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How to distinguish between hirelings, wolves, and shepherds in the church

In the well-known Good Shepherd chapter of Jesus, John 10, he lays out for us some good spiritual points for discerning what and who is in alignment with his will for the church on Earth and what or who isn’t. The character traits of shepherds, hirelings, wolves, and sheep are brought to light, giving us understanding.shepherd-sheep in a field

The shepherds

  • There is only one good shepherd who is the great, chief shepherd for the fold, the Lord Jesus (John 10:11, 16; Heb. 13:20, 1 Pet. 2:25).
  • He makes sure the lives of the sheep are preserved and abundant (John 10:10).
  • He knows the sheep very well (John 10:14)
  • He put his life on the line by sacrificing himself for the sake of the sheep (John 10:15, 17)
  • The great shepherd appoints under-shepherds called by various titles such as bishops, elders, pastors, or deacons to help manage operations within the fold (Acts 14:23; Eph. 4:11; 1 Tim. 3, 1 Tim. 5:1-2, 27).
  • Genuine under-shepherds have the mind of Christ, laboring in the word and doctrine, and are willing to put their lives on the line just like Jesus did to care for the sheep (Eph. 5:2; 1 Tim. 5:17).

The hirelings

  • Hirelings don’t think of themselves as having any stake or investment in the fold (John 10:12-13). In other words, they’re pretend Christians.
  • They fear wolves, not God, and will cut and run away from what is good for the fold when wolves growl and show themselves. This is often displayed in the form of refusing to uphold sound doctrine or vacillating instead of taking a stand against things that are clearly ungodly.
  • They allow wolves to come in and wreak havoc in the fold to take advantage of them.
  • Hirelings let wolves scatter the sheep into various ungodly divisions to weaken the fold.
  • They have no love for the sheep, just for what they think is best for their own selfish benefit.

The wolves

  • Wolves are always on the prowl against the sheep (John 10:12).
  • Wolves can be false prophets masquerading as Christians to take advantage of them (Matt. 7:15).
  • They have no interest in sparing God’s flock, but in drawing people away from the Lord to follow them in their ungodliness (Acts 20:29-30).
  • Their approach is done to test who they encounter watching the fold to determine if the person is a true shepherd or just a hireling.

The sheep

  • Sheep know their Lord (John 10:14).
  • Although they are ridiculed for appearing to be dumb and gullible, the Lord’s sheep have discernment enough to avoid following strangers (false teachers with ungodly doctrines) (John 10:5).
  • They listen to and obey the voice of the Lord because he has made himself well-known to them (John 10:27).
  • This doesn’t mean they will always be protected from the evil devices conjured up by wolves (John 10:12) or that they won’t scatter.
  • Even if they fall prey to the wolves (e.g. a financial fraud scheme in the church or sexual abuse), they will forever and always still belong to the Lord (John 10:28-29).

Harry A. Gaylord


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