The Work of the Shepherds: Part Two
© C. O. Bishop, 7/5/16 THCF 7/17/16 Revised 2021
1st Peter 5:1-4; Ezekiel 34:1-22; Acts 20:17, 28-30; 1st Timothy 3:1-7
Last week we began discussing the subject of church leadership, because it was addressed in the scriptures we were studying: 1st Peter 5:1-4. As a rule, I try to avoid “topical” studies, as they can end up breeding confusion, as people develop a set of opinions about many subjects without a way to tie them all together. So I try to teach whole contexts, and whole books, in chronological order as much as possible.
Last week we had covered the first three points regarding the shepherds of the flock; namely that
- Sheep need a shepherd
- God has assigned human shepherds (who are also sheep in the flock) and
- The work of the shepherds has clear definition.
We read the defined work of the shepherds in Ezekiel 34:1-10 and in Acts 20:28-30, and we were prepared to move on to the rest of what God says about those human shepherds, when we ran out of time. The next point was that;
4. Shepherds bear ResponsibilityShepherds 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, regarding the church at Laodicea, tells the long-range result of failure in this area: the local church can die or become so infected with spiritual disease that God will shut 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. (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, (Great Shepherd, 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.
Identifying a Shepherd
The shepherds we seek to identify among us are those who actually step in and begin to function in several or all of the listed 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;” (the Greek word (singular) “diakonon” means “servant;” plural is “diakonous,” or servants,) as they serve the Lord by serving the local assembly, watching over, and managing the physical needs of the assembly. (We see them in Acts chapter 6.) There is some overlap between the two roles; but Elders are primarily tasked with the spiritual feeding of the church and, in fact, the gift of 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’re only after your money!” And, at least in some instances, the accusation has proven to be true. So, we are seeking 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 (2nd Timothy 2:2) 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 he was specifically 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, but it does require 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 to strengthen your hands to continue in the work.
Now we will discuss the job requirements…the specific “qualifications” for the job.
Qualifications for Elders (including the companion words, “bishops and shepherds”)
1st Timothy 3:1-7
1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Job Requirements from 1st Timothy 3:1-7
- Desiring the job. If a person is unwilling to take the responsibility, or simply hasn’t the heart for the work, then they should not be considered for the office of Elder, even though they may qualify in every other way. In this sense, I could say it is a “calling”, though I am careful with that word. Every single believer is called to serve. (Romans 8:28-30)
- Blameless—above reproach. This literally means “there is nothing in his life that one could lay hold of” and make legitimate accusation. It embraces all that follows, so that the list is not a smorgasbord, from which you just choose as many as you want. They all have to be there.
- Husband of one wife. This is one that invites controversy. On the one extreme, we have those who insist that the candidate must be married, and can only have been married once: if his wife dies or leaves him, regardless of circumstance, he is no longer qualified. On the other side we have those who say it only means a “one-woman man”.
The fact is, it does literally say “man of one woman” in the Greek. But, the Greek words andra, (Man) and guné (Woman) are also used to mean “husband” and “wife”. So it could mean “husband of one wife”. I try to compare the whole context, here: all the requirements—all of them—are either character traits, or gifting. If this one is a “track-record” issue, rather than a character trait, then it is the only one. In every case, the current track-record (perhaps since they have been a believer, or perhaps only since maturity as a believer) simply serves to demonstrates the character that God has developed in the man. He is not unfaithful to his wife, nor is he a polygamist, though that is legal in many places.
I have known several men whose wife left them under circumstances over which the man had no control. He never demonstrated any character flaw in the matter. But many organizations would reject him for service. On the other hand, I have observed that if there is a character flaw involved, it will eventually resurface, in a repeating pattern.
- Vigilant. This is one we are all urged to embrace. Peter said (1st Peter 5:8) “be sober; be vigilant…” why? Because there is a deadly enemy prowling the world. An Elder must be continually aware of the dangers to the flock.
- Sober. Same idea. It means taking life pretty seriously…and taking the work of the shepherd absolutely seriously. This isn’t “kid-stuff:” it is not a game, or a hobby.
- Of Good Behavior. Remember that an elder is to be setting an example for the rest of the flock. We saw this one explained in 1st Peter 5:3.
- Given to Hospitality. The Greek word literally means the “love of the stranger.” (philoxenon). It means that he is going to have an open-armed policy toward “outsiders”…welcoming them, not desiring to be isolated from them.
- Apt to teach. As far as I can tell, this is the only requirement that is a “gifting” issue. If it simply meant “able to teach” then it would be pointless, as everyone is able to teach something. But a teacher, in the New Testament, is a person gifted to understand and transfer understanding of spiritual truth, from God’s Word, so that others can profit thereby. Some translations say “qualified” to teach; but that is not accurate. The Greek word is “didaktikon”, and in modern Greek language it simply means “teaching”, whereas “didaskalos” means “teacher”. He is to be functioning as a teacher of the Word.
- Not Given to Wine. This one seems obvious, but is reiterated elsewhere, as “not given to much wine”… in other words, he has no addiction to drink. I expect that we could extend that to other social drugs as well: It is just that alcohol was about the only one available in that time and place. But I do think it is talking about addictions, not dependencies. I don’t think that a person whose physical condition requires, by a doctor’s order, that they be on medication, is thereby disqualified from service. (But there have been organizations that took that stance.) Again, this is talking about a character issue, not a medical issue.
- No Striker. Not a violent person. Not one who resorts to violence to assert his will, or to settle a dispute. It does not forbid self-defense, military service, police service, etc. There are many whose jobs occasionally require physical violence who have never been in a fight anywhere else. They simply do the job when it is required…it does not reflect on their character: they are not violent by nature.
- Not Greedy of Filthy Lucre. Some translations say “sordid gain”. He’s not in the church for the sake of personal gain. Money is not an issue. There is no avarice in his character.
- Patient. This is actually translated from the Greek word epieike, and this is the only place it is translated “patient”—usually, it is translated “gentle”. Most newer translations render it that way: And, it fits, as it is in contrast to the next one:
- Not a Brawler. (Greek amachos) This is not just talking about physical fighting, but general cantankerousness…argumentativeness, belligerence…trouble-hunting. It literally means without striving, but it certainly would include without fighting.
- Not covetous. This one is similar to the one about “not greedy of sordid gain”…it literally means “free from the love of money.” (Greek philargurion “love of silver”)
- One Who Rules Well His Own House. This is strictly about family life; home life. How does he handle his own wife and kids? How does he treat them, and make decisions there? What have the results been?
- Not a Novice. A certain level of maturity and experience needs to be in place before a man should be considered for leadership. Fortunately, as maturity develops, a man who is gifted to serve in this capacity also begins serving, choosing to voluntarily shoulder responsibility, and faithfully discharging that responsibility. How a person takes responsibility and then carries it out, is a good mark of maturity. Appointing an immature believer to the office of an elder is a sure way to produce a stumbling block of pride in his life, possibly destroying the testimony of the one you were hoping to see in leadership. Be very careful not to cross this line. By the way, this has to do with spiritual maturity, not just chronological age. There are some who never grow up. Their age is not the deciding factor, but rather their maturity in Christ.
- Having a good report of them which are without. How does the unbelieving community in your area see the man? Does he have a reputation among them for honesty, kindness, and integrity? Remember, those unbelievers are not enamored of his “pulpit presence” nor his “bedside manner.” They are dealing with him in entirely secular matters. How does he deal with the lost world around him, and how are they responding to him? (By the way, this rules out hiring a pastor from outside the community: letters of recommendation cannot fulfil this requirement. And, consider: how much more important it must be, that the local assembly of believers also know him and his family?)
Most of the above requirements are simply reiterated or re-stated, in Titus and 1st Peter, but we will address those passages as well, next week.
Principles or Methods?
Hudson Taylor used to say “God’s work, done in God’s way, will never lack God’s provision.” I believe that this is a scriptural viewpoint: unless we truly strive to adhere to the job description, and the instructions that come along with it, we are ultimately 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 positiveexamples 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 firmly based 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, which is always: “Did it originate with God?” (Proverbs 14:12). So, to answer the rhetorical question above: No, it is not just “up for grabs”.
In Proverbs 3:5, 6 “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy path.” God warns against the “self-directed” approach to life in general; 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.
Lord Jesus keep our focus on your Person and your Word, not our own ideas or traditions. Give us understanding of your Word, and the will to walk with you in the Light.