What are the marks of true shepherds? And how do we distinguish them from false shepherds? Following are a few thoughts:
True Shepherds Tend and Feed the Sheep: The first mark of a true shepherd is that he feeds the flock of God faithfully. This was Jesus’ charge to Peter in John 21. Three times Jesus exhorted Peter to feed his sheep. A true shepherd feeds God’s sheep with knowledge and understanding (Jeremiah 3:15). In other words, a true shepherd teaches his flock the word of God faithfully. He imparts understanding of the word of God and helps them to apply it in their daily lives. False shepherds, on the other hand, are unconcerned about feeding the sheep. They handle the word of God carelessly and do not impart understanding to their flock. As a result, the sheep are malnourished — without knowledge — and vulnerable to attacks of the enemy.
True Shepherds Point to the Great Shepherd: Jesus Christ is the Good and the Great shepherd of the sheep(John 10:14; Hebrews 13:20). There is no other Great Shepherd for God’s flock apart from Jesus Christ. All other shepherds of the flock are under-shepherds appointed by him (1 Peter 5:1). All true under-shepherds realize this fact and point their flock back to their Great Shepherd, Jesus. False shepherds constantly try to distract the sheep from looking at the Great Shepherd and point the sheep to themselves. Instead of building Jesus’ kingdom, false shepherds build their own kingdoms.
True Shepherds Pity Their Sheep: In Zechariah 11:5, God complains that Israel’s shepherds have no pity on their own flock. In contrast, in Matthew 9:36, Jesus has compassion on the multitudes who were eager to listen to him. All true under-shepherds have this same compassion and pity. They are gentle and tender towards God’s flock, and never overbearing. They teach and admonish God’s people, not by mere authority, but by example. True shepherds exercise much patience with their people and persevere with them in helping them to be obedient. False shepherds lack this quality. Like the Pharisees, they place a heavy yoke on the necks of their people and exercise unwarranted authority. False shepherds are quick to condemn the flock and pronounce anathemas. They promote legalism rather than loving obedience.
True Shepherds Search for the Lost Sheep: True Shepherds, like Jesus Christ, care for the lost sheep (Ezekiel 34:8; Psalm 23). When a sheep goes astray, they diligently search for that sheep and try to restore it back to the fold. They use discipline, if necessary, for the sake of helping the erring sheep. This is why Psalm 23 speaks of the rod and the staff – these objects imply discipline. False shepherds do not care for the lost sheep at all. If one sheep strays away, they comfort themselves by looking at other sheep. They are interested in big numbers, and not in an individual sheep. Loss of a sheep makes no difference to them.
True Shepherds look for Other Sheep: Just like Jesus who looked for “the other sheep who are not of this fold” (John 10:16), all true shepherds are constantly looking outward into the world to gather the elect sheep of God. They care not only for the God’s people who are already within the church, they also seek the unsaved and lost in the world. Hence, evangelistic zeal is always present in true shepherds. False shepherds, on the other hand, are either extremely indifferent towards the lost world, or are overly zealous for them. They either practice no evangelism or practice evangelism in such a way that they compromise God’s truth in trying to lead people into the church. For example, Charles Finney is a classic example of the latter category. In his zeal for “evangelism”, he compromised the Gospel so much that it ceased to be the Gospel.
True Shepherds Depend on the Great Shepherd: In Jeremiah 10:21, God complains that his shepherds have not inquired of him. All true shepherds of God inquire of him constantly. They seek Him personally and have a close communion communion with Him. This personal devotion empowers them in their public ministry. False shepherds do not inquire of the Lord, either personally or corporately. They have no personal relationship with Christ and this reflects in their public ministry as well.
May we beware of false shepherds and support true shepherds. Lord, may I always be a true shepherd of your people.