Keith Hunt - A Shepherd looks at the GOOD SHEPHERD - Page Ten   Restitution of All Things

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A Shepherd looks at the GOOD SHEPHERD #10

The Hireling

                 A Shepherd looks at the GOOD SHEPHERD #10

But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own sheep
are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and
fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The
hireling fleeth because he is an hireling, and careth not for the
sheep (John 10:12-13).

     OUR LORD USED contrast for dynamic effect. It was one of the
secrets of His remarkable, arresting teaching. He used contrast
to display in bold, bright strokes the great truths we human
beings have such difficulty in comprehending.
     He told about the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus who
lay at his doorstep. He recounted the incident of the haughty,
proud Pharisee praying while the contrite publican struck his
breast begging for mercy. He contrasted the prodigal with his
very "proper" elder brother. And now, in this parable, Christ
brings before us the behavior of a hireling as it is contrasted
with the Good Shepherd in caring for sheep.
     Our Lord previously pointed out how the people of God's
pasture could, under His control, enjoy an abundant, rich life
with Him.
     He made clear how God's life, poured out in rich measure on
my behalf, enables me to enjoy abundant living in every area:
physical, mental, moral, emotional, and spiritual. He told how
life in Him contributes to a wholesomeness and holiness of unique
quality; that it is entirely possible for a man or woman to be so
intimately associated with God as to reflect His character to a
sceptical society.
     Yet, in bold contrast to all of the foregoing, Jesus made it
clear that not all sheep were under a good shepherd. Some
suffered because of the bad behavior of hireling shepherds.
     During the time of our Lord's sojourn in Palestine, servants
were of two sorts. They were either bond or free. They were
either slaves owned outright by their masters or free people who
worked temporarily for meager wages. In fact, because of slavery,
the worth and dignity of a human being was much less esteemed
than it was in a free society. After all, if people could be
bought and sold at random in a slave market they were really not
of much more value than cattle or furniture.
     It will be recalled that when Judas bartered with the high
priests for the betrayal of his Master, the price of thirty
pieces of silver was agreed upon. This was the going price, then,
of a slave in the slave market.
     If a slave served his owner well and the two became attached
to each other, the master often offered to set him free. The
slave could then choose either to go free or become a bond slave
or bond servant. Of his own free will he could choose to remain,
for the rest of his life, as a servant who, because of his love
for the master, chose to remain in his family.
     To confirm this the owner would take his slave to the
doorpost of his home. Placing the slave's ear against it, he
would pierce the lobe with an awl, pinning it momentarily to the
post. This drew blood. This indicated that a bond was sealed for
life, and that this slave had in fact become a love servant for
the remainder of his days. He would never leave that family. He
would be ever faithful to his owner. He was a part of that
household. Their life was his. His life was theirs.
     There was none of this devotion about a hireling. A hireling
had no permanence. He was a casual laborer who came and went at
will in a rather haphazard way. He would be here today and gone
tomorrow. He was essentially a transient worker. He took no
special interest in his job. As soon as a few shekels jingled in
the deep folds of his loin cloth he was gone. He would seldom
settle down or take any responsibility seriously. His average
wage in Jesus' day was a penny a day. The less work he could do
to earn this the better it suited him. Like a dandelion seed
drifting on the wind he floated about the country looking for the
softest spot to land. And if the place did not please him he
would soon take off for another.

     Sometimes, but not often, one of these drifters would be
employed to tend sheep in the owner's absence. It was seldom a
satisfactory arrangement. For that reason our Lord used the
hireling to represent those who were entrusted with the sheep,
but had no real love or concern for them. The secret to
successful livestock husbandry is an essential love for the
animals under one's care. And this the hireling lacked. He had no
stake in the flock. They were not his. He could care less what
became of them. They were but the means whereby he could make his
"fast buck," and then get out.

     As a young man of twenty-five I was entrusted with the
management and development of a large livestock ranching
operation in central British Columbia. There were thirty-six men
on the various crews hired to run the ranch. We were in a rather
remote, though choice, area, where the glamor and glitter of
cities seemed far away.
     Among us there was a common joke that we really had three
crews: one was coming; the second was working temporarily; and
the third was leaving. These were all hired men, passing through,
who stayed in this remote and lonely location only until they had
gathered up enough to move on to a more desirable job. 
     In bold contrast I recall vividly the love, loyalty, and
undivided devotion of the Masai in East Africa to their animals.
For the years we lived among them I never ceased to marvel at the
incredible fortitude of these people in providing the best care
they could for their livestock. No price was too high to pay to
protect their stock from predators. Why? Because they owned them.
They had a stake in them. They loved them. They were not
     Just a few days after we moved into the Masai country, a
small, slim boy about ten years old was carried up to our house.
He had, single-handed, tackled a young lioness that tried to kill
one of his flock. In total self-abandonment and utter bravery he
had managed to spear the lion. The mauling he took almost cost
him his life. We rushed him to the nearest hospital twenty-seven
miles away where his young life was spared, as by a thread. But
why did he do this? Because the sheep were his. His love and
honor and loyalty were at stake. He would not spare himself. He
was not a hireling.

     God has, all through history, entrusted the care of His
sheep to so-called undershepherds. And not all of them have
proven to be as loyal as the Masai lad, nor as brave as young
David, later Israel's great king, who slew the lion and the bear
that came to raid his father's flock.

     Inevitably in the nature of human affairs there appear those
who pretend to be genuine but are not. The ancient prophets of
Israel cried out again and again against those who posed as
shepherds to God's people, but who instead only plundered them
for their own selfish ends.

"And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, Son of man,
prophesy against the shepherds of Israel, prophesy, and say unto
them, Thus saith the Lord GOD unto the shepherds; Woe be to the
shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the
Shepherds feed the flocks?
Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them
that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not
strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither
have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought
again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that
which was lost;
But with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them.
And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they
became meat to all the beasts of the field, when they were
My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every high
hill: Yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth,
and none did search or seek after them" (Ezek.34:1-6).

     The same situation prevailed in Jesus' time. Those who posed
as the protectors and leaders of the people, the priests,
Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees, were but rank opportunists who
plundered and abused the people. The rake-off in the temple trade
alone in Jerusalem exceeded $35,000,000 a year. Most of it went
to line the pockets and oil the palms of the oppressors. Little
wonder Christ went storming through the temple to clear it of its
counterfeit activities shouting, "You will not make my Father's
house, a place of plunder ... a den of thieves!"
     His confrontation was always with the ecclesiastical
hierarchy of His times. They were not true shepherds. They did
not love their charges. They did not care deeply for those in
their care. They never wept over the plight of their people who
were sheep gone astray. They were hirelings. They were there to
grab what they could get for themselves.
     Is it any wonder our Lord thundered out His great
imprecations against them? Here, He the great Good Shepherd, saw
His people abused and betrayed by those who had no interest in
them whatever.
     And the same applies to all church history since His day.
God's people have always been parasitized by imposters. Men have
worked with the flock only for what they could get out of it, not
for what they could contribute to the well-being of their people.
It was this sort of thing that nearly ruined me as a young man.
There was within my spirit a strange, powerful, deep desire to
know God. I literally thirsted and hungered for spiritual
sustenance. I longed to be fed truth that would satisfy my
innermost craving.
     Sunday after Sunday my wife and I would attend whatever
churches we could. Some of them were small and struggling. Others
were large and pretentious. Some of the preachers were proper and
orthodox but seldom shepherds. Again and again I came hoping to
be fed, but there was nothing.
     Frustrated and angry I would storm home, and vow never to
enter a church again. "I'm like a sheep going to the feed trough
hoping to find hay or grain, and there is only dust and chaff!" I
would storm to my gentle wife. In her wisdom, kindness, and
patience she would prevail on me to keep going, for sooner or
later she was sure a few straws would be found here and there.
Why was this? Because many of the men who were supposed to be
shepherding God's people were only hirelings. They were in the
job for what they could get out of it. It was obvious they spent
no time communing with Christ. It was clear the Scriptures were
not a living Word to them. They had no great love either for God
or for His people. What happened to their charges really did not
seem to matter.
     Eventually some of these men came to know me personally, but
even after they had entered into our lives, their casual
indifference and lack of genuine concern astonished me. 
     In one community I attended services diligently for nearly
four years. At the end of that time I had been taught virtually
nothing. I was a stranger in a far country, away from my home
land, but no shepherd seemed to care for my soul. At that period
in my life I was under tremendous attack from the enemy of my
soul. Almost daily I was exposed to onslaughts against the great
truths of God's revelation in His Word. Subtle suggestions and
crafty cynicism were working havoc in my convictions. The wolves
were at work on me but there was no shepherd around who really
seemed to be concerned about this wandering sheep. Alone and
unattended I fled for safety. I knew not really where to run.
Like a sheep blinded with fear and seized with panic I simply
turned to run in my own stupid way. And the result was that I
went far astray. I ended up far from my Good Shepherd. The
hirelings had literally let me fend for myself.

     The net result can be expressed in the words of the grand
old prophet Ezekiel:

"For thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I, even I, will both search
my sheep, and seek them out. As a shepherd seeketh out his flock
in the day that he is among his sheep that are scattered; so will
I seek out my sheep, and will deliver them out of all places
where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day" (Ezek.

     Only the tender compassion of Christ, only the understanding
of the true Shepherd of my soul, only the gentle overtures of the
gracious Spirit of God could ever retrieve this wild and wayward
one from the cloudy and dark days of his despair. Because in His
patience and perseverance He pursued me along my wayward path,
because He gathered me up again and drew me back once more in
selfless love, was I saved. And for this I shall be eternally
grateful to my God.
     But what desperate despair I could have been spared if only
someone had cared for my soul at that stage of my life. Those to
whom I looked for help were only hirelings. They would not stand
up to the enemy. They would not engage the wolves that were
raiding my life and the lives of others. They would not risk a
confrontation. They simply turned tail and left us to be torn and

     The same is still true. There are ministers, teachers,
scholars, writers, and leaders who pose as champions of
Christianity. But when the enemy comes in they are shown in their
true colors. They back away rather than risk a confrontation.
They settle for withdrawal rather than beard the lion or bear, or
assail the wolf. They turn and flee in the face of violent
attack. Others remain silent while their people are deceived,
harried, and driven to despair. Only the Good Shepherd cares
enough for His own to lay down His life for them.

     It must be He who, living His life through and in His true
undershepherds, enables them also to lay down their lives for the
sheep. They must be prepared and willing to be expendable for the
sake of others. They are not hirelings, they are His slaves of
love. Paul calls himself "a bondservant of Jesus Christ."
     Men or women who enter God's service should regard this as
an enormous responsibility not only before God but also to those
whom they serve. It is something which is not undertaken lightly
or casually for personal gain, but with an eye to eternal
     In any enterprise where we are coworkers with Christ there
is incumbent upon us the obligation to realize that this is not a
hit-or-miss affair. His view of His work in the world is a
sincere and serious one. And He expects that those who enter His
enterprises will take a similar attitude.
     When we give ourselves to serve the Lord, the primary
motivation should not be one of personal gain or advantage.
Rather, the predominant desire ought to be one of serving the
Master out of love and gratitude for His goodness to us. We are
freely, willingly choosing to be a benefit to others, not just
for their sakes or our own self-gratification, but for His sake.
     It is only the undershepherd, whose first and foremost
devotion and consecration is to Christ, who can stand up to the
strains and stresses of shepherding. If one's devotion is only to
people, deep, disappointing disillusionments are bound to come.
     But for the one whose service is centered in Christ there
comes the strength and serenity to meet all the storms.
     We love Him because He first loved us. We love others
because He first loved us. We love at all because He first loved
us. This is what it means to be a love slave and not a hireling.


To be continued

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