Not For Sale
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Stewards over People
Pastors—and any other spiritual leader for that matter—are primarily stewards over the people they lead. Regardless of how loyal people are under their human leader, it is important for the leader to remember that he doesn’t own the people, God does. Using people for selfish ends; manipulating and misusing them, is a true sign that one doesn’t understand that he is but a steward.
After Peter reinstated himself and bonded with the Lord Jesus after he denied Him, the Lord charged him to take care of His lambs and sheep. Jesus did not surrender ownership of the sheep to Peter:
“So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep.
“He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. —John 21:15-17.
Is it any wonder that Jesus used “sheep/lamb” to represent the people He died for? I believe that the metaphor of sheep to represent people was intentional. Sheep to a man is meat. Though he may take care of it, he would also eat it at the end of the day. This means that when Jesus referred to His followers as sheep, He was drawing Peter’s attention to do the opposite of what people are likely to do with sheep, namely feeding on them.
The common practice is that people may feed the sheep so that they may ultimately feed on them (sheep). In this scenario, the goal motivates the process. Things are different when it comes to feeding the sheep of Christ. Our main motivation must be to tend them on behalf of the One we love. We can do this even if we don’t directly benefit from the sheep—freely you have received, freely give (Matt. 10:8). If we benefit, firstly, it should be a by-product of what we are doing not the goal of what we set to achieve in the first place; secondly, it should be on the basis of 1 Timothy 5:18: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward”.
Good stewards, them that love the Lord Jesus Christ, will not extort, manipulate or deal with those under their care as if they are their personal possession.
On his farewell address to the elders of the Church in Ephesus, the apostle Paul reminded them how he kept back nothing that was profitable unto them. He had shown and taught them these things publicly and from house to house (Acts 20:20). He charged them of their responsibility and warned them of what would happen after his departure.
“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”—Acts 20:2-30.
It is Christ who purchased the Church with His own blood; it is Him who assigned leaders to feed the Church on His behalf. Leaders as stewards are not making a following for themselves but a following for Christ. Note that Paul’s warning tells us what the true stewards will do for the Church, namely, ‘feeding the Church’ while fraudsters will not ‘spare the flock.’ The alarming thing is that among the believers themselves shall arise ill-intentioned men with perverse teachings and corrupted intention. What this means is that there are people who started well but in the process, they deviated from the truth and started preaching expediencies and ‘acceptable’ things. It doesn’t stop there. Even though the Bible calls their teachings “perverse,” many people still get deceived when they fail to recognise that they are not being fed but being fed on; they are not being made followers of Christ but followers of men.
The apostle Paul also writing to the Corinthian church said the following:
“[We] have renounced the hidden things of dishonesty, not walking in craftiness, nor handling the word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.”—2 Corinthians 4:2.
God has called upon the sheep to be vigilant (Lk. 21:8). It may not be easy to tell at what point a leader who rose among us begin to stray. This is why the sheep has to be thoroughly vigilant.
Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord God issued a strong warning against false prophets. He likened them to shepherds who were feeding on the sheep instead of tending them.
“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...
“Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against the shepherds; and I will require my flock at their hand, and cause them to cease from feeding the flock; neither shall the shepherds feed themselves any more; for I will deliver my flock from their mouth, that they may not be meat for them.”—Ezekiel 34:2-3, 10.
That warning is solemn and it carries the following elements: The stewards (or the shepherds if you like) must…
i) be wary what they feed the sheep;
ii) resist the temptation of feeding on the sheep however fat and appetizing they may look.
iii) not appropriate the ‘fat’ from the sheep.
In the Old Testament, it was decreed that the fat belonged to God. Anytime an animal was sacrificed, the fat was offered as a burnt offering, oozing a sweet smelling aroma unto the Lord. The sacrifices of praise are the New Testament equivalent of the fat sacrifices of old. Stewards must be wary not to appropriate the praises that belong to God.
When the servants of God begin to appropriate undue praise and condone celebrity worship from the congregation, it is a sign that they have successfully made a following for themselves. It is human nature to get so familiar with something that belongs to somebody to the extent of possessing it, especially if the said thing has been in a person’s custody for a long stretch of time. It takes a conscious concerted effort to resist the temptation of owning something that belongs to someone else.
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