The Lord, in His parabolic discourse in John 10, makes mention of five different types of men who have had to do with His flock.
1. The Stranger (v. 5). Here is someone who perhaps would fain do shepherd’s work. His intentions may be of the best. He may put on shepherd’s garb, and carry the implements of a shepherd; but in fact he is trying to do what is not his business. In vain he tries to give directions to the flock. They do not know him, they do not trust him. Instead of following him, they flee from him. His attempted shepherding is only officious interference – he is a stranger.
2. The Hireling (v. 12). In some respects, this man stands in contrast to the stranger. Whereas the stranger assumes duties which he has never been called upon to perform, the hireling does have a duty to the flock, and his character is revealed by the way in which he discharges (or, rather, fails to discharge) that duty. The flock flee from the stranger; but the hireling flees from the flock in the hour when they need him most. He flees “because he is an hireling,” His main concern had, all along, been his wages, not the sheep.
3. The Thief (v. 1) is worse than either the stranger or the hireling. The stranger’s approach to the flock, though unauthorized, was not necessarily malignant; but the thief comes with deliberately evil intentions. The hireling was after gain, but was not unwilling to render services in return, so long as these services entailed no danger to him. The thief has no thought but “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” He sees the flock simply as a prey.
The stranger’s dealings with the flock are marked by futility, the hireling’s by unfaithfulness, the thief’s by sheer malignity. How much have the Lord’s scattered and distressed sheep suffered throughout the ages from all three! Very different from these are the other two characters in the parable.
4. The Porter (v.; 5). He is not necessarily a shepherd himself, but he knows a true shepherd when he sees one. John the Baptist was a porter indeed; but it was the tragedy of Israel’s fold in his day that those who had arrogated to themselves the position of porters, entirely failed to recognize the Good Shepherd when He came. He came to His own door, and it was closed against Him (John 1. 13). That tragic mistake has since been repeated too often; God-sent shepherds have been debarred access to the flock, and strangers and hirelings admitted, because there was no true porter capable of distinguishing the real from the false. May God preserve the porter’s gift amongst us!
5. The Shepherd. Unlike the thief, he comes not to take but to give. Unlike the hireling, he does not sacrifice the sheep to save himself but sacrifices himself to preserve the sheep. Unlike the stranger, the sheep hears his voice; for, perverse, stupid and thankless though the sheep may be, and however toilsome and heart breaking the shepherd’s task may be, it is ultimately only a true shepherd who can win and hold the confidence of the sheep. Only of him can it be said, “He goeth before them and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”
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