Wow. Nothing like Paul to make a sunny day cloudy. We trust our pastors. We assume if they are following Jesus, as we are, they are confessing their sins, seeking Jesus every day and want to grow deeper in Him. So, reading Paul feels almost disloyal to the pastors and teachers we look up to and trust.
But that is the point. The wolves know the sheep stick together and desire to belong to a flock that is vibrant and loving. The wolves know the sheep love Jesus, and are trusting those who call themselves Christians. They also know that leaders have a special place in the heart of the sheep. We expect the world to not be trustworthy; they don't have a regenerate heart. So why wouldn't the sheep trust the one who is leading them?
We trust our shepherd because he's out ahead of us. He is further up the road than we are. He has studied the Word more than we have; he knows more of the Bible, its history, language and meaning than us; he is called to his position by God; he serves Jesus with his whole heart; his sins are not hidden but confessed; he is accountable to other shepherds; and he genuinely knows and loves his Lord and His Word.
Does that mean he is better than the sheep? No. He is a brother in Christ, and just because he leads us doesn't means he is better than us--the same Jesus that lives in him and empowers him, lives in us and empowers us.
Paul, as a pastor, experienced first hand the snarling of the wolves throughout his ministry, just as Jesus warned anyone who followed Him would: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also... (John 15:18-20)
Jesus is addressing the Pharisees specifically in these verses, but notice one thing: The Pharisees were of the same faith as Jesus. They studied the same Torah; they went to synagogue and knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah. But their fangs came out when Jesus taught the multitude. He exposed their pride, their jealousy of Him, their twisting of the Scripture and their self-righteousness, all parading around in the name of His Father.
The greatest fear a false teacher has is exposure. Jesus did that. Paul did that. We must do that if the Holy Spirit calls us to speak truth in love to an erring brother.
Paul, in these verses from Acts is speaking to the shepherds themselves--wisdom that needs to be heeded. But, we as sheep can ask ourselves, "Is our shepherd aligning with God's criteria?"
1. "Keep watch over yourselves:" First things first. Is our shepherd making sure his behaviors and teachings match his Lord and the Word? Is he earnestly seeking to remove the log in his eye before he even attempts to remove the speck in one of the sheep's eye?
2. "and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers:" Is our shepherd genuinely looking out for his flock and not using them to fulfill some hidden agenda? Is his ministry one of edifying the saints, or is it to edify himself at the sheep's expense? Is our shepherd called and commissioned by the Holy Spirit? Does his attitude toward the Body of Christ display his commitment to the One who called him?
3. "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood:" Jesus paid a dear price for His bride. His blood flowed down a cross to cleanse her and array her in white garments. Does our shepherd love the bride as well? Does he fully understand that the bride is Christ's and not his? Does he serve the Lord with a love for others, a willingness to stand on the Word and every success, every victory he ascribes to Christ alone?
4. "I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock:" Does our shepherd understand how angry the world is with Jesus, and how a shepherd is as much wolf chow as a sheep? He is not exempt from temptation. He is not exempt from struggles. Does our shepherd humbly understand that because a shepherd leads a flock, he may be the first to go when the wolves start to pick off its members? Because of that, our shepherd needs to be vigilant about his walk in Christ.
5. "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them:" Has our shepherd picked a godly group of men who watch over him and who themselves follow the Lord without compromise? Is he accountable to them, confessing sin, seeking prayer and being teachable? If he has to choose between an erring brother and his walk in Christ, will he compromise and allow the brother to continue? Does he know the Word well enough to know when the truth is being twisted in order to justify some unbiblical action, and will not stand for it, either in himself or in someone else?
6. "So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears:" Paul never stopped praying for the shepherds who oversaw the churches he planted, for he knew the wolves never rest. Does our shepherd pray for the safety, sanctity and souls of his sheep, as well as for himself?
It is hard to keep an evaluative eye upon your shepherd, because you want to trust him. You want to be free to pursue Jesus under his leadership.
But if any of the above criteria is repeatedly violated, you must ask the hard questions: Why am I still under this shepherd's leadership? Is he meeting an emotional need of mine, at my spiritual expense? Am I comparing him to others out there, and because his failures are not as egregious as others, I keep making excuses for him? (The standard is Jesus, not other shepherds.) Am I afraid that friends and family won't understand, so I keep everyone happy by ignoring how my shepherd is not aligned with the Word? Am I afraid of offending the shepherd and unwilling to face his anger, I remain silent?
Being a shepherd is a dangerous, beautiful, amazing and serious calling.
Being a sheep is a dangerous, beautiful, amazing and serious calling.
Jesus and Paul prayed for those who lead and for those who followed. We must do the same.