I realize the title of this blog is technically incorrect. But its essence is exactly the burden of my heart. The Lord has recently been renewing my vision of His passion to build local churches in this new covenant age, and that vision has reinvigorated my passion and commitment to build the body of Christ.
“I will take you one from a city and two from a family, And I will bring you to Zion. Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.”
Jeremiah 3:14b-15 NASB
I was recently convicted that I don’t cherish the calling to be a shepherd in Zion nearly as highly as I should! What a humbling realization that is. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there’s this belief that God’s highest possible calling is for a person to sell everything and move to some distant land. We have plenty of examples of saints of old who have done just that; but we are not called to live according to the light they received, but according to the light that has been given to us through the teacher God has appointed in our time!
Imitate Others’ Faith, Not Their Calling
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”
Hebrews 13:7 NASB
There’s a subtle danger in studying the history of Christianity, that we can be prone to imitate the behavior of others. But God’s Word tells us to consider their conduct, and imitate their faith. Considering how they lived, seek to be every bit as dependent upon God and confident in Him as they were.
But whereas in one generation, dependence upon God may very well have meant to sell all and move to a foreign country, in another generation, things may be different: in our generation, we have been blessed to see that God’s passion from the beginning was to build new covenant churches in particular localities (Jeremiah 3:14b-15, above). So what does dependence upon Him look like in this light? Perhaps it means not selling our homes, and not moving to foreign countries!
It is so easy to unconsciously place a premium upon outward sacrifices and feel unnecessarily condemned for not living according to someone else’s light, and to wrongly devalue humble obedience in secret. But the Lord has warned me to be careful, lest I be guilty of “looking at things as they are outwardly” (2 Corinthians 10:7), and forgetting that, “...God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). I don’t want to allow any outward work to become my definition of spirituality, but gladly continue in the firm belief that, “(a true disciple) is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God” (Romans 2:29).
So I’d like to renew my vows of commitment to the calling God has placed upon me in my generation, by the teaching I have received from the teacher appointed to me in my generation, according to the light that God has given. It has touched my heart to consider this expression from the prophet who spoke of God’s desire to place shepherds after God’s Own heart in Zion, and I want it to be said of me, too.
“But as for me, I have not hurried away from being a shepherd after You...”
Jeremiah 17:16 NASB
Every Member Can Be A Shepherd
One important postscript to what I have written here is that, while it’s certainly true that a church’s elders and deacons must continually seek to be shepherds after God’s Own heart, yet the role of “shepherd” is by no means limited to these few. God’s desire in the new covenant is that there might be many, many faithful brothers and sisters in the church who act as shepherds to others, feeding them from their own lives with God, according to the measure of their faith. God's desire is that we all might be able to say, to whatever our appointed circle of responsibility, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
One distinguishing mark of shepherds after God’s Own heart is that they have a genuine concern for others. That’s how Paul describes his most trusted co-worker, Timothy (Philippians 2:19-20), and also Epaphras (Colossians 4:12-13) as well. These brothers had seen how the Apostle had acquired the heart of Christ towards the church (Philippians 1:7-8, 2 Corinthians 11:28-29), and they also partook of the same.
Part of what this shows us is that these brothers cooperated with the Lord’s purpose of emptying them of self-concern. “Love does not seek its own,” and they must have learned through countless trials and difficulties not to count their lives as dear to them, but to consider others as more important than themselves (Philippians 2:3). This is the purifying process by which God prepares us to fervently love and shepherd in Zion.
“Since you have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren, fervently love one another from the heart,”
1 Peter 1:22 NASB
“The end of all things is near... Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
1 Peter 4:7-8 NASB
Being a shepherd after God’s Own heart isn’t some exalted position that is reserved for elders, or for some highly experienced, “senior” brothers in the church. Not at all! Every single member of the body of Christ can grow in this heart, from the youngest to the oldest, provided they submit to the Lord’s purifying work in their lives.
“...ALL WILL KNOW ME, FROM THE LEAST TO THE GREATEST OF THEM.”
Hebrews 8:11b NASB
No one is excluded from consideration for this kind of shepherd’s heart! It’s only a question of desire, and of surrender.
It’s one thing to want to find a shepherd after God’s Own heart, as a sheep - a very good thing. But it’s another thing entirely to see that God’s desire is to raise up many shepherds after His Own heart in every church, full of genuine concern for others. My prayer is that the Lord would raise up many among us with a longing to build the body “until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).