The Joy of the Shepherds
© 2023 C. O. Bishop
1st Thessalonians 2:17-20; (Comparing Matthew 11:28-30; Acts 20:28-31; Hebrews 13:17; 1st Peter 5:1-4; John 4:34)
1st Thessalonians 2:17-20
17 But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavoured the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. 18 Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us.
19 For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming? 20 For ye are our glory and joy.
At various times, over the years, we have examined the scriptures that explain the “Work of the Shepherds.” We will do so again, in the near future, but today we will address a parallel idea: What brings Joy to a Shepherd?
In 1st Thessalonians 2:17-20, Paul first says that he has tried more than once, to go visit the Church in Thessalonica. He misses them, and longs to see them again. He says that Satan was the culprit who prevented his return to Thessalonica. (How did Paul know? We are not told.)
Please don’t jump to the conclusion that Satan is personally involved when you don’t get to do the things you want to do. Satan is not omnipresent (he is not “everywhere at once,”) nor is he omniscient (he doesn’t “know all things.”) He does not “cause you to sin:” You are perfectly capable of sinning without his involvement. (However, he definitely approves of your sin, so, if you want to “please the enemy,“ just keep it up!”
But, in this case, somehow, Paul was aware that there had been Satanic intervention, preventing his return to Thessalonica. We are not told how he knew. It is just a fact.
Glory and Joy in Working for Jesus
But, in verses 19 and 20, Paul says something pretty important: He says that the believers, there in Thessalonica, were his Glory and his Joy. He specifies that they are his hope for blessing, and honor, at the coming of Christ.
They will be his Joy, to see them standing before Jesus, and knowing that he had been a co-laborer with Jesus in getting them there!
In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus said some odd things:
28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
I am told that the Greek word, here, translated as “yoke,” was specifically the double-harness made for two people to pull together. It allowed two workers to unite their strength and move a much heavier load. Jesus was inviting those who were wearied by their own attempts to serve God, in their own strength. He invited them to join Him in double-harness and find rest, because of His strength. And He promised they would learn to walk with God and learn to join Him in His Work. He said that the burden would be easy and light, compared to what they had been attempting alone.
Choosing Partnership With Jesus
But the bottom line is that, when we choose to join Jesus in that double harness, we become co-laborers with Jesus. We are seizing the opportunity to serve with Him! This is true, whether we are in an official position of “working for God” or serving, unseen, and just faithfully doing what He asks us to do. (This is not something “reserved for church leaders.”)
As we walk with Him and serve with Him, we learn His priorities, and gain His perspective. He changes our thinking about essentially everything. Things that once seemed important to us have become rather trivial from our new perspective. Goals we once felt strongly about may become irrelevant. And, yes, the result is “rest to our souls.” Our anxieties over the fears of this world begin to fade away, and the very temporary, shallow “joys” of this world are becoming less attractive to us.
Are You “Called to service?”
Whether you know it or not, the short answer is “YES!” If you are a believer, then you are called to be a disciple. You are called to work with Jesus and to follow Him in all things.
For three decades, I frequently wanted to leave the vocational job God had given me. But Ann and I were both aware that God had provided that job. Unless He directed me elsewhere, I was to “stay put!” So, I stayed there, and worked, and taught, and took opportunities to counsel and encourage believers, there at work.
I was working with Jesus there, just as much as I was working with Jesus in the churches I served. But I was grateful when the time came to leave. Being laid off after that long in service was not a grief to me: it was a relief!
Job Security for Believers
There are no “layoffs,” though, in God’s service. He has called us to serve. We may remember Samson, and ask, “but wasn’t Samson ‘laid off?’” Yes, Samson was in trouble because of his careless attitude toward the calling of God: He suffered losses because of his sin. (In the game of Hockey, they have something called a “penalty box.” Samson was in the “penalty box,” but he was still on the team.) And God chose to use Samson again, one last time, before he died.
All Believers are Called to Service
In Romans 8:28-30, we see that every believer is called to service. Revelation 5:9, 10 and Hebrews 13:15 teach us that every believer is called as a priest in the Body of Christ. We are called to serve Jesus as did the priests in the Old Testament, bringing sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving, interceding for others in prayer, and acting as His ambassadors to those around us, This service is both in blessing and serving them, and in offering His grace and forgiveness through the Person of Jesus.
We are called to be His hands, feet, and voice, as His Ambassadors. But we are working with Jesus. Jesus said, in John 15:5, “apart from me ye can do nothing.” That is the literal truth. The things God has called us to do are impossible on our own: but He does not ask us to do them on our own. He says “take My yoke upon you and learn of Me.”
And the Joy we will receive in hearing “Well done, thou Good and faithful Servant,” will surpass all the hard things we have experienced along the way. If you have led others to faith in Christ, then they will be a special, personal joy to you at his coming. If you have drawn others to walk with Him, then their lives, in which they honored Him, will also be a joy to you.
Daniel 12:3 says, “…then they that be wise will shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars, for ever and ever.” There is a reward for a faithful walk with Christ. And part of that reward is sharing in His joy.
So, going back to the original question…:
What brings Joy and Blessing to Shepherds?
In Acts 20:28-31, Paul gave some instructions to the elders of the Ephesian church. He addressed them as “overseers” and as shepherds. He exhorted them to do the work of tending to God’s flock. Paul warned them of the hidden dangers to the flock. He told the Ephesian elders that they were to “stay put,” in Ephesus, and tend to the flock they shared as their responsibility for oversight and teaching.
He warned them that predators would come (“grievous wolves”); false teachers, attempting to draw away disciples after themselves, and not concerned for the flock. But they were to feed the flock, and to guard against those predators. Nothing was said in that passage about “joy.”
In 1st Peter 5:1-4, Peter did much the same thing, but not to a specific group of elders: rather, to all elders of churches throughout the church age. He told them that they were to feed the flock, and care for them, providing a spiritual and physical example for the others to follow. They were not to allow the question of payment to be their motive for service…money was not the point of their service.
No Hierarchy in the Church
They were told that they are not “the bosses.” Not “lords” over the flock, but serving as examples. And he concluded that there would be specific reward for having served well in that capacity. He calls it a “crown of glory that passes not away.” And when will they receive it? When the Chief Shepherd comes. When Jesus, the true Shepherd, returns to claim His own. They have joined Him in His Work, and will share in His Joy.
There are five such “crowns” mentioned in the New Testament, but we need to keep in mind that the Greek word translated as “crown” in all five cases, is the word “stephanos,” meaning “a victor’s crown,” (not “diademos,” meaning a royal crown.)
The Olympic champions were crowned with laurel leaves, honoring their accomplishments, But laurel leaves wither and fade. This crown, and the others, like it, are said to not fade away. We are not told much more about any of these “crowns,” so I am not going to attempt to elaborate on them.
But we can see, that one result of faithful service is the joy of God’s pleasure in our work.
Jeremiah had a very rough ministry. And, in spite of his suffering, as a prophet, as far as we know, only two people believed his message during his lifetime. So, did he receive the joy of Christ, saying “Well done!”? I expect he did! He served absolutely faithfully, weeping for the grief he felt, at the constant rebellion of his countrymen.
How about Jonah? Thousands of people were saved through his ministry. So… does he get a better reward? I seriously doubt it! Why? Because he served in a very poor attitude, hoping the people to whom he brought his message would reject it and be condemned!
So, is it possible for a servant of God, serving as a shepherd, to not experience that joy? Evidently it is!
Missing out on Joy
Hebrews 13:17 gives the general warning to all believers, regarding the leadership of the churches: (This is not in regard to civil leadership: it has to do with “those who keep watch over your souls.” Civil leaders are not in that category.)
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.
Leaders whose flocks rebel against the Word and which follow the world’s patterns of beliefs and behaviors still have to give account to God, for “what happened on their watch.” They feel personally responsible for the results of their teaching and or leadership. The leaders of the failed church at Laodicea (for example) will not be joyful at the Lord’s return. They will grieve the loss of blessing and honor that should have been theirs to share before the Lord, with those people.
Finding Joy as a Shepherd
A shepherd feels joy to see the spiritual prosperity of those he has been called to feed. He feels joy in sharing that work with his fellow shepherds and in seeing new leaders growing up from within the flock. He rejoices in the spiritual health of that flock. Numbers are a side issue. The primary concern is the spiritual health of those he serves.
A shepherd can miss out on joy in this life because people reject his teaching. (That was the case for Jeremiah. But he has eternal joy in Jesus’s satisfaction with his work.)
Or he can miss out on joy in this life and the life to come, because he had wrong motives in service, (as Jonah showed us.)
But if the shepherds over a flock are missing out on Joy, for whatever reason, it also affects the flock. Speaking to all the flock, Hebrews 13:17 says, “it is unprofitable for you,” if the shepherds have to report failure in their ministry.
Feeding on God’s Work
In John 4:34, Jesus said, “My meat (my food) is to do the will of Him that sent me and to finish His work!” A faithful shepherd echoes that central purpose and passion. He finds his sustenance in the Person of Christ, and in obedience to Him. He looks for satisfaction and Joy in the service to which he is called. (This is true for all believers, not just the shepherds.)
In Matthew 25:21, Jesus said, ” 21 His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” We seek to join Jesus in the work, and to share in His Joy!
But the greatest joy a shepherd can have, in this life, is to see God’s Word taking root in the lives of the flock, and to see their lives reflecting the Glory of God, as they are transformed by His Word. To see new leaders being raised up by the Spirit of God, so he does not feel fearful about what will become of the flock when he himself is no longer able to serve.
Pat James, the founding pastor, here at True Hope, became too sick to serve, and he feared that this church would fail. But Richard Banham and I reported frequently to him, letting him know that the church was flourishing again, and Pat and Jan James rejoiced in that news. They had Peace and Joy, knowing that the flock was doing well.
This is the Joy of the Shepherds!
Lord Jesus, teach us to follow You in such a way as to bring Joy to You, and so that we may share in Your Joy.