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Hirelings and the Shepherd
“This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 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: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father. There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (John 10:6-21)
George Whitefield once declared, “As God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere, and upright ministers, so the greatest curse that God can possibly send upon a people in this world, is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm, and unskilled guides. And yet, in all ages, we find that there have been many wolves in sheep’s clothing, many that daubed with untempered mortar, that prophesied smoother things than God did allow.”
Wolves in sheep’s clothing were prevalent in the days of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. They were common in the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry. They were found in the earliest churches in the days of the apostles. And they are common today. In fact, throughout history, the wolves have always been the majority, the accepted, praised, applauded, and exalted leaders of the religious world; and faithful gospel preachers have always been, and are today, held in contempt, despised, mocked, ridiculed, slandered, and opposed as wolves.
God’s servants are shepherds, pastors after God’s own heart, given by him to his church for the care of their souls, to feed them with knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15). Blessed are those people and churches to whom God gives faithful pastors. All false prophets are hirelings. Cursed are they who have for pastors hirelings and false prophets.
In the 10th chapter of John’s Gospel, our Lord Jesus spoke pointedly to the religious leaders of his day and identified them as hireling shepherds. Remember, this parable was spoken to those Scribes and Pharisees who had just put a man out of the synagogue because he had been healed by the Master. They sat in Moses’ seat and assumed the office of shepherds, teaching the sheep the things of God, but without the knowledge of God and without the authority of God. They fed themselves, not the sheep. The Lord Jesus calls them hirelings, thieves, and robbers.
In this parable the Sheepfold (v.1) is the Church of God. The Door into the Church and Kingdom of God is Christ, his blood and righteousness (vv. 1, 7, 9). The True Shepherd is our Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. He gave his life for the sheep. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out of the wilderness into Canaan, out of darkness into light, out of Babylon into the sheepfold. The Porter who opens the way for Christ and causes the sheep to hear his voice and follow him is God the Holy Spirit. The Sheep are God’s elect. Some are in the fold. Some are yet straying from the Good Shepherd and his fold. But all God’s elect are Christ’s sheep.
“This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (vv. 6-10)
With those words, our Savior shows a clear distinction between all false shepherds and all true shepherds, using himself as the standard and example of the true shepherd. He continues the same analogy in the following verses, and declares that the one great distinction between hirelings and true shepherds is just this: — The hireling cares not for the sheep, because he is just a hireling.
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. 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: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my [sheep], and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 11-15).
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” — What blessed words! As you read through the Scriptures, it would be both instructive and delightful to mark the many names by which our Savior describes himself in this blessed Book. There are more than a hundred of them; I think 107. There is a good reason why he has so many names. — Our all-glorious Christ has so many offices that one name could not represent or explain them all. Indeed, all of them put together do not describe him. Paul said, — “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given, that I might preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.”
Of all the names given, that of a shepherd is, perhaps, the sweetest. Our Savior was a master Artist. He drew pictures with words that explain things more clearly than volumes of defining words. As this chapter opens, he contrasts himself with a stranger. Here (vv. 11-15), he contrasts himself with an hireling, whose own the sheep are not. Let’s look at the passage, marking the contrast between the hireling and true pastors, true shepherds.
A hireling is “a person who works only for pay, with little or no concern for the value of the work.” A shepherd is “a person who tends sheep, a protector, a guardian, a defender, a keeper, one who watches over, provides for, feeds, and carefully guards a flock.”
Here is a hireling.
Our Savior uses the word “hireling” to describe all self-serving preachers, pastors, and religious leaders, those men who claim to be God’s servants but refuse to enter the sheepfold by the Door, those who climb up some other way. — The hireling, the false Shepherd, will not submit himself to the righteousness of God, will not enter by the Door, will not trust Christ alone for righteousness.
The Master tells us plainly that all who climb up some other way are thieves and robbers (v. 1). They come only “to kill, and to steal, and to destroy” (v. 10). Here are the common features of a hireling preacher.
“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: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep” (vv. 12-13)
He who is a hireling is one who only seeks his hire. He is only interested in himself. The Word of God plainly teaches that every faithful gospel preacher is to be maintained by the generosity of God’s people. The fact that a man is supported by the people he serves does not make him a hireling. — “The laborer is worthy of his hire” (Luke 10:7). In fact, a man may be a hireling who receives no financial remuneration from any church. A hireling is a man who is motivated by his own lusts. A true shepherd is motivated by his Master. Sheep control hirelings. True shepherds cannot be controlled by sheep. Yet, the faithful shepherd is to be maintained by the flock he serves. The Scriptures are crystal clear about this (1 Corinthians 9:7-14; Galatians 6:6; 1 Timothy 5:17-18)
The church of God is not a business; and faithful men cannot be hired. Money talks everywhere in the world. And money talks in religious organizations. But money has no voice in God’s church. And money has no voice with God’s servants. But every faithful pastor is to be supported and maintained in his livelihood by the generosity of God’s people.
The hireling is one who seeks the hire and not the flock. This was the most common charge God laid against false prophets in the Old Testament. Isaiah complained of it in his day. — “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs; they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter” (Isaiah 56:10, 11). Jeremiah said the same thing in his day. — “For, from the least of them even unto the greatest of them, every one is given to covetousness; and from the prophet, even unto the priest, every one dealeth falsely” (Jeremiah 6:13). Ezekiel spoke of the false prophets in exactly the same way, describing the hireling shepherd as one who feeds himself. — “Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks?” (Ezekiel 34:2). Paul said exactly the same thing about false prophets in his day. — “For all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Philippians 2:21).
This is the black mark of the hireling. — “He that is a hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep and fleeth.” But it is not merely the seeking of money that marks the hireling. It is seeking things for himself. — Ease — Honor — Fame — Position — Power — Influence.
The hireling is one “whose own the sheep are not.” — He has no love for the sheep. The hireling is not part of the family. The hireling is not a son, or a brother, or a father. He has no connection with the sheep. He has no connection with the souls of men. He is one of the “clergy,” a “reverend.” They are just “lay people,” “sheep.”
“The hireling fleeth because he is a hireling, and careth not for the sheep.” — That is another feature of a hireling. I do not suggest or imply that any man who moves from one congregation to another is a hireling. That is not the case. God may move a man from one place of service to another. But I do mean to say, and our Lord means for us to understand, that the hireling always watches out for number one. He always takes care of himself. If a wolf roars, the hireling flees, because he is a hireling. The hireling is always found on the side of the wolf!
He is not willing to bear any reproach or persecution for Christ and the gospel. He is not a keeper of the flock, like David who went after the lion and the bear. When they rose up against the sheep, David did not flee, but caught them by the beard and slew them. He is not a keeper of the sheep like the Apostle Paul, who fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, who turned his back on none, who gave place to none, no, not for an hour, that truth might continue.
When the wolf comes (Satan, trouble, persecution, opposition, slander, reproach), the hireling flees, the sheep are scattered, the name of God, his church, and the gospel of the grace of God are dishonored. But the hireling protects himself and gets “a call from the Lord,” telling him that “his work in that place is done,” and moves on to greener pastures.
The hireling is one who flees when the sheep are most in need of a shepherd, because “He careth not for the sheep” (vv. 12-13). His only interest is himself, his name, his reputation, his future. He does not care for the sheep. He does not care what becomes of the sheep. They are just so many pebbles in his road to success.
John Calvin wrote, “He who looks to the hire, and not to the flock, though he may deceive others, when the Church is in a state of tranquility, yet when he comes into the contest, will give proof of his treachery.” — “Woe to the idol shepherd that leaveth the flock! the sword shall be upon his arm, and upon his right eye: his arm shall be clean dried up, and his right eye shall be utterly darkened” (Zechariah 11:17).
Here is the true shepherd.
All that is here said of the hireling, as it identifies the hireling, by contrast identifies the true shepherd, the faithful gospel preacher. — The hireling serves himself; but the faithful shepherd serves the sheep (2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:1-7).
The hireling has no personal interest in the sheep. They are not his. The true shepherd has a very personal interest in the sheep. They are his. God’s family is his family. God’s people are his people. Christ’s sheep are his sheep. Faithful pastors stand in a peculiar relation to the Lord’s sheep. Faithful shepherds are called fathers (1 Corinthians 4:15; Galatians 4:19; 1 Timothy 1:2; Philemon 10). Like fathers, they are instruments of birth. Like fathers, they provide for the family. Like fathers, they educate the family. Like fathers, they lead the family. Like fathers, they protect the family. Like fathers, they are devoted to the family.
True shepherds, true pastors are set as watchmen who stand on the watch tower. They watch over the souls committed to their trust as they that must give account (Hebrews 13:7, 17). The relationship of faithful gospel preachers and the people they serve is a relationship that outlasts death (1 Thessalonians 2:19; Philippians 4:1; Colossians 1:25-29). God’s servants are men to whom the Lord Jesus has entrusted the care of his sheep; and they care for the sheep (Acts 20:31; Romans 1:9; 2 Corinthians 2:4; Philippians 1:3; 4:1; Colossians 2:1 1 Thessalonians 3:9).
This is the mark of a true shepherd. But a hireling cares not for the sheep; he does not and cannot weep for the sheep; he has no anguish of heart for them. He does not care what happens to them. When the wolf comes, the hireling flees, because “he is a hireling and careth not for the sheep;” but the faithful shepherd will not flee from the wolf, and will not abandon the sheep.
In the Word of God the wolf specifically represents both false prophets and heresy (Acts 20:29). The time when the wolf comes is the time to mark who the true shepherd is. He stands to protect the sheep when heresy comes in, or when a persecuting world stretches out its hand towards them. At such times, the true shepherd stands between the fold and trouble (Isaiah 52:7).
Here is the Good Shepherd.
“I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep…I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep” (vv. 11, 14, 15). — The Good Shepherd gave his life for his sheep. The sentence was written against us, “Thou shalt die.” The Lord Jesus Christ stepped in and died for us. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). He did it out of free love, just because he loved us. — “He gave himself for us.” — “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16). When we enter into heaven’s glory, it will be altogether because of the Good Shepherd who gave his life for the sheep.
The Good Shepherd knows his sheep. He knows his sheep with the eternal knowledge of everlasting love, delight, and approval. He knows his sheep as his sheep, sheep given to him by his Father, redeemed by his blood, and brought to him by his Spirit.
The Good Shepherd is known of his sheep, because he graciously makes himself known to them. We know his voice. We know who he is. We know what he has done. We know where he is. We know what he is doing. We know him!
The Good Shepherd seeks the sheep (vv. 16-18). Christ seeks his sheep, and all true shepherds, all true pastors seek the Lord’s sheep. Sheep are the business of Christ’s shepherds (pastors).
“There was a division therefore again among the Jews for these sayings. And many of them said, He hath a devil, and is mad; why hear ye him? Others said, These are not the words of him that hath a devil. Can a devil open the eyes of the blind?” (vv. 19-21)
Here is a large crowd of religious people divided over doctrine. Religious people always are. What multitudes there are who defend, fight for, and divide family and friend over doctrine, even fussing about Christ, who never trust him! — The Lord Jesus was standing in their midst, teaching the gospel publicly, expounding the Old Testament Scriptures; but they believed not on him. They were divided over the Savior’s doctrine — “for these sayings” (v. 19). Some said he was a demon-possessed madman. Others objected. They would not go that far. But none believed (v. 25).
Do you trust the Son of God? Has the Lord Jesus Christ made himself known unto you? Has he given you an understanding to know him that is true? Are you in him that is true? This is the mark of all his sheep. “I am known of mine.” The sheep hear his voice. They follow him. They know him and know his voice. They will not follow a stranger.
If you now trust the Son of God, the Good Shepherd has brought you into his fold. The blessed Son of God has claimed you as his sheep, whom he redeemed, whom he has called, whom he will keep. Thus he fulfills his word by the prophet Jeremiah (3:15; 33:12-16).