Woe to the Shepherds – Jeremiah 23:1 (Part 2)
…Continued from Part 1
Who, then, are the ones endangering? The shepherds, both active and passive. There are shepherds to actively destroy the flock, and these are in Jeremiah 23. But Christ describes different shepherds in John 10, passive ones who stand by and flee while the wolves ravage the sheep. Both are accountable for the destruction of Christ’s people. To the shepherd who himself destroys, God says, “I will put an everlasting reproach on you and an everlasting humiliation which will not be forgotten” (Jeremiah 23:40). To the shepherd who allows others to destroy, God says, “Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, his right eye utterly blinded!” (Zechariah 11:17). The shepherds that destroy seldom have any hope, for their conscience surely must be seared to be killing the precious ones of God. Their answer is in John’s words of Diotrephes, “If I come, I will call attention to his deeds.” But the shepherds who flee may still have time to gather up the flock that is left, and embrace Paul’s words: “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction… But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:2, 5).
I suppose the broad failure in evangelical leadership is this: shepherds don’t realize that their duty is to the death once they embrace the call. It is to the death if they fail, for they will ruin their own souls and destroy the people of God. It is to the death if they stand, for the Word of God is never to be compromised even if it means they fight for it to the grave—indeed, even if it means they dig their grave by fighting for it. The destroyers have before them a sentence of Woe in their death. The protectors have before them a joyous hope in their death: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
The call, then, is to leaders of all kinds, especially the men. God’s people are being destroyed or neglected; this is all around us. Who will take the call? Who will meet the need? Who will take up the banner of the Lord, though it mean a life laid upon the altar? Men, preach the Word! Know God! Love people! Eternity will not be changed by our careers nor by our hobbies nor by our worldly acceptance. No. Eternity will be changed by selfless men who find no vision higher than the service of God and find no burden greater than the solemn charge of bearing His Word. Some will be inspired to take this call, and they will pursue it in their own strength. These will fall when the fire comes. Some will take this call out of obligation, and they will pursue it for the mere sake of the thing. These will grow bitter as the difficulties arise. We do not need more of these men. The men we need will look up. They will see upon the throne of God a great Master Who bore the cause of God unto the cross. His greatest joy was not acceptance. His greatest joy was not ease. His greatest joy was to finish the work of His Father and to yield His life for the salvation of souls. Having caught a vision of Christ, these men will bear the standard faithfully for the cause of God and the love of people. They will possess nothing of value except the Word. They will possess nothing of pride except for their boast in the cross. They will have eternity impressed upon their hearts and be dissatisfied if any action of theirs does not reap eternal blessing. Every day, love for Christ speaks into their ears, “Feed My sheep.” Every day, “Without stain, without reproach” is written across the skies as their calling. So, they will live, not to please men, but rather to hear “Well done, My good and faithful servant” just before they eternally “enter into the joy of your Lord.”
One thing remains to be said. We know the men that we need, but we are not ready in our hearts to be those men. Let us count well the cost. To bear the standard of God is the most accountable and most dangerous life a personal can wish for. A man who embraces this thoughtlessly is either stupid or insane. Who, then, can overcome his nothingness to bear such a great ministry? Ah, this is God’s whole purpose. He desires us to see the gravity of leadership so that He may say, “Yes, it is impossible, and this is how I have made it so that your strength can only be derived from Me.” Where there is a great cost, there is greater strength for the way and a greater reward at the end of life. “For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves… For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Corinthians 4:7, 11). So then, brethren, get this: though the ministry is most dangerous it is equally the most equipped. Do not embrace leadership lightly, but embrace it nonetheless after you have counted the cost and been overwhelmed by God’s sufficiency. Don’t commit to this call with readiness of the flesh. Commit to this call with readiness of the spirit—readiness that finds its all in the sanctuary of God and comes out with strength in His Word. Leadership of the flesh will be ambitious but ruin God’s people. Leadership of the spirit will bear the burden carefully and faithfully and thus “ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16). God is sufficient, my brothers. The need is great. Let us take up the standard. Let us fight the good fight. Let us finish our course. Let us keep the faith. “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! declares the LORD.”