3. The Good Shepherd and the Hireling (John 10)
“It is unfortunate that the chapter
division dissociates the shepherd allegory from the discussion reported in
chapter 9. Jesus had convicted the Pharisees of blindness and incompetence in
dealing with the flock of God. As bad shepherds they had cast out the healed
man, but the good shepherd had found him” (John Carter, Gospel of John,
“And they cast him out.
Jesus heard they had cast him out; and when he found him....”
“Him that cometh to me I will in no wise
cast out” (6:37).
With bold actions and words, Christ dramatically
set himself apart from the other teachers of his nation. They pompously dictated
and threatened; he lovingly instructed and comforted. They “cast
out”; he “found” and recovered. They “cared not for the
sheep”; he “laid down his life for the sheep” (10:15), and in
so doing became the model for all shepherds, overseers, and elders. Doubtless
Peter had “the Good Shepherd” in mind when he
“The elders which are among you I
exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and
also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which
is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly;
not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over
God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock” (1 Pet.
The true ecclesial shepherd, then, must do the
works of his Master:
The characteristics of a true shepherd are set in
contrast to those of a “hireling”:
- He must feed others first (Ezek.
- He must strengthen the diseased or weak (Isa.
40:11; Ezek. 34:4; Rom. 15:1).
- He must bind up what is
broken (Ezek. 34:4).
- He must seek what is lost (Ezek.
34:4,11,16; Matt. 18:12; Luke 15:4-7).
- He must assume a
personal responsibility in the face of a threat.
- And he
must be prepared to protect the flock at all costs: “Take heed to all
the flock....remember that I warned you” (Acts
“But he that is an hireling, and not the
shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming and leaveth the
sheep, and fleeth.... The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and
careth not for the sheep” (John 10:12,13).
It is said of the hirelings or false shepherds
that they “feed (or shepherd) themselves” (Ezek.
“The shepherds shepherded themselves! They
were prepared to sacrifice the flock for themselves, whereas they should have
extended their self-sacrificing devotion to the flock and carefully pastured or
shepherded it” (H.P. Mansfield, Ezekiel’s Prophecies of the
Restoration, p. 30).
“From these words one would think it
transparently obvious that in time of danger to the flock from false teachers
(‘After my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing
the flock’ — Acts 20:29), a man’s duty will keep him with
the flock in order that he might exert every possible effort in defence of
those less able than himself to combat spiritual evil. Yet in sharp contrast to
this the attitude of some seems to be: ‘There is a wolf in the flock. I
have told the sheep to chase it away, but they do nothing of the sort. So now it
is time for me to get out as quickly as I can.’ The incisive word of the
Lord for men who act in this way is the shameful term:
‘hireling’.... Without doubt those who withdraw to an exclusive
‘pure’ fellowship are hirelings in the sense in which Jesus used the
term, for their separatism is solely a means of furthering, as they think, their
own safety and benefit” (H.A. Whittaker, “Block
Disfellowship”, The Testimony, Vol. 43, No. 513 — Sept. 1973
— p. 340).
A hireling may seek to benefit
materially by his labors, and this of course is a serious offence (1 Pet.
5:2; 1 Tim. 3:3,8). But, as the Pharisees so amply demonstrated, one may be a
“hireling” even if he cares not at all for financial profit. He may
be a “hireling”, for example, in caring for power and authority, or
for honor and respect without responsibility. He may be a “hireling”
if he abandons his flock when the “wolf” (or false teacher —
Acts 20:29) approaches. He thus shows his true character when he saves himself
first — subjecting his employer’s “investment” to
possible ruin. As members of the one Body, we should develop the
mind-picture of ourselves as “partners” in the enterprise, not mere
employees! The employee is nothing but “hired help”, a
“hireling” who works for his “wages” and nothing else
(but the “gift” of God, which we hope one day to receive, is not
“wages”; our proper “wages” can only be death —
Rom. 6:23). The hireling is not — as he should be — a
“partner” or a “partaker”, who expects to participate
(the significance of “fellowship”) in the ultimate profits of the
“The disciple of Christ who is worth his
salt will not beat a hasty retreat, or even a reluctant retreat, at the signs of
danger, but will persistently and courageously set himself to antagonize and
expose every symptom of apostasy which may manifest itself in his own
ecclesia” (Ibid., p. 341).
In the brotherhood, therefore, the
brother is best off when he cares first and foremost for the welfare of
“Let any who are troubled by current
contentions and worried by vague apprehensions as to their own responsibility
for ‘condoning’ evil ponder these words of the Good Shepherd again
and again. He calls men to be good shepherds after his own pattern, giving
themselves in devoted service and care to the harassed flock, and even laying
down their lives for the sheep. How strange that it does not seem to dawn on
rigorous separatists that they testify for Truth against error far more
efficiently by staying where the error is and witnessing against it than by
fleeing to a ‘holier than thou’ sanctuary, from which to
carry on a campaign of scolding across a great gulf which they themselves
have fixed” (H. Whittaker, “False Teachers”, The Testimony,
Vol. 36, No. 426 — June 1966 — p.
Is our salvation endangered by
“fellowshiping” “doubtful cases”? Let the
“shepherds” of the Bible — types, or patterns, every one of
the “Great Shepherd” — give the answer:
1. Abraham — whose near kinsman Lot strives
with him and then departs (Gen. 13:6-8) — nevertheless moves swiftly to
save his ungrateful nephew from bondage (Gen. 14). Later he even intercedes for
him with the Lord when his life is threatened in Sodom (Gen. 18): Notice that
his boldest approach to the Lord is to beg for the sparing of others (18:27,28),
when it might reasonably be argued that they did not deserve to be
2. Joseph — whose brothers plotted against
him and would have taken his life — still found the love to forgive them
and take them into his “fellowship” again when they were in great
“Now therefore fear not: I will nourish
you, and your little ones. And he comforted them” (Gen.
3. Moses became the great intercessor for a
nation that was obviously at fault. His fervent prayer needs no
“Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin
— and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast
written” (Exod. 32:32).
4. David, who always viewed Israel not as his
kingdom but as his flock, wrote the words from his youthful experience
which might well be termed “The Shepherd’s Manual” (Psalm 23).
When he might easily have laid the blame for shortcoming upon a stiff-necked
nation, and the sword of the angel was poised to continue their destruction,
David the shepherd-king pleaded their “doubtful
“Lo, I have sinned, and I
have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done?
[He refuses to point out that they have done even worse!].... Let thine
hand, I pray thee, be against me” (2 Sam.
5. Daniel did not mind
“fellowshiping” his “doubtful” brethren; he even went so
far as to pray on their behalf, taking the sins of the nation upon his innocent
“We have sinned,” he prayed,
“and have committed iniquity .... neither have we obeyed the
voice of the Lord... therefore the curse is poured upon us....”
6. And Paul, the greatest of the
shepherd-apostles, could wish that he were accursed for the sakes of his
brethren the Jews (Rom. 9:1-3), who were not even in Christ! If this
could be his attitude towards enemies of the Truth, how much more should we
yearn for and seek unity and brotherhood with those whom we know to be in
covenant-relationship with Christ?
“So there shall be one flock, and
one shepherd” (John 10:16, RSV).
The day will soon come when before the Lord of
all the earth will be gathered his flock (Matt. 25:31-46), his one flock
— for they will then be treated as one, all the man-made barriers swept
away. It is then that the true force of the King’s question will come home
to each of us: ‘What have you done for my brethren? for my
sheep?’ How confident would we feel to say the following?:
‘Lord, I did the best I could for a little while; but then I heard of a
false doctrine somewhere or other, and I left as quickly as I could. After that
I really don’t know what happened to them.’