In-Sight: Language is Determinative

This morning in my Daily Office, I read Thomas Aquinas’ exposition on the Gospel of John, where he wrote about Jesus’ statement, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  Through his words, I was reminded of the fact that the image of the shepherd is the cardinal one that Jesus gave us to describe the nature of leadership, and it is the dominant one that emerged in the generation of leaders who followed him (e.g. Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1).

No matter what other concepts we use to describe leadership, the image of the shepherd is at the heart.  Aquinas takes this to mean leading with love, not with the spirit of a “ruler.”  In fact, he says, that leading as a ruler without leading as one who loves is not enough, and is a violation of what Jesus calls us to be.

I was challenged to remember that even those of us who believe in the “inspiration and authority of Scripture” can be as likely to violate its teaching as anyone else.  How?  By not allowing language to be determinative.  By not using the words to guide us into the concepts, and the concepts then into our actual behavior with people.

If I am a leader, I am to be a shepherd.  And if I am a shepherd, it means that I exist to serve the flock; they do not exist to serve me.  I exist for their sake; they do not exist for mine. “I lay down my life for the sheep,” is the only spirit that makes a biblical leader.  I do not rule the sheep, demanding that they do things my way, and removing those who don’t.  Rather, I lead with love, caring for all the sheep and particularly those who are weak and weary (“thou anointest my head with oil”).

If I do not do this, I am not a biblical leader.  I am not a shepherd.  I am a hireling, no matter how much I may try to “appear” to be otherwise.

And if I am a hireling, “the sheep will not listen to his voice.”  In fact, the sheep had better not listen to a hireling’s voice, for the hireling will only lead them astray.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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2 Responses to In-Sight: Language is Determinative

  1. Rhonda Stapleton says:

    Steve, thank you so much. I needed this very much today!

  2. Lew Arnold says:

    Thanks for this insight. As I read your notes today I could not help but also think that I have so often gotten very far off track when I myself forget that I am simply a sheep as well,followers after the “lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” How about thinking of it as: leadersheep!

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