The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: S

Previous Index Next

Shepherds and hirelings

"It is unfortunate that the chapter division dissociates the shepherd allegory from the discussion reported in Joh 9. Jesus had convicted the Pharisees of blindness and incompetence in dealing with the flock of God. As bad shepherds they had cast out the healed man, but the good shepherd had found him" (CJo 119).
"And they cast him out. Jesus heard they had cast him out; and when he found him..." (Joh 9:34,35). "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out" (Joh 6:37).

With bold actions and words, Christ dramatically set himself apart from the other teachers of his nation. They pompously dictated and threatened; he lovingly instructed and comforted. They "cast out"; he "found" and recovered. They "cared not for the sheep"; he "laid down his life for the sheep" (Joh 10:15), and in so doing became the model for all shepherds, overseers, and elders. Doubtless Peter had "the Good Shepherd" in mind when he wrote:

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock" (1Pe 5:1-3).
The true ecclesial shepherd, then, must do the works of his Master:

The characteristics of a true shepherd are set in contrast to those of a "hireling":

"But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth... The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep" (Jon 10:12,13).
It is said of the hirelings or false shepherds that they "feed (or shepherd) themselves" (Eze 34:2).

"The shepherds shepherded themselves! They were prepared to sacrifice the flock for themselves, whereas they should have extended their self-sacrificing devotion to the flock and carefully pastured or shepherded it" (HPM on Ezek 30).
"From these words one would think it transparently obvious that in time of danger to the flock from false teachers ('After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock' -- Act 20:29), a man's duty will keep him with the flock in order that he might exert every possible effort in defence of those less able than himself to combat spiritual evil. Yet in sharp contrast to this the attitude of some seems to be: 'There is a wolf in the flock. I have told the sheep to chase it away, but they do nothing of the sort. So now it is time for me to get out as quickly as I can.' The incisive word of the Lord for men who act in this way is the shameful term: 'hireling'....Without doubt those who withdraw to an exclusive 'pure' fellowship are hirelings in the sense in which Jesus used the term, for their separatism is solely a means of furthering, as they think, their own safety and benefit" (HAW, "Block Disfellowship", Tes 43:340).
A hireling may seek to benefit materially by his labors, and this of course is a serious offence (1Pe 5:2; 1Ti 3:3,8). But, as the Pharisees so amply demonstrated, one may be a "hireling" even if he cares not at all for financial profit. He may be a "hireling", for example, in caring for power and authority, or for honor and respect without responsibility. He may be a "hireling" if he abandons his flock when the "wolf" (or false teacher -- Act 20:29) approaches. He thus shows his true character when he saves himself first -- subjecting his employer's "investment" to possible ruin. As members of the one Body, we should develop the mind-picture of ourselves as "partners" in the enterprise, not mere employees! The employee is nothing but "hired help", a "hireling" who works for his "wages" and nothing else (but the "gift" of God, which we hope one day to receive, is not "wages"; our proper "wages" can only be death -- Rom 6:23). The hireling is not -- as he should be -- a "partner" or a "partaker", who expects to participate (the significance of "fellowship") in the ultimate profits of the enterprise.

"The disciple of Christ who is worth his salt will not beat a hasty retreat, or even a reluctant retreat, at the signs of danger, but will persistently and courageously set himself to antagonize and expose every symptom of apostasy which may manifest itself in his own ecclesia" (Ibid, p. 341).
In the brotherhood, therefore, the brother is best off when he cares first and foremost for the welfare of his brethren.

"Let any who are troubled by current contentions and worried by vague apprehensions as to their own responsibility for 'condoning' evil ponder these words of the Good Shepherd again and again. He calls men to be good shepherds after his own pattern, giving themselves in devoted service and care to the harassed flock, and even laying down their lives for the sheep. How strange that it does not seem to dawn on rigorous separatists that they testify for Truth against error far more efficiently by staying where the error is and witnessing against it than by fleeing to a 'holier than thou' sanctuary, from which to carry on a campaign of scolding across a great gulf which they themselves have fixed" (HAW, "False Teachers", Tes 36:212).
Is our salvation endangered by "fellowshiping" "doubtful cases"? Let the "shepherds" of the Bible -- types every one of the "Great Shepherd" -- give the answer:

  1. Abraham -- whose near kinsman Lot strives with him and then departs (Gen 13:6-8) -- nevertheless moves swiftly to save his ungrateful nephew from bondage (Gen 14). Later he even intercedes for him with the Lord when his life is threatened in Sodom (Gen 18): Notice that his boldest approach to the Lord is to beg for the sparing of others (Gen 18:27,28), when it might reasonably be argued that they did not deserve to be spared.
  2. Joseph -- whose brothers plotted against him and would have taken his life -- still found the love to forgive them and take them into his "fellowship" again when they were in great distress: "Now therefore fear not: I will nourish you, and your little ones. And he comforted them" (Gen 50:21).
  3. Moses became the great intercessor for a nation which was obviously at fault. His fervent prayer needs no comment (Exo 32:32).
  4. David, who always viewed Israel not as his kingdom but as his flock, wrote the words from his youthful experience which might well be termed "The Shepherd's Manual" (Psa 23). When he might easily have laid the blame for shortcoming upon a stiff-necked nation, and the sword of the angel was poised to continue their destruction, David the shepherd-king pleaded their "doubtful case": "Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? [He refuses to point out that they have done even worse!]... Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me" (2Sa 24:17).
  5. Daniel did not mind "fellowshiping" his "doubtful" brethren; he even went so far as to pray on their behalf, taking the sins of the nation upon his innocent shoulders: "We have sinned," he prayed, "and have committed iniquity... neither have we obeyed the voice of the Lord... therefore the curse is poured upon us..." (Dan 9:5-15).
  6. And Paul, the greatest of the shepherd-apostles, could wish that he were accursed for the sakes of his brethren the Jews (Rom 9:1-3), who were not even in Christ! If this could be his attitude towards enemies of the Truth, how much more should we yearn for and seek unity and brotherhood with those whom we know to be in covenant-relationship with Christ? "So there shall be one flock, and one shepherd" (Joh 10:16, RSV).
The day will soon come when before the Lord of all the earth will be gathered his flock (Mat 25:31-46), his one flock -- for they will then be treated as one, all the man-made barriers swept away. It is then that the true force of the King's question will come home to each of us: 'What have you done for my brethren? for my sheep?' How confident would we feel to say the following?: 'Lord, I did the best I could for a little while; but then I heard of a false doctrine somewhere or other, and I left as quickly as I could. After that I really don't know what happened to them.'

Previous Index Next