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Stewarding the Flock
Of all that God has entrusted to human care, other human beings are without a doubt the most important. Few thoughts are more sobering than the realization that every individual we ever have encountered is a being who never will cease to exist. As English author and philosopher C. S. Lewis said in his sermon The Weight of Glory,
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
We are all our brother’s keeper, and the responsibility of stewarding our neighbor’s welfare as each of us moves closer to an eternity of inexpressible joy or irreparable ruin is the single greatest task we have been given.
Although everyone is responsible for stewarding relationships with other people, some of us have been entrusted with greater social responsibilities than others. It is hard to exaggerate, for example, the responsibilities that spiritual leaders such as parents and pastors have in the lives of their children and parishioners, respectively. The prophet Zechariah was very much concerned with this kind of responsibility when he delivered his message from the Lord to the Jewish exiles who had returned from captivity in Babylon in 583 B.C. In fact, in his revelation to Zechariah the Lord cursed leaders who neglect their responsibilities as social stewards:
Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! My his arm be completely withered, and his right eye totally blinded! (Zechariah 11:17).
One way in which shepherds and pastors desert their flock is by shrinking back from teaching the “whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). This occurs especially when pastors tiptoe around unpopular issues, such as biblical commands about giving and financial faithfulness. A clear indicator of such failure in stewarding the flock can be seen when shepherds fail to teach about what Jesus called “the weightier matters of the law” in favor of secondary issues and personal pet peeves:
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel (Matthew 23:23-24).
God especially is concerned with issues of mercy and justice, and he places shepherds and leaders over his people to ensure that such priorities are not neglected. In fact, laymen and leaders alike continually must remind each other of these issues as we encourage one another to love, good works and deeds of mercy. However, when the shepherds most responsible for reminding God’s people about God’s concerns forget the priorities themselves, the only thing left for such false teachers is punishment. Zechariah was careful to remind God’s people that even when earthly shepherds fail in their stewardship of the flock, God himself will never fail to be the good shepherd himself, even as he punishes those who lead his people astray:
My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the LORD Almighty will care for his flock, the house of Judah ... (Zechariah 10:3 ff).
Related Passages: Zechariah 10:3; 11:17; Matthew 18:6-7; 23:23-24; 25:31-46; John 21:15-17; Acts 20:27-31; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 9; 10:23-11:1; 1 Timothy 4:11-16; 1 Peter 5:1-4