Jesus, Our Eager Shepherd

What does Jesus think about me?

Does he love me, hate me, or tolerate me? When I sin—is he ashamed of me?

If you’re reading this as a Christian, you’ve probably wrestled with these questions. But here’s another question about Jesus that’s every bit as vital to our everyday faith: How does Jesus view his job?

Did he look forward to his earthly calling, or was he resigned to the task? Is he glad when we pray, or is it a chore for him to care for us?

Our understanding of Jesus’s attitude toward his work and his people affects our prayer lives, our evangelism, and our willingness to trust him. And while the Bible doesn’t record any pre-Incarnation conversations among the members of the Trinity, Scripture is not silent on this issue.

Exhortations to Elders

Peter writes instructions to elders near the end of his first letter (1 Peter 5:1–4). He uses the image of a shepherd with his flock, and he lists three ways shepherds must “exercise oversight.”

  1. Not under compulsion, but willingly (verse 2).
  2. Not for shameful gain, but eagerly (verse 2).
  3. Not domineering over those in their charge, but being examples to the flock (verse 3).

The comparison of God’s people to sheep is instructive if not flattering. Sheep don’t score high on IQ tests. They are prone to lose their way and wander from the herd. In their ignorance they expose themselves to predators, and they are rather helpless on their own.

As those charged to care for a flock like this, elders have a holy and difficult calling. Perhaps this is why Peter follows these commands with a reminder of the promised reward for faithful elders: “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4).

Jesus, the Chief Shepherd

Peter motivates local church elders with the forthcoming crown, but when he refers to Jesus as the “chief Shepherd,” he gives all of us much to ponder. Elders are shepherds; Jesus is the chief.

If the elders are told how to shepherd in verses 1–3, and if Jesus is the perfect and chief shepherd, then the characteristics urged in men are present fully in Jesus. Specifically:

  1. Jesus does not need to be compelled to be our shepherd; he does it willingly.
  2. Jesus does not shepherd us for gain; he does so eagerly.
  3. Jesus is not a demanding shepherd; he is an example to the flock.

Eagerness

Have you ever pondered this glorious truth (see point 2 above), that Jesus is our eager shepherd?

Think of all the pain, conflict, hardship, frustration, loneliness, separation, and sorrow involved in Jesus’ earthly ministry—especially in his passion. If that lay in front of us, we would flee.

And we often project our reaction onto Jesus. We think Jesus must have been talked into his rescue mission. Maybe he was willing, but he couldn’t have been excited.

No! Jesus was eager to save and shepherd us. While it meant tremendous suffering, he charged into the mission with zeal. He was motivated by joy.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1–2, emphasis added)

Jesus was eager to save us, and he is eager to love and keep us. We do not annoy or burden him with our confession and prayer. Our confusion and wanderings do not irritate him. He is not troubled by our doubts or questions. He welcomes our helplessness.

Jesus is our good, good shepherd. He feeds and tends and protects his sheep.

We can be as eager to trust Jesus as our shepherd as he is to embrace us as his people.

Post credit | Photo credit

Advertisements

Obeying God’s Commands as the Body of Christ

This part of the Bible wasn’t written for me.

I’m not an older woman, so why should I pay attention to Titus 2:3–5? I’m not a preacher, so what relevance does 2 Timothy 4:1–5 have for me? It almost feels like opening my neighbor’s mail.

The Effect of Individualism

We have a great temptation toward this thinking in the United States, as we breathe the air of individualism from an early age. Our sinful hearts hardly need any help, but our culture insists at every turn: be true to yourself, take care of yourself, believe in yourself. It isn’t long before our lungs are full of that toxic cloud and we lack the oxygen to think about others.

But God has called Christians to a different reality. We are the body of Christ, a people vitally connected to each other and to Jesus.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:12–13)

The books of the Bible were composed for all the people of God. Even when a letter was written to a church or an individual, the intention was public reading and instruction for the whole church.

So when we say that a part of the Bible wasn’t written for us, we’re actually wrong. If the Bible applies to anyone in the body, it has implications for all of us. We must not check out.

We Need Help From Others

Christians readily acknowledge that we need God’s help to obey his commands. (Though we always do well to remember!) It’s easier to forget how much help we need from other saints.

We need others praying for us, encouraging us, and giving us counsel. We need to talk with older saints who have stood in our shoes. We need the bold, clear-eyed enthusiasm of younger Christians to strengthen our wills to do what is right.

Finally, we also need correction from Christian friends when we sin. A gentle, loving rebuke is not often what we want, but we should seek and embrace this discipline. (See Proverbs 12:1.)

We must also view this truth—that we need others—from the other side. Others need us too. The experiences and wisdom God has given us are not just for our benefit; they’re also for the church.

An Example: Husbands

Let’s look at an example from 1 Peter. This command for husbands is found in 1 Peter 3:7.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Husbands need the prayers of the saints to obey this command. Without the help of the Holy Spirit, husbands will not love and sacrifice in the ways God requires.

Husbands should also talk to married men and women of all ages and experiences. Though understanding and honoring one’s wife will look different from one marriage to the next, husbands can learn of helpful habits to develop and dangerous pitfalls to avoid through the counsel and stories of others.

Each husband needs a few close friends who will ask him difficult questions. Are you honoring your wife? How are you living with her in an understanding way? Good friends will remember a prayer request or a confession of weakness and ask specific follow-up questions the next week. These friends will offer encouragement when they see fruit. A husband may also need a loving rebuke when neglect or selfishness continues without repentance.

And, of course, husbands need to listen to their wives. A wife will know if her husband is working to understand her and live with her accordingly. She will feel the presence or lack of honor.

None of this help is easy or natural to give, and none of it is possible without the work of the Spirit within us.

Called to Obey as a Body

The key to this obedience in community is love. It takes seeing and experiencing God’s love to lift our eyes off ourselves and recognize our corporate calling.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15–16)

God didn’t call us just to each other, he called us to himself. Through the atoning work of Jesus, God has forgiven his people and the Spirit is working to change us. Though withdrawal may be our default mode—wanting neither help from others nor to give aid ourselves—we are no longer slaves to this sin.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:24–25)

The wounds of Jesus have set us free and given us a new identity. We’ve been healed of our sin so that we might live to righteousness.

By God’s power, let’s do just that. Together.

Post credit | Picture credit

A Picture of the Faith That Leads to Salvation

What is faith? One of the go-to biblical answers to this vital question comes from the book of Hebrews.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

The chapter that follows this definition provides dozens of examples of this faith in action. But we are not limited to Hebrews 11 when looking for biblical teaching on faith.

Faith in 1 Peter

The apostle Peter has a lot to say about faith in his first letter. The first chapter of this letter alone is filled with descriptions of faith and its consequences.

Peter opens this letter with effusive praise to God (1 Peter 1:3–12). He reminds us of God’s mercy toward us in giving us new life (verse 3), an imperishable inheritance (verse 4), and his powerful protection (verse 5).

But faith is never far from Peter’s mind. Faith is the instrument through which we are being guarded (verse 5). Genuine faith will result in honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (verse 7). And the outcome of faith is salvation (verse 9).

A Working Definition of Faith

I take two verses in the middle of 1 Peter 1 as a working definition of faith that is memorable, encouraging, and motivating.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:8–9)

For the purposes of a discussion on faith, there are at least four important parts of this statement.

You have not seen him; you do not see him. Like the definition from Hebrews, Peter reminds us that faith is not one of the five natural senses. We have not seen Jesus with our eyes, and he is not with us in the flesh. Faith is a spiritual, God-given sense.

You love him. Faith is not merely belief. We do not receive faith by merely ascribing to a list of propositions about God. Faith involves our hearts, and a true believer doesn’t just acknowledge or trust Jesus, they love him.

You believe in him. Faith is more than belief, but it is not less! These verses follow several beautiful statements about salvation (verses 3–5) in which God’s role and the centrality of the resurrection (verse 3) are clear. Faith always has an object, and Christians must know and believe what is true about Jesus in order to have faith in him.

You rejoice with great joy. A faith that does not lead to rejoicing may not be true faith. Peter wrote to people who were suffering, and yet there was a deep, bubbling spring of joy within them because of their new life in Christ. Faith is always future-looking, and Peter points ahead several times in this first chapter. Suffering and trials are not reasons to rejoice; but when we understand the effect of our trials (verse 7) and we rest in the inheritance that is kept in heaven for us (verse 4), we can be joyful people. This joy doesn’t mean we are delusional or fake-happy. But our abiding trust in God’s goodness, his control, and his fatherly love will give us a satisfaction in him that looks strange to a watching world. And that may give us a chance to discuss the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15).

Cultivating This Faith

Faith is a gift of God, but it is also something we can tend and water so that it will grow (by God’s grace). This discussion of faith from 1 Peter prompts a few ideas about cultivating faith.

  1. Get to know and love Jesus. If faith involves belief, then we need to know what God is like and what he’s done for us in Jesus. This means that the Bible is essential to our faith! We might be naturally drawn to the New Testament to learn about Jesus, which is good and right. But the Old Testament also feeds our faith. Hebrews 11(quoted above) points to dozens of imperfect, Old Testament saints as having great faith. As you learn about Jesus, train your heart to respond in adoration and worship. Keep the Psalms handy.
  2. See beyond your sight. Peter twice mentions that we cannot rely on our eyes to see Jesus. Many of the most important things about us are invisible. Illnesses, injuries, loneliness, grief, and despair—they can crash upon us like a tidal wave. They are so tangible! But we must remind ourselves (and each other) that our circumstances are not the only true things about us. Crucially, they are not the final true thing about us. Instead, we are “born again to a living hope,” we have an inheritance in heaven that is “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading,” and we are being guarded “by God’s power…for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” By Jesus’s work we are loved, adopted, and secured by God as his children.
  3. Grow in joy. Faith should produce joy, so if our efforts to cultivate faith are not leading to greater joy, we’re doing something wrong. There are many ways to grow in joy in Christ, but here is one suggestion: Find joyful Christians and learn from them. Listen to their music; read their poems, stories, essays, and biographies; watch their films and videos; take walks with them; call, text, or email with them. God gives his children faith, and he also brings his children into his church where we can learn from each other what it means to have such a loving and powerful father.

Post credit, photo credit