The Work Of Shepherds
Commentary By Robert DeWitt
[Some thoughts on those saints of God who regularly seek both the honor to God and the good of their brethren; and can discern biblical teachings.]
Real believers in Christ need to understand that not all of professing christendom is Christian ("of Christ and Christ's one" -dictionary). It is fairly obvious to faithful believers that the profession in christendom is a mixture of religious professors of God and true "born again" believers in Christ ---the distinction of "kingdom of heaven" and "kingdom of God"; and speaking of that which is about God as holy and ruling and that which is in God as holy relationship . We can be thankful for every confession of God and the Savior, but the church needs to be also mindful of the differences among professors and also of holiness ---seeing holiness defined as purity and disdaining carnality and evils.
Holiness must encompass "all the counsel of God" and be "rightly dividing the Word of Truth" ---not speaking of perfection, but guarding against false teachings by the gathered saints by carnal ways, and connecting a scriptural assembly with the false practices of various denominated sects of men. This all refers to such as "porters" at the door as somewhat like Israel ---knowing what one holds in belief and practice before being received with liberty to participate and share ministry.
It is critical also that the elders and shepherds in a local assembly make a distinction to keep/guard the holiness of the Lord's table, and must not allow it to be defiled by those not found in Christ, and/or not valuing the holiness of this inner circle and exercise liberty to teach false doctrines. We are not talking about excluding visitors from the meetings, rather to honor God and help the visitors see the difference as they observe and seek understanding; and hopefully in time they will make an informed choice for bowing to God's Word and submission to Him and our Lord; and to be received, and gathered into the fellowship of "one accord" and "one mind" in living for Christ.
The shepherds are those saints (in plural) who have an exercise in the assembly for the care of the saints and the good of all, and who are circumspect in oversight ---carefully considering the circumstances and consequences. To some degree this is the responsibility of all the saints as they exercise their priesthood in the gathering
(1 Peter 2), but it certainly falls to those with the gift and calling of God for care and oversight (the elders).
We see a warning by Moses in his last days in Deuteronomy 31:26-29, where the Levites and all of Israel is warned about not honoring God, and just leaving Godliness to Moses and the priests. Israel enjoyed the blessings of God, but were not thankful and appreciative of His care, supposing that the leaders should take care of that with their religious offerings and ordinances, etc. Is this not seen in much of Christian profession today, with many self-serving religious leaders ignoring God, and with worldliness on one hand and legalism on the other being allowed?
Christendom surely fails like Israel, with their religious claims without God. It allows and promotes a hierarchy to make a pretense of faithfulness and obedience to God for show, supposing that others and the Almighty Creator would not know. All true saints need to recognize this imitation and deceitful religious ways, and then reject traditions, innovations, and loyalty to friends and family within it, and should leave those false professions.
This all might speak to christendom of collective failure since the apostolic time, with their hierarchy, rituals, and vanity. Both the leaders and the saints thus fail as a "holy priesthood" (1 Pet.2). False shepherds, as "grievous wolves" enter into the flock, and the sheep may not know them. If there be any faithful sheep (John 10:27), they should hear the Shepherd's voice and soon come out of the religious systems and follow Him; as seeking after a Bible-only fellowship.
In reading Bible chapter 34 of Ezekiel (850 years after the time of Moses), one might find the condition there to be a thought-provoking word for the church today. The chief men and leaders in the tribes of Israel had the work of guidance, settling disputes, and keeping the Israelites in conformity to God's ways, but they often failed in their work and became a self-indulgent hierarchy, forgetting their calling as shepherds. This may apply in some cases of church failure and discord as noted in Acts 20:28-30, where the Apostle, Paul, warned the church.
In Acts 20 there is a caution given to faithful saints in the church to watch out for apostates who come in and are false professors of faith; and these will "make merchandise" of the people with their deceit (2 Pet. 2:3); and also for the self-exalted and carnal saints among them who seek prominence and their own interpretations of the Word; and who "draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20:30), not being Godly shepherds.
Those who are of Christ, whether faithful followers or carnal, are held accountable before the Lord. Some may eat the bread and drink the cup "unworthily" or in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27) ---and thus will bring down judgment on themselves in time; and if they presume also to minister to the saints of God by their flesh they will be condemned for leading the sheep astray.
Besides such men as stated, there are weak elders who know the Scripture well, have much experience, and should feel a responsibility to maintain the testimony, honor God, and care for the saints. Alas, there is often weakness and failure by them to act in a responsible way, and they will "give account" (Heb. 13:17) in a day to come! The concerns in all this is that some of those who "knoweth to do good, and doeth it not" (James 4:17) are neglectful and not being responsible in the assembly, which greatly displeases the Lord. Certainly those who are "righteous overmuch" (Eccl. 7:16) and trouble the saints are of much concern to God, but He is also not pleased with neglect. What then should be our place in the assembly of God? Is it as "helps" (1 Cor. 12:28) or just occupying a seat?
Now, we should add that leaving a true gathering of the Bible-only fellowship is not the remedy for such failure; rather that a child of God whose conscience is stirred needs to act in a responsible way, seek out responsible elders, and consider Matthew 18:15-17, which God has given to help maintain His testimony in the world and guide the saints. Neglecting the remedy is neglecting the honor and glory of the Lord. Who then will be "porters" at the door (Mk. 13: 34-37; Jn. 10: 1-3), and who will guide and care for the sheep?
- RLD: CA20; 02/10; add: 06/18