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The True Nature of a Gospel Church — 4

Please read John 10

Studies in the Local Church 4

We have also looked at 3 metaphors –

1. The Building.

From Ephesians 2 v 19 – 22

A picture of a Temple Building.

1. A building needs a foundation.

2. A building needs walls. v 21.

2. The Body.

Whose head is the Lord Jesus Christ

The Body is the Church – whom Christ loves

3. The Household or Family.

Eph 5 v 22 – 33, 6 v 1 – 4.

In this metaphor we identified the Lord Jesus Christ as the head of the household in a loving leadership, and the other members of the family in loving submissive obedience to His will, receiving at the same time His fatherly care and protection.

Last Lord’s Day evening we thought about Isaiah 53 v 6 which speaks of our wandering and straying as sheep. That was a specific reference to the universality of sin and its individual manifestations in human beings – who behave as sheep. However sheep in a flock also points us in the direction of our next church metaphor – that of

4. The Flock.

One of the lovely things about our view from the manse window in Barnstaple is that there is a green hill in the distance – invariably there are sheep grazing – little white dots!

The metaphor for the sheep and the shepherd as a picture of God’s people is frequently used in the Old Testament. The word FLOCK is used 99 times in the whole Bible – and 91 of them are in the Old Testament.

Flock in the Old Testament.

Before the Lord Jesus Christ came ‘flock’ referred to the people of Israel . They were called ‘the flock of God’.

Isaiah 40 v 10 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. 11 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.; Psalm 23:1;

Psalm 79 v 13 So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.

Psalm 80 v 1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel , thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth;

Psalm 95 v 7 For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.

Psalm 100 v 3 Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

God’s flock was composed of ISRAEL which he made His own possession through redemption and the covenant. He made them His peculiar treasure – as a shepherd does his flock.

Exodus 19 v 4 Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. 5 Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:

What love and grace was shown by the Lord God to these stubborn legalistic people – but He called them His sheep – His flock! He pastored them throughout their history – He shepherded them and cared for them protecting them and kept on forgiving them.

AND THEN – the great shepherd came Himself – the Lord Jesus Christ. He came unto His own (sheep) – and what happened? (His own received Him not!)

Flock in the New Testament.

When we get to the New Testament the flock is composed of sheep from both Israel and Gentiles – non-Jews. The last verse of the passage that we read earlier from John 10 makes this connection –

16 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.

There are 2 main concepts involved in the picture of the shepherd and His flock in the New Testament.

1. The OWNERSHIP and SHEPHERDING of the flock on the part of the SHEPHERD – the Lord Jesus Christ.

2. The OBEDIENCE and SUBJECTION of the flock to the rule of the SHEPHERD.

1. The OWNERSHIP and SHEPHERDING of the flock on the part of the SHEPHERD – the Lord Jesus Christ.

We think about the first section with 3 questions

1.1. To whom does the Church belong?

Answer – The Church belongs to Christ the Shepherd.

1 Peter 5 v 1 The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock;

The flock of God

John 10 v 27, 29 – 30; My sheep, My father gave them me

John 21 v 16 – feed MY sheep.

God sent His only begotten Son to be the shepherd of His sheep. Possession is taught here. Some shepherds are appointed by an owner or farmer – to keep the flock. But others actually own the flock and their concern for the flock is the more intense – they are not hirelings – men who have been employed, or engaged to be shepherds.

1.2. How did the Shepherd come to own the sheep?

The shepherd Himself acquired the flock by redeeming it from the bondage of sin. He PURCHASED the flock –

Acts 20 v 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

John 10 v 11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

The Lord Jesus Christ the owner places the highest value on us His sheep, and has the absolute right of ownership over us. He paid the highest price for His sheep – his own life sacrificed on the cross. He valued us His sheep so much that it was worth it to Him to die in our place. And when we feel low and un-loved, when we feel uncared for and undervalued by those around you – just remember this – you are a member of a flock for which the shepherd died! Do you feel valued? I don’t mean by fellow believers, fellow sheep – but by Christ the shepherd? He is the one who gave His all for you!

C.T. Studd said “If Jesus Christ be God, and he died for me, then no sacrifice is too great for me to make for Him.” When you know that you are loved to the extent that another has died for you – is there any limit to your appreciation of the fact that he loves you?

To whom do you belong? Whose sheep are you? Do you feel that you belong to the flock of God?

You may argue that this metaphor does not make the case for local Church membership. I submit that it does – like this. There are sheep in Devon, sheep in Australia and sheep in Yorkshire. They are all sheep – they have that in common.

But – those sheep in those three locations belong to local flocks and relate to other sheep in those local flocks with local shepherds caring for them. They cannot survive on their own – they need to be part of a local flock. No sheep can afford to be a freelance independent isolated sheep not belonging to a flock.

Neither can any Christian afford to or even survive outside of membership of a local flock!

1.3. How does the Shepherd care for His flock?

A shepherd guards his flock from danger; he tends the sick, he searches for lost sheep, he leads them to good pastures. In the East the relationship of the shepherd to his sheep was a very intimate one. And good shepherds even today know all their sheep by name. Many were brought into the world at lambing time and were known by characteristics. One of the tragedies of the foot and mouth epidemic of a few years ago was the sense of grief and loss felt by many farmers who knew their sheep so well that to see them culled and destroyed was like losing sons and daughters!

The Lord Jesus Christ knows His sheep and provides for them. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice – John 10.

Verse 14 Christ goes before His sheep and leads them out to pasture. At night they come home to the fold and the shepherd lays down across the aperture of the doorway to prevent intruders from getting in and to prevent the sheep from getting out! I am the door – means just that for the shepherd!

Psalm 23 says how he leads them to water and pasture. The shepherd knows about sheep diseases and is alert about what to do when a sheep falls ill.

He protects them with his rod and staff. The rod was a long stout crooked stick used for pulling back straying sheep. What an apt picture/metaphor this flock is for the local church! Are we aware of the great shepherd of the sheep caring for us here? In the church there is care, protection and the means to keep us from straying and falling. Our shepherd the Lord Jesus Christ is a good shepherd indeed. This then is the ownership and shepherding of the flock on the part of the shepherd. Now

2. The OBEDIENCE and SUBJECTION of the flock to the rule of the SHEPHERD.

There is no animal born as helpless as a lamb, it seems. In the ’80s we were not far from Inverness and we knew a sheep farmer there, all the sons of the family came from whatever they were doing for lambing time, everything focussed on lambing. And there were baby lambs born, some needed feeding with bottles. I recall the shepherd constantly watching for the lambs lying down. I went around with him in the Land Rover and he was watching for lambs lying down because if they lie down they can’t get up, there’s an indication of danger and they could die. A few months ago Abi found such a dying lamb when out on a walk at Heatree. It was away from the flock.

It serves to remind us that we human beings are similar to sheep! There is a general ignorance and helplessness in man, who without aid from above, can only go astray like sheep without a shepherd. Thousands of children today are going astray because of family break ups and lacking of parenting like a shepherd. They are allowed to roam, to do as they please – and no shepherd would ever let his sheep do that – he knows how silly they are! Sheep are so silly – if one strays through a hole in a hedge onto the road then one by one the others follow suit until they are all out! They need the watchful eye of the shepherd.

And so too do we as God’s flock.

Isaiah 53 v 6a All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;

This was our text last Sunday evening.

1 Peter 2 v 25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Matthew 9 v 36 is a telling verse.

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad, as sheep having no shepherd.

What compassion!

As sheep, as church members, we are to follow our great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. But He has appointed under-shepherds to lead His flock while He is preparing a place for all His sheep in Heaven. Pastors and elders are duty bound to do the shepherding. We must think for a moment about the shepherds whom the Chief Shepherd has appointed for this fits very well with the metaphor.

2.1. Pastors do not OWN the flock

The Lord Jesus does – but he puts these men in charge.

John 21 v 16 – 16 He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.

He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. Literally “shepherd my sheep”.

1 Peter 5 v 2 – 3 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; 3 Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

In Ephesians 4 v 11

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:

In verse 11 the word in the original for Pastors is Shepherds – POIMEEN. They are under shepherds. They do not own the flock.

2.2. Pastors must PROTECT the flock.

Acts 20 v 28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.

‘Take heed’ - Literally ‘be on guard.’ Why?

Because of 2 Peter 2 v 1

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. 3 And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not.

Pastors and elders must protect the flock. Not all churches teach the truth – not all Pastors are faithful shepherds. The Lord Jesus Christ predicted that there would be false teachers amongst His sheep.

Matthew 24 v 11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

And the answer to this? The shepherds are to lead the flock away from such teachers – literally to separate from them.

2 Corinthians 6 v 17 – 7 v 1 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. 7 v 1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

The Apostles separated from Paganism and the apostate Jewish church of their day – so we are to leave things like ‘Churches Together’ alone and not to have anything to do with them. Pastors must protect the flock.

2.3. Pastors must FEED AND NOURISH the flock.

2 Timothy 4 v 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

2 Timothy 3 v 16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

Pastors must lead the flock into pastures of teaching that will feed their souls and point them to the chief shepherd.

2.4. Pastors must LEAD the flock.

In obedience – ruling tenderly, disciplining gently and loving the sheep.

2 Timothy 4: 1 I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; 2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; 4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. 5 But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.

1 Peter 2 v 25 For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.

Returned means ruled – disciplined.

Even though the scriptures call shepherds LEADERS they continually picture them as PARTICIPANTS in their activities into which they lead their sheep. Shepherds do not put their feet up in a nice warm flock coordination centre! They are out there in the valley, on the plain, up in the mountains travelling the paths trodden by the sheep themselves. Shepherds are WITH the sheep – keeping watch over their flocks by night – passing through the valleys of the shadow of death; gently leading those that are with young and gathering in the lambs. The shepherd leads the sheep – leads them out of the fold – goes before them – defends them from the wolf with his rod. It is no wonder that the New Testament calls shepherds simply leaders in Hebrews 13 v 7

Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation

24 Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. HEGEOMAI – lead with authority.

Psalm 80 v 1 Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel , thou that leadest Joseph like a flock; thou that dwellest between the cherubims, shine forth.

2.5. Pastors are themselves SHEEP and members of the flock.

They are in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ the chief shepherd.

So this picture of the flock helps us to see what a local church is like – like a flock – with an identity.

What sort of flock is Whiddon Valley Evangelical Church? Do we delight the chief shepherd in our church life? Are we following Him as He leads us? Are we loving Him and listening for His voice! Are we ready to be in subjection to Him and obey His every command?

This is the most important aspect of our membership of a flock of Christians in a local church – we exist to live for – and glorify – and serve the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Lord Jesus Christ. And there are many expressions of our membership.

Are we pursuing holiness as a priority in order to honour and reflect the Holy Shepherd and Saviour who gave His life for us?

Are we seeking to bring new lambs into the fold – evangelism amongst every part of the community?

Or is there any way that we may be grieving our chief shepherd. May we be rebellious in our hearts? May we be lazy in our life routines? May we be anorexic with regards to the food and pasture provided through His servants?

Let us all seek to know our places in the flock of God – belonging to the flock and working in it. Let us have our eyes fixed on our Dear Shepherd – who goes in front of us – leading us on to glory.



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