Shepherding the Flock
J E Baker, Birmingham
‘Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?’ Jeremiah 13. 20.
To every assembly shepherd this question must at times cause a measure of heart-searching, especially when viewed in the light of the words of the Good Shepherd, ‘those that thou gavest me I have kept’, John 17. 12. A true shepherd must of necessity possess a shepherd’s heart and a shepherd’s love; only then can he gain the shepherd’s crown.
First and foremost, shepherds must be men who have been raised up and equipped by the Holy Spirit. The sovereignty of God in assembly life must never be lost sight of, and it is the divine prerogative of the Holy Spirit to distribute blessing as He sees fit. Through the years their duty is clear, to be faithful to God at all times regardless of the approval or disapproval of their fellowmen. Moreover, in I Peter 5. 2, 3 we are warned of the sins that would render them unfit to care for the flock of God, (i) love of ease, (ii) love of money, (iii) love of power.
Over the years, the true shepherd will come to know experimentally what Paul meant when he wrote ‘My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you’, Gal. 4. 19. A progressive growth in grace as well as growth in knowledge will be a source of joy to him. He will watch the spiritual growth of the young men in the assembly. He will note their different dispositions and abilities, seeking to encourage them to function as priests before the Lord. Furthermore, he will give a word of encouragement here, a word of admonition there, maybe a warm hand clasp to help them to ‘run with patience the race that is set before’ them.
Any evidence of unequal yoke among the flock will be a matter of deep personal concern to him, and he will endeavour by prayerful advice to turn such from this forbidden path. He will remind them that the laws of God are like the tables of stone on which they were written - inflexible. We cannot bend them to suit ourselves, and when we break the laws of God we also break ourselves upon them.
What of the awkward members of the flock, and how shall these be dealt with? One’s personal desire may be to hope that they will find fresh pastures, yet, remembering that ‘aU things work together for good to them that love God’, the shepherd may realise that in the purposes of God they are there to teach him patience, to rub a few rough edges off him, and to drive him the more to his knees in order to find wisdom. As the wheels of a watch rotate in opposite directions to give correct time, so in the formation of our character; many things that we may not like are allowed by God so that we may be cast increasingly upon Him.
Furthermore, what of the feeble members of the flock, found in every assembly of God’s people? Shall they be brushed aside as of no consequence? No, for these are all part of the ‘beautiful flock’. Paul observed that those members which seem to be more feeble, are necessary, 1 Cor. 12. 22. As in the natural life, so it is in the spiritual. There are various degrees of life - some are always full of vitality, but others have to be cared for all the days of their fives. The feeble ones must be encouraged to go on with the Lord. It was written of the Good Shepherd that ‘a bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench’, Isa. 42. 3. We may visualise Him bending over such a one and fanning the feeble flicker into a flame. All this is part of a shepherd’s responsibility. God’s charge against the shepherds of Israel was that ‘the diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, . . . , neither have ye sought that which was lost’, Ezek. 34. 4. It is in the measure in which shepherds appreciate that they were bound up by the Good Samaritan, that they will be able to bind up that which is broken. When they have been brought to that place where their only help is in God - a place perhaps of tragedy and sorrows - there it is that they discover that their God is the God of the valleys of life as well as the God of the hills. Being thus educated by God, they can be a help to the brokenhearted. Likewise, in seeking those who have gone astray, the recollections of the truancy of their own heart and mind will enable them to realise that it is only ‘the mind of Christ’ that they have to pass on.
As the day of grace is closing and errors abound on every hand, the shepherds must ever be on their guard against the intrusion of any false doctrine. The ‘things which are most surely believed among us’, Luke 1. 1, are our sacred trust. The deity of our beloved Lord, the preciousness of His atoning blood - these truths are woven into the warp and woof of our Christian life. There can be no compromise! When anything contrary to these is brought into the assembly, they will know at once that there is ‘death in the pot’, 2 Kings 4. 40, but by bringing in the meal - the Word of God - they cast out the evil thing. Here, again, is another responsibility of the shepherds.
It will help them in their work for the Lord if they sometimes meditate on God’s ideal assembly as brought out in principle in Psalm 144. 12-15: sons as plants grown up, daughters polished, plenty of food in store, the flock increased, the oxen (the workers) strong to labour, no breaking in nor going out, no complaining in the streets. When they stand before the judgment seat of Christ with their lives and labours under review, how shall they answer the question, ‘Where is the flock that was given thee, thy beautiful flock?’. Shall the under-shepherds be ashamed before Him? It would be wonderful if they could say with Him, ‘I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do’, John 17. 4. Thus should they follow in the steps of the Good Shepherd.