Posts Tagged ‘overseers’

Masters and Mouths

Masters and Mouths

© 4/18/2020 C. O. Bishop

James 3:1-12

Introduction:

James seems to address two ideas here: Masters and Mouths. But, the admonition is directed to “My Brethren:” to believers. So, since both ideas are addressed to the same audience, and the one leads directly into the other, we will approach them as if they were one idea, simply having a wider and a narrower focus.

The general focus is “how we live,” especially in the case of leaders. Remember that in chapter two that was also the primary focus, where faith had to result in actions. Hypocrisy was ruled out by genuine faith, leading to the “practical” holiness of life which God requires.

“Be Not Many Masters”

1 My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation.

Bear in mind that I am quoting the King James Version…which, in its original form was from 1611. In modern English, especially in the US, we no longer often use the word “master” to mean a teacher, but that was a very common usage, two centuries ago, even in the US. A school-teacher was called a schoolmaster, a person who went from town to town teaching young people the arts of ballroom dancing (once considered an important part of education) was called a “dance-master,” etc. The word for teacher in Spanish is still “maestro,” and such usage is common in many languages. This passage is not a warning to not be an employer, nor even a caution against the (then-common) practice of slave-holding. It is an admonition that one not be over-eager to become a teacher (specifically, teaching within the church…teaching scripture, feeding the flock, equipping the saints, etc.) Why would James extend such a warning? Over in 1st Timothy 8:1, it says that “if a man desires the office of a bishop (“overseer”…same person as an elder, pastor, shepherd, presbyter,) it is a good work he desires.”

The issue is one of being held accountable: see Hebrews 13:17. We elders are going to be held accountable for the results of our ministry, at least so far as it is a direct result of what we did or failed to do. Ezekiel 34:1-10 spells out the job description of the shepherds, and specifically emphasizes their ultimate accountability to God. If you read that passage, and it does not make you think very seriously about the consequences of ministry, for good or bad, then something is wrong with how you approach God’s Word. He makes it a truly serious issue.

The warning here, about “masters” (teachers) bearing a greater condemnation, also could be in reference to the fact that our human observers will more harshly condemn a failing teacher or preacher than they will one who does not hold such a position. (Consider how the news media love to report any failure in pastors, Sunday-school teachers, etc.) And the warning is clear, that we should not be “in a rush” to gain that status, knowing that the risk is there.

But…it is also a warning that God demands more of a teacher or a shepherd. We are held to a stricter standard. The qualifications for leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8 and Titus 1:5-9 are quite clear, and they definitely lay out God’s standard for Church leaders. They do not say that all Christians have to meet those criteria. On the other hand, they definitely are all character-traits that should be emulated by those who follow. Paul said (1st Corinthians 11:1) to the Corinthian believers that they were to follow him as he followed Christ. Elders, deacons and other leaders are to lead by example, so that others can do as they do, without fear of being led astray. Peter said (1st Peter 5:1-3)that the elders are not to serve as “lords” over the flock, but to be examples for the flock.

The danger of failure looms for everyone, but the results of failure in a shepherd’s life can be disastrous, as others are certainly following. A pastor who winks at worldly thinking will be held accountable for the sin into which members of the flock will certainly be drawn. He taught them that it was “OK.”  The failings in the teachers will be lived out in those they teach. So James addresses the most common failing, here: the mouth…the tongue. And he reminds us that we all fail in this area, so it is especially vital to guard against this nearly universal failing.
For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.

The Importance of the Tongue

This sounds like an exaggeration, but James says that if a believer can completely solve the “mouth problem”, he is fully mature—“perfect,” in the sense of the ability to walk with God. James says that if you can control your tongue, you can control everything else, as well, because, evidently, that is the greatest challenge. Then he goes on to illustrate how the tongue is at least indicative of where the whole man is headed.
Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body.
Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth.
Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!

James uses, as illustrations, a bit in a horse’s mouth and the rudder on a ship; they are examples of how something relatively small can have a huge effect. In a way, it is an “inside out” analogy… in both those cases, the small thing (bit and rudder) are used to physically control, from the outside, a much larger thing (the horse or the ship.) But the tongue is primarily an indicator of what is going on in the heart. Jesus said (Matthew 12:33-35) that a good man brings forth out of the good treasures of his heart that which is good; while an evil man brings forth out of the evil treasures of his heart, that which is evil. He said that “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh.” Interestingly, this is also the passage where the scripture teaches that “by their fruit ye shall know them”. He was referring to false teachers, and the “fruit” was their teaching; their words. What comes out of our mouths is indicative of what is in our hearts.
And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.

We need to consider the ultimate source of what is coming out of our mouths: Does it originate with God? And, if not, from where else might it originate? (set on fire of hell?” Is this literal? Or figurative?) Jesus said (Mark 7:15-23) that a man is not defiled by what he puts into his mouth, but by what comes out, specifically because of the source. The evil that comes out of our hearts, and bears fruit through our words and actions, is what brands us as sinners. Paul said, (Romans 8:7) that our sin nature is literally untamable—that it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can it be brought into submission. So, if my sin nature is the source of what comes out of my mouth, it is guaranteed to be unprofitable, if not downright destructive. Remember that the Holy Spirit is the Author of all of the Bible, through the various human writers. So James, by the same Holy Spirit, confirms that the tongue (because it bears the fruit of the inner man…the heart) is untamable, too…and that it reflects our old sin nature (which, in turn, is ultimately fueled by the Evil One, as we see in Ephesians 2:2, 3) Not much fun to consider, is it?

For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind:
But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.

The issue is the heart: Jeremiah, over 600 years earlier had said, (Jeremiah 17:9) that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked…” So, even in a believer, who is possessed of a new nature which is created holy and righteous (See Ephesians 4:24), the old sin nature, unchanged and untamable, is still there, waiting and yearning to take over and make us a curse to all around us instead of a blessing.
Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God.
10 Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.

The contrast between blessing and cursing is stark, and very clear: What other kinds of things does God label as “sins of the lips?”

Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.”

So the classification of “what to say and what not to say” could be narrowed to “What, in this flow of words, could minister grace to the hearers?” (By the way, I try to maintain the consciousness that, even “in private,” there are hearers, and watchers. Consider the fact that we are a testimony of God’s Grace and Wisdom to the Angelic hosts, not just to humans.) How is this edifying to anyone? How does it build up someone in their walk with God? Or, conversely, does it actually do the opposite? This is serious stuff, if you consider the potential consequences.

Ephesians 5:4 says, “Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” (KJV)

  • NASB renders the same passage, “and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.”
  • NIV renders it “Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”

In these passages, Paul lists some things that are simply seen as being inappropriate for believers to say or discuss. We may have a variety of opinions about what those subjects may be, but I am guessing that the things to which he refers, here, are conversations that either make light of, or glorify sin or immorality. He goes on to say that “it is a shame even to speak of those things done of them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:12) Such things should not be comfortable for us to discuss, and there has to be a very good reason to even broach these subjects, let alone dwell upon them. I have had young believers insist that “swearing can be a good thing” in certain circumstances. I am not the judge: Jesus is. But Jesus is the Living Word of God. How can I rationalize obscenity, off-color joking, or the like, when the Written Word of God tells me it is to be abandoned?

What other kinds of things does God list as sins of the mouth? One he hits on in many places is deception: Jesus labeled Satan as being the author of deception, saying “…he is a liar and the father of it.” (John 8:44) Give that some thought, when you are tempted to shade the truth.

In Proverbs 6:16-19 He lists:

  • A lying tongue
  • A false witness that speaketh lies
  • He that soweth discord among brethren.

I’m not sure that I understand the difference between the first two items, as both seem to deal with lying. But the third one can refer to someone who spreads negative information, even if it is true. Proverbs 10:12 says that “hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all sins.” 1st Peter 4:8 echoes that idea, saying that “…love covers a multitude of sin.” It is possible for us to tell the truth, and still be in the wrong, as we have become a “talebearer.” Proverbs 11:13 says “A talebearer revealeth secrets, but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”

Our mouth can be a source of trouble even when we are telling the truth…when the matter simply should not have been discussed. Proverbs 10:19 says, “In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin, but he that refraineth his lips is wise.” Wisdom is the thing we want controlling our words. Proverbs 31:26, referring to a virtuous woman, says, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and in her tongue is the law of kindness.” Those are the things we want to characterize what comes out of our mouths. Wisdom and Kindness!

Incidentally, if we have wronged someone by talking behind their back, and they know it, then we owe them confession and apology, as well as the same to all those to whom we gossiped. But if the “victim” does not know, and we run to them to “clear our conscience”, then we have only burdened them with the knowledge that we have wronged them, and then left them to worry about the potential long-term results of our sin.

That is not a kind thing to do, nor does it undo the damage we have done: instead, it adds to the damage. So, while we do have to go and confess our gossip to those to whom we gossiped, it is very questionable motive that would drive us to also go let the victim know that their reputation has been sullied by our loose mouth, unless there is a real chance they would learn of it anyway, and this might somehow protect them from the potential damage.

One must consider what “Agape” love means: It requires doing things for the benefit of the recipient, without regard to the effect on the doer. That is what Jesus demonstrated at the Cross. If my “confession,” meant only to “unburden my soul,” is going to cause further damage to the victim of my loose mouth, then that is not a loving thing to do. We need to examine our motives, and consider the potential results. There may be times when the only one to whom I can confess is God himself.

It is not Random: It is a Choice.

James goes on to finally compare our speech to a fountain or a fruit tree:

11 Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12 Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Nature doesn’t hold very many anomalies like the human mouth. A spring would not normally alternate randomly from salt water to fresh, and back again, though I suppose a seasonal change or a tidal change might produce such a phenomenon. But it is certainly not considered normal, nor would it ever be considered a good thing. It would make that spring unreliable to any creature who needs fresh water.

A fruit tree will never “randomly” offer a completely unrelated fruit, though grafting can produce some rather unusual combinations. But there is nothing random about it, and usually, it is considered a desirable thing, where grafting is involved, because someone went to a great deal of trouble and care, to produce that successful graft.

But our speech does swing wildly from very good to very bad, sometimes without warning. It’s an unfortunate truth, but it is a reality that we can (and must) learn to deal with, and, thankfully, one from which we will eventually be free.

In the meantime, we are exhorted to be aware of the danger and to deal wisely in the things we say and do. The words we use and the way we conduct relationships tell the people around us more about the reality of our walk with God than any overt “piety” we may try to display. People need to

  • See a consistent walk that emulates the Savior, to
  • Hear kind, gracious, wise speech,and thereby to
  • Smell (metaphorically speaking) a consistent aroma of the fragrance of Christ, not the reek of the old nature. The words we speak will accomplish either the one or the other.

To leaders, this is an especially serious warning, of course, but all believers need to be aware that we are affecting someone, whether we know it or not, and for better or worse. Choose daily to consider what effect you are having, and allow God to change your thinking and your words.

Blessings upon you all. I trust that we will soon be together again in the building the Lord has provided. Until that time, please try to maintain contact with one another by telephone, and maintain contact with God, in the Word, and in prayer.


Closing Notes from Hebrews

Closing Notes from Hebrews

© C. O. Bishop

Hebrews 13:17-25

Introduction:

We are at the end of the Epistle to the Hebrews, and there are just a few, seemingly unrelated verses, left, as the writer gives his closing thoughts. He gives final instructions as to their response to church leadership, and then makes a personal request for prayer, as well as giving a closing prayer for his readers. Lastly, it is his greeting to the believers, and his benediction to all.

What about Church Leadership?

17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

This is specifically in reference to the leadership of the church. We could apply it to civil government, as we are also commanded to be in subjection to the civil authorities, but this specifically says “they watch for your souls”…and that is simply not true of the civil authorities. An unbelieving governor, if called to accounts by God, could not give account with joy, no matter what he had done, as he is still an enemy of God, just as we were, before we were saved.

Civil leaders have been chosen by a variety of means, down through history. Some simply seized power, and ruled by force. Some were chosen by popular acclaim, either by an organized election, or by mob popularity. (You may recall that the crowd tried that with Jesus, once…they wanted to take him by force and make him king. What an odd idea!) Some simply accepted the burden of government because it had to be done, and there was no one else available who was qualified. I believe that a few of our early American statesmen were possibly in that category.

Regardless of how a civil leader is chosen, as an unbeliever, they would not fit this verse. This is talking about church leaders. Church leaders, too, have been chosen by a wide range of means, and, sadly, pretty much exactly the same means by which civil leaders have come into power. Some wanted the job because of ambition: they enjoyed being the center of attention, or wanted to wield authority over others in some way. Jesus described those, in the Sermon on the Mount, and elsewhere. Some were simply lazy, and they chose it as a “clean” profession, where they could earn a living without doing much work. God describes bad shepherds of another sort, in Ezekiel 34, saying that they used the flock to feed themselves, but did not feed the flock as they were sent to do. This actually covers a lot of the different “bad shepherd” types.

Qualifications for Church Leadership:

I’m not going to go into the qualifications of Elders and Deacons in any depth, this morning, as we have taught them before, not too long ago, but God clearly gives us the qualifications of church leadership in 1st Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9, 1st Peter 5:1-5, and other passages. You can read those on your own. They all have to do with proven character, demonstrated maturity and, in one case, (teaching) recognizable gifting.

God describes the job itself, with its responsibilities, in Ezekiel 34, as well as in Acts 20:28. If a church ignores any of this, and either appoints leaders who are not qualified, or those who will not carry out the responsibilities, then disaster surely awaits. Actually, if a man is not willing to carry out the responsibilities of leadership, then he also is not qualified, as that is the first qualification, in 1st Timothy 3:1. So, what is the job description for elders?

Job Description for Church Leaders:

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd. Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).

This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds. These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says the shepherds are to:
    • Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
    • Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
    • Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
    • Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
    • Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
    • Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
    • Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)
  • Acts 20:17, 28-30: the elders (17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger from the Enemy,
    • Guard the whole flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
    • ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), (actually, ‘shepherd’ the flock: the Greek word is poimainein)
    • Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)
  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
    • Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
    • Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
    • Do so willingly, not grudgingly
    • Not for the sake of money
    • Not lording it over the flock, but
    • Leading by example,
    • Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

4. Shepherds face Judgment: Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 both address this issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

5.  Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds: These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these again at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—perhaps one could say, the only true shepherd (John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.

Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I also believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

Following Church Leaders:

On the other hand, having good leadership and following those leaders are clearly separate concepts. In this passage, the writer assumes that the recipients of the letter do have good leaders, and he is exhorting them to respond to those leaders appropriately. The word translated “obey” is the Greek word, “Peithesthe”, from “Peitho”, meaning “to be persuaded”. We are always to search the scriptures, and to be sure that we are being led appropriately, but the ultimate question will be regarding our response to  appropriate leadership, not whether we “like” the leader.

Any elder of a church, who has faithfully labored in the Word, and poured himself out in teaching, and has consistently offered good counsel from God’s Word, would be grieved to see a flock behaving badly. He takes personal responsibility for their waywardness, though he has tried to turn them from it. Jeremiah wept over Israel, though he had faithfully warned them against their rebellion. It is instructive to note that, when the chips were down, so to speak, and he had the opportunity to leave them behind, with the blessing and support of the conquerors, he chose to stay with Israel and to continue his ministry, as frustrating and unfruitful as it had been. I think of Jeremiah a lot, whenever I feel discouraged. He was utterly faithful and had the least “fruitful” ministry of any of the Major Prophets. But he stayed on the job!

The writer is here asking us to not respond to God’s leading through the elders, in the same manner as Israel did to God’s Word through Jeremiah. They told him they wanted to hear what God had to say to them. He warned that they would not like what he had to say, and that they would not obey God, in any case. They protested that they would obey, and insisted that he speak what God told him. So he did…and they immediately rebelled, and did the opposite of what God commanded. God is asking us to not respond in that way.

We can see in Acts 17:11 that God approves a response that includes “searching the scriptures to see if the teaching is accurate and appropriate.” But in all the scriptures, we see that the response God ultimately expects is that we allow Him to change our hearts, as we submit ourselves to His Word and His Will. Did it come through someone you don’t really like to listen to? Too bad! Paul was repugnant to many who heard him, but God definitely sent him to preach and teach, and to lay the foundation for faith. Those who responded well, eventually learned to appreciate him for who he was. I have had teachers who, initially, I found hard to listen to. But they were completely faithful to God’s Word, and I grew to appreciate them for their faithfulness and the blessing they were to the church.

Knowing that the elders will be held accountable, and that we are also held accountable for our response, we need to pray for the leaders, and respond well to them, too.

Closing Requests and Blessings

18 Pray for us: for we trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly.
19 But I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.

I don’t know what was going on in the writer’s life that he should write such words…if it really was Paul (and I think it was), then it seems to make a kind of sense, as, several times, during his ministry, he was in bonds, one way or another, accused of things he had not done. Perhaps this was one of those times: it sounds as though it might have been. But he asked for prayer that he might be released sooner, as be able to rejoin the other believers.

20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,
21 Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is wellpleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

The writer’s prayer for the recipients, is that God would continue to perfect them so that their lives would be a continual honor to God. He reminds them of the source of their blessing, and the fact that Jesus himself is our great shepherd, as well as the fact that he has been physically, literally raised from the dead. But the bottom line is that our lives should be to his glory as well.

22 And I beseech you, brethren, suffer the word of exhortation: for I have written a letter unto you in few words.

The Writer begs them to receive this letter of encouragement properly. (It seems an odd thing, however, to see that the Writer considered this to be a short letter.)

23 Know ye that our brother Timothy is set at liberty; with whom, if he come shortly, I will see you.

Timothy was one of Paul’s close companions…which also gives me to believe that Paul was the writer. Evidently Timothy had also been held, somewhere, but was set free already, and the writer hoped to meet with them all and with Timothy too.

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you.
25 Grace be with you all. Amen.

This closing is typical Pauline benediction. Notice that, whoever the recipients were, they were told to greet the leadership, as well as the other believers. All the letters to the church are just that: Letters to the Church! They are not, as a rule, to some sort of hierarchy of leaders, but to the believers themselves. This letter is to us. If you are a believer, it is to you.

Learn from it! Believe it! Study it! Make use of it in your life. Don’t just let it gather dust.

Allow God’s Grace to rule in your life.

Lord Jesus, make us able ministers of your Word, and faithful ambassadors of your Love and Grace. Help us to both lead and respond to leadership. To tach and be teachable. Make us the Men and Women of God that you have called us to be.


The Work of the Shepherds

The Work of the Shepherds

© C. O. Bishop, 7/5/16 THCF 7/17/16

Ezekiel 34:1-22; Acts 20:17, 28-30; 1st Peter 5:1-3

Introduction:

We sometimes talk about “New Testament Churches,” and how they are organized, how they function, etc. One critical aspect of the whole picture, though, is how the spiritual leadership of a New Testament Church is supposed to function. We need to know how to identify those leaders, and what they are supposed to be doing. Their various job titles tell us a little about what to expect of them. Those leaders are called by six different words, in the New Testament:

  1. Elders
  2. Bishops
  3. Overseers
  4. Shepherds
  5. Pastors,
  6. Presbytery (plural)

The words “Pastors” and “Presbytery” are only used once, each, in English…but all six English words are in reference to the same individuals, and all six come from one of three Greek words:

  1. Presbuteros (translated either Elders or Presbytery—it literally means an older person)
  2. Episkopos (translated either Overseers or Bishops—it means a supervisor)
  3. Poiménes (translated either Pastors or Shepherds—and it literally means a shepherd)

 

For the sake of this study, we will refer to them all as “shepherds”, mostly, because that is what the Old Testament usually calls them, and, ironically, that is where we will find the most information about their job. You may wonder why we look in the Old Testament to find information about the New Testament job of shepherding: It is because sheep haven’t changed, so the job of shepherding has also not changed. When we read Psalm 23, we can still apply it to our lives, today. Thus, the work of the shepherd as described in Ezekiel 34 is also still valid.

Further, we will break the teaching into two parts: the first will concern itself with the work, or responsibilities, or “job” of the shepherd; the second with the qualifications for the job. We will discuss the job of the Deacon separately, as it is a different job, with a different description, though very similar qualifications.


The Work of the Shepherds

The Work of the Shepherds can be seen in two ways, since, in the New Testament, there are two Greek words used for the task. The most common usage is simply a verb-form (poimainé) of the noun “Shepherd” (poimén), so that doesn’t shed much light, unless we go and find out what a shepherd actually does…and we will attempt to do just that.

The second word is a narrower term, meaning, specifically, to “feed” (bosko)—Jesus used it in one of the phrases he directed to Peter—“feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17). He used the other word, too, in the same conversation. But the two words are not the same and they are both used repeatedly, so we have to address both. Let’s look at the “feeding” idea first.

“Feed the Flock”

God commands the Shepherds (in all dispensations) to “feed the flock.” He refers to His Word as the “food” that his sheep need. (1 Peter 2:2; Hebrews 5:11-14, etc.) We could say that one was feeding the sheep if all they did was to read the Word in public. And, in fact, that form of feeding is commanded. (1st Thessalonians 5:27; 1st Timothy 4:13)

But the exhortation and expounding of the concepts of Scripture are also commanded (1st Timothy 4:13; 2nd Timothy 4:2), and exemplified all through the Bible.  There are five ways described in scripture to ingest, or feed upon the Word of God:

  1. Hearing the Word,
  2. Reading the Word,
  3. Studying the Word,
  4. Memorizing the Word, and
  5. Meditating in the Word

 

Collectively, those five approaches to God’s Word give us a very solid grip on the content. (Think “five fingers.”)

All five are all commanded, and the feeding of the flock demands all five of the Shepherds, themselves.

1st Corinthians 14:1-3 says that a prophet (what we call a “preacher”, but the Greek word is prophete) is to speak to exhortation, edification, and comfort. These are all part of feeding the flock. A teacher (Greek didaskalos) simply seeks to build accurate understanding of the scripture, including the spiritual truths and potential application to any believer’s life, in a general (or specific) sense. This is a specific gift, by the way, not to be confused with preaching, though the two overlap quite a bit. (I am more of a teacher than a preacher, but both gifts are needed.)

The person in our culture, frequently called a preacher (Greek kerus), is what the scripture actually calls a prophet (Greek prophete: “one who speaks for God”) He is to speak to specific needs within the body (exhortation, edification and comfort), as God brings these needs to his attention. The collective leadership of any given body of believers should be closely enough in contact with the members to know what the general need is. And all of the leaders are to be studying and meditating upon God’s word, with the intention of meeting those needs. That’s all part of feeding the flock.

The word “preacher” is also sometimes used, in scripture, and it has a similar definition (a declarer; an announcer); It is not used very often, but it seems that when it occurs, it is directed to a different audience. A “preacher” in scripture, seems to be one who “declares” the person of Christ to those who have not heard. A “prophet” is one who “speaks for God”, so his work could include the work of the preacher; but the New Testament prophet is specifically called to meet the spiritual needs of the church through exhortation, edification and comfort. When we use the word “preacher”, however, we usually mean a church-leader: a pastor.

All these things are part of “feeding the flock,” and could fall under the definition of the Greek word “bosko.” But what about Shepherding? Shepherding clearly includes “feeding the flock”, but what about the rest of the job? Is it enough to just have great words coming from the pulpit and from Bible classes?

Shepherd the Flock

What does the Scripture say about Shepherds? Looking at the whole of God’s word, regarding shepherding, at least six things become clear:

1. Sheep need a Shepherd.

Sheep without a Shepherd are in immediate and deadly danger, even if no predator is around—and the greatest, deadliest predator in the world is around, according to 1st Pet 5:8. Even apart from the issue of predators, we often don’t know the difference between good pasture and bad, still waters and treacherous, safe paths and dangerous ones, apart from our Shepherd leading us—(Psalm 23:2, 3).We sing “Savior, like a shepherd, lead us; much we need thy tender care….” This is a direct reflection on God’s determination to be the Shepherd of His Flock Genesis 49:24, Ezekiel 34). We need the Shepherd.

2. God has assigned human shepherds.

These shepherds are “sheep”, themselves, as well. But they have been assigned the task of performing the work of shepherds. And they cannot do a faithful job apart from the direct leading and control of Jesus Christ, the true Shepherd. (John 15:5; Psalm 127:1) God holds them accountable for his flock. (Ezekiel 34, James 3:1; Hebrews 13:17) This is a huge responsibility.

 3. The Work of the Shepherd has clear definition:

  • Ezekiel 34:1-16 says that the shepherds are to:
  1. Feed the sheep: (This means a steady provision of nourishment from God’s Word.)
  2. Strengthen those who are diseased: (This may imply corrective teaching, or encouragement to change self-destructive patterns.)
  3. Heal those who are sick: (very similar: promoting spiritual healing through Godly counsel.)
  4. Bind up those who are broken: (This may mean promoting Forgiveness for past injuries by other believers, or acceptance of God’s Grace to heal those wounds.)
  5. Seek out and bring back those who have been driven away: (Sometimes the wounded ones flee the flock, unable to bear the stress of being around the one who hurt them. Or, sometimes they simply were angry, and need to deal with the anger.)
  6. Seek the lost: (refers to both evangelism and reconciliation of the backslidden)
  7. Prevent them from becoming prey to predators: (Guarding is implied, but not stated in this passage; clearly stated in Acts 20:28-30.)

 

  • Acts 20:17, 28-30 says that the elders (v. 17; also identified as shepherds and overseers) are to:
  1. Guard themselves—recognize that they themselves are also in danger,
  2. Guard the flock against predators (sometimes coming from among the leaders),
  3. ‘Feed’ the flock (KJV), or ‘shepherd’ the flock (the Greek word is poimainein))
  4. Be overseers. (Greek episkopos)

 

  • 1 Peter 5:1-4 says that the elders (Greek presbuteros) (who are also shepherds and overseers) are to:
  1. Feed the flock (KJV): (here again, the Greek word is the verb poimanate—“shepherd”)
  2. Take the oversight thereof (be an overseer)
  3. Do so willingly, not grudgingly
  4. Not for the sake of money
  5. Not lording it over the flock, but
  6. Leading by example,
  7. Expect a reward from Christ, (the “arch-shepherd”) at His coming, for faithful service.

 

4.  Shepherds face Judgment:

Apart from faithful attention to God’s assignment, Judgment is coming, in one form or another…The Lord’s flock is precious to Him: He defends it against all enemies, even the enemies from within the flock. Ezekiel 34 is a discourse on this very issue: God is rebuking the shepherds of Israel for malfeasance and nonfeasance of their duties. He says he is going to take them off the job and do the job himself. James 3:1 and Hebrews 13:17 all address the issue as well. Revelation 3:14-16 tells the long range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God closes it down.

 

5. Clear guidelines are given, as to the Qualifications of the Human Shepherds:

These are given in order to protect the flock from unstable, immature, or otherwise flawed leadership. We will discuss these at a later date. If you want to read them ahead of time, they are found in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, Titus 1:5-9 and 1st Peter 5:1-3.

 

6. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd—

(Perhaps one could say, “the only true shepherd” John 10:11-15, Hebrews 13:20, 1st Peter 5:4), and He is, by necessity, our example in all things: apart from Him, we truly have nothing to offer.  Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.”  I believe that is a scriptural viewpoint. I believe that unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are doomed to failure.

So—looking back over the list of tasks associated with the job of Shepherding—(feeding, leading, seeking, binding up, healing, guarding, etc.) How do we do each of these? Is it just “up for grabs”, so to speak, or can we find scriptural examples, at least, and principles to guide our efforts?

I believe we can find both scriptural examples and principles by which to guide our efforts. We can first look at the example of The Lord, all through Scripture. (Examples: Genesis 49:24; Psalm 23; Psalm 80:1;  Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34; John 10; Hebrews 13:20; 1 Peter 2:25; etc.)

Then we can look at the positive examples of human shepherds in Bible history. (Examples: Jacob, Moses, David, etc.) We can also look at the negative examples (3rd John, Ezekiel 34, and perhaps Revelation 2, 3)

Finally, we can look at the principles taught regarding leadership in general (kings, judges, fathers, etc.) and shepherding in particular (John 10:11-13), and draw our teaching from these.

Methods will vary—no one doubts that—but the principles in God’s Word never change. If the methods are based firmly on God’s principles, they will be good. If the methods replace God’s principles, then no matter how good they seem, they fail God’s test: “Did it originate with God?” (Proverbs 14:12). So, to answer the rhetorical question above: No, it is not just “up for grabs”. Proverbs warns against that approach to life in general (Proverbs 3:5, 6)—how much more should the warning apply to shepherding the flock of God? Please keep this in mind as we continue to study the Word of God regarding the Work of the Shepherd.

Identifying a Shepherd

So the shepherds we seek to identify among us are those who actually step in and begin to function in several or all of the identified responsibilities. Perhaps they are teaching…perhaps they are caring for the members of the flock in other ways. Perhaps they are gifted in management, and can readily see needs in the church, whether spiritual or physical. Those who specialize in meeting the physical needs of the Church are called “deacons”…it means “servants”, as they serve the Lord by serving the local assembly, managing the physical needs. There is some overlap, but Elders are primarily tasked with the spiritual feeding of the church, and, in fact, teaching is one of the job requirements. We will talk about the office of deacon separately, at another time.

But in the meantime, we are to look for those who care for the flock, comforting, blessing, feeding, helping, protecting, and, in general, showing that they are committed to the well-being of the flock, as opposed to just being committed to their own benefit. God’s accusation against the “shepherds” of Israel was that they were committed to feeding themselves, and were only in the job for what they could gain. We hear that accusation today as well: “They only want your money!” And, at least in some instances, it has been shown to be true. So, we seek those who, by their track-record, in our observation (not just letters of recommendation), have shown themselves faithful, and gifted to shepherd the flock, and, specifically, to feed the flock.

Paul told Timothy to find “faithful men”—reliable believers—to whom he could entrust the Word of God. He was not only to find people whom he could teach, but to find those who could teach others. There is supposed to be a spiritual “chain reaction” going on. Those are the ones who God will raise up to be shepherds in the Church, one way or another.  It doesn’t require college, or seminary degrees, so much as a faithful heart, spiritual giftedness, and a commitment to the Flock of God. We need to keep our eyes open for those individuals, and pray that God will raise them up among us.

If you are one of the ones God has called to this work, then you need to study these passages and apply them to your own life, so as to prepare for the job of shepherding, or strengthen your hands to continue in the work.

Next time we will discuss the job requirements…the specific “qualifications” for the job.

Lord Jesus, you encouraged us to “pray ye therefore the Lord of the Harvest, that he send forth laborers into the harvest.” We echo that prayer, and ask that you also raise up shepherds, and make us a healthy flock, honoring you in every way.