The Shepherd Heart
February 10th, 1974 @ 10:50 AM
1 Peter 5:1-4
THE SHEPHERD HEART
W. A. Criswell
1 Peter 5:1-4
2-10-74 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Shepherd Heart, feeding the flock. It is from a passage in Simon Peter’s first letter, chapter 5:
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock….
Shepherd the flock, tend the flock, take care of the flock; poimainō. A poimōn is a shepherd and a poimainō would be one who tends the flock, cares for the flock; translated here: “feed the flock.”
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for money, but for a devoted, willing spirit;
Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock. And when the great Shepherd—
archipoimēn, when the Chief Shepherd—
when the great Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
[1 Peter 5:1-4]
The imagery of a shepherd and his flock was deep in the hearts of the people of Israel. It was an exalted vocation, a shepherd, and the reason for it would be very evident: for the patriarchs were shepherds. Abraham tended his flock; Isaac, Jacob, the sons of Israel, they were all shepherds. Moses was a shepherd, having fled the court of Pharaoh [Exodus 2:15], he tended Jethro his father-in-law, he tended Jethro’s sheep [Exodus 3:1]; did so for forty years. David, the sweet psalmist and singer of Israel, was a shepherd; so many of his songs, of his psalms, of his hymns reflect that pastoral life, such as the twenty-third, “The Lord is my Shepherd” [Psalm 23:1-6]. Some of the great prophets, such as Amos, were shepherds [Amos 1:1, 7:15].
All through the Word of the Lord will you find that imagery of a shepherd tending, feeding his flock; and that is the imagery used by Simon Peter here [1 Peter 5:1-3]. It is the same imagery that you read a while ago in the Scriptures, when Paul said to the Ephesian elders: “Take heed to yourself, and to all the flock”; we are sheep in His pasture [Psalm 100:3]; “to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers” [Acts 20:28]. And here is that word poimainō again, translated here again feed, to feed, to tend, to care for, to shepherd the church of God—“which He hath purchased with His own blood” [Acts 20:28].
I’ll show you another place where that word, same word, poimainō, is used to shepherd a flock. In the twenty-first chapter of John the Lord says to Simon Peter, “Simon, lovest thou Me?” And he answers, “Lord, You know all about me. You know that I love you.” And the Lord said, poimainō, poimainō, “Shepherd My sheep, feed My flock, tend My lambs, take care of My people” [John 21:15-17]. So when I read the passage [1 Peter 5:1-4], I am following in the spirit of the whole revelation of God: a flock, God’s people, and a shepherd, those who care for it and minister to it, who tend and feed.
Let us look first at the heavenly calling: the shepherd heart. “And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” [1 Peter 5:4]. Those who tend to the sheep, who take care of the flock of Christ, shall receive a heavenly crown. It is a heavenly calling.
There are five crowns that are mentioned in the New Testament, five of them. One is the martyr’s crown: “be thou faithful unto death, and ye shall receive a crown of life,” the martyr’s crown [Revelation 2:10]. There is the soulwinner’s crown: “what is our rejoicing, but you in the presence of Christ,” talking to the converts that he had won in Thessalonica, the soulwinner’s crown [1 Thessalonians 2:19].
There is righteous crown:
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth, there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that Day: and not to me only, but unto all of them also that love His appearing.
[2 Timothy 4:7-8]
The crown of the righteous. There is the victor’s crown: Paul writes in the ninth chapter of 1 Corinthians, these who are in athletic contest, they strive for a corruptible crown, but we are reaching out for an incorruptible crown, the victor’s crown [1 Corinthians 9:25]. And then the fifth one, the pastor’s crown, the shepherd’s crown: “And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away” [1 Peter 5:4].
Speaking of Dr. Truett, I don’t think in human speech there is a sweeter, dearer sentence than was said by Dr. Truett when Baylor University asked him to leave the church here and to be pastor of the school in Waco. Dr. Truett replied, “My brethren, I have sought and found the shepherd’s heart.” And he stayed here forty-seven years as pastor of this church.
At a convention I was seated by a great layman, John L. Hill of our Sunday School Board in Nashville, Tennessee. He was the book editor, and we were seated there listening to Dr. Truett preach. And Dr. Hill turned to me and said, “Dr. Truett is the only man I know who cannot be moved from his pulpit,” a tribute to a man who had sought and found the shepherd’s heart.
Lest we think that this beautiful tribute is made to a pastor alone, in the third verse of this text the apostle Peter uses an amazing word: it is translated here: “heritage” [1 Peter 5:3], the Greek is “clergy.” In referring to all of the congregation, all of it, the apostle calls us “clergy.” There’s no such a thing in the Bible as dividing the men of the cloth from the laity. Clergy and laity, that is a man-made distinction. There were apostles, and there were deacons, and there were members of the household of faith. But that abysmal distinction, that tragic distinction between a man who pastors the church and the people who belong to it, that is not in the Bible. They are all one in Christ, all of them, and the pastor is a fellow servant with his people. And they all are ministers of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. They all are clergymen. He calls them that in the third verse [1 Peter 5:3].
Stephen was a layman. He was a deacon [Acts 6:5], the first Christian martyr [Acts 7:59-60]. Philip was a layman; he was a deacon [Acts 6:5]. Aquila was a layman; he was a tentmaker [Acts 18:2-3]. These men of God who exalted the Lord were not in anywise below in their ministry and in their crown of glory from the pastor in the church. All of us are ministers, ambassadors, missionaries, evangelists, preachers in His name.
May I speak now of the seeking heart? Speaking of those who love and minister to and care for the flock of God: the seeking heart. By that I mean always, always there should be in our services, in our teaching, in all of our organizations, there should be an appeal in it, a searching in it, an intercession in it, a reaching-out in it. There should always be sounded in it the seeking note. Listen to the Lord, “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?” [Luke 15:4]. Ever there should be that appeal, that outreach in our people.
In the fourth chapter of 2 Timothy Paul says to the pastor of the church at Ephesus, “Do the work of an evangelist” [2 Timothy 4:5]. In Ephesians, Paul wrote that when the Lord ascended upon high and took captivity captive, He gave gifts unto men [Ephesians 4:8] and he names those charismatic gifts. Elsewhere they are endowments, but here they are people, and he names them, “and He gave gifts unto men…apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers” [Ephesians 4:11]. And that’s the way he uses the word when he writes to the young pastor at the church at Ephesus, “Do the work of an evangelist, though you are a pastor and you are not an evangelist, yet you are to do the work of an evangelist” [2 Timothy 4:5]; that is, always in the pastoral ministry there should be the inculcation and the example of that seeking note, bringing people to Christ, inviting them to the Lord.
Some years ago I spoke for a week at a conference in the eastern part of the United States. It was sponsored by the government in Washington. The convocation brought together clergymen from all denominations, all of them, and a great host of people. I received the letter during that week, the first part of it. There was a wife that said she was praying for her husband—he was sixty-seven years old—she was praying for her husband that he might be saved at that conference. And at the first part of it, after a service, with many tears he gave his life to Christ. And the next night, a young man waited for me after the service, and down on his knees accepted the Lord as his Savior. And when Sunday night came, I extended an invitation. God blessed it. There were many who were saved and many who came forward. But the liturgical clergymen who were present were highly offended in what I did. And they said excoriating and harsh and critical words about what I had done to the service.
One of the things that they had in the program was a panel each day. And when the time came for that panel, I was called upon to defend what I had done. And the men who were liturgical in their services and in their ministries, they used harsh words saying that it was a cheap, melodramatic show of emotionalism, and had no place in the service of Christ.
I never was more discouraged or heavy-hearted in my life, and I spent the afternoon, all afternoon long, just as sad and as blue as I could be. And when time came for the next service, Monday night, the man from Washington who presided over it came to my room and sat down and talked to me, and this is what he said. He said, “I know that the harsh criticism of the liturgical clergymen present has really crushed you. But,” he said, “we knew that it would be this way when we invited you to come. And we wanted you be you.” And he said, “If you had not given that invitation, we would have been disappointed in you. We knew how it would be when we sat down and chose you to be the speaker for this conference. Now,” he said, “tonight, you let the Holy Spirit lead you, and you do what God puts in your heart, and some of us will be praying.”
I felt moved of God that night to do the same thing again, only pressing the appeal and making it broader and wider. And God, for the second time, did the same thing as He had done Sunday night, only more responded, more came, more were saved, and it was more moving; so much so, that after the hour was done one of those men, dressed up in his clerical garments, drew me aside and said, “I’d like to say words of apology and appreciation.” He said, “I have never seen that like that.” He said, “It was just like a breath of heaven.”
If for no other reason in these latter days, I am grateful for Billy Graham, because on television there are thousands of people who are seeing an invitation for the first time, just as they saw it at that conference. I think—and this is my persuasion, nor am I critical of others who do not do it, I’m just saying that in my persuasion, it seems to me that the great purpose of the convocation of the people of God, and all of our organized life, is that God might use us to bring others to the saving faith we have found in our blessed Jesus.
What is the idea that lies back of the multitudinous, multifaceted activities of the church? Is it just that we keep the organization going, we keep the wheels turning like a squirrel in a cage: just round, and around, and around and around, but has no meaning, has no outreach? It’s just something that we’ve got into; it’s just a routine we follow, and having got into it, we don’t know how to get out of it, so we go one year after year; is that what it is? Oh, it hurts my heart just to think it could be that! There is a purpose that lies back of all the organized activities of our church and it is this: that we might bring people to the Lord.
Last Friday night Miss Libby Reynolds had her divisional primary leadership together, and they had an interesting program, and everything was beautifully done, and everybody had a wonderful time, it was just splendid! But here is what I liked about it best of all. That wonderful, dedicated girl had seen to it that there was brought to the dinner that night many who were unsaved and many who are unchurched. And the service closed, the program closed that Friday night, with the pastor speaking words, exalting our Lord and having a gift, presenting a gift, to each one who was there who was unchurched and who was, in some instance, outside of the grace of our Lord. Isn’t that just blessed? And isn’t that just as it ought to be? Here we are teaching for a purpose. Here we are gathered together for a purpose. Here we are singing and playing for a purpose. What? That God might use us to win the lost: the seeking heart.
I have one other: that is the sacrificial life. Just following the Words of God’s Holy Book, in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, speaking of the shepherd, “I am the good shepherd: and the good shepherd giveth His life for the sheep,” the sacrificial life: “he lays down his life for the sheep” [John 10:11]. I don’t think there is anything that God has blessed, but that life has been paid for it. If it is living, if it has existence and meaning, it has been purchased at the price of blood, of life.
I think of our nation like that; when I hear people and read about people who disparage America, something deep inside of me hurts. America, and the freedoms, and the liberties, and the blessings we enjoy were bought for us by blood. Why, even in our last few years there are forty thousand men who have died in Korea. There are another forty-five thousand men who have died, laid down their lives in Vietnam that we might enjoy the liberties, the blessings of our country.
Our state is like that: I dare say hardly anyone of us thinks of the price that has been paid for our empire state of Texas. Let me quote you a sentence out of a book. The man, the author said:
I believe that Texas is built upon the shoulders of Rangers who have laid down their lives for the state. All over the state, little mounds of earth, washed by the rain, cried over by the wind, looked down upon by the stars, and largely forgot.
[Author and work unknown]
I don’t think of it. Hardly anyone does, I would suppose. Yet our great state has been paid for and bought by the blood of men who laid down there lives for it.
The Christian faith is like that. In Ogbomosho, in West Africa, in Nigeria; I look upon our fine hospital, and upon our splendid seminary, and the churches in that large city, and I just think, “Oh, isn’t this glorious?” Then I stand before the graves of young men and women, missionaries who were cut down at the very prime of life, wasted and destroyed by jungle fever and African diseases; at a sacrifice, at a price.
I think of our church like that. Into this church, into this household of faith, in behalf of this flock of the Lord, literally life has been poured, sacrifice has been made. I remember when we were building, I was trying to build this building across the street, our chapel building. I was marrying our young people all over the city; there was no chapel here at our church at all. There is hardly a church or a chapel in the city of Dallas in which I have not conducted wedding ceremonies for my own children, my own people, my own young people. And I just wanted a chapel so much, and began working for it, and preaching for it, and praying for it from the beginning. And in those days, when I was making an appeal for that building, there came a humble woman—a worker downtown, working in one of those offices downtown. And she brought to me a diamond ring, the only possession of worth that she had and took it off and put it in my hand and said, “This is for the new building.”
“Oh,” I said, “I don’t want to take that. No, no, you keep it.”
“Nay,” she said, “this is given to God for the new building.”
When she was so seriously ill in the hospital, one of her friends said to me, “You know, I wondered at that ring. I never saw her without it, but it disappeared. So that’s what she did with it.” And you know to this day, walking down that street, walking down that street, sometimes there will be a glint of light reflected by one of the facets of a stained-glass window in that building, and when I see it, and my eye catches it, I think of the glint of light that shines from that diamond ring, given to us by that humble girl working downtown.
You multiply that ten thousand times, and you’ll see the source and the depth of the blessings of God upon this flock of the Lord, this dear church. And that’s true of a life. Not only of a nation, of a state, of the Christian faith, of the church; it is true of the life: the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep [John 10:11]. It is true of our children and the rearing of our little ones.
Recently—and I’ll tell you in a minute why it was brought to my mind. I had occasion to review something that moved my soul. I had held a revival meeting in one of the tremendously strategic churches in one of the great cities east of the Mississippi River. And their pastor was a gifted and illustrious man. I went to a Southern Baptist Convention on the other side of the Mississippi in a great city, and had just listened to that pastor, that man, preach the convention sermon. He did it in power and in the true spirit of Christ; he blessed the thousands who were there.
In a plane riding back to Dallas, there was a businessman seated next to me. We began to talk; he was a Methodist, reared in a little town in Tennessee. And as we conversed, he found out that I was a Baptist minister. “Oh,” he said, “you are a Baptist preacher. Well,” he said, “let me tell you. In the little town in which I grew up, there was a girl who gave birth to an unnamed, illegitimate child. And as it was,” he said, “in the little town in those days, she was covered with shame and disgrace.” Growing up in a little town, I knew exactly what he meant. The girl was disgraced and lived in shame. So he said she moved to the edge of the little town, and there in a humble cottage, she took in washing and reared that little boy. “I went to school with him,” he said, “we called him little Willy. And she worked and slaved, raising that little boy, giving him music lessons and speaking lessons and all that she could do for that little boy. Then she worked and sent him through high school. Then she kept on slaving and working and sent him through college. And,” he said, “did you know he became a minister and she sent him through the seminary?” And he said to me, “I have been told that he’s one of the great preachers of the Baptist denomination.” He said, “I wonder if you’ve ever heard of him?” I said, “What is his name?” And he said, “His name is…” and he called the name of that illustrious minister, whom I had just heard as he delivered the sermon at the Southern Baptist Convention. So that is little Willy, and that is the child into which that mother poured her very life.
Why it came back to me just now is, I was talking recently to an associate pastor of the church, and I said to him, “Did you know that?” He said, “Yes, yes, I knew that.” And then he said to me, “You cannot know the depths of the reverence and love by which he took care of his mother all the days of her life.” That man is in heaven now. And I can believe that in the shepherd’s crown [1 Peter 5:4], given to those who minister to the flock, if he is given a worthy reward in glory, he shares it with that wonderful mother. That is the good shepherd who giveth his life for the sheep [John 10:11].
Are not these ennobling things from God? And do they not encourage us in the faith and in the work of our Lord? We have a great purpose, a tremendous dedication, and that is it: that God might use, and bless, and sanctify all that we have and are to the reaching, and the blessing, and the winning of others.
Does God speak to you, does He? Does God say something to you, does He? If He does, would you answer with your life? [Romans 10:8-13]. Would you do it now? In a moment we shall stand and sing a hymn of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple, or just one somebody you, down a stairway, down an aisle, “Here I am, pastor, today I come.” Do it now, make the decision now, come now, while we stand and while we sing.