Sermon series: Living in Light of the Returning King
Connection with unit theme
The Good Shepherd continues to lead His flock through under-shepherds. Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus give a picture of how faithful shepherds feed the flock. Until Christ returns, believers should entrust their care to the men He has appointed over them.
In one section of his book, The Conviction to Lead, Albert Mohler, explains why the anti-leadership movements of the 1960s did not work. Ironically, "even anti-leadership movements needed leaders." The Scriptures portray a lack of leadership as a sign of judgment upon the people. God has always intended that His people would be lovingly led. Isaiah 3:6-7 shows the deplorable state of leadership in ancient Israel. "You have a cloak; you shall be our leader, and this heap of ruins shall be under your rule." If someone even looked the part they would be in the front of the line to get the job.
Times were similar when Jesus walked upon the earth. Matthew 9:35-37 says, "And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages . . . when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'"
The Lord's solution was to train His disciples, who would in turn train other leaders. The message must have taken root because decades later Peter would exhort the elders among his audience to "feed the flock" (1 Peter 5:1-2). The apostle Paul uses a similar theme in his letters to Timothy and Titus. The Good Shepherd continues to lead his flock through under-shepherds.
It is important to understand, however, that pastors do not "feed the flock" simply to make them fat. William Still gets to the heart of the pastoral calling when he says:
Israel's sheep were reared, fed, tended, retrieved, healed, and restored—for sacrifice on the altar of God. This end of all pastoral work must never be forgotten—that its ultimate aim is to lead God's people to offer themselves up to Him in total devotion of worship and service.
There are two primary ways that faithful shepherds do this: through their lives and through their lips.
I. Faithful shepherds feed the flock with their lives - 2 Tim. 4:7-8, 11-16
Robert Murray McCheyne, the faithful Scottish pastor, once quipped, "The greatest need of my people is my personal holiness." McCheyne echoes what John Owen said before him: "A minister may fill his pews, his communion, roll, the mouths of the public, but what that minister is on his knees in secret before God Almighty, that he is and no more." These great men echoed what the apostle Paul said to Timothy thousands of years ago.
In 1 Timothy 4:7-8 Paul urges young Timothy to "train yourself for godliness." He is to do this because "godliness is of value in every way." Young Timothy would lead his congregation through the example of his personal holiness. The best way for a faithful shepherd to "lead God's people to offer themselves up to Him in total devotion of worship and service" is to do so himself. And as others "see your progress" it will promote personal holiness in their lives as well.
How shepherds live matters. They cannot separate their shepherding from who they are as believers. Faithful shepherds feed their flocks by paving the way for others to die to self and find life in Christ.
Application: Are you concerned about your pastor's holiness as much as his ministerial performance? Our prayers ought to be directed in this way. Churches can also assist pastors by providing avenues where they and their families can find spiritual nourishment.
II. Faithful shepherds feed the flock with their lips - 2 Tim. 4:1-2
In John 10:27 Jesus says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me." Sheep find their nourishment in the words of Jesus. Without the word of Christ the sheep will wander aimlessly, never finding safe pasture. Today, sheep are fed when faithful shepherds proclaim the word of God.
In 2 Timothy 4:1, Paul charges Timothy "in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus" to preach the Word. This is a reminder that all under-shepherds live out their ministries under the gaze of the risen Christ, "who is to judge the living and the dead." Shepherds are accountable to the Good Shepherd (John 10). If their message strays from His, they are no longer being faithful shepherds.
In every season and in every situation, the words of the Good Shepherd are what the flock needs. To be "ready in season and out of season" means that the faithful shepherd will proclaim the words of Christ in times when it is welcomed and even when it is rejected. The response of the sheep does not determine the shepherd's task.
Application: Are you holding your pastor accountable to the Word of God? Are you encouraging him when he is faithful? Tell him how the word of Christ proclaimed through him provide nourishment for your soul. Churches do well to maintain the pastor's ministry of feeding the flock as his most important task.
It is a humbling thing to stand before the people of God as a sinner in need of grace. As John Piper has rightly noted, "No pastor lives up to what he preaches. If he does, he is preaching too low." Even the most faithful of under-shepherds will sin. In such instances they ought to also lead the way in repentance and seeking grace from the Good Shepherd. Yet, this reality does not negate the necessity of "keeping a close watch on yourself." Both a holy life and honoring lips are necessary. To proclaim the word of Christ without consistently backing that up with personal obedience makes the shepherd an unfaithful hypocrite. At the same time, living a holy life without ever proclaiming the words of Christ will starve the flock.