Text: John 10:11-18
“Leadership” is all the rage now. If you look at any list of best-selling books, there will likely be two or three “leadership” books there, perhaps more. New ones come out constantly. Successful companies often have their employees read these kinds of books, as well as communication and team-building books. Even within the church, leadership books are some of the most popular and most-widely published.
Now, a lot of leadership books are very good and have solid advice. How to Win Friends and Influence People is the classic example. Just listen to these tips: “Become genuinely interested in other people. Smile. Remember a person’s name. Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves. Talk in terms of the other person’s interest. Make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely.” If you do those things, you will be well on your way to winning people over and gaining influence. It works.
And yet we also know the other side to these books. They do tend to tell you to avoid conflict, to never disagree or correct someone, and to generally find ways to promote yourself in the public eye. While this advice does, in fact, “work” a lot of the time, it seems to avoid real relationship and the building of deep integrity. The Biblical picture of leadership is different. It isn’t exactly “the opposite,” because the Bible does not tell us to only and always argue and fight. No, contrary to what you have heard from critics of Christianity, and also from a few of its worst defenders, the Bible does value kindness, sympathy, and putting others first. But it combines these with another important concept, the concept of shepherding. This means leading by serving, protecting, and even dying. This is what we can call resurrection leadership.
A biblical leader watches out for and protects his people. The image that is used for this is the shepherd. God is referred to as a shepherd throughout the Bible, but especially in the psalms. “The Lord is my shepherd,” we are told in the 23rd Psalm. “We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand,” as it says in Psalm 95. Priests and kings are also both called shepherds, as they look out for their people. And, as we heard in our sermon text, Jesus Himself is “the Good Shepherd.” The shepherd is the primary picture of leadership which we should have, and it is the one we should imitate. And what does a shepherd do? Jesus teaches us, by His word and by His example, that shepherd-leaders sacrifice themselves, even laying down their life for their people.
Fake Shepherds or How to Spot a Hireling
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep,” Jesus says (John 10:11). But in order to really explain this, he contrasts it against its opposite, the hireling. A hireling is not a true shepherd. He is only working a job. Jesus says, “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them” (vs. 12). The hireling is not willing to “give his life for the sheep.” When danger shows up, he hits the road.
And why? Jesus tells us, “The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep” (vs. 13). The hireling flees precisely because he is a hireling. The sheep don’t belong to him. He doesn’t care about them. He is just working a job. They are his project for the moment. But he isn’t the shepherd. He doesn’t love the sheep.
This is true of a lot of would-be leaders. They are interested in the people or the company so long as it is a means to success. They will pitch in and even “sacrifice” in the hopes of getting a certain return. But as soon as real danger shows up, they are gone. They pull out. They close it down. They move on down the street. It’s not “worth it” any more.
This is also the case with relationships. People don’t really make true friendships. They don’t really love people truly. And the reason that they—we— don’t is that we value our own freedom, our own skin, more than anyone else’s. And so when some major challenge, some danger, or something which would threaten our first commitments comes up, we flee.
And people flee because that’s who they are. It’s who we all are until God works in our heart. Self-sacrificial love for the other person, with no clear benefit returning to us—this is the unique mark of Christian love. And this is what we are all called to do because it is what God did for us in Jesus Christ.
Jesus Did it For Us
I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. (vs. 14-16)
Jesus is here speaking of the elect, the people He has come to save. He knows His sheep, and He is known by them. This is an amazing thing. He knows them because He is God, and He knows all things. But more than that, they are on His mind. He is coming for them, like a shepherd pursuing specific sheep. And they are not limited to just one place or time. “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold.” This does not mean that adherents of other religions are saved. I’ve heard that explanation before. They might be adherents of another religion prior to Jesus finding them, to be sure, but a big part of Jesus seeking them out and bringing them in is their conversion. But what it does mean was pretty radical in its original context. Jesus was not only coming for the Jews or those in Israel at the time. He was coming for His elect, people of every tribe and tongue, people who were not yet born, as many as the Lord would call.
Notice that Jesus says that He is known by His people. “I know My sheep and am known by My own… and they will hear My voice.” The work of the Spirit of God opens the eyes of the elect so that they recognize Jesus as their Lord and assuredly come to Him. And this is all because of the mind of God. “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father…” And then Jesus causes His people to know them both. It’s an amazing teaching, and it shows up throughout John’s gospel:
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
The reverse is also true, people can only receive Jesus if God works within them. “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44).
This is part of what we sometimes call “Calvinism,” but it’s really just a way to talk about God’s power and God’s grace. Our sin is so real and so bad that we don’t want to come to God. We are like Adam, hiding behind the trees. We don’t want a Lord. We don’t even want forgiveness. And so how are we ever going to answer the gospel call? God will have to take matters into His own hands. Like a shepherd chasing a wandering sheep, He goes after us. He takes His shepherd’s crook, He wraps it around our neck, and He pulls us to Himself.
But the mystery and the amazing grace in all of this is that when God does this, when He chases us down and draws us to Himself, at the same time, He changes our hearts and opens our eyes so that we know Him. We know that we are not being captured to be killed but instead are being rescued by our loving shepherd. And to top it all off, God shows us the sacrifice He is making on our behalf, and He does it before we repent, before we get our act together, and before we come to Him. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5).
God Loves and Rewards This
This sacrifice of Christ, on our behalf, when we didn’t deserve it—this is what God loves. Jesus even says that it is one of the reasons why God loves Him. “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. (John 10:17)”
Therefore My Father loves Me, because… That’s amazing. Certainly God loved Jesus insofar as Jesus was the eternal Son of God. But, when it comes to His earthly office as messiah, God loves Him because of what He will do. God loves Jesus because Jesus’ work will save the people God loved. John Calvin has this to say about this teaching, “This is a wonderful commendation of the goodness of God to us, and ought justly to arouse our whole souls into rapturous admiration, that not only does God extend to us the love which is due to the only-begotten Son, but he refers it to us as the final cause” (Commentary on John 10:17).
Do you know what a final cause is? It’s not the “in the moment” cause of turning a knob or pressing a button. No, the final cause is the reason you started doing a job in the first place, what motivated you in the beginning. For instance, you will hear people say, “We first got into this business to make a really great product.” Or better yet, “We began this project to help people.” God’s rationale for sending Jesus to earth was His love. He loved us with the love that He loved His Son, and so He sent His son to die for us.
Jesus explains that this was always a certain and sure thing. He laid down His life. No one took it from Him. Jesus was always in control. There was never a moment of doubt. And He laid down His life so that He could “take it again” through the resurrection. This means Easter, the resurrection of Christ, confirms that Jesus accomplished His task, laid down His life for His sheep, and is loved by God for it.
Can We Be Shepherds?
Now, it is important to make sure that we apply this passage to Jesus work. He is the shepherd, and we are the sheep. His death saved us. And yet, can we also apply this to ourselves? Can we be shepherds? I know that we won’t all be the same kind of shepherds. Some of us are particular kinds of leaders. Some of us are pastors. Some of us are fathers and mothers. And yet, we are all called to some sort of leadership, some sort of shepherding, because we are commanded with that same commandment. Remember, Jesus said, “This command I have received from My Father” talking about His sacrifice. But a little later in John’s gospel he also said:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)
We must love one another as Jesus loved us. And how did he do that? He did that by laying down His life for us in order to save us, to protect us, and to shepherd us. Now He tells us to do the same for one another. In fact, He says that our imitation of Him in this regard is how the world will know us. The world will not know that we are Christians by our toughness. They won’t know it by our having the right answers. They won’t know it by our happy and successful families. They won’t know it by our refusal to compromise. No, that’s not what Jesus says. He says the world will know us by our sacrificial love for one another. And He also says that if we die in this love, then God will raise us up again. First death. Then resurrection.
So how do we do that? Here are a few basic guidelines. First, don’t be a hireling. Don’t use other people, and don’t take on projects just because you think you get something out of them for yourself. There are no quick bucks in the spiritual life. Don’t chase waterfalls. But what if you are involved in some project, some relationship, or some commitment that you don’t love and don’t feel like you want to pour yourself into it? Well, still don’t be a hireling. Don’t just run away. There are ways to make exit plans in life, even for Christians, but this must still involve putting the other person’s needs first and looking out for what’s good for them. You still have to sacrifice and die, even if you end up making a change. And so take it slow. Don’t make any erratic moves. Do what’s right. Trust God, and look for resurrection.
Secondly, know your sheep. Parents, this means you need to know your children. I don’t just mean knowing their names and their various statistics. You need to know who they really are, what they love, and what moves and motivates them. This will require spending time with them. This will require talking with them. This will require listening. This will require love. And the same thing is true, though to a lesser degree, with bosses or other kinds of leaders. You need to know your people.
And church officers and church leaders. You have to keep this in mind too. You—I—can never be a successful leader if we don’t know our people. We cannot expect people to follow us if they do not know us. This is exactly what Jesus said earlier in John 10:
…the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” (John 10:3-5)
A stranger, they will not follow.
Then, thirdly, sheep: know your shepherd. This might sound a little strange, but it’s important. And again, we are all sheep in some way. We must know God to begin with. But we should also strive to know the leaders and authorities in our lives. And you can initiate. Call them up. Ask them questions. Try to get to know them.
What you will find is that the shepherd is just as much in need of a loving relationship as the sheep. Everyone’s unique, just like everyone else. We are all human, and we all have the same basic needs. We need to be known. And the act of knowing one another is love. And everyone looking to resurrection is also looking first to where they must die.
When you think about sacrifice, you should think about your “final cause.” What motivated you at the beginning? Why are you doing what you are doing? If it’s something bad or selfish, then that’s what needs to die. Kill your pride. Kill your entitlement. Kill your vain dreams and ambition. Kill your grudges.
But if what motivated you originally is good and God-honoring, then you need to ask what is standing in the way of realizing that thing. And then you’ve found what needs to die. Sometimes it might be a structural fix in your life, your finances, or your routines. But most of the time it will still be some version of your own sin. You must lay down your life in order to take it up again. Be the good shepherd. Die for the sheep. And they will know you. Die for the sheep, and God will raise you up.
Let us pray.