The shepherd, the wolf and the hireling. Which one are you?

I remember a day long ago when my children were very young and I was a stay at home mom. I  was praying and I told the Lord that I was frustrated by the fact that I had no real opportunities to lead anyone to Christ because I was always home with them. I will never forget His answer to me that day. He told me to evangelize them, to preach the gospel to them, to disciple them because they were His lambs. It really opened my eyes to look at things in a new way. We often think of shepherds as pastors, leaders, or people in authority in a ministry or church. But God has called each one of us to disciple others. If you look at 1 John 2:12-14, the apostle John gives us a very detailed description of spiritual maturity. Let’s look at it like this. When a baby is born, the parents naturally expect that child to grow into toddlerhood, childhood and eventually become a teenager and finally, an adult. No one would expect their baby or toddler to remain a baby forever. As a matter of fact, most parents eventually expect to become grandparents, when the time is right. How does a parent become a grandparent? Well, obviously it’s because the children have become parents themselves.

 This same process of maturity should also happen in the spirit realm. John tells us in this same chapter, that there are several phases of spiritual maturity. In verse 12 he is writing to infants. The English translation just says little children, but the Greek word Teknion actually says “infant”. This is important because in verse 13 he addresses little children again in the English, but this time the Greek uses a different word. This word is Paidion which means young child. He goes on in these verses to speak to those who are called young men, or youths. Finally, he speaks to fathers, thereby describing the progression of spiritual maturity. I will state the obvious. You cannot become a father, unless you have children. So why is he telling us these things? Because he wants each one of us to grow up and “parent” others. Babies are self absorbed and do not care about anyone else except themselves. There’s nothing wrong with that. But, they cannot stay that way. So, let’s go back to my original thought. We are all supposed to grow up in the Lord and become shepherds, or spiritual fathers and mothers. Does that mean we all have churches or ministries? No! But, I guarantee if you look at your life right now, you will see people around you that you are “shepherding”. It could be your children, your small group, a class you are teaching, your coworkers, family, friends, the list could go on and on. 

And with this knowledge in mind, the following question comes to my mind: what kind of shepherd am I? What kind are you?  In John 10:7-16 Jesus is talking to the Jews and He tells them about three kinds of shepherds. He tells them about “good shepherds”, He of course being The Good Shepherd, He tells them about wolves, and He tells them about hired hands or hirelings. Good shepherd love their sheep. We know from Jesus’ example, that good shepherds lay down their lives for their flock. Ephesians 5:25 tells us “husbands love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. In John 21:15-17 Jesus has a conversation with Peter in what is commonly considered Peter’s restoration. If you examine this conversation closely, it becomes apparent that Jesus is not just restoring Peter, He is also teaching him how to become a “good shepherd”. The first question He asks Peter is “do you love me more than these?” He is of course referring to his friends, family and coworkers. This question tells me that a good shepherd not only is willing to lay down his or her life for their flock, but that they have to love Jesus more than anyone else. He tells us in Matthew 10:34-39 that “whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me”. So let me put it this way. The most important ingredients to being a “good shepherd” is loving Jesus more than anyone else, even your own family and of course, loving Him more than yourself! When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus answered like this: “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:29-31

He goes on to tell Peter, that if he loves Jesus, then he is to tend or take care of and feed His sheep. Notice, not Peter’s sheep. Jesus’ sheep! A good shepherd knows that ultimately the sheep belong to Jesus, which brings me to the next kind of “shepherd”, the wolf.

I think that when most of us, me included, think of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, we think of some cult leader, an obvious wolf leading people astray and teaching them to follow him, not Jesus. But if you look at scripture, it becomes obvious that neither Jesus, nor the disciples were talking only about cult leaders. They were also talking about “shepherds” who spoke a version of the truth, but not the whole truth. In Matthew 24: 4-5 Jesus warns us that in the last days, we need to be careful that “no one leads us astray”. Some translations call it deception. If it was obvious, it wouldn’t require a warning about not being deceived, would it? He says “For many will come in my name, saying “I am the Christ”, and they will lead many astray. I’m sure there are numerous opinions on what exactly Jesus meant by this, not the least of which is that people will come pretending to be the Christ. This has most definitely already happened. But I think He is also warning us about “Christians” who pretend to be something they are not. Paul warned his disciples in Acts 20:29 that “after his departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them”. 

If you believe that someone cannot be a wolf if he or she tells you that Jesus is the Christ, you would be wrong. James tells us in James 2:19 that “even the demons believe-and shudder!” Luke has a story where the demons told Jesus that they knew who He was. (Luke 4:41)  I think the greatest judgement however, comes from Jesus’ own mouth. In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus tells us the following: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Let’s look at what this difficult scripture is really saying to us. These people were obviously what our modern society would call Christians. They even called Him Lord. They spoke prophecies in His name. They cast out demons in His name. They did mighty works in His name. So why did He not know them? Because they were leading double lives. They were hypocrites. They were workers of lawlessness. Workers of unrighteousness! Are we told what they did? No. But we are told what Jesus considers to be works of lawlessness. In Revelation 21:8 He tells us those who will end up in the lake of fire: “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” 

When I look at those sins, I have to wonder. Why would cowards go to hell? Why would a liar go to hell? Here’s why: If I know the truth, but I only tell you half truths, the truth that you want to hear, but I don’t tell you all of the truth, then I am lying by omission. If I know the truth, if I know that a wolf is coming, but I’m too afraid of offending you or upsetting you or getting rejected by you to tell you that he is coming, am I not a coward and a liar? Am I not fearing you more than God; Loving the praises of men, more than the praises of God? 

If you think that I’m being harsh, let me tell you a story. In Acts 24:24-26 Paul shares the “gospel” with Governor Felix. I would have to say that this gospel which Paul spoke to Felix about, is a different gospel than what I have heard in most churches (and I have been to quite a few churches because I have lived in so many different places) in my life: “And as he reasoned (with Felix) about righteousness and self control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said “Go away for the present”. When is the last time you alarmed someone with the gospel? If we are not preaching this kind of gospel, where we are alarming people about sin and the coming judgment, then are we really speaking the truth? Are we not in fact, wolves in sheep’s clothing, leading people astray? 

Finally I will come to the most difficult one of all, in my opinion to understand: the hireling. What exactly is a hireling or a hired hand? The most obvious answer is that this is someone who works for pay. Someone who doesn’t own the sheep, someone who doesn’t care about the sheep, certainly who doesn’t love the sheep, but pretends to be a shepherd. Jesus describes the hireling in the following way in John 10:12-13: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep”. What does He give as the primary reason that this person is a hireling? He doesn’t care about the sheep. He doesn’t love them. Very simple. Love! This type of “shepherd” is the one who takes care of sheep because he or she gets something out of it. It might not be money. It might be likes, or shares, or praises of men, or it could simply be that being a “shepherd” makes them feel good about themselves, it makes them feel worthy, valuable. No matter. They are in fact working for themselves, getting paid in some form or fashion. They do not love The Shepherd, and they certainly do not love the sheep. 

Unfortunately, there is not a whole lot of difference in the end between a wolf and a hireling. They both end up in the same place, hell. So I have to really examine my heart on a regular basis. Who am I working for? What am I working for? Do I love Jesus more than myself? Or am I working for the praises of men? Speaking the truth is not usually popular. It appears harsh. It creates rejection, offense, anger. But in the end, you and I will both have to stand before the Great Shepherd, The Good Shepherd and I for one, do not want to be accused of being a coward or a liar. Do you? 

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