Tuesday, August 14, 2012
“’Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!’ [This is] the Lord's declaration.” (Jeremiah 23:1 HCSB)
We have heard the expression, “Wolves in sheep’s clothing.” There are people who join the church and outwardly align with God’s flock, but inwardly they are beasts Satan sets in the church to destroy. If you have been in church as long as I have been, you have met some of these.
There is a greater danger to the flock, however—wolves in shepherd’s clothing! If the shepherds are devouring the very sheep they are meant to deliver, what hope is there for the flock?
The spiritual leaders of Israel had become such a force for evil in the days of Jeremiah. Priests, prophets and princes were leading the nation into the slaughterhouse of sin.
God was angry! The Lord is Shepherd to His people. Each lamb was precious to Him. It was His flock. His purpose was to place spiritual shepherds among them, who would represent Him—that would feed them the Word of God and lead them in paths of righteousness. But the priests who were to teach them the truth of God’s law, had no moral restraint and were leading the nation into rebellion. The prophets that ought to have spoken God’s message, had proclaimed lies in God’s name. The princes who should have ruled in righteousness were bringing Judah into judgment.
Such are present in church life today. Heirs to their hellish work abound in pulpits throughout America.
We rightfully decry the carnal state of many church members who have turned from God, but we cannot overlook that the low spiritual state of the church has much to do with the sinful shepherds, and not just the sheep.
The false shepherd has their own self-interest as their chief concern. The model of a good shepherd is a love for the sheep that is so great he is willing to bleed and even die to save them. Jesus—in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel—so portrayed Himself. But, sinful shepherds scatter the sheep rather than shield them. They destroy instead of deliver. These wolves in shepherd’s clothing do not attend to the sheep’s need, but abuse the flock to attend to the shepherd’s greed.
Jeremiah was a notable exception. His heart was not driven with zeal for his own lusts, but had a heart that beat in rhythm with the heart of God. He was grieved over this godlessness.
“ Concerning the prophets:
My heart is broken within me, and all my bones tremble. I have become like a drunkard, like a man overcome by wine, because of the Lord, because of His holy words. For the land is full of adulterers; the land mourns because of the curse, and the grazing lands in the wilderness have dried up. Their way of life has become evil, and their power is not rightly used because both prophet and priest are ungodly, even in My house I have found their evil. [This is] the Lord's declaration.” (Jeremiah 23:9-11 HCSB)
God would judge these false shepherds severely—as He did with Sodom and Gomorrah (Jer.23:12-15). They were engaging in such immoral filth that a Holy God would pour out His wrath on them.
It was bad enough that they were engaging in such evil, but due to their influence they had inspired the flock to follow in the same wicked way. “They commit adultery and walk in lies. They strengthen the hands of evildoers, and none turns his back on evil.” (Jer.23:14b)
The stream of compromised words flowed from a contaminated well. Carnal desire inspired corrupt declarations. They did not call for repentance, confronting the impurity of the people, for they were engaging in the same. You may be sure when a preacher dilutes the truth to make it palatable for congregational consumers, it is because he doesn’t want to feel uncomfortable in his own defiled heart. You would not expect to hear a call to true holiness from a man whose life is given to licentiousness.
It is easier for a preacher to proclaim psycho-babble and self-help theories, than to disturb the slumber of those in the pews who are comfortable with their carnality.
“This is what the Lord of Hosts says: ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They are making you worthless. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the Lord's mouth.
They keep on saying to those who despise Me, “The Lord has said: You will have peace.” They have said to everyone who follows the stubbornness of his heart, 'No harm will come to you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16-17 HCSB)
We hear a lot about visions and dreams today—just as the profusion of such proclamations in ancient Jerusalem. Preachers are encouraged to have a vision, and to dream big dreams—and rightly so. There is a place for inspired leadership that inspires the laity to be all God wants them to be and do all He calls them to do.
The danger however is in the source, course and force of the dreams and visions. In the prophet Jeremiah’s time, the source of the vision was not the Sovereign God’s Word, but the sinful shepherds’ perverse minds. The course of fulfilling their dream was not using God’s methods, but those of a pagan world. If Baal is good enough for our neighbor, it should be good enough for us was the thought. The force of their ambition was not the power of God, but the arm of the flesh. Such shepherds did not lead the sheep in love, but drove the sheep in fury—for ultimately the sheep were just means to an end anyway. There are not a few celebrity pastors who have attained wealth and recognition at the cost of a compromised message, corrupt methodology and carnal goals.
That isn’t to say that all pastors who have noteriety and lead large churches are false shepherds. Some are so blessed with fruitfulness because they have been faithful to both live in submission to and faithfully preach the Word without fear or favor.
Neither can we look at other churches that are shrinking, where the sheep are abandoning the place in droves, and conclude this is the result of a false shepherd in the pulpit. Sometimes, they are leaving because they are not sheep, but goats who have butted heads with the shepherd and when they could not get their way sought more favorable pastures. Just as there are sinful shepherds who fleece the flock, there are members who stubbornly resist or stray away despite all the shepherd can do. Jeremiah would know. In general, the people hated his sermons.
At the moment, only God knows, but time will reveal the case. It is hard to judge a man’s heart. We want to believe our spiritual shepherd has the flock’s care as his own concern. Our reluctance to accuse a pastor of being unfaithful to his calling is understandable, as Scripture calls us to submit to authority.
So, if we have concerns about our leader, what are we to do? How can we know if there is a problem?
Watch and pray. God can deal with it in His time.
“The Lord's anger will not turn back until He has completely fulfilled the purposes of His heart. In time to come you will understand it clearly.” (Jeremiah 23:20 HCSB)
Some things will await the Day of Judgment to be manifest.
Listen carefully—not to only a few sermons. Every pastor has a bad day. But overall, is the shepherd feeding the Word of God? Does he declare the whole counsel of God, including the call to repentance? Does he compromise in order not to upset those who put the currency in his pocket—more concerned for temporal treasure than eternal reward?
“I did not send these prophets, yet they ran [with a message]. I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied.
If they had really stood in My council, they would have enabled My people to hear My words and would have turned them back from their evil ways
and their evil deeds.” (Jeremiah 23:21-22 HCSB)
The ultimate test is whether the message from the pastor’s lips and the manner of the pastor’s life is true to the plumb line of Scripture. If you follow his instruction will it bring you closer to God or lead you astray? If you walk in the footsteps of his morals will they take you in God’s will or in the world’s way?
"’I have heard what the prophets who prophesy a lie in My name have said, “I had a dream! I had a dream!” How long will this continue in the minds of the prophets prophesying lies, prophets of the deceit of their own minds? Through their dreams that they tell one another, they plan to cause My people to forget My name as their fathers forgot My name through Baal worship. The prophet who has [only] a dream should recount the dream, but the one who has My word should speak My word truthfully, for what is straw [compared] to grain?’--[this is] the Lord's declaration. ‘Is not My word like fire’--[this is] the Lord's declaration-‘and like a hammer that pulverizes rock? Therefore, take note! I am against the prophets’-the Lord's declaration-‘who steal My words from each other. I am against the prophets’-the Lord's declaration-‘who use their own tongues to make a declaration.
I am against those who prophesy false dreams’-the Lord's declaration-‘telling them and leading My people astray with their falsehoods and their boasting. It was not I who sent or commanded them, and they are of no benefit at all to these people’-[this is] the Lord's declaration.” (Jeremiah 23:25-32 HCSB)
The word of God has power—power like a fire to melt a heart of ice, power like a hammer to break a heart of stone! This is the true shepherd’s hope. The most barren field can become fruitful in time. The shepherd is responsible to the flock to lead them, feed them, even bleed for them as one accountable to God, but he is not responsible for them—each one must decide how to respond to the Word, and whether the shepherd has been good or bad, each of us will give an account of himself to God.