The Church Of God - The Little Flock
William Trew, Cardiff
THE word translated “flock” in Acts 20-28, and in 1 Peter 5. 2-3, is probably the diminutive form of the word so translated in John 10-16 (R.V.). Though the word is used by the Lord Jesus to designate the aggregate of His own, it seems clear that the apostles, in the passages referred to above, use the term as descriptive of the local assembly. Taking farewell of the elders of the Ephesian assembly, Paul says, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers” (Acts 20-28), while Peter exhorts the elders to “ 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; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5: 2-3).
The expression is a very beautiful one, and suggests a number of ideas. It would speak to us of:—
(1) Weakness in the presence of the enemy.
(2) Dependence upon the care of the shepherd.
(3) Surrender to the guidance of the shepherd.
(4) Unity thus secured and maintained.
It will be observed that the shepherd is charged with full responsibility for the flock. It is expected that he will be provider, protector, and pattern, and as such, characterised by love and devotion, wisdom and skill, and patience and persistence. These qualities are seen in perfection in Him Who is “The Great Shepherd of the sheep.” But He is the “Chief Shepherd” also, and as such He has, in the exercise of His care of the flock, appointed under-shepherds. It is required that these under-shepherds be like the Chief Shepherd.
(1) In their love of, and devotion to, the flock.
(2) In their wisdom to feed, and skill to care.
(3) In their courage to guard against the attack of every enemy.
(4) In their leadership as ensamples to the flock.
This designation of office is descriptive of their work in relation to the assembly.
(1) THEY SERVE THE FLOCK AS HAVING BEEN APPOINTED BY THE CHIEF SHEPHERD AND IN DIRECT RESPONSIBILITY TO HIM.
Let the under-shepherds constantly bear this in mind. The Chief Shepherd, to Whom the flock belongs holds them accountable for the condition of that flock. Peter emphasizes this in a most striking way when he says, “Not as lording it over your possessions.” (1 Peter 5. 3 N.T.) The character of the elders’ conduct in relation to the flock is what is in question, and the force of the exhortation is, “Do not be as persons who lord it over your own possessions, viewing the saints as something belonging to you.” Overseers in the assembly are not a body of control; nor do they constitute a board of management. They are the gifts of the ascended Lord to the assembly. Fitted for their work by the Sovereign Spirit, it is their ministry to the saints to maintain the authority of the Lord in a practical way, in order to develop the spiritual and moral condition of the assembly for His glory Who dwells in the midst.
Let the members of the flock also bear in mind the fact that those who have been appointed over them by the Lord must render an account of their service “in that day.” The exhortation is, “Obey your leaders, and be submissive; for they watch over your souls as those that shall give account; that they may do this with joy, and not groaning, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Heb. 13. 17 N.T.)
(2) THEIR WORK IS TO LEAD, AS ENSAMPLES TO THE FLOCK.
It is the privilege of the under-shepherds to be in fellowship with the mind of the Chief Shepherd, so that they may guide the footsteps of the flock into ways that will meet with His approval, by the power and influence of their example, even more than their words of ministry. How solemn, if, by word or act, one who professes to be a leader, influences any of the flock into ways that do not answer to His thoughts to Whom the flock belongs.
David was a true leader of the flock of God’s pasture (Psa. 78. 70-72), spoken of as “A man after Mine own heart, which shall fulfil all My will,” (Acts 13. 22), his deep exercise on behalf of the people to whom he had been appointed guide, was to restore the Ark of God—the Throne of God—to its rightful place in their midst, and unify the tribes under the authority of that Throne, in glad submission to God’s rule. This remains the work of the true leader. It is intended that the saints take character from their guides. Thus the true leader is one who can stand before the saints and say Gideon-like, “Look on me, and do likewise.”
(3) THEIR WORK IS TO GUARD AGAINST EVERY ATTACK.
Thus Peter, writing in view of days of fiery persecution, wrote to warn the shepherds of the flock, of the coming of “ the roaring lion” (1 Peter 5. 8-9), and Paul, taking farewell of the elders of the assembly in Ephesus, raised his voice in warning also (Acts 20. 29, 31). He recognised two sources of danger: from outside there would be attacks upon the life of the assembly testimony; and from within, attacks upon the unity of the saints. It is evident that principles are developing to-day that threaten assembly testimony. The true leader, devoted to the interests of the Chief Shepherd in His flock, with eyes open to the dangers, and recognising the source from which the attacks come, will lift his voice in faithful warning, though some, even of the flock, be found impatient of warning voices.
(4) THEIR WORK IS TO FEED.
Peter’s word to the elders of his day is addressed to all the under-shepherds: “Feed the flock of God.” Though the word is wide enough in its significance to include all the work of a shepherd, it lays emphasis upon his responsibility to search out green pastures for the feeding of the flock. Psalm 23 describes the flock as cared for by the perfect Shepherd. According to that pattern, the under-shepherds model their service. How important it is that the flock be well nourished! In the church epistles of Rev. 2 and 3, the Spirit speaks very much of ministry that wrought havoc and ruin; while, in the Pastoral epistles, He lays emphasis upon the importance of “sound (healthful) teaching.” The health of the flock depends upon its food; poisoned food will undermine the health of the saints, while the faithful ministry of every phase of divine truth alone can build them up, and secure the prosperity of the assembly. To that end the ascended Lord has given gifts to men. “He gave some .... pastors and teachers; for the perfecting (the full development) of the saints.” (Eph. 4. 11, 12).
The great concern of the Chief Shepherd is His flock. Therefore, to the under-shepherds whom He has appointed, His word is, “Feed My lambs,” “Feed My sheep.”