“Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him: behold, His reward is with Him, and His work before Him. He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:10,11).”
“And I will set up ONE shepherd over them, and He shall feed them, even my servant David; He shall feed them, and He shall be their shepherd. And I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David a Prince among them; I the LORD have spoken it (Ezekiel 34:23,24).”
“I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep, and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My Life for the sheep. I have other sheep which are not of this fold. I must bring them also. They will hear My Voice, and there will be One Flock, and One Shepherd (John 10:14-16)”.
The Church is compared to many things in the Scriptures. It is described (among other things) as a Bride, a Body, a City, a Flock of sheep, and a House of Living Stones. Each represents a particular truth, but not the entire truth, so we really should be familiar with each of them that we may adequately comprehend God’s thought for the Church. The Bride represents union with Christ; the Body represents Life; the City represents refuge and peace; the Flock represents unity; and the House of Living Stones represents God’s work and residence among us.
I’d like to talk about the Church as the Flock.
May we see before God that there is One Flock, the Church; and One Shepherd, Jesus Christ. There are not many flocks with many shepherds. God established centuries ago that His preference is One Flock and One Shepherd. How did this come about?
In Ezekiel 34, the Lord complains that the shepherds of Israel were feeding themselves and not the flock. They abused the sheep and took more than they gave. They failed to bind up the broken, or seek out the stray, or protect them from the enemy. They ruled with force and cruelty. They allowed the sheep to fight amongst themselves. They permitted the flock to be scattered and devoured. So the Lord vows that He will get rid of these shepherds and install One Shepherd, David, to care for the flock and gather them together into one place.
Obviously God is not talking about literal shepherds in a literal field in Israel, nor is He planning to bring King David back from the dead to tend to literal sheep. The Lord here is speaking of Jesus Christ, who is known as the Root and Offspring of David. He is also known as the Son of David and the Seed of Jesse. All of these titles mean the same thing. This speaks of His earthly lineage, and it also speaks of His heart towards His Father. David is described as a man after God’s own heart. In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ is totally in touch with and attuned to the heart of God. He is truly a Son of David.
Just as there is One Body with many members, so there is One Flock with many sheep.
THE GOOD SHEPHERD IS ONE SHEPHERD
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Let us realize that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only One Who totally pleases God in every way. “This is my beloved Son – hear Him.” Jesus Christ alone perfectly satisfies the heart and will of God. He is perfectly obedient to Him in all things. No one else in heaven or on earth is worthy. No one else may take the scroll, read what is written therein, or even look upon it.
Because the flock was abused and scattered by hirelings, the wisdom of God declared that He would shepherd the flock Himself and gather them together again, not just from Israel, but from all over the world, encompassing both Jews and Gentiles, loving and caring for them. Has this happened yet? Yes, the word of the Lord has already come to pass. When did He gather the flock together under One Shepherd? He did it when He raised Christ from the dead and established the Church. Jesus Christ is the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep.
In John 17, Jesus says, “I pray that they may be one.” This is more than a cry for unity in the Body, it is a cry for One Flock under One Shepherd. May I say that all who share in the Life of the Lord are already gathered together into One. The One Flock is the Ecclesia, the called-out-of-the-world assembly of those who have the revelation of Jesus. The One Shepherd is Jesus. This is so plain that it cannot be missed.
David looked ahead to this day and declared, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” We might put it this way, for the meaning is the same: “The Lord is my Pastor.” How does that sound? How would you like to have Jesus for a pastor? Psalm 23 is talking about the Church, and Jesus is your Pastor. Of course it’s talking about our individual relationship with Christ, but remember He has more than one sheep. It is not just you and Jesus walking around by yourselves, hand in hand. There’s a whole flock in mind here. It’s talking about what it means to be under the Shepherd’s care as one of many sheep. David is describing the One Flock with One Shepherd. How glorious and beautiful was his insight.
Jesus plainly said, “I am the Good Shepherd.” In John 10 He tells us the difference between the Good Shepherd and the hireling. He even says that ALL who came before Him were thieves and robbers. That’s why God sent the Son to Shepherd the flock for Him. No one else is worthy. Apart from Him we are all hirelings. We just love ourselves too much. In the same way that no one is worthy to open the seal and read the contents of the scroll except for Christ, so no one is worthy to shepherd the flock of God but Christ. The Lord declared that He would tend the flock Himself, and so He has done so and is doing so through the Lord Jesus Christ.
THE UNDERSHEPHERDS SERVE THE CHIEF SHEPHERD
Yet, there is such a thing as human beings who are called to the work of the ministry as pastors and shepherds. They are God’s gift to the Church along with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers, to build up the Body and bring them into Christ. Since there is no question that God has chosen the Lord Jesus to be the One Shepherd, why would the Lord see the need for setting pastors in the Church for its edification? What is the nature of a New Testament pastoral ministry?
After Jesus was raised from the dead He commissioned Peter by saying, “Feed My sheep.” Please see that the sheep belong to the Lord Jesus and Peter is being told to feed them. The Lord did not say He would give Peter some sheep of his own to take care of or rule over. He is not giving Peter anything to have as his own. He did not tell Peter to go start a church and begin gathering people together in his own name. Neither did he tell Peter to go get himself elected to take the place of Jesus as the new leader of the disciples. In fact, no one has ever been elected to take the place of Jesus after He was taken up into heaven. Why? Because He is still the Head, and He is still the Good Shepherd. He never laid aside that role. Do you see this? “Feed MY sheep,” Jesus said. Whose sheep are they? The Lord’s sheep.
So now we have some insight into how this works. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, commissions undershepherds to feed and care for His sheep. We know that Christ is our Meat, Bread, Milk, Honey, and Water. So to feed the flock is to bring them to Christ as their Source. This is a holy work. This is much more difficult (humanly speaking) than preaching a three-point sermon once a week.
How is God going about the process of bringing everyone into One Flock under One Shepherd? He is doing this through undershepherds. A true pastor is but an undershepherd, and the Lord Jesus is the Chief Shepherd. There are but two classes of shepherds: the undershepherds, who are many; and the Chief Shepherd, who is One. What does the undershepherd do? The undershepherd serves the Chief Shepherd. He (or she) is supposed to be out herding the sheep into the One Flock, bringing them to Christ, feeding, caring, and watching over the Lord’s possession.
If God intends on having One Flock under One Shepherd then we know that nothing belongs to any individual. Frequently we hear men speak of “my people”, “my flock”, or “my church”, as though they possessed something. Let us see instead that the undershepherd owns nothing, but is a steward over God’s possession. The Scripture plainly says that we are the sheep of His pasture. Everything belongs to the Father, Who has committed all things into the care of His Son, the Good Shepherd. No undershepherd can claim anything or anyone as belonging to him personally. If we only realized this we would immediately begin treating the Lord’s sheep with greater respect and humility. How can a man lord over something that doesn’t belong to him? How can he abuse and mistreat what is not his?
Let me ask you this question: what do you think the Lord will do to an undershepherd who rules the Lord’s flock with cruelty, abuses the sheep, scatters them in all directions, and lets the enemy come in to tear them apart? Will the Lord just shrug His shoulders, or will He visit that undershepherd and avenge the sheep? It is such a holy trust. We must tread lightly with the sheep and minister to them in fear and trembling. We dare not entertain thoughts of doing as we please with the Lord’s possession. It is not a frivolous thing.
THE HIRELINGS WILL BE JUDGED
Here is where many people err. They think to themselves, now that I’m a pastor I’m in charge of these sheep, and they better start submitting to me. They need to support my vision for ministry and give me the honor and glory due my name. And so on. You’ve seen and heard the type. But again, the sheep do not belong to us. Jesus says that the Father gave Him the sheep, and no man can snatch them out of His hands. Certainly He is not going to just turn around and give them away to some earthly man.
This is the spiritual reality. But when we look around, what do we see happening? We see first of all that the flock is scattered and divided. Next, we see that the flock is diseased and wounded. Then, we see that the flock is ruled by individual shepherds. It appears that the earthly facts do not live up to the spiritual reality. On the one hand the promise is fulfilled in the Good Shepherd, and on the other hand the conditions described in Ezekiel 34 still remain.
What usually happens? Many who claim to be pastors parcel up the flock among themselves, fighting over individual sheep, endeavoring to gather them together into their own little fold with themselves as their own little shepherd. They are not working on behalf of the Chief Shepherd, but on their own behalf. Jesus said, “He that is not gathering with Me is scattering.” This is what hirelings do. They claim to be gathering people together but they end up scattering the Lord’s flock. They want the wool and the fat for themselves. They take more than they give. They don’t truly care for the sheep. They are not undershepherds, but hirelings. Read Ezekiel 34 and see if you have experienced this for yourself.
I know all about hirelings because I was one for many years. I did not work for the Chief Shepherd, but for the denomination. I saw the sheep as the fruit of my ministry, not as the Lord’s possession. So eventually the Chief Shepherd removed me from tending His sheep. Later, only when I learned that the sheep indeed belonged to Him, He permitted me to feed them as His undershepherd. This time the hirelings came and removed me. They permitted me access to “their” sheep as a fellow hireling, but not as an undershepherd. For to be an undershepherd of the Chief Shepherd brings shame to the hireling.
How do you think the Chief Shepherd is going to respond to the situation we have today? First of all, do you think He is totally blind to what is going on? Far from it. What will He do with these hirelings? Why, He will remove them from tending the flock and will call the sheep to follow after Him. May I say to you that no man can snatch a single lamb out of the hands of the Good Shepherd. He knows His sheep, and they know Him. When He calls they will come running.
So it happens that when sheep find themselves within something other than the One Flock, penned up in a cage with a hireling, the Lord will call them out and unto Himself, and the hireling will eventually be judged. We don’t have to take matters into our own hands. The Lord will see to it. I am so thankful that He judged me and is making me into what He wants me to be. Now I work for Him, and no man.
THE ONE IN CHRIST TRANSCENDS ALL HUMAN DIVISIONS
We hear a lot of talk about trying to unify the Church, but until we see that we are already One Flock we will just keep on talking about it and never experience it. We must see before God that He has already made us One Flock under One Shepherd. This is not some future event, but a spiritual reality, waiting for us to enter into.
Permit me to say that from the vantage point of heaven there are only two groups of people: the ones with Life and the ones with no Life. And we cannot say someone does or does not have Life by judging them according to the outward appearances of how they worship, where they worship, or what earthly organization they do or do not belong to. God really and truly does not calculate the members of the Ecclesia by looking at the membership rosters of our denominations, counting heads on Sunday morning, reviewing our baptismal records, or seeing how many home church groups are meeting together. You may or may not find Life in any of these places.
We can point to all the denominations, sects, movements, factions, and individual churches as proof that we are not in unity. Outwardly speaking we are divided. Outwardly speaking I doubt we will ever be in unity. Wheat and tares, sheep and goats will continue to be mixed together until they are separated at the end of the age. But we should see that God neither recognizes nor endorses any of our labels, organizations, and associations. It is not that God is for or against the Baptist denomination, or the Pentecostal denomination. He simply overlooks all of it. It is of no account to Him and has no bearing on His eternal purpose. You can be in, out, for, or against whatever you please, but God is not looking at that either. Of course it’s terribly important to earthly-minded folk, but those who are seated in heavenly places with Christ view things differently.
Now when someone says he goes to the First Baptist Church, I can say, “Praise the Lord, brother! Do you have Life?” And when someone says she goes to a house church, I can say, “Praise the Lord, sister! Do you have Life?” And when people say they don’t know where to go or what to do, I can say, “Praise the Lord, brothers and sisters! Do you have Life?” I’m not looking to the outward anymore, but to the inward. You see, if the Life is there, then the Son is there, and that’s all that interests God. He that has the Son has Life. And if they need to get in this or out of that then the Life will instruct them. Who am I? We cannot call unclean what God has called clean. We cannot reject whom the Lord accepts.
Let me state here and now that man, not God, started every denomination, institutional church, and house church on the face of the earth. Some may be following God’s will, some only think they are following God’s will, and most are just doing what they want to do with no thought to God’s will. We aren’t interested now in explaining how or why they do what they do, we simply wish to state that man does all these things, not God. The Kingdom is within you. There is only One Church, and that is the Church that Jesus is building. There is only One Flock, and One Shepherd. Everything else is periphery.
When we see how much of this is man’s doing we are liable to become upset over it all, but God just bypasses and transcends the boundaries we put up between one another. God is just too big to confine Himself to working within one little sect, whether they are “in” or “out” of the religious system. God has never blessed a denomination, and He never will. He blesses people, not movements. He judges people, not systems. He only sees one thing, and that is His Son. He only gives us one thing, and that is His Son. If you have the Son, you have Life. If you do not have the Son, you do not have Life. This is the only thing God is looking for.
GETTING BABYLON OUT OF YOU
This is what I am most afraid of: that we begin thinking anyone who doesn’t have the revelation to “come out of Babylon” is spiritually dead. I made this serious error when God first began to show me the True Church and spoke to me concerning the One Flock. I was still judging by outward appearances. So let me clarify: you can no more come out of Babylon by leaving a church than a leopard can change his spots by leaving the jungle. Babylon is a mindset, a paradigm, a religious spirit, if you will. Some of the people who claim to have left Babylon are still bound by Babylon. They still think, talk, behave, and relate to others as Babylonians. They haven’t really come out, they just stopped attending church services. If that’s all there is to it, how simple it would be! How easy to tell the difference between the “true” and the “false” if that’s all we have to look for!
Just as we are called to be in the world but not of the world, some people are called to be “in” Babylon but not “of” Babylon. Some have been called by God to walk in the midst of Babylon and represent Him there as a Daniel or an Ezekiel. Some have been called by God to come out of Babylon and represent Him in Jerusalem as a Nehemiah or an Ezra. Not everyone is a Daniel, and not everyone is a Nehemiah. Eventually Babylon will be judged and there will be a New Jerusalem. All the “Daniels” and all the “Nehemiahs” will each give an account of themselves to God. So let everyone be where the Lord has called them to be. Most of all, whether we leave or stay, go out or go in, let it be by revelation, not by the words of some earthly man or teacher.
Some emphasize the actual meeting together and are engrossed in the details of where, how, why, and what we’re supposed to do when we meet. I say bring people together who have Life and the rest of it will take care of itself. We know that the Law was given to people who had no Life. The Law must teach us outwardly, but the Life will instruct us inwardly. When we don’t have Life then we have to depend upon a rule or method or tradition or law. Some say that’s too simplistic, just getting together like that. Well, that’s the idea. You see Life just doesn’t start flowing when we come together into some kind of meeting. Life is present at all times. You don’t turn it on and off like a spigot. Community isn’t something we can create in a test tube, it’s a daily adventure and releasing of Life as we go about the ministry of one-anothering wherever we happen to be at that particular moment in time.
THE TRUE FLOCK IS ONE FLOCK
How do we achieve unity? We do not. Rather, God reveals His Son to us as the Head of the Church. If we see the Head, if we know the Good Shepherd, we will come to know the Body and the Flock. We cannot say we love God if we do not love our brothers and sisters. We cannot maintain communion with the Head if we are separated from the Body. When we follow One Shepherd as One Flock then we will be in one accord. If we are one with the Head, we are one with the Body, even if we are not gathered together. But, if we are not one with the Head, we are not one with the Body, even if we are gathered together in the guise of unity.
Our prayer for the Church is that we would all come to the unity of the faith through the revelation of Christ. All who see Him will be like Him, for they will see Him as He is; and as He is, so are we, in this world.
Today, God’s heart is One Flock with One Shepherd, with the Son filling all in all. May the Church fulfill His desire. Amen.