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The Chief Shepherd And His Undershepherds—Part 2
Now I want to turn to the theme of human shepherds and I want to say something which I trust will not need to be amplified. I trust that all of you here are really familiar with this basic fact that the New Testament uses three different words to describe one and the same kind of person. And because of problems of translation, two of those words are translated differently in different versions. So we have actually five potential ways to describe one and the same office or function. The first is shepherdbut a lot of versions say pastor. And a lot of people today don’t realize that a pastor is a shepherd. English has moved so far that we don’t think of a pastor as a shepherd. When Beethoven wrote his Pastoral Symphony what was it about? Shepherd life—that’s right. I mean there was no questions in anybody’s mind then, but we don’t think that way now.
And as I’ve said many times the problem is the images today are completely different. If I say shepherd you think of a man in working clothes out in the field looking after living creatures. If I say pastor you think of a man in a dark suit behind a pulpit on a Sunday morning. They don’t come together.
Then we have the word overseerwhich Greek is episcoposwhich has given rise to the word bishopwhich runs all through the languages used in Europe. Not the romance languages but all the old German and the Anglo-Saxon, Scandinavian languages, they all use the word biskopor whatever may be the equivalent and in English we’ve softened it to bishop. But that’s not really an English word. It’s a Greek word written over in English letters. But what it means is overseer.
In the New Testament a bishop and an overseer are not two different persons. They are two different descriptions for one and the same job. And the third is elder. And when we talk about elders the New Testament says elders are shepherds and therefore pastors and overseers and therefore bishops. And I think it’s correct to say that it wasn’t until the third century of this era that the bishop began to be recognized in the local church as somebody distinct from the elders, and in a sense over the elders.
And the next thing that happened was the bishop was removed from the local church and became over a city, and maybe over a major area. And after that if you have a bishop and a lot of bishops then you need an archbishop. And I personally suggest to you that once you take the step of recognizing a bishop, who is different from pastors and elders, you’re headed for a hierarchy. It’s almost inevitable. You will not escape it. If you want a hierarchy, I mean go that way. Just bear in mind that’s where you’re going when you start that way. You can call them by a lot of different titles, but the structure is hierarchical.
We’re going to look at just a few passages in the New Testament that bring out these facts. Acts chapter 20 verse 17.
From Miletus he [Paul] sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. [Notice they were the eldersplural of the church.]
[In verse 28 this is what he said to them.] “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God…
Notice the same men were elders, overseer and shepherds and that includes pastors and bishops. Okay. Titus 1:5 through 7.
For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders [plural] in every city as…
[And he goes on to give the qualifications and he says in the same breath vs.7] For a bishop must be blameless [ well he said an overseer must be blameless.]
It’s interesting because this is the same version: in Acts 20 it translated overseers, in Titus 1 it translates as bishops. Very few translations are consistent in the way they translate the same word. And the average reader wouldn’t know that when Paul speaks about a bishop in Crete, he’s talking about the same person that’s called an overseer in Ephesus. Do you understand? You can get behind the Greek or the Hebrew if you use either Young’s or Strong’s Concordance. It’s a lot of work but you can do it. And for some people it’s well worth doing it.
First Peter 2:25.
For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
This is the New King James. Who’s the shepherd and overseer of our souls? Jesus. Notice, He’s not only the Shepherd, He’s the Overseer. The Old King James said Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. It’s interesting that those ministries meet in Jesus, not only on the human level. And then in First Peter chapter 5 verses 1 through 3.
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed:
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers…
Now you’ve got a lot of translations, but they all come up to the same thing. They were elders, shepherds and overseers. There was no one man among them who was theoverseer, or thebishop. They were all, all three things.
Now we’re going to come to something that could be tedious, but I’ve learned by experience that if I just tell people look at a certain passage of Scripture, most of them never look at it. So we are going to look at twenty-one passages of Scripture in the New Testament. And the theme is that these human shepherds are always referred to in the plural. I don’t think you can find a place where they are referred to in the singular. If there is such a place it is the exception, not the rule. Now the Bible does not teach everything by precepts. It teaches some things by patterns. But if the pattern is consistent all through the New Testament, it’s really just the same as a precept. I think God conceals some truths because He only wants the diligent to find them.
Okay we’ll start at Acts 11:30. Here’s the believers in Antioch in Syria, they hear there’s going to be a famine, so they want to help to the poor saints in Jerusalem. Verse 30,
This they also did, [that is they sent relief] and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
Whom did they send it to? The elders. And I don’t want to labor something, but they did not send it to the pastor, if you see what I’m saying.
So when they had appointed elders in every church…
They didn’t install a pastor. They appointed elders. Okay. Acts 15:2,
Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question.
Notice both apostles and elders are plural. And then in verse 4,
And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders;
When the church received them, who did it? The apostles and the elders. Bearing in mind that in church affairs the apostles were co-elders. Acts 15 verse 6,
So the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter.
If there was a pastor in the church in Jerusalem he must have felt terribly rejected by this time. Verse 22 and 23,
Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to do so and so…
They wrote this letter; The apostles, the elders, and the brethren, [I think some versions leave out the brethren.] To the brethren who are of the Gentiles etc.
You understand. All through the fifteenth chapter of Acts it’s plural. Acts 16verse 4,
And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.
Acts 20:17, 28—we’ve already seen that. Paul called for the elders and he told them that they were the overseers and the shepherds. Every single word is plural. Acts 21:18:
On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
Now it does seem that James was put in a somewhat special category there which I take note of a little later down. But nevertheless, the elders were all plural. Ephesians 4:11, I think you can all quote that.
He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some shepherds or pastors [plural].
All those are plural. Philippians 1:1 is a very significant one.
Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:
And bear in mind that bishops are what? Overseers. Isn’t it strange that they can’t pick on one translation and stick to it all through, but they’re not different from the other translations. There are very, very few that are consistent. So they were overseers and under them were deacons. But they were all plural. First Thessalonians 5:12 and 13,
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.
Their leaders—plural. First Timothy 5:17,
Let the elders [plural] who rule well be counted worthy of double honor,
Titus 1:5—we’ve looked at it “ordain elders in every city.” Hebrews 13—the last chapter of Hebrews three times verse 7, “Remember those who rule over you”—verse 17, “Obey those who rule over you”—verse 24, “Greet all those who rule over you.” Invariably it is plural. James 5:14,
Is any one among you sick, let him call for the elders of the church…
Even a sick believer is told to call for the elders, plural, not for the pastor or not for his shepherd or not for his house group leader, but for the elders. First Peter 5:1 through 3. Well we’ve looked at that. I think we’ll take it for read. “The elders who are among you I exhort etc.”
If you count that up and you count the same way I do, that’s twenty-one times. I don’t know whether you can find any one place where it’s used in the singular. You may do. I’ve never found one but I’m not say it isn’t there because you’d have to look right through. At least the preponderance of the emphasis is on the plurality of elders, who are pastors, who are shepherds, who are overseers, who are bishops.
Now you see—do you remember what I said last night about donkeys and zebras? The truth of the matter is we’ve been calling donkeys zebras for a long time. And when we first see zebras it’s hard to adjust to the fact that they don’t look like donkeys. This is a very, very far-reaching issue.
All right. Throughout Revelation, elders are plural. And there’s a lot of talk about elders in Revelation. It seems to me even the eternal government of God of the Universe has a plurality of elders—twenty-four. Now there are exceptions. Second John 1 and Third John 1 it says, The Elder to the elect ladyand The Elder to Gaius.Okay, but it’s not talking about church government, it’s his way of describing himself to an individual to whom he’s writing. It’s individual to individual. And then there are the famous angels of the churches in Revelation. Some people think those are the pastors. I don’t. I’ve never met a pastor that was an angel yet.
Now I’m going on. Nowhere, that’s a bold statement—you’re free to check it. You know what they say, if you say something about nothing, you’re something about everything. You understand that. You say “No human being is righteous,” you’re talking about all human beings. And so if I say, nowhere is any human individual referred to, it’s a statement about everything that relates as thepastor of any church. Now, I’m not attacking anybody. I’m not out to change everything overnight. I’m just pointing out certain, unchallangeable scriptural facts. A lot of people take the attitude, don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up. Well, all right far be it from me to try to unsettle you.
Paul regularly addressed churches and their leaders corporately. I don’t think we realize how remarkable was the way that Paul addressed his letters. He never singled out any individual leader. In Acts 20:17 he called for the elders of the church. If there was thepastor in that church then Paul was very unethical to bypass him and call for the elders.
Look at the openings of Paul’s letters and contrast with them what we would do if we were writing today to a group of Christians. Romans—Paul a servant of Jesus Christ. Whom is he writing to, verse 7, to all who are in Rome beloved of God.That’s a pretty wide address isn’t it? No pastor. First Corinthians. I mean, I hope that I can impress you with how remarkable this is. First Corinthians 1:
Paul called to be an apostle
[Verse 2] To the church of God which is at Corinth…with all who in everyplace call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…
No pastor. Second Corinthians—I have to say again if there was a pastor, Paul was very unethical.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ…to the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints who are in all Achaia: [which is a whole province.]
[Galatians] Paul, an apostle…
[verse 2] to the churches of Galatia:
[Ephesians] Paul, an apostle…To the saints who are in Ephesus and faithful in Christ Jesus.
[Philippians—we’ve seen that already, we’ve looked.] Paul and Timothy [notice some letters were written by more than one person] To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:
Incidentally, a better translation for deacon is servant It’s the same word. Colossians.
Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ …
To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are in Colosse:
[Where’s the pastor?]
[Thessalonians] Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, [notice this letter’s written by three persons.] To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
[Second Thessalonians]Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians…
There is no individual ever singled out to be addressed. That is a staggering fact if you think about it. I doubt whether you can absorb the implications of that.
Now we’re going on to our next section. It is important to maintain the corporate authority and responsibility of human leadership in the Church. I say that out of personal experience. I have been in a situation where I related to a leader and a lot of people here know about it. And he manipulated me into giving him special preeminence and he used that preeminence to manipulate the people of God and it was on a wrong basic principle and I should never have allowed it to happen. Those of you are from that city, you know what I’m talking about. Oh, the agony that came from that for I don’t know how many hundreds of God’s people. I was tricked into operating on a principle that I don’t believe in. I’m not trying to exonerate myself because I shouldn’t have done it. But believe me I try to learn by my mistakes. My aim is never to make the same mistake twice. I don’t think I always succeed, but I don’t see any reason to make the same mistake twice.
So I say it’s important—I think I should say it’s essential - to maintain the corporate authority and responsibility of human leadership in the Church. And it’s very possible for a man with a strong ministry such as mine, to relate to a church in such a way that you undermine the corporate leadership. Then when there’s trouble they don’t know what to do.
Now we have to balance this with other aspects of Scripture. In the Church in Jerusalem James seems to have had a position of special honor and authority. Let’s look very quickly at that to do justice to it. Acts chapter 12 verse 17. This is Peter getting out of prison. You remember the story…
But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.”
You notice that James is put first and some sense on his own. So we acknowledge that fact. James was a very strong character. He was also a very orthodox Jew. And those of us who know the orthodox know that they have a kind of edge on everybody else. In the last resort they make all other Jews feel guilty because they’re not so orthodox, you understand. And I think that had a little to do with James’ position. That’s my personal theory. Acts 15:13 etc. This is the great counsel in Jerusalem to settle what is to be done with Gentile converts.
And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, “Men and brethren, listen to me: [That was a pretty authoritative way to start. And he said a little further on—verse 19]
“Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles…
Just what he said is what they decided. He obviously was a man with exceptional spiritual authority. And then in Acts 21:18,
On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
You could say James was the presiding elder. And I think that would be a fair description, but I’d have to say it wasn’t because there was a position of presiding elder that had to be filled. It’s because that was the kind of person James was, and there’s a lot of difference between those two. If there’d been no James the church could have functioned without him. So my conclusion. In the New Testament Church there was sufficient flexibility to make room for individual gifts and personalities, such as James, without legislation or establishing an institution. I think that’s a fair summation of the situation.
Now we’re going on. I have the heading there Some Main Responsibilities of Human Shepherds, because I’m certainly not claiming that it’s all. We’ve already looked at the passage in Ezekiel 34 where the Lord told the shepherds of Israel they hadn’t strengthened the weak, they hadn’t healed the sick, they hadn’t searched for the strays and all that. Those are all responsibilities of shepherds. But I am focusing on others, not setting aside those. The first one is to strengthen and mature relationships of individual believers with the Chief Shepherd—to teach them to hear His voice. In other words, a successful shepherd is one who works himself out of a job. I think that’s true in so many areas of life. It’s true in many business functions. The more you have to hang around and tell people what to do, the bigger the failure you are. But there’s something in human personality that wants to be needed. Have you noticed that? So we have to guard against that we don’t keep people dependent on ourselves because it plays to our ego.
Now you’ve got to teach them to hear the Lord’s voice. The Lord may speak through a human shepherd or in other ways. That’s important. It’s not the only way that the Lord speaks to a sheep is through his human shepherd. Thank God. If I was the only channel for the Lord to speak to the people that look to me for leadership, I wouldn’t sleep at nights.
Now we’ve got to get the other side of this too and this is important. Not everything a human shepherd says is necessarily the Lord’s voice. Okay? Again if I had to think that everything that I said was “Thus says the Lord,” I think I’d shut my mouth. I remember being with a couple that I was counseling years back, and the woman was doing all the talking, exceptional couple you understand. And the man was looking more and more frustrated. And the woman was saying, “You know the Lord showed me, God spoke to me, etc. etc.” So after a while I said, “You know it must be terrible to live with you because to disagree with you is to disagree with Almighty God.” And for the first time the man smiled. At last somebody had seen his side of the case. Well, people can disagree with me without disagreeing with Almighty God I’ll tell you that.
The second main responsibility we’re speaking about is to build strong harmonious relationship between the members of the flock. Let’s look in First Thessalonians 5 where we have looked already once. First Thessalonians 5:12 and 13.
And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you,
Notice they do three things. It’s rather significant. They labor among them, first of all they start among them. Then they are over then, and then they admonish.
And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. [Which is the right attitude toward God-given leadership, and then it goes on] Be at peace among yourselves.
I think those two are very closely connected. I think good leadership and the right attitude of those who led will produce peace and harmony in the flock. In fact, in a certain sense I think, the most essential task of human shepherds is to maintain harmony in the flock. Because a whole herd of sheep without anybody supervising their activities and overseeing their relationship, is just going to be confusion. That I think is perhaps the primary need of human shepherds. It’s not so much for the individual sheep himself, although that’s important. It’s for the collective flock. In a certain sense that’s rather appropriate because we have collective shepherds for a collective flock.
All right now the third, and this is very important again. A human shepherd should never interpose himself in two places: a) between the sheep and the Chief Shepherd. We should never come between a sheep and Jesus. We point them to Jesus, help them to find Jesus, help them to hear from Jesus, but never come between them and Him. And second, and this is equally important, between the sheep and the corporate eldership. A man may have a house group. He may be their shepherd. That may be perfectly in order, but he should so teach them that they see him as the extended arm of the corporate leadership, not as a somebody who has a right over them in his own character and person.
I heard it said once if I get up and leave I expect all my sheep to get up and follow me. And I’ve never forgotten that remark. It was disastrous. It’s unscriptural. It’s the corporate leadership that has the authority. The individual shepherd only has authority delegated by the corporate leadership.
All right. Organization of Human Shepherds. Now I’m making statements which you’re very free to check for yourself. In fact, I wish you would, because they’re pretty general and they may not be totally correct. But I say no single, overall system appears to be enforced in the New Testament, that is organization of shepherds and congregations. In each situation, the guidance of the Holy Spirit is needed. Isn’t that embarrassing? We have to pray every time we do it. And the Scripture there is the Lord is that Spirit, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
It is a mistake to impose a concept on a situation. Concepts are valid but they’re not what we operate with. You know, because you see the man who’s got the right concept never looks at the results. All he’s got to do is put the concept. If everything blows up and falls apart, that doesn’t matter, the concept was right. The concept might have been right in the right context, but who know if it was the right context. If it doesn’t work it was not from the Holy Spirit, okay. And I’ll tell you, as a matter of fact, and I can say this because I’m one, this is a big problem of teachers, you understand, because we operate with concepts and principles. So wherever we go we’re looking for concepts. Which concept fits this situation? And no one more than I, so I’m not criticizing anybody else. But the thing is, that isn’t how the Holy Spirit works. The Holy Spirit in a sense is very individual.
The New Testament does depict house churches, although when we use that phrase I think we’re thinking of a donkey and the New Testament has got a zebra in mind. Let’s look at those Scriptures for a moment. Romans 16:3 through 5.
Greet Priscilla and Aquila, [Which is the wife? Priscilla. Why does she get named first? You’ll have to take that up with Paul, you brothers, when you get to glory.] my fellow workers [did you notice they were both his fellow workers?]in Christ Jesus,
who risked their own necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. [That’s a kind of medal on the chest of those two isn’t it.]
Likewise greet the church that is in their house, and so on.
Now, we think of people that meet every Tuesday night at 6:30 in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. I doubt whether that’s what Paul had in mind. I think there were a group of Christians living in their house. A life of fellowship and ordered commitment and that was the church. I mean I dare say they had meetings but it wasn’t just a group that met. That’s my opinion and you can weigh it for yourself. And it could be that Aquila was the shepherd, but it doesn't say so. It’s an assumption. Could be that somebody else was the shepherd but they lived the house of Aquila and Priscilla. There’s a lot of things that are not said and we’d better not read too much into that statement. But we do know there was a group of people associated with the house of Aquila and Priscilla. And knowing a little about the ministry of Aquila and Priscilla, I would guess Aquila and Priscilla did a lot of teaching, both of them. First Corinthians 16:19
The churches of Asia greet you. Aquila and Priscilla greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.
Presumably that’s a similar setup. We don’t need to comment further on that. Colossians 4:15,
Greet the brethren who are in Laodicea, and Nymphas and the church that is in his house.
But if you have either the NASB or the NIV it’s very embarrassing. You know why? Because it was a woman. Nympha. And that’s the correct reading I think almost without a doubt. Greet Nympha and the church in her house. So if we deduce that because the church in the previous situation, Aquila and Priscilla, was pastored by Aquila, what do we deduce about the church in the house of Nympha? We just don’t make any deductions.
Years and years ago I had a story that’s completely—I mean it’s just a humorous story, but most of you are too young to remember this situation. But between the two world wars, Germany was limited by the Treaty of Versailles not to have any armaments factories and so on. But under Hitler they immediately started undercover armament factories, but they called them something else. But they were really manufacturing arms. So there was a man working in a baby carriage factory whose wife was expecting a baby. So he though it would be nice to get a baby carriage. Not being too ethical he got fellow workers in different sections of the plant each to bring out his particular section of the part, and he assembled them at home. And then one of his fellow workers met him walking down the street looking rather puzzled and baffled, and he said, “Well I’ve put it all together twice, but each time it makes a machine gun.” Well I always feel like that when I’m teaching the Bible. You can put it together whatever way you like, but it makes what it was meant to make. Sometimes it turns out to be a machine gun.
Colossians 4:15, we’ve looked at that. Philemon verse 2.
[Paul is sending greetings in verse 1] To Philemon our beloved friend and fellow laborer,
To the beloved Apphia, Archippus our fellow soldier, and to the church in your house:
Since the letter’s addressed to Philemon, it’s in Philemon’s house. Again we’re left with all the same possibilities and nothing more is told us. Now I personally think that home groups and house churches are an excellent way of doing things. I want to make that clear. But I don’t think there’s anything in the New Testament that says we have to do it that way. And I don’t see anything in any of the descriptions of any of the churches that suggest that all the churches in any city were organized in home groups. They may have been, but it’s a complete supposition. It goes far beyond any of the available evidence that I know of in the Bible. That’s embarrassing because we to find out what way God wants us to do it in our situation. We can’t turn to page fifteen of the manual and see what it says, because there isn’t a manual. I hope I don’t leave you all feeling very frustrated.
Continuing—in each situation, a system of shepherding must be judged by its fruit. Matthew 7:20
By their fruits ye shall know them.
All right. We’re almost finished but we’re not done with all that’s important. We’re now talking about something that has been very much a source of problems and discussion, trans-local relationships. And I’m just going to make a flat statement. You’re free to check, question, argue it, do whatever you like. I find no instance in the New Testament of a resident shepherd/pastor receiving pastoral care from a person not residing in the same area. Now that’s a think you’ll have to look through the New Testament for. If you find it be kind enough to let me know. Everybody will immediately say, “Oh, but Timothy and Titus…” The answer that I would give is neither Timothy nor Titus was a resident pastor in a city. What were they? They were members of an apostolic team, Paul’s delegates in that area. And as Paul’s delegates they were certainly under his direction. But if Paul had had a delegate, who was a pastor in a congregation, I that would have infringed the sovereignty of that congregation’s leadership. The reason why we haven’t seen this is because we haven’t observed the place of apostolic teams.
It’s as I’ve said before. You can take the language, but if you’re not doing it the way, the results will to be the same. I’ve made a very serious statement and I want to reinforce it. I believe for the greatest apostle to have a man in the local resident eldership leadership of a congregation who is his delegate, to whom he give orders, is infringing the sovereignty of that congregation.
All right. We go on. Now I want to guard myself. Please note the next paragraph. All this does not preclude a relationship in which a spiritual father or elder brother offers ongoing counsel to a man with pastoral responsibilities. I think there’s a great room and a great need in the Body of Christ for spiritual fathers and spiritual elder brothers. Thank God for them. But I would not call them in that context pastors. Because you say why are you splitting hairs about the definition? The answer is that words are used to point out the identity of things. If you use the same word for two different things you’re confusing them. If I call both a donkey and a zebra a zebra, I’m the source of confusion. So let’s the apostolic delegate the zebra, so let’s find another name for the man who is the resident pastor. Let’s not call them by the same name. You understand that? It’s not a matter of names, it’s a matter of clear thinking which isn’t an easy thing to achieve.
However, what I’m saying about the spiritual father, spiritual elder brother relationship is it’s a variable. It’s not an absolute. Some people have it. Others don’t. If the Lord Jesus Christ has ordained it for you, you will not prosper without it. But if He has not ordained it for you and you try to manufacture it, you will not prosper either. Okay. It’s His sovereign determination as to which you’ll have. I have to say that I’ve never had a spiritual father in the Body of Christ. That’s not to boast. It’s just that there’s never been anybody available to be that to me.
The Bible says in—we’d better look—Galatians 6:6.
Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches.
That’s a general principle. If you have a spiritual father or an elder brother who helps you, counsels you, supports you, you owe him something, and let’s be sure that we understand that it’s something financial. I suggest, and nobody has to follow this up, in fact if it becomes a tradition I’ll be sorry, but I suggest that such a person could be described as a counselor, not as a pastor. A counselor is a very honorable, Scriptural title. Jesus is a Shepherd but He’s also a Counselor. The reason why I do it is to make a distinction. The real essence of the distinction is to preserve the integrity and sovereignty of the leadership of the local church.
All right. We’re going on to discipling. We’ve got just a few minutes left. We don’t need a lot because all the same principles apply. We just have to see that. I’ve described as a function in their teams and shepherds in their churches. In other words, both apostles and shepherds can practice discipling. It involves special training that goes beyond general pastoral care. I think we can all understand that. We don’t have to be theological about it. There are the same two possibilities as with shepherding. 1) the Lord can do it directly, 2) He can do it through a human servant. Again it’s the Lord’s prerogative to determine how it will be done. And I give examples of both. Let’s look quickly through the examples.
Moses discipled Joshua. We all know that. But the Lord discipled Moses, that’s obvious isn’t it. Nobody can question that. All right Elijah discipled Elisha, but apparently the Lord discipled Elijah. If He didn’t there’s no one else that’s even a candidate. And I doubt whether there was anybody in Israel at that time that could have discipled Elijah. The very situation in Israel made it essential that the Lord do it, and I’ve given you some Scriptures that you can look at which indicate that Elijah got his guidance direct from the Lord.
Apparently the Lord discipled John the Baptist, for in Luke 1:80 it says,
He was in the desert until his manifestation to Israel
And in John 1:33 he said, “The one who sent me to baptize told me that when I see the spirit descending, He’s the Messiah.” And in this version The One who sent me to baptize, is capitalized. In other words the translator understands it to be God and I don’t see any possibility that any human being discipled John the Baptist.
Then Jesus discipled the first apostles and Paul also was discipled directly by Jesus. We’ve seen in Galatians 1, we don’t need to read the passage. He emphasized this. He did not go to the first disciples. And I then make this comment, when God initiates something new, He usually disciples direct, for an obvious reason. Because if it’s new there’s no one there who knows how to do it. You see if you rule that out, you see what you’re ruling out? You’re ruling out God doing anything new. That’s a serious problem.
Now I just give quickly my own example of deliverance. When I got into deliverance I don’t think there was anybody who could disciple me. I had to find out for myself. I thank God for Brother Maxwell White. I heard about him, I read a couple of his little books. He did one thing for me. He assured me that if I was crazy there was someone else crazy too. That’s about what I got from him. And the Lord, I can’t go into this, but He discipled me meticulously. He took we right across this continent and back just to show me one particular principle or case. He spared no money. He spared no time. I would have to say He discipled me directly in the matter of deliverance.
All right now we come to the conclusion so that you mind is not so occupied with trees that you don’t see the forest, I have put this concluding emphasis. 1) If we bypass divine absolutes and focus on variables, we miss the purposes of God and probably add to the division in the Church. 2) If we make absolutes out of variables, we infringe on God’s sovereignty and impose unscriptural limitations on God’s servants. 3) It is the sole prerogative of Jesus to shepherd/disciple a believer directly or to delegate some of this responsibility to human under-shepherds. And I wish you’d underline some,because He never delegates all. And 4) The New Testament consistently emphasizes the corporate authority and responsibility of the plural eldership in a local church.
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