The Flock’s Under-shepherds
The Lord God has always instructed the leaders of His people that they ought to be loving and faithful shepherds who tend His flock. The leaders of His people are required to lead the people according to His will and purposes. They are exhorted to be men of spiritual and moral integrity with a wholehearted devotion to the Lord, their “Chief Shepherd” (1 Peter 5:4), and a deep love for His people and His work.
Moses’ prayer to God for a future leader for His people, recorded in Numbers 27:16-17, comprehensively describes the shepherding job of the leader: “Let the LORD, the God of the spirits of all flesh, set a man over the congregation, which may go out before them, and which may go in before them, and which may lead them out, and which may bring them in; that the congregation of the LORD be not as sheep which have no shepherd.”
Moses prayed that God would “set a man over the congregation” to shepherd them. The shepherds of His people must be those who are called and appointed by God to watch over and lead the people. Paul iterated, in his conversation with the elders of the church in Ephesus, that “the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God…” (Acts 20:28). When the Lord calls them and equips them to be shepherds of His flock, they will have all the spiritual qualities (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9), spiritual abilities (1 Timothy 4:6; 11-16; 5:17; 2 Timothy 1:5-6; 2:2, 15, 24-26; 1 Thessalonians 5:12) and spiritual concerns (Acts 20:24, 28-31; 1 Corinthians 4:1-2; 1 Timothy 6:11-12, 20; Hebrews 13:17, 1 Peter 5:2-3) that characterise God’s choice shepherds.
As shepherds, they are exhorted to “feed the flock of God” (1 Peter 5:2; cf. John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28). The Greek word that Peter used for “feed” (poimaínō) indicates the care, guidance and protection which a shepherd extends to his flock. When Jesus exhorted Peter in John 21:15-17 to “feed” His flock, He used this same word (poimaínō) one time and another Greek word (bóskō) two times, which has to do with causing animals, particularly pasturing animals, to eat. So the Lord’s expectation of His under-shepherds is that they will tend His flock like a genuine shepherd who is committed to nurture, protect and lead his sheep.
It is important to take note that the Greek word which the Apostle Paul used for “pastors” (poimenas) in Ephesians 4:11, means “shepherds”. Paul clearly referred to them as “pastors and teachers”. They shepherd the flock by “labour(ing) in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17;). Faithful preaching (cf. 2 Timothy 4:2; Colossians 1:28) and teaching of the Word of God (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2, 24) nourish the souls of God’s flock. Pastors ought to be able and faithful ministers of God’s Word that they may adequately and appropriately teach the flock of God, so as to nourish and guide them.
Pastors are also to watch over the flock that they may not be misled or destroyed by “ravening wolves” that would suddenly appear among the flock. They are the flock’s camouflaged enemies. Much vigilance and courage will be required to ward off these adversaries of God’s flock. Jesus warned, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matthew 7:15; cf. 2 Peter 2:1). Likewise, Paul warned the Ephesian elders, “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears” (Acts 20:29-31). So Paul’s counsel to the under-shepherds was to “take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). Those who come to destroy the church will try to influence the church with unbiblical doctrines and unholy practices (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3-4; 2 Peter 2:1-3). Paying careful attention to guard the flock against false teachers is a major task of every pastor and elder overseeing His flock. This is certainly not the most pleasant or easiest of work one would like to do. It would require much boldness and confidence in the Lord. Like David, who fought with a lion and a bear while tending His father’s flock in order to deliver the lamb from their paws, pastors and elders must be ready to fight a good fight of faith to protect the believers from unscrupulous men who creep into the church (1 Timothy 1:18-20; 6:3-5,11-12).
The Flock of His Pasture
God’s flock are characterised by certain unmistakable spiritual characteristics, which distinguish them from the rest of the world. Those distinguishing marks also help to prove that they are not wolves in sheep’s clothing that have crept into His flock unawares. These spiritual qualities are also helpful and necessary to keep the flock together under the supervision of the under-shepherds whom the Lord has made overseers.
The sheep of His flock will follow the voice of the Lord. Jesus said about His sheep that “they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). This is a definite, distinct characteristic of all the sheep of His flock. Jesus earlier said in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Upon hearing His voice, whoever goes to Him shall be among the flock of His pasture. Jesus said again, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Every sheep of His flock is delighted to hear and follow the Shepherd’s voice. Today, they hear the voice of the Shepherd through the Word of God being preached and taught by His faithful under-shepherds. So God’s flock are admonished in Hebrews 13:7 to “remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation” (cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
All the obedient sheep who follow the Lord shall be brought together “and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16). They will be united under His voice. Thus they shall rejoice together in His presence, and worship Him as their Shepherd (Psalm 80:1), saying, “So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations” (Psalm 79:13).
At times, this world may be very daunting for His sheep. They would have to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4), which is filled with all kinds of enemies and evil. However, like the psalmist, they can say, “I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). Our Shepherd gently assures us, “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). He will never forsake us till He brings us to our eternal home. “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40:11). Finally, our wonderful Shepherd, who came as the Lamb of God to suffer and die to redeem His flock, shall receive us into His glorious, comforting and joyful presence that we may for ever be with Him – “For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes” (Revelation 7:17).