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The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier: “The Good Shepherd vs. Hirelings”

April 27, 2012

This has turned out to be “Good Shepherd Week” on this blog, and for today’s post I want to mention an excellent sermon by the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Bernier of Providence REC in Texas, titled “The Good Shepherd vs. Hirelings”; the text follows:

The Good Shepherd vs Hirelings

2nd Sunday after Easter, April 15 2012

Listen

Last week we saw how Jesus commissioned the disciples to preach the good news of repentance and forgiveness of sins by faith in his blood. This is the greatest message and also the greatest responsibility upon this earth: to faithfully proclaim the good news. The Church was sent into the world as Jesus was sent by the Father. The mission of the Church in preparation for the second coming of Christ is a continuation of the mission of Jesus and therefore the Gospel cannot be altered in any significant way. Every redefinition of the mission of the church must, therefore, be examined in light to its fidelity or lack thereof to the message and ministry of Jesus Christ himself, the one an only saviour proclaimed by the one and only Gospel; the only door, the only shepherd. No other lower standard is allowed but this, fidelity to Christ and his Gospel.

Jesus warned us about the dangers the church would have to face in the time to come, from the apostolic age until his second coming. False teachers would arise, not only unbelievers outside the church, but false ministers of the Gospel coming from within. Ministers, teachers and prophets who would falsely claim to serve Christ and his church, yet would subtly introduce false doctrines denying the Gospel of Christ.

Jesus warned the disciples to be careful, to watch and pray, that no one would deceive us. In today’s Gospel lesson we heard the word of Jesus presenting himself as the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. Jesus compares his sacrificial love on behalf of his sheep, with the conduct of the false shepherds, whom he calls, “hirelings” who care not for the sheep, giving us yet another warning concerning the same danger of false teachers who would assault and harm the witness of the Church.

The Church is prone to underestimate the harm such false ministers may and have caused against the well being of Christ’ sheep. The wolves in sheep’s clothing are not to be found outside the church but inside of it, appearing more devout and pious than anyone else.

People are inclined to disbelieve that such holy men could be capable of doing in secret the most detestable things. But God knows the heart, and therefore he warned the church against this terrible apostasy which would plague the Christian church, and which has bring such discredit against the Gospel, once the hidden sins become exposed.

False Teachers, False pastors, False ministers, False Brethren, False Prophets; It is not a coincidence that the New Testament has so many warnings concerning this issue.

The greatest danger against the spiritual health of the Church is the presence of these “hirelings” these false pastors and false brethren from within the church.

Unfortunately, this danger is nothing new; it goes back all the way to the beginning of the apostolic age, and even during Christ earthly ministry. Then the Pharisees and the scribes, the religious rulers had become corrupted and had corrupted the religion of Israel. Judas one among the twelve betrayed Jesus collaborating with them.

Then in the apostolic age we find, first, Ananias and Sapphira, who conspired to deceive the brethren pretending to be pious, lying against the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5:3)

Then think of Simon Magus, the lying sorcerer, who after being baptized offered money to the apostles in order to buy from them the secret of their power, so that he could exercise it also.(Acts 8:19) By the way, this was something perfectly normal within paganism, paying money for spiritual favors was the livelihood of every pagan priest, and it is one of the key signs of paganism. You should be aware that any form of religion which requires money to be paid in exchange for spiritual benefits of any kind is a corrupted religion, even if it claims to be a Christian church, the sin of simony is one of the primary signs of perversion, against which the apostle Peter also warned us (2 Peter 2:3).

Then we have Paul’s prophecy to all the elders of the church of Ephesus, warning how among themselves, that is among the rulers and teachers, the pastors and bishops supposed to teach the sound doctrine; there would come wolves, men speaking perverse things, who would drive disciples away, not sparing the flock (Acts 20:29); then we have the witness of the letters of Paul, how often he mentioned the danger of false brethren, false teachers, false apostles, who would come after him and pervert the churches away from the pure doctrine of Christ;

Then we see how all the later epistles of the New Testament increased the warnings concerning the end times; how the spirit of God was clearly announcing that the spirit of the Anti-christ, would grow over time, deceiving many, as Christ said, if it were possible even the very elect.

Which by the way is a real warning, meaning that each and every person who would be counted among the elect must obey Christ’s commandment to watch and pray that no one deceive us; because the delusion we have to face in the later days is so convincing, so powerfully deceptive, that even the elect, if they do not watch, would be deceive by it.

Underestimating the strength and power of the enemy is something we can not afford to do; if our spiritual enemy were an easy foe to conquer, there would not be so many warnings in Scripture, and exhortations and promises for those who “overcome” and conquer. This language means that we live in the midst of a real spiritual battle, with real spiritual dangers. That is why the warnings are real as also the promises of spiritual victory, are real. These are there for our instruction, so that each one of us may take up our responsibility to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Philippians 2:12)

So among the many dangers the New Testament exposes, the dangers of false pastors is a primary one, which the church must take to heart.

But to understand the difference between a true pastor and a false pastor, between false prophets and faithful ones one cannot pay attention to outward appearances. When the world looks for the signs of success and leadership, they look at external qualities; educational credentials, business success, money, fame, influence over people, reputation, ability to speak well and so on, and on.

All such things can be easily counterfeited by the enemy. The Devil has no problem in granting any of such wordly success to his slaves, especially as these “gifts” will help his cause by deceiving multitudes away from the truth of the Gospel of Christ.

No, in order to understand the difference between true and false prophets and pastors one cannot look at appearances. There is really only one standard by which to differentiate between the faithful and the unfaithful servant of the good shepherd, between the faithful servant and the hirelings, and that is by comparing the claims of each one with the example and teaching of Christ alone; the only door, the only way, the only good shepherd.

How does the teaching and conduct of this prophet, teacher or pastor compare with the teaching and conduct of Christ himself?

See how Jesus described himself in John chapter 10. I am the good shepherd, the good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. A good shepherd is willing to undergo personal sacrifice to the uttermost in order to serve the sheep, he loves, under his care.

The hireling flees at the time of trouble.

The true servant follows the example of Christ and willingly lays down his life in love and service for those he love and are under his care.

In these days of extreme professionalism as qualification for the ministry it is good for the church to remember the marks of the true shepherd and bishop of our souls.

Calvin in his commentary to the Hebrews, where Paul exhorts the church to honor and obey its pastors and teachers, (Hebrews 13:17) warns that there are two ways of failing on this regard; one is by not honoring the true servants of God; and another is by honoring the false servants as if they were faithful servants.

The danger of being deceived by false pastors is real, therefore, every sheep of the fold has this double responsibility, which begins by loving the truth of Christ above all things, and then applying the light of that teaching and example of Christ as the standard to discriminate between the true and the false teachers. That is our responsibility, and as days of trouble increase, this responsibility becomes ever more urgent.

The true pastor exhibits the characteristics of the good shepherd, he also must exhibit the primary characteristic of the faithful sheep, that which is common to every sheep of the fold of the good shepherd. Jesus said, my sheep hear my voice and do not listen to the voice of strangers. The Lord never compelled his servants to pay attention to the voice of strangers. We somehow feel that it is our responsibility to respect every teacher, and listen to whatever anyone has to say, but the truth is that we should only receive the teaching of those who faithfully proclaim the word of God and the Gospel of Christ, anything else must be rejected.

Any teacher who is willing to compromise the pure teaching of Christ in any way is not a true pastor of the Good shepherd. The sheep of the good shepherd love his word above everything else, that is their mark, they hear only his voice.

So here we have a simple yet powerful test to discriminate between teachings and teachers. Is the message conveyed by a teacher exalting the true and only Christ as it has been revealed in Scriptures or is it a subtle perversion? Is it a faithful exposition of the truth of the Gospel or is it a kind of “yes, but” message which claims lip service to Christ, but at the same time denies the Gospel in its fundamental teaching?

If the first then it is a true pastor, if the second he cannot be. For the word of God is the final rule of faith and practice for each and every faithful pastor and believer, while it is only a pretext in the life of the hirelings.

Finally, the test of the faithful and the unfaithful servants concerns the nature of their fruit. “You will know them by their fruits, the Lord tells us.(Matthew 7:20)”; the fruit is obedience to the gospel of Christ, is a life transformed more and more into the image of Christ.

The Fruit is revealed over time. It cannot be assessed just by taking a snap shot here and there of a person’s ministry.

The parable of the sower presents the good soil as bearing fruit with perseverance over time. The other soils all fail to produce fruit in the long run.

The good shepherd gave his life for his sheep, but the hireling runs away in the face of danger. The true shepherd bears the fruit of true love, the hireling bears the fruit of selfishness. We shall know them by their fruit!

As we said last time, there is no greater message than the Gospel of the good shepherd and there is no greater responsibility than faithfully preaching and receiving his Word. May God grant us his grace to hear his voice attentively and reject the voice of the strangers, that we may watch and pray that no one deceive us from sincere obedience to the good shepherd and bishop of our souls(1 Peter 2:25) and

“20 Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,

Make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20 -21).

This is indeed a very helpful sermon for our time, as it reminds each of us that we are responsible for discerning whether our earthly shepherds have genuine or counterfeit spirituality.  We ourselves must strive to ensure we are not led by wolves!  Thanks to Fr. Bernier for sharing this with us.

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