Schafe können sicher weiden
J. S. Bach
(Fourth in a series.)
Last chapter in this series was a warning of the dangers of pastors hankering after worldly power. We must not squander our precious calling to serve the Lord as fishers of men by turning and embracing the political illusion. This remains the real danger it’s always been.
The hive is angry. Here in America, we live in a post-Covid, post-Trump world in which the root of bitterness has corrupted many conservative Americans who belong to the Lord Jesus, leaving them determined to gain political power. Their determination is easily played by pastors seeking to grow their constituency.
In such a time, those who shepherd God’s flock must remind ourselves the sheep aren’t our constituency, but God’s. We serve the God Whose Name is Jealous. He shares His glory with no other.
Therefore, rather than leveraging the bitterness of the sheep in pursuit of our own glory, we would do well to hammer home to our flocks the distinction between the kingdoms of man and the Kingdom of God. We would be righteous to warn them against all the kingdoms of man, pointing out how these kingdoms of man and their leaders have always abrogated to themselves eternal significance. How these kingdoms have always sought social, political, and economic ends under the guise of bringing in “God’s Kingdom.”
What God’s people must forevermore be taught is that our Lord has commanded His kingdom be brought in by the foolishness of Gospel preaching. This is the pastor’s divine right. While pastors who are hungry for earthly power will not be content in their calling and will flip their preaching from the Gospel of Christ crucified to social and political criticism and power, those who desire to emulate our Lord Himself and His Apostles will turn the world upside down just as the Apostles did, by preaching, baptizing those who believe, and teaching them to obey everything He commanded.
In a time of angry hives, it takes faith and courage to stand at the battle station assigned us by our Master. If we forsake this station for the political illusion where our people’s ears itch, we are Aaron taking the jewelry and fashioning the idol. When he was confronted by Moses, remember how Aaron excused himself by saying he was afraid of “the people.”
God’s servants are not to give in to the people’s political and nationalistic idolatry.1
Jealousy for the flock
Moving on, the sheep have another hunger that poses an equal danger.
Sheep flock together. Pressing up against each other reassures them.
Mary Lee and I were on Crete a couple months ago and went inland to eat at an outdoor restaurant. The parking was across the road and behind the small gravel lot was pastureland holding a flock of sheep. It was a beautiful day and the pasture was at least fifty acres, but all the sheep were pressed together in one spot by the fence. We went over to see them and, together, they moved away from us. But they only moved a short way down the slope where, again, they pressed up against each other.
God’s sheep, too, are comforted by numbers. They want to be part of a crowd. A crowd is safety. A crowd can’t be wrong. Although joining many of the crowds recorded in Scripture would have been sin, Scripture records the occasional crowd it was good to join.
For instance, when the Apostle Peter preached the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost and thousands believed and were baptized into membership in the Jerusalem church, it was a good crowd. A wonderfully safe herding. Joining that huge flock meant eternal life. But does this reassure us today in our bragging about our own church’s size or growth?
Before we give ourselves over to smugness and pride in the crowd we have built or joined, we should listen to what the Pentecost crowd heard and how they responded that day in Jerusalem:
Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?”
Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call to Himself.” And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:37-40)
What caused the first believers in Jerusalem there in the Day of Pentecost to flock together was their anguish before the Holy God. The preaching of the Gospel leading them to join that church caused each of them to be “pierced to the heart.” They were united as a crowd in fleeing their “perverse generation.” Their deep conviction of sin led them to join the crowd of people whose common bond was repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Can any of us today find the faith to admit this is not the nature of self-announced super-apostles drawing the big crowds and numbers today? We may sell our conference lineup as a “gospel coalition,” but when have these famous preachers and their famous conferences resulted in registrants being “pierced to the heart” and crying out “What shall we do?”
We must guard our sheep from these men demanding their attention. They do not ever serve the needs of our sheep which their true shepherd sees and works to expose and heal. They do not call our sheep to repentance. Like Dane Ortlund of Gentle and Lowly fame, they heal the sheep lightly—meaning falsely. How is it we so easily forget our Lord’s warning against those men who cry “Peace! Peace!” where there is no peace? I may be wrong in my judgment, but it is my deep conviction this is the reality concerning all the grace prattle and books like Gentle and Lowly in the conservative church today. A word to the wise.
It is the method-of-choice of all hirelings seeking to build the number of their disciples (see Galatians for this charge made by the Apostle Paul) that they flatter the sheep. But honestly, do you or your sheep need flattering? Is flattering conducive to your sanctification, or is it detrimental? And if it’s detrimental; if flattery poses a clear and present danger to our souls, why are pastors silent about the danger? It’s true that growling and barking at these super-apostle braggarts won’t win you any points among their groupies, but whom do you fear, whom do you serve, and whom do you love?
The rich and famous religious leaders?
Our Chief Shepherd has entrusted His sheep to us. It’s not about us as pastors and elders. It’s about Him and the sheep He has bought with His Own blood. Remember what He said to Peter after he’d denied Him three times?
“Tend My lambs.”
“Shepherd My sheep.”
“Tend My sheep.”
What the sheep and lambs of God need today is shepherds who will protect them from those who have arisen among us and are devouring our sheep. Who use the Name and Word of our Lord to cloak their avaricious motives. Their greed for greater and greater numbers of disciples.
If we do not feel Godly jealousy over the leadership of the flock God has set us over and commanded us to tend; if we do not take it personally when the big-mouthed hirelings demand our sheep come and follow them; if we act magnanimous toward those famous podcasters who have the attention and respect of our young men—that attention and respect which God intended to belong to us, their true shepherd; if we tell ourselves there’s enough time and attention to go around, and we’re not going to object to sharing our sheep with gifted communicators; if we think it’s unseemly to caution developing minds and hearts concerning online scribblers whose specialty is muddying up waters we have worked hard to make pure and clear; if we don’t bother keeping track of the women calling themselves “prophetesses” who have our homeschooling moms’ attention because, truthfully, we can’t be bothered to do so (and anyway, it’s their husband’s job to know what they’re reading); if we fear the sort of accusations that would be made against us if we point out the false doctrine of this and that super-apostle; if we’d prefer to walk quietly and carry no stick; if we like our Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings peaceful; if, during the week, we are fine with our people feeding outside the green pastures and still waters we have chosen for them just so long as they come home to give us forty-five minutes of instruction each Sunday morning; if we tell ourselves we aren’t insecure, and we’re okay with our own sheep thinking such and such a preacher and author is more helpful than we are (because, of course, he himself never stops telling them this, and they believe every word he says); if we feel no threat from all the super apostles outside our flock who live off our sheep and relegate us, the sheep’s called pastor, to serving merely as those sheep’s country bumpkin chaplain; if it never occurs to us that the men influencing our young men online and through podcasts have never had their own homes in order—or that they don’t even confess faith in Jesus Christ; if we don’t have any confidence in our own leadership and feeding of our sheep, and are (truth be told) relieved to have other men compensate at the places of our inadequacy and laziness, promising they will fill in the gaps we’ve left in their diet; if some or many of the above things are true of us as shepherds, our sheep may be a part of a religious celebrity’s large herd, but they are not safe. They are in grave danger.
Here’s something every pastor should know.
The shepherd who admonishes, rebukes, feeds, protects, guards, encourages, and exhorts his sheep, each by name, slowing down for the nursing ewes, tenderly carrying the little lambs, and going out in the storm to reclaim the lost and straying, is the shepherd whose sheep love him and are immune to the blandishments of rich and famous hirelings. The more sheep love their shepherd, the less they are tempted to follow religious hucksters regardless of how glitzy and suave these hucksters present themselves as, and regardless of what universal acclaim they enjoy from massive numbers of wandering sheep.
God’s people need shepherds who know their flock by name and refuse to give over their care to anyone else. This requires God’s people to be under shepherds who stiffen, bark, and growl at all the thieves who hover around the sheepfold, looking to hop in and take a few for themselves.
That’s how you, dear sheep, are to think about the religious leaders perpetually proclaiming their brilliance and perceptivity and knowledge, clamoring for anyone and everyone’s attention. You already have a shepherd who knows you by name. Be loyal to him and he will be there to care for you and your loved ones each and every day and year and decade.
That’s how you, dear shepherd are to think about the religious leaders screaming for your sheep’s attention. You are the Apostle Paul among the Corinthians fighting for their attention and loyalty as the super apostles diss you, promising your sheep that what Jesus is more than anything else is gentle and lowly.
Now then, warn your sheep away from them. Warn them away from your sheep. Make it personal because it is. Very personal. God has called you to care for each of these sheep, and one day you will give an accounting for how jealous you were for their wellbeing, safety, and attention.
Let us claim our Heavenly Father’s promise:
I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down on good grazing ground and feed in fat pasture on the mountains of Israel. -Ezekiel 34:14
(Fourth in a series.)
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