“I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy, I will shepherd the flock with justice” —Ezekiel 34:16, NIV.
One of the complaints that God had against His people was directed toward those who were the spiritual leaders of the community. They had failed to care for those for whom they were responsible. Their concern had been only for themselves and their own agenda. As a result the flock had gone astray. God pronounced judgment on them and announced that He would personally be their Shepherd and look after them as He had expected that His appointed shepherds would.
The sheep themselves would not escape notice for among them were those who needed to be corrected as well. They had also had a hand in leading the others astray.
To be the spiritual leaders of God’s people is a fearsome responsibility. Jesus rebuked the spiritual leaders of His day in the strongest terms for leading people astray. Matthew 23 gives us a litany of their sins. James wrote: “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” —James 1:3, NIV.
But rather than encouraging us to stay away from such a task Jesus, by example, taught us to be teachers of His Word. In fact, the Great Commission commands us to teach (Matthew 28:19-20) and it is not alone in that assignment. Paul constantly urged those he mentored to watch their teaching. To Timothy he wrote: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" –2 Timothy 2:15, NIV (emphasis mine). In writing to Titus he reminds his protégé: “In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned” —Titus 2:7, 8. Among the gifts given to the church is that of teaching, and those who give leadership to the church need to be teachers: “Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach” 1 Timothy 2:3, NIV.
In Ezekiel, God promises to remove those shepherds who, rather than bringing their flock closer to God through a godly example and teaching, have led that flock astray and scattered them. He will personally take over their care. In these sweeping statements we are reminded that though spiritual leadership has a great responsibility and will be judged accordingly, those whom they lead cannot fully blame their leaders for being led astray. We have a greater Shepherd, in fact the greatest One of all. It is Him we need to follow, and as in the traditional marriage commitment states: “forsaking all others, cleaving only to Him.”
We all need to be teaching someone the ways of the Lord. At the same time we need to be careful to represent Him in word and action as He deserves to be represented. To be able to do those things well we need to be dogging the heels of our Great Shepherd, emulating His every move and studying His Word so that we can speak it as He would speak it. At whatever level God has called us to be spiritual leaders, the constant reminder of the seriousness of God’s business is something worthy of equally serious attention on our part.