Skip Heitzig - Profile of A Good Shepherd
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Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to First Peter, chapter 5; First Peter, chapter 5. I love the rustling of iPads. You used to be able to hear it, now it's just quiet. First Peter, chapter 5, let's pray together.
Father, as always we gather acknowledging you with us, your presence among us. We don't feel the need to pray because it's the time to pray after song, but we do it because we need you, we depend on you. And we're asking your Spirit to convey truth to hearts. Thank you, Lord, that we have been able to go through almost an entire book of the New Testament on weekends, one of the closest friends Jesus had on this earth writing a letter to struggling believers. It fits us so perfectly. Lord, as we continue to look at it, I pray you'd give us grace to make application, in Jesus' name, amen.
You will probably never find a sports team that has as its mascot a sheep. I'm thinking football now, right? Denver Sheep, no, no, no, Denver Broncos. Saint Louis Sheep, no, no, no, Rams. Right? I mean, we're talking strong animals, not sheep. When it comes to coinage, you won't find a sheep on a coin in this country. You might in New Zealand, but here you find buffalo and eagle, but not sheep. And when it comes to protecting your personal property, have any of you ever owned a guard sheep? Have you ever seen a sign: "Beware of lamb". No, because they're docile, even timid creatures. Not only are they timid, they require care. In fact, they require a shepherd.
There was a woman who was just sick and tired of all those blonde jokes, and so she decided to dye her hair black. She died it black and she was out for a drive in the country. And her car, she slowed it down because a shepherd was directing a flock of his sheep across the road. So she stopped and she rolled her window down and she yelled out to the shepherd, "Hey, if I can guess exactly how many sheep are in your flock, can I have one of them"? He said, "Sure. Take a stab at it". She said, "You have 257 sheep". Well, he stepped back amazed at her advanced intelligence, because that's exactly how many he had. And so he said, "Well, you're free to take one". So she took one, put it in the car, was about to drive off, and heard a knock on the glass. It was the shepherd, and he leaned in and he said, "Hey, if I can guess what color your hair really is, can I have my dog back"?
Yeah, I guess sheep and dogs need a good shepherd. When you go through the Scripture, you often notice that the figure of a shepherd is one of the most heartwarming pictures of the relationship that God has with his people. It's a picture of care. It's a picture of diligence. Any passage of Scripture is driven by the verbs that are in that section of Scripture. And in verses 1 through 4 there is a verb that all of this section revolves around. And I draw your attention to it in verse 2. The verb is the first word, "shepherd". "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you".
The Lord is often seen as a shepherd in the Bible. Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want". Psalm 100, "We are the sheep of his pasture, we are the people of his hand". And so you will have in Scripture shepherds that are put in a good light because of their care. Sheep, on the other hand, in the Bible are not always put in the greatest of light. Isaiah 53, "All we like sheep have gone astray; we've all gone our own way". In fact, the only time sheep are placed in favorable light is when they're placed under the good supervision of a good shepherd. Because sheep get lost easily, they do not navigate well, they do not find their way on their own. They're not like dogs or pigeons, they'll go back to where they came from, they're lost.
In fact, one professor of philosophy tongue-in-cheek said, "The existence of sheep is evidence against the theory of evolution. There's no way sheep could have survived that process". You know, survival of the fittest, they're not. They require constant oversight, constant leading, constant rescue, constant cleaning, or they will die. A great book written by a shepherd several years ago includes these words: "Sheep just do not take care of themselves. They require, more than any class of livestock, endless attention and meticulous care". "The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways. Our mass mind (or mob instinct), our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity are all parallels of profound importance".
And yet Peter addresses the people of God in chapter 5 as a flock. Now he does not do that to put anyone down, but simply to raise the bar of integrity saying anyone who's going to be a leader of God's flock has to meet certain criteria. Let's look at chapter 5, beginning in verse 1. "The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:" "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away".
Paul has a lot to say to shepherds, pastors, elders. Peter has three main things to say to them, three main responsibilities or qualifications. The first is relationship, the second is calling, the third is desire. Those three things: relationship, calling, desire. He must have a personal relationship with Christ, a practical gifting to serve Christ, and a powerful desire to please Christ. So let's look at them. Let's unpack these things. We only have four verses. But here's Peter's words; thus, the Lord's words to these leaders. In verse 1 and 2 there's three words I want you to notice with me. I want to explain them to you. I want to, as I said, unpack them. The first is the word "elder". He writes to elders as himself being an elder. That word is the Greek word presbuteros. We get the term "presbyterian" from it. It refers to somebody who is mature, often older, wiser.
It's a term that is borrowed from the Old Testament, brought into the New Testament. There were the elders of the children of Israel. The second word I'd like you to notice is in verse 2. It's the word "overseers". It's a different word, episkopos. We get the word "episcopal" from that, a bishop, an overseer. And the third is the word "shepherd" also found in verse 2. Though it is used in its verb form here, (second person plural imperative verb), it is often used in a noun form, a shepherd, and the word in Greek would be poimēn. Now here's what I want you to know: all three of those words describe one person, same person, whether the word presbuteros, elder; episkopos, bishop; or poimēn, shepherd, is used. It speaks of one individual. Three different words to describe one person. Why? The term "elder" describes his maturity. The term "bishop" describes his responsibility. And the term "pastor" describes his ministry, he feeds sheep.
So he speaks to elders as a fellow elder. I love this about Peter. Peter doesn't come off as somebody superior. He doesn't say, "I, Peter, the great apostle", he says, "I'm a fellow elder. I come to you as one of you". I imagine at that time Peter had become so famous in the early church, one of the few, surviving, original company of men that were with Jesus, that pastors, leaders, everywhere revered him. But he comes not as one of the three most intimate friends, but as a fellow elder, and one who had a personal relationship with the suffering and the risen Christ. Notice the wording. He says, "and a witness".
Let me tell you what a witness is in the Bible: a witness is somebody who sees and hears something and then tells others what he has seen and heard. That's all a witness is. He was personally with Christ. That's his past tense: "I was there when he suffered". But now looking to the future he says, "And also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed". So, "Unlike you, I was personally with Jesus and watched him suffer; but like you, I'm waiting for him to return". But what I want you to notice over all is that Peter writes as one who had a personal encounter, thus a personal relationship with Christ. That's the first mark of a good shepherd. It's a man who personally walks with God and is growing in that walk with God. When a relationship with Christ is real and being cultivated, growing, that person has a base from which to share and to minister to others.
In fact, I'll say it this way: As the shepherd goes, so go the sheep. As the shepherd grows, so grow the sheep. If the shepherd is growing, sheep are growing. If the shepherd is stagnating, the sheep will be stagnating. Which means church leaders should be always growing in their personal lives, their spiritual walks, their marriages, their gifts that they use, and their knowledge, all summed up in Second Peter chapter 3 verse 18, "But grow in the grace and in the acknowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ".
Let me tell you a true story that puts it all together. There was a man who was among one of the passengers who was on a flight flying in different cities in California. They were in Sacramento. They landed in Sacramento and there was a flight delay. And the stewardess gets on the intercom and she says, "Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to be delayed in this airport for at least 45 minutes or more. And you have the freedom to get up and go into the terminal and we'll reembark after a period of time". Everybody gets up and goes off the plane, except for one man. He stays seated. He was blind. His Seeing Eye dog was in the seat in front of him, underneath the seat.
Evidently, the pilot of that flight knew the passenger. He must have flown on the pilot's flight before. The pilot gets up, goes over to the man who's blind, and calls him by name. "Keith," he says, "we're going to be at this airport for about an hour. If you want, you can go out and come back". He goes, "No, I don't need, I'll stay seated. But my dog would probably like to be walked". The pilot said, "No problem. I'll take care of it". Now I want you to imagine in your mind's eye what it would have been like to be a passenger in the terminal when your pilot comes out with a Seeing Eye dog. Right? Just to add a little bit of fun, the pilot even put his sunglasses on as he walked out into the terminal. What would you have thought? That's what they thought. Their reaction? Most of them went to the counter to switch flights. Some wanted to switch airlines altogether. Why? Why did they react that way? It's simple, they had no desire to entrust their lives to a man who couldn't see to fly.
Here's my point: men who don't love their wives, or don't raise their children in a godly fashion, or don't know their Bibles, have no business flying God's plane filled with God's people. He has to see to fly the plane, so he needs his own personal relationship with the living, resurrected Christ. You say, "Yeah, I know that. Everybody knows that". Really? A few years ago I was stunned, but delighted, when one of the people who came forward at an altar call at a Christmas Eve service humbly told me that he had been an elder in a church for 25 years and never had a personal relationship with Jesus until that night. I was mystified, but delighted. Better late than never. A personal relationship with Christ. Here's the second: a practical gifting to serve Christ. Verse 2, he says, "Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you".
Notice, the terms "entrusted". It's as if God says, "I will entrust you, I trust you to take my flock and be a steward over them". "Not being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock". Here's the long and short of it: a shepherd must be called. There has to be a calling. I know that's a mystical kind of a term, like, are you waiting around for a voice to be heard? How do you know if you have a calling? It's pretty simple, there's always a gifting that accompanies the calling. You can tell if a person is called by the fruit. If a person is called to be an evangelist, guess what's going to happen? People are going to come to Christ. Nobody comes to Christ and he says "I'm on evangelist," h'm, okay. I wonder about that. If you're gifted or called to be a teacher, you'll be gifted to be a teacher. People will be taught. They will grow in their walks.
So there will be an accompanying gift mix along with the calling. When Paul announced to the church of Ephesus, those gifted individuals that had been given to the congregation, he said, "There are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry". Would you notice a phrase found both in verse 1 and verse 2. It's the phrase, "among you". In verse 1 he speaks to "The elders who are among you," "you" being the flock. In verse 2 he says, "Shepherd the flock which is among you". Now he speaks to shepherds who have the flock of God among them. But the term "among you" is an important term of practical accountability. If you're gifted, others among you will recognize it. They will know it. They will ratify it.
This is why seminary alone is not sufficient. Hermeneutics and homiletics courses are fine, but they are not enough. You need more. You can teach techniques, you can't transmit gifting, only God can do that. Some people join ministry or want to be a leader in a group because they just want to be known as the leader. They want people to notice them. They want the applause of people. No wonder James used these words: "Let not many of you presume to be teachers, for you will receive the stricter judgment". You see, it's gotta be given to you by the Lord. And when you're among people, they will recognize God's hand on you. Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders and he said, "Take care of the flock of God, among whom the Holy Spirit has made you overseers". In other words, do not touch the ministry unless the Holy Spirit gives it to you.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon the preacher of preachers, I consider him, said this: "All are not called to labor in word and in doctrine, nor to be elders, or to exercise the gift of bishop; nor should all aspire to such works, since the gifts necessary are nowhere promised to all. But those should addict themselves to such important engagements who feel, like the apostle, that they have 'received this ministry.' No man may intrude into the sheepfold as an under-shepherd; he must have an eye to the Chief Shepherd and wait his beck and command. And if he does not so, but he rushes into the sacred office, the Lord will say of him and others like him, 'I sent them not, neither did I command them; therefore they shall not profit his people at all, saith the Lord,'" quoting Jeremiah 23.
It has to be a practical gifting to serve Christ. In two areas, generally speaking, Peter brings up there has to be a gifting to feed sheep and a gifting to lead sheep. Look at the first one. To feed the sheep, that's in the word "shepherd". Verse 2, "Shepherd the flock of God". The Old King Jimmy says, "Feed the flock of God," because the term "shepherd" and the term "feed" were part and parcel with the same calling, the same nurturing. One of the primary callings of a shepherd is to feed sheep. Jesus, after the resurrection, asked Peter three times, "Do you love me"? "Yes, Lord, I love you". And Jesus said, "Feed my sheep," sometimes translated "tend" or "care for," but, "Feed my sheep". It's what shepherds do, they feed sheep. "The Lord is my shepherd," David said, "He leads me into green pastures".
My shepherd provides me food, one of the main tasks of a pastor. I see our position as being a spiritual chef. I remember coming home and sitting down for a meal and sometimes I just start randomly eating things. And I remember my mom saying, "I slave over a hot stove all day for you boys". I'll never forget that, and I think that's what I'm called to do, slave over a stove of Scripture that takes time to prepare a meal that is palatable and edifying and understandable through which a person can grow. Listen, a pastor worth listening to is one who has thought through the truth in the presence of the Holy Spirit, and that takes time. The words of Paul to Timothy were these: "Be diligent," or in the Old translation, "Study to show yourselves approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth".
Be prepared. Study hard. I've always loved the story of the Native American man, an older man, who went to church one Sunday and heard his preacher. It was a Sunday when the preacher didn't study and prepare for the message, so he tried to cover up his lack of preparation by being bombastic and pounding the pulpit and, you know, speaking loudly and running back and forth and putting on a pep rally show. In fact, he was frothing and spitting and just moving around. And some people thought he preached up a storm. That's what they said, "He preached up a storm". And they asked the old Native American gentlemen afterwards, "What did you think of the sermon"? He said, "I have six words: high wind, big thunder, no rain". High wind, big thunder, but where's the rain? Where's the nourishment? Boy, he preached up a storm, but where's the rain? This is why God, speaking through Ezekiel the prophet, said, "Prophesy against my shepherds, 'for should not the shepherds feed the flocks?'"
Now, I'm a real stickler about this, as some of you may anticipate and already know. I don't believe a pastor shouldn't just give bits and pieces of the Bible, a short series in this and a short miniseries on that, and a little bit of the New Testament, a couple psalms, maybe a little Revelation. I believe, you want to get strong sheep, you teach them through books of the Bible, all of it. In fact, my favorite event of the whole week is my Wednesday night Bible study. I've often said if I had to give something up, it would be a weekend, not a Wednesday night. Because on Wednesday night I'm able to go through a couple chapters of it. We're in the book of Numbers right now, and we're plowing through a couple chapters at a time, all of what God says in his Word. I know everybody doesn't like "Numbers?"
There's just some parts of the Scripture, even the part that we're studying today, a lot of people in a series like this they just sort of skip over this. You know, you speak about that at a pastors' conference. I look at it as this is the way to raise the level of accountability. Now you know what you should expect of us on the pastoral team. But I'll never forget when my son was young and my wife placed on his plate at dinnertime carrots and celery, among other things. But this is what he noticed: carrots were huge and celery. And he didn't want to eat either one of them, and he wasn't really about to eat either one of them. But she was ingenious. She placed a plate of her brownies at the end of the table. Which sounds sort of distracting like, well, you're going to be looking at that. But the whole point is you have to go through the carrots and celery to get to the brownies.
You see, they're on that side of the table. You don't just get there, you gotta go through your food to get to that. The Bible says that in the last days people "will not endure sound doctrine," they will not endure carrots and celery. So what some leaders do if they don't endure it, don't give it to them. But there's something about shepherds you ought to know, they do it every year in the Middle East. When it gets to be about this time of the year and it's really hot and the surface grasses on the plateaus die, that's when the shepherd leads the sheep to different grasses in the ravines where it's dark. They're called "wadis". We call them "arroyos". But sheep hate it. They don't like going down into dark places. They don't have good eyesight. But the shepherd knows that's where the greenest, most verdant food is down in the valley, so he has to change things up and lead them down into the valley. They may not like it, but wait till you get there and see what you have to eat.
So that is the practical gifting to serve Christ, to feed the flock, feed the flock. Second, he has to be gifted to lead the flock. You'll notice in verse 2 it says, "Serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but as examples to the flock".
See the word "overseers"? I told you what the word is. Episcopos, episcopal, means bishop. Literally it means somebody who sees over; hence, the word "overseer". It's somebody who looks over a group of people and sees what they need, looks over a flock of sheep and looks out for them. That's the idea of an overseer. He's gifted to lead them. He's to do it a few different ways. You'll notice it says, "not by compulsion but willingly". In other words, not because you have to, but because you want to. A pastor should never say, "Oh, it's Sunday again". Man, I can't wait to get here. It's such a joy. And it's something, not you "have to do". There's no room for laziness on pastoral staff in any ministry at all.
I remember asking J. Vernon McGee, I don't know if any of you remember J. Vernon McGee. He's been in heaven a long time. But he came and spoke here before he went to heaven. And I interviewed him on the radio. And I know that he teaches he taught and still does through the whole Bible. And it's something that was a passion of mine. So I asked him, I said, "Dr. McGee, why do you think more pastors don't teach from Genesis to Revelation"? He didn't miss a beat and he didn't hesitate. He said in that Southern drawl, "Because they're lazy". Those were his words, "They're lazy".
Charles Haddon Spurgeon said, "If you plan to be lazy, there are plenty of avocations in which you will not be wanted; but above all, you are not wanted in the Christian ministry. For he who finds the ministry an easy life will find that it brings a hard death". So it's a calling and it's a gifting to feed and to lead because you want to. He further qualifies it, "not for dishonest gain", there were many false prophets that peppered the congregation in ancient times and were out just to get money out of people, "but eagerly". I hope you never think, "You know, I can't find a job anywhere else, I'm gonna apply to the pastoral staff at Calvary". You won't get far. Further qualification is in verse 3, "nor as being lords over", you're an overseer, not an overlord. "Not as being lord over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock".
The greatest sermon ever preached is an example sermon, sermon by example. And here's why: sheep cannot be driven, they have to be led. You lead sheep, you don't drive them. You lead them and example is what goes the furthest. A leader is somebody who knows the way, goes the way, and then shows the way. He leads by example. A personal relationship with Christ; a practical gifting to serve Christ; and, three, a powerful desire to please Christ. That's the third and the last. Look at verse 4. "And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away". One of the most beautiful titles of Jesus ever: "the Chief Shepherd". I love that. He called himself the "Good Shepherd". Peter heard that sermon, but here it says he's the greatest Shepherd, he's the best Shepherd, he's the Chief Shepherd. We are just undershepherds feeding his flock that he entrusted to us.
Now, you'll remember that up to this point Peter is encouraging a suffering group of people, right? And one of the ways he encourages them is he says, "Hold on. It's tough now, but later on when Jesus comes back, you're going to get a reward. The best is yet to come. Look toward the future. Look toward the goal of God's glory". He says the same thing now to the pastors: our motivation for ministry is to please Jesus Christ. And may I say, quite frankly, he's a lot easier to please than some people. So if you get into the ministry and you try to just please people, you'll be like a dog chasing its tail. It will just never happen, because as soon as you please someone, someone else won't like it. So it's better to start when you start by pleasing the Lord Jesus Christ.
Stuart Briscoe said something years ago I'll never forget. He said, "Here's the qualifications of a pastor: he needs the mind of a scholar, he needs the heart of a child, and he needs the hide of a rhinoceros". You just plow through and you want to please the Lord. There was a legend about an old shepherd. An old man was walking from village to village with a young boy and a donkey and a flock of sheep trailing behind. He came to the first village and he was walking next to the donkey. And the people of that village called him a fool, when he could be riding, he's walking. "He ought to be riding the donkey".
So, to please the people he got up on the donkey and he rode. He went to the second village and the people of that village said that he was cruel because he was letting a young child walk while he was riding the donkey. So, to please the people he got off the donkey and put the young child on the donkey. And they went to the next village. When they got to the next village they said that the boy was lazy and the older guy was helping him be lazy by letting him ride the donkey, the young boy, while he was walking. "They should both be riding together". So, to please the people the old man and the young boy were riding the donkey to the next village. When they got to the next village, the people of that village said, "Cruelty to donkeys! His donkey is supporting the weight of two human beings. It's horrible".
The last time they saw the shepherd he was walking down the road carrying the donkey to the next village to see what they would say. You get my point. Any kind of work, including ministry, especially, should be done to please the Chief Shepherd. Ephesians 6, "Not with eyeservice, nor as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart". And here's why: because in the end you will not stand before any group of your peers, you will stand before one, the Chief Shepherd. And notice what he will do if you do it right: "You will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away".
You want to know what Peter had in mind when he wrote that. The Olympic games in Athens. When you would win first, second, or third, you know what you got for it? You didn't get, like, a lot of cash and a new car and a big gold medal; you got a little wreath of leaves on your head that would die in about a week. You get oak leaves or laurel leaves or flowers or, in some cases, parsley. Okay, so you put all of that effort to win a race for a salad on your head. That's it. It fades away. And Peter said, "If you run this race and you do it right, God will give you a crown that will never fade away, ever".
You can labor for different kinds of crowns. Some will labor for a crown of fame and popularity, others will labor for a crown of personal empire building, others will labor for a crown of people's applause. But the best way to labor is for God's approval. It's always nice to hear, "Great sermon, pastor," but you can never live for that. You live for hearing one day Jesus say, "Well done, good and faithful servant". That's what you want to hear. That's what you're waiting for, as well as I am. We all have our individual ministries in any church.
One final remark and I'll close. You need to know what an amazing privilege and incredible joy it is for me to be a part of a pastoral staff that is so capable and qualified at this church. I stand among a group of peers, men, capable leaders, intern pastors who have that desire to serve the Lord, all of which adds a wonderful blend. And it is our privilege to serve this flock. You need to know that we don't go, "Another weekend". It's like, "Can't wait what the Lord's going to do this week with us". You need to hear that. You need to know that.
Father, thank you, thank you as our Chief Shepherd, the one that we look toward, that we serve, that we love, that we worship, you're the one we do it for. And every one of us in a body, we all have different functions, all important. These are words to elders, because in times of suffering like this audience was going through and Peter wrote it, good leadership is critical. Lord, help us to stay accountable with our hand to the plow and our feet marching ahead and our eye always toward you, the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd. And I speak for all of us as pastors on staff, all of us shepherds are sheep as well. We need you to lead us. We are just underlings, undershepherds. We follow your example. Teach us, Lord, to do it right, in Jesus' name, amen.