After the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 in some parts of the UK where sheep once abounded there existed a strange silence. No bleating. Foot and mouth has taken its dreadful toll. The shepherds had no sheep to care for. A sad picture indeed!
Remember what the Lord Jesus told Peter, ‘Feed my lambs, feed my sheep, tend my sheep’, John 21. 15-17. Someone has well said that if we do not feed our lambs we shall have no sheep to feed later on. The true shepherd is concerned about the lambs as well as the sheep. It must be so for all who seek to walk in the steps of the Great Shepherd of the sheep. When God is portrayed as the Shepherd, what does He do? ‘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’, Isa. 40. 11 What a lovely picture of the truest of shepherd hearts!
God’s greatest men have been great shepherds. The leader who led two million people for nearly forty years through a wilderness was a shepherd. When this leader was called by God, he was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, Exod. 3. 1. Israel’s greatest king was a shepherd, concerning whom the Lord said, ‘I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel’, 2 Sam. 7. 8.
God’s leaders are pre-eminently shepherds. So it is in a local church, and it is the Holy Spirit who makes them such, Acts 20. 28. There must also be a personal exercise, 1 Tim. 3. l. There is always a plurality of elders or shepherds, Acts 20. 17, Phil. 1. 1. Bishops or overseers and elders are the same people, note Titus 1. 5, 7.
How are they recognized by the flock? By their character and their work. Note it is not simply by their work. When Paul describes the qualifications of elders almost all of them have to do with character, note 1 Tim. 3. 1-7, Titus 1. 5-9. These scriptures are there for our guidance and ought to be read and followed.
Their work is described in other passages for example, Acts 20. 28; 1 Thess. 5. 12-13, Heb.13. 7, 17; and 1 Pet. 5. 2-3. The emphasis is firstly on the shepherds’ character. They do the work because they possess the Godbuilt character to do it. They do a shepherding work because they have a shepherd’s heart, not simply because they want leadership recognition.
Note the priority given by Paul in Acts 20. 28 the shepherd is to take heed to himself, and then to the flock. He must be right himself. Lovely is the picture of the Eastern shepherd found within the scriptures, who knows his sheep by name, for he has an interest in them as individuals, John 10. 3; who tenderly cares for them, carrying the lambs in his bosom, leading those who are with young, Isa. 40. 11; who feeds them in green pastures, leading them by the still waters, Ps. 23. 2; who protects them from those dangers that threaten the flock, so that the lion and the bear are dealt with, 1 Sam. 17. 34-36; and who sees the wolf coming and instead of saving himself stands in the way to preserve the flock, John 10. 12, 27, 28; and finally who leads and the sheep follow, Ps. 23. 2; John 10. 4. If ever there was a day when we need true shepherds raised up of God and doing His work among His people it is today! Pray for such to be raised up and pray that such as are doing these works may be preserved.