Loving Neighbors (4)
He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My sheep.” John 21.16
And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved. 2 Corinthians 12.15
The gist of shepherding
Jesus was sent to the world as the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn. 10). He departed the world leaving shepherds behind to care for the flock (Jer. 23.1-4) and leaving each of His followers the task of caring for one another like a shepherd does his sheep.
Jesus instructed Peter to “feed” His “lambs” and to “tend” His “sheep.” We understand that Jesus was speaking metaphorically, but Peter latched on to that image, embraced it as his calling, and pursued it throughout the remainder of his life. At the very end of his life we find him writing to the pastors and church leaders in Asia Minor, instructing them to “shepherd” the flock entrusted to their care, just as he himself had sought to do (1 Pet. 5.1-3).
Jesus declared Himself to be the promised Good Shepherd God was sending to gather and care for His flocks (Ezek. 34.11-31; Jer. 23.1-4). Jesus understood this mission as being directed at the souls and lives of people, that they should be reoriented to and reconciled with God, and knitted together in love, so that they might know full and abundant life in Him (Jn. 10.10).
The work of a shepherd, as Jesus explained in John 10, is to know, lead, defend, and nurture those entrusted to his care, so that they might know fullness of Kingdom life and love in Jesus Christ.
The many “one another” passages in the New Testament indicate that shepherding is not just a work for apostles, pastors, or elders. Shepherding one another is an important part of community life in the body of Christ. And seeing ourselves as shepherds, even to the lost people in our lives, can also encourage us in the work of evangelism. Jesus taught that shepherds are responsible to search for lost sheep and bring them into the fold, and we will be doing the work He did, and that He commends to all His followers, when we make the work of shepherding an important part of our relational disciplines.
The work of shepherding
What does this involve?
Well, if we’re practicing the disciplines of seeking and serving, we’ll be well on our way toward fulfilling our callings to shepherd one another and seek the lost. The New Testament calls us to “love one another,” “teach and admonish one another,” “bear one another’s burdens,” “do good to one another,” and to “stimulate one another to love and good works.” In short, one-anothering is what people do to encourage each other in the life of faith, in the experience of Christ’s love, and the ability to show that love to others.
So we will be shepherding like Jesus did when we encourage our fellow believers in their walk with the Lord, coming alongside to help them improve their spiritual disciplines and to aid them in all other aspects of the disciplined life in the Kingdom of God. The primary focus of our good works of shepherding the people in our Personal Mission Field is to improve the health of their souls. We want them to grow strong from within, so we aim at their thoughts, affections, and priorities as we serve them as shepherds.
In order to know, lead, defend, and nurture our fellow believers, we’ll need to have a clear sense of vision – both of the Kingdom and the life of faith – as well as an understanding of how to encourage and equip our neighbors. And we’ll need to work hard to establish the relations of mutual love and trust that allow us to shepherd one another effectively.
Again, our contemporary view of faith and life tends to leave the work of equipping, such as it is, to classes, teachers, and special events. Little in the way of iron-sharpening-iron exists in most churches, and most of what passes for “shepherding” is just running programs and counting heads.
But when the followers of Christ have been equipped for works of ministry, they will be especially diligent to show the love of Christ to their fellow church members, doing good to them by encouraging and assisting them in their walk with and work for the Lord (Gal. 6.9, 10). And they will consider the spiritual needs of all their neighbors, and relate to them in ways that strum the deep chords of their souls with the grace and truth of God.
The work of shepherding, which is an important relational discipline, begins with our working together to strengthen each member of the Body of Christ, so that the congregation as a whole can grow in unity and maturity in the Lord (Eph. 4.11-16). Building the Lord’s church is high on His agenda (Matt. 16.18), and each of us, as shepherds to one another, must take up this work, beginning in our Personal Mission Fields.
Seeking the lost
But Jesus also taught that the work of shepherding involves seeking lost sheep and bringing them into the fold (Jn. 10.16). The people in our Personal Mission Fields, whom we are seeking and serving each day, may well be among those lost sheep who are simply waiting to be found. After all, weren’t you and I once in that condition? And did it not take some faithful shepherd, bringing us the Good News of our Good Shepherd, to lead us into the fold of Christ?
Thus, the calling to shepherd the Lord’s lambs requires that we be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us to anyone who, because of our seeking and serving love, is beginning to wonder just what we’re all about (1 Pet. 3.15). We won’t need to learn lots of clever illustrations, memorize elaborate outlines, or be able to deal out convincing answers to objections. If we love Jesus and are growing in His love for the people around us, when we need words to explain the reason why we love this way, the Spirit at work within us will give us just what we require (Lk. 12.11, 12).
Still, as Peter, that faithful shepherd taught, we must “be ready” to give such an answer, just as we must be ready to shepherd the Lord’s lambs in our own church, using our words and deeds to show the love of Christ for the sake of making disciples and building-up His Body, the church. Shepherding our fellow believers and caring for our neighbors entails good works that flow from our faith in Jesus. We must give ourselves to spend and being spent for the wellbeing of the souls of those to whom God sends us.
1. What kind of relationship does the image of “shepherding” suggest to you?
2. What opportunities for “one anothering” do you encounter during a typical week?
3. What is our duty as shepherds in loving lost people? How well equipped for this are you?
Next steps – Preparation: What does it mean for you to “be ready” to serve as a shepherd in your Personal Mission Field? How will you reach out as a shepherd of others today?
T. M. Moore
We are called to bring the joy of the Lord to the world. This is part and parcel of our work of making disciples. Our booklet, Joy to Your World!, can help you get started in working your Personal Mission Field. Order your copy by clicking here.
Two new resources are available at our website to help you grow in the Lord and His work. Our new Personal Mission Field Workshop offers weekly training to help you shepherd the people to whom God sends you. And The Ailbe Podcast will introduce you to The Fellowship and how its resources and Brothers can be of help to you in your walk with and work for the Lord.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.