True shepherds protect their flocks | Jim Savastio

by | Feb 19, 2024 | Practical Theology, Preaching


To the ancient mind, the unattended sheep would be seen with the same horror as we would view an unattended child.  The world of the sheep was dangerous. Some would seek to destroy and consume the sheep. The sheep found protection in the midst of the flock, but especially under the watchful gaze of a loving and attentive shepherd. Christ’s sheep live in a world filled with predatory men and ministries.  False prophets propagating a false gospel abounded in the day of the apostles and the warning sounded that such would always be the case. Zechariah addresses the dangers of false doctrine and the lies that people are susceptible to believe when he says,They are in trouble because there is no shepherd.” (Zech 10:2)  What is the job of the shepherd in this regard? It is, at the very least, threefold. The first duty of the pastor to protect his flock is to feed them with the truth. The best way to prevent an embrace of a false gospel is an affectionate and knowledgeable embrace of the true gospel.  The second aspect of protection is the faithful exposure of false teaching and, in some cases, of the false teachers themselves. You see this in a passage like 2 Timothy 2:16-18: But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. 17 And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort,18 who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some.” The false doctrine is exposed and those teaching it are identified. A true shepherd after God’s own heart must take seriously the charge laid out to the church in Rome in Romans 16:17-18, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. 18 For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”

The hearts of the simple must be protected by courageous and faithful men willing to confront and expose dangerous errors. The third and final aspect of protecting the sheep can prove to be more painful and difficult: watchfulness in among your own eldership. Paul addresses this in Acts 20 in his final ministry to the elders of the church in Ephesus. In verses 28ff we read, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.”

If a pastor suspects that a fellow elder is abusing his office in any way, he must stand between that false shepherd and the precious sheep. Too often elderships have been accused of circling the wagons and protecting their own at the expense of Christ’s blood-bought sheep. It is not the job of shepherds to protect other shepherds. Shepherds are tasked with the work of protecting the sheep. It is in regard to this aspect of ministry that Jesus speaks of himself, “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.” (John 10:12-13)

I acknowledge that there are pastors for whom these words are like red meat to a dog. Some men love to fight and are drawn to controversy. I assert that such a spirit is not encouraged in the bible (see 2 Tim 2:24,25 and 1 Tim 3:3)  There are times, however, when the glory of God and the authority of truth and the safety of the flock demands that pastors take a forceful stand.

There are truths which encourage God’s people, that promote holiness, bring about conversion and bring great glory to God. There are errors that dishonor God, confuse the sheep, and keep people from the Savior. Not only must the truth of God be proclaimed in clear and unmistakable terms, but the errors assailing God’s people must be exposed.


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