Shepherds, Sheep, and Wolves
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. (Acts 20:28-30)
Why Pastors Do It (vs. 29-30)
Pastors do what they do because there are serious dangers to the church. Souls hang in the very balance. John Piper has written, “What gives preaching its seriousness is that the mantle of the preacher is soaked with the blood of Jesus and singed with the fire of hell.”
Dangers from outside (vs. 29)
There are many dangers and the sheep do not always recognize them. False teachers and false doctrine must be watched for. These wolves are fierce. They seek to devour and destroy the sheep. How do they do this? They infiltrate churches and spread false teachings or deny key doctrines. They may deny the deity of Christ, God's judgment, or the power of the gospel. Or they may teach salvation by works or other perversions.
Pastors must be aware and watchful. False teachers do not advertise that they are false. It is their doctrine and maybe their lives that betray them. Churches need caring and faithful elders to protect and ward off the enemy. Churches need pastors that will watch and pay attention, who will remain alert and vigilant. Pastors also need to be able to recognize danger and be bold enough to confront it.
The sad reality is that sheep are often unaware. They may even be oblivious to danger or preoccupied. Sheep need shepherds. With that said, sheep need to trust their pastors and follow their leadership. Discernment ought to be exercised so the sheep do not fall for everything they hear. Also, the sheep need to realize that the dangers from outside the church are a reality, they are real threats and can do real damage.
Dangers from inside (vs. 30)
That dangers exist outside the church and try to enter in, should be obvious enough. But Paul also warns of the danger of men rising up from within the church that spread false teaching. Every church member needs to consider asking themselves, “is it I?” A good shepherd points and leads the flock to Christ. The false shepherds, or hirelings, point to themselves. Paul said that they try to draw men away “after them.” These false teachers speak twisted things. They are unbiblical and only cause harm. They do not have the interest of the sheep in mind. They lead the sheep away from the truth and fail to nourish or benefit the sheep.
This is another reality that shepherds need to be aware of. They must be on guard. However, false teachers and false doctrine can be used by God. God is so amazing that he can glorify himself and edify his church through those who seek only to mislead and do harm to the church. God will be glorified.
How does God bring himself glory and sanctify the church? First, the truth shines brighter when under attack. Second, when false teaching is present, the truth is focused on, rediscovered, and solidified. Third, when that which is false is combated by the truth, people may be converted, thus demonstrating the power of God and the gospel. Fourth, when truth is attacked, true believers become united and gain strength from each other. Fifth, false doctrine has a purifying affect and tends to separate the sheep from the goats or the wheat from the tares. Finally, sixth, when false teaching is present, God's people are driven to God's word which edifies, builds up, sanctifies, cleanses, and convicts.
All of this means that the word of God is and must be central. Everything that a church does ought to come from Scripture. God's word is to govern every aspect of our lives. The word of God has to be proclaimed, read, heard, and obeyed.
From this text it has been shown what a pastor is to do and why. What has been described is the pastor churches are to desire. Do not follow a hireling. Know that there are wolves; be alert and mindful. These wolves often masquerade in sheep's clothing, but sometimes there are wolves in shepherd's clothing. Be on guard.