Matthew 9:35-38 - Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
I used to read this passage exclusively through the lens of evangelism. And to be sure, there are important implications for evangelism in these verses. However, it occurred to me that what led our Lord to make a plea for “workers” was the noticeable need for faithful shepherds over the harassed and helpless flock of God. The text says the flock was in such poor condition, that it was as though it didn’t have a shepherd at all.
Therefore, Jesus made the point that the need is great, and the workers – those who would be faithful shepherds – are few. He then declared to his hearers that they (we) should ask the Lord to send such workers into these very fields that are in such desperate condition.
In Search of Shepherds
God’s flock needs faithful shepherds today as well. There are many families without a faithful shepherd in the home. Churches have greater needs than the one “professional shepherd” on staff can respond to. The wayward, helpless flock of God is in dire need of faithful shepherds who will lead and guide her, nurture and feed her, defend and guard her, admonish and instruct her – love her to the point of pouring his life into her – even to the point of losing his.
Here’s the question: If the need is so clear, why aren’t there shepherds standing in line to care for God’s flock?
Reason One for Missing Shepherds
One reason can be found in these words of Gideon,
“How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15).
Whether false humility (cowardice) or real, many flee responsibility before God because they do not feel they are “up to it.” But since when has God been counting on unaided men and women to do his bidding? His answer to us is the same as it was to Gideon, “I will be with you” (Judges 6:16).
This reminds us of Paul’s words to the church at Corinth regarding God’s use of the weak and foolish things of this world to confound and humble the “strong and wise.” God uses us, but he isn’t dependent upon us. That’s an important distinction. And misunderstanding it is one reason the shepherds are few.
Reason Two for Missing Shepherds
Another reason is the sacrificial nature that is required to be a shepherd. It’s not a romantic or glamorous post in God’s Kingdom. For those seeking their own end, however, it has often been used as a vehicle for their own name’s sake.
To such a view of shepherding, Peter says,
1 Peter 5:2-3 – Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;  not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
For those who would use their position of shepherd as a stepping-stone to their own power, fame, and wealth, Peter’s words must come as quite a shock. He reminds us that shepherds have been entrusted, by God, to care for his tender lambs. And their watch over them must come from the heart – from a genuine willingness to serve them. It shouldn’t be a means to personal fortune. It ought not be drudgery. It certainly must not be a means by which power and control are sought after. It is sacrificial – my life for yours – your life for theirs.
To be an example to the flock is to be always “on duty.” It is to be intentional in your thoughts, words and deeds. It is thinking, speaking, and doing rightly – Christianly – and then caring for the flock accordingly. This isn’t easy. It is a dying to self. But unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it cannot produce many seeds (John 12:24-26).
For the Sake of Others
And that’s what we’re shooting for – many seeds – fruit that is good, lasting, and abundant (John 15). Our Lord told us the need is great. We needn’t look any further than our own family, church, friends – all our spheres of influence. The harvest is plentiful, but the shepherds are few.
Brothers, the reality is this: whether or not you pastor a church or teach a Bible study, you are a shepherd – to those in your personal mission field. The question is: What kind of shepherd are you?
2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Timothy 1:2; Acts 13
In my reading over the years I’ve been often reminded of how important one-to-one ministry really is. As a man invests his life into the life of another man, real growth can occur in remarkable ways. This is one of the key ways our faith has been passed down through the centuries. And I can certainly attest to the power and influence such a ministry has played in my own life.
A helpful way of thinking about one-on-one ministry is to think about three names: Paul, Barnabas, and
Timothy. Below is a description of what each name represents as we think in terms of ministering to other men.
1.) Paul represents that person in your life who mentors, leads, and directs you. This is the man who comes along side you to disciple you along the road of faith and life. This is someone who has traveled further down the road of faith and life than you. This man doesn’t have to be a great deal older than you, but it probably ought to be someone who has walked faithfully with God long enough and far enough for you to profit from his wisdom – his reflected-upon experience, study of God’s Word, etc. And it usually is the case that, though not exclusively so, this man will be older than you as well. But, as I said, sometimes this simply means, “older in the faith.”
I hasten to add that you must beware of someone who says he has been a Christian for 25 years when in reality, he has been a Christian for only one year, 25 years in a row. In other words, there has been no growth and maturation over that 25 years. My own observation as a pastor is that this sort of person abounds in the church. There are many people who, by their own admission, haven’t learned much more about God’s Word and walking along the road with him, than when they were children in Vacation Bible School. And so brothers, you must be careful about this. Pray for discernment.
Also, just because a man is at the top of his game in his profession, does not mean he is likewise mature and advanced in his faith. Success in one field of endeavor doesn’t necessarily mean success in another area of life. As I heard one person describe it, a man may have a Ph.D. in psychology, but have a second grade Sunday school degree in Bible. This is not the sort of man you want to have as your Paul.
2.) Barnabas is someone who encourages you and holds you accountable in your faith and life. This is more or less a mutual friendship, or what’s called in the world of spiritual formation, a “spiritual friendship.” In the book of Acts, Paul and Barnabas traveled together side by side. Barnabas was a key person in Paul’s life, especially at the beginning of his walk with Christ as he introduced Paul to the Christian community. Their relationship then became one of mutual encouragement, ministry, and accountability.
There are men I have discipled for years who have gone from being a Timothy in my life to becoming a Barnabas to me. And while I can still disciple them, they also minister to me in many ways.
3.) Timothy is that man you help guide along the road of faith and life. This is generally someone who has not traveled as far as you have in your walk with Christ. Such a man is marked (or should be) by an eagerness to grow in his relationship with Christ and is humble and teachable enough to receive what you have to share and to interact with you on the things of faith and life.
This “mark of a Timothy” should not be ignored just for the sake of having a Timothy. There are many smart guys out there who don’t have teachable spirits. They feel they have nothing to learn from another man. So too, some are indifferent to the things of God. Timothy, Paul’s “son in the faith,” as Paul called him, was humble, teachable, and eager to know, love, and follow God through Jesus Christ. So too, a “Timothy” shouldn’t expect to only receive guidance and wisdom from his “Paul,” but should plan on becoming a Paul himself one day so he can begin the whole process over again with another man.
This is a process in a man’s life that ought to last a lifetime and be produced, reproduced, and multiplied over and over again throughout the course of the man’s lifetime, as well as in the lives of the men he invests in. We are Christians today, humanly speaking, because those who went before us were faithful to this process.
In sum, we need to be a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and we need to have a Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. Such men in our lives are gifts from God. And we have the blessed opportunity to be such a gift to other men.
· Who is your Paul? To whom are you a Paul? Describe those relationships.
· Who is your Barnabas? To whom are you a Barnabas? Describe those relationships.
· Who is your Timothy? To whom are you a Timothy? Describe those relationships.
· If you drew a blank on any of those questions, begin praying for God to bring men into your life who will invest in you or who will be open to you investing in them.
Wise and Courageous Leadership
The Ephesian city clerk was wise. He was a real leader. In the midst of an unjust riot against two Christians, Gaius and Aristarchus, the clerk took a bold stand. There is no indication this man was a follower of Christ, so I take it that his intercession was the result of God’s special grace, while his wisdom and leadership was the fruit of common grace. As John Maxwell says, “leadership is influence,” and this man certainly had it.
First, he connected with the “Men of Ephesus” by recalling for them the ego-stroking perspective that the entire world knew Ephesus was the “guardian of the temple of the great Artemis…” At this point he reminded them that the whole world knew of their important position, as well as the respect such a position held. Then, he cleverly inserted a “therefore” to indicate that such an honored position in the world required decorum and order. This unnamed man saw the injustice against the two Christians and was not going to allow it.
He told the mob these men had committed no crime or wrong-doing at all. Message to crowd: Refined and respected citizens of Ephesus ought not behave like uncouth and uncivilized barbarians. Moreover, his rhetoric seemed to suggest that because they were so refined and civil, they could rightfully address any legitimate grievances with the local legal authorities. He told them if they continued in such unrest, they themselves would be the transgressors of civility and the law. Chalk one up for the city clerk.
After making his case he dismissed the crowd. And Acts 20:1 gives evidence that he must have succeeded in his efforts. The text reads, “When the uproar ended…” It is gratifying to see God’s common grace alive and well in the lives of unbelievers, even more so in the lives of unbelieving leaders. I wonder how many Christian leaders placed in a similar situation would have handled it as well.
There are many lessons to be learned from this historical snapshot of an anonymous Ephesian city clerk, but I want to highlight one in particular.
It’s worth noting the clerk didn’t bend and bow to the mob’s desires in an effort to gain favor with them. That’s sometimes my personal failing. The idea of putting a finger to the wind to see which direction it is blowing is all too tempting to those of us who loathe confrontation. But that’s not leadership, it’s cowardice. It’s the fear of man, not the fear of God. There is no character or integrity in such weakness. The city clerk chose to do what was right, even in the face of possible opposition.
How many times has a Christian pastor backed down from a position (even a God-ordained one) because of pressure from the mob? To be sure, no one ought to die on every single hill that comes along, but there are some principles (convictions and/or values) that should be tenaciously held to – ones that should yield no quarter.
My children don’t always know what’s good for them. They would be content to eat nothing but junk food for the next five years. But that would be harmful to them. I’ve been entrusted to shepherd them, and shepherd them I must. Sometimes, adults aren’t much farther down the road than children, especially when the mob mentality is at work.
God-appointed leaders must exercise wisdom and courage in such situations. For though it is often true that, “all of us are smarter than one of us,” and that many counselors may surely provide good advice, that is not always the case, as the episode in Ephesus reveals. The city clerk was able to make the distinction (wisdom) and acted on what he knew was right and best (leadership).
Whether you are the shepherd of a family, business, classroom, or church, pray for God to give you the same character and willingness to exercise godly leadership as God gave to that anonymous city clerk.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for the example of that anonymous city clerk from Ephesus. He showed true wisdom and leadership in a very difficult situation. Surely your grace was working in and through him. I pray that I too may stand against the current of popular opinion in those difficult times that require such faith and courage. Joshua and Caleb did so when everyone else was afraid to go into the promised land. The Lord Jesus Christ did so regularly. I humbly ask you to fill me with his Spirit that I too may represent your grace and truth well in all seasons… when it’s easy and when it’s hard. In Christ’s name I pray. Amen.
This Week’s Prayer Guide
[You can use this prayer guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. Then, focus on the following areas of supplication, which will change from week to week.]
Petition – prayers for yourself
· Help me to mature in my faith and to increasingly please God by my thoughts, words, and deeds.
· Particular struggles in various relationships
· My activities for this day
· Other needs
Intercession – prayers for others
· My Family
· My local church
· My denomination
· Para-church ministries, particularly Christian education and discipleship
· Evangelistic ministries
· Other needs
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