Paul, like his fellow apostle Peter, knew what the priority of pastors should be when he told the elders at Ephesus, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28). Notice the wording here, “take heed unto yourselves.” God wants the shepherd to make his sole priority Christ, after which follows the spiritual state of his heart and then the care of God’s people. This phrase actually means a ship holding to its course. He says, “Stay on course, pay attention!”
The shepherd must pay attention to the condition of his heart. Solomon warns, “Keep your heart with all diligence.” (Prov 4:23). The heart is used to acting like a fugitive from God and we should guard our hearts like nothing else, otherwise it easily escapes. It is very, very difficult to guard. If the tongue is the expression of the heart and it is humanly impossible to tame (James 3:8) the heart must be wild and reckless! That is why we need the protective custody of the scriptures (Gal. 3:23NLT) and the Spirit of Christ with our hearts. The heart must be constantly wooed with the love of God and admonished with the holiness of God. The heart has such an influence for good and evil on our lives that we have no other choice but to diagnostically examine it by daily prayer and the pondering the scriptures.
The shepherd is called to navigate his life and his role as shepherd by the map of the written Word and the leading of God’s spirit (Rom. 8:14-16). This navigation makes the faithful pastor well able to watch over the flock and protect them from being exploited by both players and haters: those who appear godly but are not (2 Tim. 3:5) and haters of God and good men (Rom. 1:30; 2 Thess. 3:2 ). The pastor must stay on course with God’s Written Word, the Bible. It bothers me how pastors rely on so many others maps and directions offered in religious enterprise, worship center entertainment and ecclesiastical marketing rather than on the best guide: the Lord Jesus Christ as Captain of their own hearts directing them into a smooth and direct road into the love of God and the patience of Jesus (2 Thess. 3:5; Rev 1:9). Instead with many today and I mean many is that, “They that handle the law knew me not: the pastors also transgressed against me.” (Jer 2:8)
The pastor must stay on course with the Living Word, Christ. This is vital because the only way they can lead and guide the sheep is that they must have a loving relationship with Christ their Shepherd. After all, we are all sheep, there are no social classes of Christians. Man made religion begins when people begin to neglect their first love-Christ. It all goes beyond the command of the Lord (Num. 24:13) and becomes dead works, mechanical and oppressive.
Paul makes it clear that to be a pastor can only stay on course when he knows his work is not a career it is a calling, it is the choice of God (Heb. 5:4). The Holy Ghost makes pastors. Only Christ chooses who will pastor (John 15:16). Oh for pastors that God has made! They are forged in the wilderness until He has them ready to go public (Luke 1:80). He who made fishers of men, makes shepherds of the flock. Lord, give us men who are sent forth by the Holy Ghost (Acts 13:4)!
The shepherds primary responsibility is defined once again as feeding or one with authority to provide pasturage or food (Thayer). It is not just food but pasturage. I like that word! The Pastor should stay on course in this ministry. Christ feeds his sheep through shepherds. Christ as a Lamb feeds his people while he leads his people (Rev 7:17). How we need to learn this! God has designed it that way. Christ says, “I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding.” (Jer. 3:15). Those rare qualities are on the menu of the biblical pastor. They are to bring God’s people to the “banqueting house” of the scriptures where Christ shows them his love (Song 2:4). The lips of these righteous men, with pure hearts and skillful hands feed many sheep and give them their portion of meat in due season (Prov 10:21; Luke 12:42; Ps 78:72).
When God’s people have problems, it is a sign of hunger. It should not knock us off course when the people he shepherds are just a mess. No matter the generation God’s people seem ridden with problems.
Just because they belong to God does not mean they will always be doing well.
Just because they belong to God does not mean they will always make wise decisions.
Just because they belong to God does not mean they will not fall into sin.
God’s people of all ages have been problematic! They are a high maintenance people. That is why God provides shepherds to guide and direct them. In their times of hunger a faithful shepherd directs them to Christ, who alone can satisfy. Thus shepherds oversee Christ’s own flock with careful attention and love. Paul said that he had a self-sacrificial love for the churches his pastored and was willing to die for them because they were so dear to him. He was like a gentle mother caring for her little children and as a father who encourages and comforts his children (see 1 Thess. 2:7-12).
Yet despite all their issues, no matter how large or small the pastor treats the congregation with a dignity, respect and love. They are the church of God. These are the elect people of God, the assembly and fellowship of those who have been called out by Christ. Lord, send us men who minister to the flock with an awareness that those to whom they minister have been bought “with the blood of God.” That is powerful! Christ the Eternal Son has laid down his life for these sheep and they never will and never do belong to anyone but God. God is their Father (2 Cor. 6:18) and Christ is their brother (Heb. 2:12) and the Holy Spirit is their Comforter (John 15:26). The pastor loves them because the Triune God loves them.
At the same time the pastor is to treat the congregation of the Lord with such a concern as though they were his flock. “Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.” (Prov. 27:23). Gill says the Septuagint translates it, “the souls of thy flocks.” The shepherd call is to stay on course with a nurturing soul care. Once again you see him guiding, not dictating; teaching not entertaining; preaching not motivating. The flock loves their Heavenly Shepherd and they already desire the will of God and they know his voice in the scriptures (John 10: 26-27). Sheep are completely dependent upon their Heavenly Shepherd and they are never to be dependent upon another human being.
© 2011 Stephen S. Gibney Soul Health Care
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