By George H. Warnock
"For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed (shepherd) them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (Revelation 7:17).
The Purpose Of Ministry
The purpose of all ministry that proceeds from the exalted Christ is to so minister the Truth that the sheep of God's pasture might come into direct, unhindered personal union with the Lord. Ministers of the New Covenant are not to be "mediators"--as Moses was, or as Jesus is. They are rather "servants" (Greek, "doulos" or "bond-slave") Slaves have no right to call anything their own... not even the ministry that God gave them. In another analogy they are "stewards" of God's household (1 Corinthians 4:1). They are particularly responsible to reveal God's "mysteries"--or God's secrets--to the members of God's household. It is simply a trust that has been given into their care. They make disciples for Christ, but they must have none of their own. Having fellowship is something else; for in fellowship there is communion, sharing, giving and receiving, ..And the true minister will discover that unless he receives spiritual nourishment from the people, he cannot minister spiritual nourishment to them. In still another analogy, God's ministers are gardeners; those who plant the seed, or those who water the growing plant, or those who reap the harvest. They must not meddle with the seed, or with the growing plant. God is the real Husbandman, and He it is that giveth "the increase." "So then, neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase."
The "fathers" in Gods family are something like Joseph was to Jesus. He was given the responsibility of providing for the child Jesus until He came of age... but Joseph knew he was not really the father. Paul likened himself to a father... to the Corinthians... to Timothy. But he did not meddle with their relationship to Christ. His purpose was that he might present the Church "as a chaste virgin"... unto Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2).
So it is with the "shepherds." There has been too much "possessiveness" among the shepherds concerning God's sheep. They cannot rightfully say, "my sheep," "my flock," "my church." It is not something they build, and it is not something they can trade off with someone else. They cannot accept a pastorate that is offered to them, nor resign at will. It is not theirs to take, and it is not theirs to hand over, They simply move in the midst of God's church as one of His ministers... coming to an assembly of God's people and ministering as long as God indicates His will in the matter, and then moving on as God directs. When Paul left Ephesus he had no other provision for them but to commend them unto God, and to the word of His Grace... and then he went on his way. No promise that he would take the matter up with headquarters at Antioch, and see that they got a pastor as soon as possible. The "word of his grace" would be sufficient; and God would be faithful to send them from time to time whatever apostle, or prophet, or evangelist, or pastor, or teacher... that they needed for further edification. In the meantime the elders of the Church at Ephesus were charged to "feed the flock of God"--or literally to "shepherd" or "pastor" the flock. The people were not kept on "milk" the rest of their days as one pastor after another traded places with each other... they were thrown into the midst of the sea of life with the Grace of God as their only resource; and it was up to the people to "try" the ministries that came their way... some of whom would be looking for a place to land, "to draw away disciples after them." Was the Grace of God sufficient for them? Hear what Jesus had to say about the Church at Ephesus... perhaps 35 years later.
"I know thy works, and thy labor, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: and hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast labored, and hast not fainted..." (Revelation 2:2, 3).
Very commendable, would you not say, for an infant church that was left in the hands of a few elders, who were at that time but recent converts to Christ? But then, it wasn't really left in their hands... it was Christ's Church, and He was the Lord of the Church, and they had been taught to hear the Shepherd's Voice by the apostle Paul... so that when the false voice sounded forth they were able to say: "He is a liar... the voice doesn't sound like the Voice of the Shepherd."
Saul, The Son Of Kish... A False Shepherd
Saul was not really God's man. But they wanted an "instant" king... they were not prepared to wait for the king God had in mind... and God gave them their heart's desire. Some might question God for giving Israel a king like Saul, when He knew that Saul would be a stubborn, rebellious king. But this is consistent with God's ways. God always gives rulers as He sees fit, regardless of the choice of the people; and it is according to His righteous judgments. The ruler that God gives may be the kind they WANT, or the kind they NEED, or the kind they DESERVE... according to God's judgment in the matter. Now Saul was the kind of king the people WANTED, (and as it turned out, he was the kind they DESERVED)... and there was an immediate response from the people when they saw the man that Samuel had anointed. "God save the king!" they shouted. Israel could not have picked a man more to their liking, if they had cast their own ballots. They were a rebellious, stiff-necked, and undisciplined people; and God gave them a rebellious, stiff-necked, and undisciplined king. (It seems significant that Saul was out chasing ASSES when Samuel found him. Calling the asses by name would not accomplish anything... he had to follow them wherever they went... and lost his way doing so. He did something similar when he was king: when the people were "scattered"--he took matters in his own hands and offered up the burnt offering, contrary to the Word of the Lord. When the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and the cattle--Saul went along with the idea. If it seemed logical, and made sense... and if it would help to keep the people together... then this seemed to be more important than obeying the Word of the Lord.)
A Shepherd-King From Bethlehem
We can always rest assured that God's plan is only delayed, not frustrated, by human failure. And even that so-called "delay"--God is able to work it in, and make it to be part of the plan. For it is in the hour of apparent futility and frustration that God behind the scenes is making very diligent preparation for the new thing that He has planned to bring forth. We must always bear this in mind. God doesn't wait till man has failed, to prepare for that failure. But even while man is seemingly doing very well, and there appears to be no need for Divine intervention, yet God knows it is doomed to failure, and is even then preparing a people to stand in the gap in the day of sudden calamity.
Out on the fields of Bethlehem there was a young lad by the name of David, shepherding sheep. He was the one that God had in mind for the shepherding of Israel, but he was hardly ready for it yet. Nor was Israel ready: they had a good king, Saul the son of Kish... stalwart and strong, and able to lead the armies of Israel against any enemy that would dare attack them. But God knew that Saul would not walk in His ways, and He must prepare a man to shepherd His people when Saul's kingdom would come to nought. We all know about the tragic downfall of Saul, and we do not need to enlarge upon it here.
Samuel mourned over Saul, but God sent him to Bethlehem to anoint a new king from the family of Jesse. David wasn't even considered to be eligible; and they didn't bother inviting him to the coronation feast. But he was READY. When they went looking for him he was easy to find. (He wasn't out chasing asses, like Saul... but he was tending sheep when God called him.) He was a good shepherd, and his sheep were close to his heart. He would risk his life to save them from the lion or the bear. He would call his own sheep by name, for they were close to his heart; and they knew his voice, and would follow. "And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he" (1 Samuel 16:12). A new king for the nation of Israel! Anointed to be the shepherd-king of God's heritage! But not quite prepared as yet...
The New Shepherd Must Become A Sheep
The true shepherds over God's heritage are sheep before they become shepherds, and after they become shepherds they are still sheep. And so David, anointed to be the shepherd of Israel, must learns the way of a sheep. He had to undergo some hard discipline, in order that he might qualify as a shepherd of God's flock. He had to learn to take on the heart of a sheep. He must learn patience. He must know what it is like to come under the wrath of an angry king, and be chased as a lamb running away from a ravenous wolf. "Yea, for thy sake are we killed all the day long; we are counted as sheep for the slaughter" (Psalm 44:22). God's sheep have known and experienced an awful lot of suffering... not only at the hands of earthly kings and rulers, but also at the hands of ecclesiastical kings and rulers. God requires that His shepherds have the heart of a sheep. David, therefore, had to become a sheep in order that he might be a true shepherd of Israel in the days to come. "The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want..." he was to sing in later years.
The sufferings of David, then, not only prepared him for the role that he would play as the shepherd of Israel, but in a certain sense, so to speak, he became the lamb that had to be slain for their redemption. (According to the law, every firstling of an ass had to be redeemed with a lamb, otherwise it's stiff neck had to be broken.)
This is all part of the process that God's chosen ones have to go through in order to bring forth the lamb nature that God desires them to have. For it is the lamb that reigns with Christ on the throne, and therefore a shepherd has no preeminence above a sheep. If we are "shepherds" in this life, we are still the sheep of the "Chief Shepherd," and our place in God will be determined as to how well we have been "examples of the flock." If, on the other hand, we are "sheep" in this life, then as those qualities of meekness, and forbearance, and patience, and gentleness have been developed... so do we become heirs of the Kingdom of God: for "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."
The Blessedness Of The Sheep
Let the sheep, therefore, take their place as the "sheep of His pasture," learn obedience by the things which they suffer, learn submission one to another, and to shepherds that are over them in the Lord, obeying always as they hear the voice of the Shepherd. For if they find grace in this realm, their portion in God is no less than that of apostles and prophets. And let the shepherds, whose calling is greater in this life... recognize that with the greater calling there has been laid upon them a greater responsibility; and the task of "learning obedience" (without which they shall not be accounted worthy to be shepherd-kings of the everlasting Kingdom)... their task of learning obedience is more difficult for them than it is for the sheep, by reason of the temptation of their office. A degree in "obedience" is not required by hirelings, but it is required of the shepherds. Without it there may be a great deal of success in this life, but without it there will be no reigning with Christ in His throne. For let us remember that out Lord does not sit enthroned in the heavens, as Ruler of the Universe, because He was Divine in His birth, and Messianic in His office... but because He was a LAMB IN CHARACTER...
...It was because He "made himself of no reputation" (literally, "emptied Himself").
...It was because, coming as a man, He took the form of a servant (a "doulos"... a "bond-slave").
...It was because, as a bond-slave, He learned obedience.
...It was because, in obedience, He went all the way, even unto the death of the cross.
"Wherefore (FOR THIS REASON) God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name..." (Philippians 2:5-10).
John on Patmos wept bitterly when no one was found worthy to open the Book, and to loose the seals thereof. But the angel comforted him with the words, "Weep not, John... Behold the Lion of the tribe of Judah has overcome, and He will open the Book..." Then as John dried his eyes to catch a glimpse of the conquering Lion, what did he see? "A Lamb as it had been slain..." And He it was who came and took the Book out of the hands of Him that sat upon the throne. A bleeding Lamb became the conquering, triumphant Lion of the tribe of Judah. But even as He assumed that character, He was still the Lamb that was slain... and the overcomers that we find coming forth in the Book of Revelation are those who "follow the Lamb"... not those who follow the Lion.
God has promised that He would raise up shepherds for His people, after His own heart. Shepherds who would feed His people with truth and knowledge... the true knowledge of Christ. Shepherds who would have the welfare of the sheep at heart. Shepherds who know and understand that they themselves are but sheep. Shepherds that cautiously use the staff of instruction and correction on others... knowing that as they reward the sheep of their pasture, so they may expect the Chief Shepherd to reward them. Shepherds that seek to be examples of the flock, not lords. Shepherds that are servants, not masters.
"And I will set up ONE SHEPHERD over them, even my servant David; and he shall feed them, and he shall be their Shepherd" (Ezekiel 34:23).
David, A Sign-Shepherd
David as a prophet, was a sign-prophet; and as a shepherd, he was a sign-shepherd. Not only the things that he declared, but the things that he endured, were prophetic of the sufferings and trials that the True Shepherd would have to go through in order to become "the Great Shepherd of the sheep." Through all his sufferings David would recognize the hand of God, the purpose and plan of God, and would know the anointing of God. The anointing he first received at the hands of Samuel must increase until he was saturated with it. "I shall be anointed (literally 'mingled') with fresh oil" (Psalm 92:10). Like the Meal Offering that was "mingled" with oil, his whole life was to be mingled and invigorated with the presence of God, until the Anointing would not only be effectual for his office as the shepherd-king, but it would also transform his very character. He would learn obedience, and patience, and meekness. as he endured affliction under Saul. He would attain to such a place of grace in his life that he would know how to show mercy and kindness when he might legally have taken vengeance and enter the realm of kingly authority that he has been promised. But his heart was fixed on God, and he purposed to simply walk with God and allow God to work out His purpose in His own way and time. Therefore as patience and grace came forth in his character, and as he walked in the presence of God, he knew that it was not up to him to try to fulfill God's promise. (This is where we fail so often.) David did not take the Word that God gave him and seek to bring it to pass. He just "hid" that Word in his heart... and God watched over it, and brought it to pass. He was not an opportunist. He did not look upon "open doors" as the call of God. Several times God deliberately opened a doorway to the kingdom, and he could have slain Saul whom God had rejected. But having learned grace, and mercy, and God's way... he closed the door, knowing it was far more important for him to shew mercy to others, as God had extended mercy to him... than it was for him to get into his office. We must stand ready to embrace the fulfillment of God's promises; but we must first of all learn God's ways, become aware of God's time, and come to know God's heart... lest we be tempted to take the kingdom by "violence." Some would grasp kingdom power and authority in this manner (with a certain amount of apparent success)... but God's sons cannot do so. They take the Kingdom as Jesus did... as a Lamb that was slain.
A Lamb Shepherd Sits On The Throne
Even now, as Christ sits enthroned on the right hand of the Father, He reigns in virtue of the fact that He is a Lamb. He reigns as a Lamb-Shepherd, because God is raising up lamb-shepherds in the earth, and it is the office work of the Holy Spirit in the earth to establish in the Body of Christ the nature, and the character, as well as the authority... of Him who sits on the throne. "He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you" (John 16:14). It is the work of the Holy Spirit not only to impart unto His people the POWER of God, but "ALL THINGS" that pertain to the exalted Christ... His very nature, and character, and life. The Great Shepherd of the sheep is in no way hampered in His office of tending the sheep, by reason of His enthronement in the heavens. Rather He went there that the work which He began on earth as He gathered "the little flock" around Him... would take on further enlargement and fulness by reason of the fact that the Holy Spirit abides in His people. For He is here in the earth, dwelling in His Body, to be to you and I EVERYTHING THAT JESUS WAS WHEN HE WAS HERE.
Therefore we read, "The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed (or "shepherd") them" (Revelation 7:17).
And again, of the overcomers it says, "These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth" (Revelation 14:4). Whom do they follow? The LAMB! Why do they not follow the Shepherd? Because the Shepherd is a Lamb; and He is worshipped and adored and obeyed by the sheep of His pasture by reason of the fact that He is a Lamb.
A Word Of Encouragement
In this tremendous hour, as the Lamb goes forth to lead the sheep of His pasture into realms that we have not known heretofore, let me give a word of encouragement to all whose hearts are longing and thirsting for Truth and Reality.
If you know and are inwardly aware that you have not yet come, in any degree of fulness, into the "resting-place" that God has for His own, then you must continue to obey the Voice of the Shepherd as He speaks unto you: "My people, come up higher!" Fear not to ascend the unknown pathways that lead to higher heights in God, as long as you hear the Shepherd calling. You know in your own heart whether or not you have entered into your true rest. If others have found sufficient pasture on the Eastern banks of the Jordan, like the tribes of Reuben and Gad and Manasseh... then the call to move forward and upward into the hills and mountains is not for them. It seems burdensome to them. But with you it is different. You are not content in your present habitation. You know in your own selves that there is a deep cry within to move higher into the heavenly realms in Christ, even into perfect union with the Father. And therefore you cannot find rest in any doctrine or in any teaching that would discourage you from discovering God in your own inheritance. You bear in your heart and mind the "white stone" of His covenant with you, a token of His personal affection for you as an individual. For you are a special individual to God, created in His image and likeness, to have personal communion with Him, and with Him alone. Continue to polish that stone, and keep it safe. Let no man come in between to mar its beauty. Let no man take it from you. Let no apostle or prophet or priest because of his authority persuade you that you ought to surrender it to him. It is God's covenant with you that He is yours, and it is your covenant with God that you are His. And as you cling to this (giving honor to whom honor is due, respect to whom respect is due, and submission to whom submission is due)... then you shall experience the joy of knowing Him for yourself, as no other person can know Him. For your inheritance in God is different than that of any other created being, and God's inheritance in you is likewise something very distinct and very special. In the Body of Christ you are a "member in particular"... having a very special function, and having a very individual relationship with your Lord. As a sheep of His pasture you are not just a sheep among many sheep. You are a special "sheep," and that is why He calls you by a special name. Each of you has a very special place in God, and each brings special joy and delight to His heart. Therefore He gives each of you a special "name" signifying what you as an individual mean to Him. It is a name that He has given none other. It is a name that no man can defile or dishonor... because no man knows what it is. It is a name that reveals the inner joy and delight of the Father's heart as He communes with you alone. For as His love takes hold upon you, and you find it in your heart to respond to that love... then does He find a special pleasure in your presence, and the joy of His heart is increased; for He said, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (John 14:23). It is this special joy and delight of the Father's heart that you feel as you walk with Him alone.
"The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty;
He will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy;
He will rest in his love,
He will joy over thee with singing"
Many years ago, at a time when this matter of Church leadership seemed to be taking on an undue emphasis, I awakened one morning with these words running through my mind: "Just Content to be a Son." As I meditated upon it, a message seemed to develop in the form of a poem, which I would like to share with our readers in closing:
Just Content To Be A Son
Just content to be a son
With no ambition to succeed
In realms of earth, and have no need
Of popularity's acclaim,
Or purchase for myself a name
In serving Christ; for He must be
The Lord throughout eternity.
To see His face and hear His voice,
And do His bidding is my choice.
Just content to be a son,
A son of God without a home,
To stay, or go, or wait, or roam...
Hither and yon without a plan,
Led of the Spirit, not of man.
I'll have no monument of praise,
But I'll have peace in God's own ways;
And though I tread this earthly sod,
I'll walk with Him, I live in God.
Just content to be a son,
Misunderstood, and yet I know
The path I take shall overflow
With life abundant and with grace.
I only need to run the race
With patience, waiting, seeing Him...
Hearing the still small voice within.
If others want the earth to quake...
I'll hear His voice when I awake.
Just content to be a son,
No words to say... but what He says;
No work to do... but what He does;
No fear or worry, anxious care,
I live with Him, His yoke I share...
No name to make, He writes His own
Upon the heart's pure glistening stone;
No life to live, I lay it down,
I'll share His cross... and live again.
"TO HIM THAT OVERCOMETH WILL I GIVE TO EAT OF THE HIDDEN MANNA, AND WILL GIVE HIM A WHITE STONE, AND IN THE STONE A NEW NAME WRITTEN, WHICH NO MAN KNOWETH SAVING HE THAT RECEIVETH IT" (Revelation 2:17).