked … to keep them fit for service to the Lord. 2 Timothy 4:2-3 “Preach the Word; be instant in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. (And encourage one another with great patience and careful instruction.) For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers having itching ears.” They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to untruth. But thou, my beloved Ministers and brethren of this Worthy and Noble Mystical Order: keep your heads up in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and discharge all the duties of your ministry. You are the one that will be called into question. What have you done with Jesus that is called the Christ? Hebrews 12:7-10 “If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons. For what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. (And everyone undergoes discipline), Furthermore, we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we give them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. You have to train your children now so when they get old they will not depart from it.
1 Thessalonians 5:14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient towards all men.
Titus 2:15 “These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority, Let no man despise thee.” You should able to teach. Encourage and rebuke (not in your might but) with all authority. Do not let anyone (I say anyone) despise you. As Ministers, you have to stand firm and prove that you can lead in the darkest shadow or situation.
Isaiah 40:11 He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom; and shall gently lead those that are with young. We are to deliver the lambs. We preach the Gospel, the Holy Spirit then convicts the sinner, and if some repent and believe they can be born again. John 3:3 “Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” I say no man will enter heaven’s gate unless he is born again. That is your first promise and you should consider this option if, you have not done so. “Only the Lord Jesus Christ can save and cause a person to be born again. But when a lamb is newly born, the undershepherd still has responsibilities. John 11:25 Jesus said unto her, “I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. John 11:39-44 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone, Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days. Jesus saith unto her, Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God? Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou hast sent me. And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, lose him and let him go.
We roll the stone away by preaching the Gospel to let the light of the Son of God shine in the darkness. When a lamb is born, they come out wrapped in the placenta. They still have the trace of the old man wrapped around them. They need to be helped to put off the old man and put on the new man! This is called discipleship. Then when the lamb is relatively free, we let them go to grow on to maturity and live their faith out in action.
LEADING: The under-shepherd leads the flock in the world while helping them not to be, “of the world”. There is now a new page in the life of these lambs and so the Shepherd must be able to understand and nurture these lambs. Psalm 23:1-6 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, and he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Following the lead of the Good Shepherd as under-shepherds we are to lead the sheep to pasture and water. We teach them and restore them. We guide them in paths of righteousness. We protect them from wolves and beasts in the world with the rod and staff. The rod and staff are for the discipline of the flock and protection for the flock. Proverbs 23:14 Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell. 1 Samuel 17:40 And he took his staff in his hand, and chose him five smooth stones out of the brook, and put them in shepherd’s bag which he had, even in a scrip; and his sling was in his hand: and he drew near to the Philistine. We are to discipline the sheep to be aware of the pitfalls of the world. We are to warn them of any danger, that’s why we as servants and shepherds ought to be watching every hour and every minute, so we can sound the warning. We are to lead the flock out and teach them to stay together in unity. Sheep automatically have one type of unity, which they are to “keep”. Ephesian 4:3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. The only way to be a sheep is to be born again. A sheep is born with sheep nature and will look like, and act likes a sheep. Otherwise, you are a goat or a wolf. Those who are born again have a bond of peace, a unity of the Spirit. But there is another unit that we must build the sheep up into … the unity of the Faith. Ephesians 4:12-14 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. That we henceforth are no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive. This unity is unity of belief, the unity of doctrine. There is no way for sheep to be unified with wolves in sheep’s clothing because there is no unity of the Faith. Matthew 10:16 Behold I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Wolves are those who pretend to be in unity with the sheep just long enough to come in and drag sheep away into sin. They look and talk like sheep, but they expose who they are by their fruits, false teaching and false prophecies. We need to teach the sheep to be wise and be on the watch for the pitfalls of the world, the flesh, the devil and of false religion.
WANDERING SHEEP: True under-shepherds will make an effort to look for wandering sheep. Luke 15:4”What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent. The Bible is clear that many people have and will continue to wander from the Faith. 1 Timothy 6:10 for the love of money is the root of all evil. Which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. 1 Timothy 6:20-21 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: Which some professing have erred concerning the faith. Grace be with thee. Amen. James 5:19-20 Brethren, if any of you do err from the truth and one convert him; Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins. We need to help people who have wandered, fallen into the fire while being careful not to get burned ourselves or soil our own clean clothes. This means we need to be careful about hanging out with false teachers and those who are deceived because we are also in danger of being deceived. Jude 1:22-23 And of some have compassion, making a difference. And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh. We need to be mindful that we have all wondered at times, we have gone astray, but the point is to return to the Shepherd.1 Peter 2:25 for ye were as sheep going astray, but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop (Overseer) of your souls.
PROTECTION: The shepherd would bring the flock home to the fold at night. He would then lie down in the gate physically to protect the sheep from wolves coming into the sheepfold. He literally put his life on the line for the sheep. John 10:1-13 “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand (paid ministers) and cares nothing for the sheep. We learn some important things about being good under shepherd in this passage.
First of all, we are to be watchmen. There are not only savage wolves out in the world; there are savage wolves that are entering the fold at an alarming rate. Acts 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Matthew 7:15”Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. The wolves who try to enter the fold make themselves look like sheep. They talk like sheep, they pray like sheep, they make themselves look extra-holy, they say “Lord, Lord”, they claim to be doing miracles, casting out demons, making prophecies in the name of the Lord … but by their fruit, you will know them … the fruit of lying, of false works, false prophecy, false teaching, false anointing’s, following false apostles, and trying to be justified by their works. The Shepherd sees through their ruse and calls them what they are … evildoers. Matthew 7:21-23 ”Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works?’ And then will I profess unto them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work iniquity. ‘If we as under-shepherds do not protect the flock against these wolves, we are just as liable for the destruction they cause under our watch as they are. We as shepherds MUST protect the flock because God will require accountability at our hands.
Ezekiel 33:6-7 “But if the watchman sees the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword comes and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman’s hand. So thou O of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at my mouth, and warn them warning for me.” God has made every under-shepherd a watchman. There are many gates to any church. The gate of the “mourner’s” room, the gate of the music ministry, the gate of the pulpit, the gate of the announcement and upcoming so-called “Church” events, the gate of the women’s ministry, and the gate of people who come into the body but have an agenda to take people away from unity in the Faith. We need to lay our bodies down in the gate to protect the flock at the risk of our reputations, friendships, our livelihood, and perhaps even our lives. There are too many “hired hands” (paid ministers) in the churches today that are not doing their job because they do not want to take a stand against anyone or anything. By their inability to make the hard stands they make themselves useless to the Good Shepherd, and allow great evil a foothold under their watch. In conclusion, those who are called to be a servant under-shepherds in the body of Christ must take that responsibility seriously. There is far too many who claim to be called to servant leadership but demonstrate clearly that they are not qualified to be shepherds according to God’s criteria and plan. We need to be feeding the lambs and the sheep, bringing them to good pasture lands and water, grooming and clipping them, delivering new lambs, leading them and teaching them to stay together, going off after the wandering lost ones, and protecting the sheep in the field and in the fold. Oh, how I remember the song coming back from mourning,
“There were ninety and nine, that safely lay in the shelter of the fold, but one was out on the hills away far out from the gates of gold.
Away on the mountains wild and bare, Away from the tender shepherd’s care”
What else do you want to hear as Spiritual Baptist coming back from the inner court? Somewhere in the service, you are sure to hear, my shepherd will supply my needs and Jehovah is His Name. O what a wonderful time we have in the Lord. I recall the Shepherd watching every move of his children as they receive the pilgrims. Today it is a far cry from what it was like and I will love to call you back to your place of true worship. God is still in charge and He will deliver if we just ask Him.