The Shepherd and Bishop of Souls
1 Peter 2:18-25
Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the fraudulent.…

There is no symbol upon which the early Church seems to have dwelt with more delight than that of Christ as the Good Shepherd, bringing home to the fold the lost sheep. It was engraved on gems; it furnished the legends of seals; it gives today an almost fabulous value to fragments of broken glass; it was painted upon the chalice of the Holy Communion, it was carved upon the tomb of martyrs in the catacombs. In the text there is presented to us a two-fold truth.

I. The first is THE ASPECT OF INFINITE LOVE, AS REVEALED IN THE OFFICE AND FUNCTION OF A SHEPHERD; and the second is THE WEAKNESS AND HELPLESSNESS OF HUMAN SOULS, as revealed in the figure of a flock. And these are expanded by the additional idea of our Lord's episcopate as the Bishop of souls, and the implied necessity of a fold where there is a flock. And then, as the shadow of sin must ever rest upon our brightest hope, and the wail of penitence mingle with our highest song of praise, there is the reminder of the fact, that from the care of this eternal Shepherd, and the safety of this Divine fold, there are those who are going astray. What, then, does this word teach us of Christ's care for His people? Now, the vocation of a shepherd has always been the symbol of the most tender and vigilant watchfulness. The ruling idea of the shepherd's vocation was that he was the appointed defender of his flock, and their safety was committed to him. When the lion and the bear came upon the flock which the youthful David was tending, he slew them both, and delivered the lamb, even at the peril of his own life. And yet, bold as the shepherd was to all that would assail his flock, to the flock itself he was the embodiment of tenderness and care. His authority was the power of love. His only emblem of authority was the pastoral crook; the well-known tones of his voice were the guiding power; and, going before his flock, he led them through green pastures, calling them all by their names, and carrying the lambs in his bosom. In this day of intenser activities, we can hardly appreciate all that is meant by such a metaphor. But these are the hints which the symbol gives us, of the tender watch care of the great Shepherd of souls over His flock, as He first rescues them from the devil going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, and then folds them safely within the sacred enclosure of His Church, and then watches over them in every pathway of their daily life. The symbol of a flock suggests the complementary truth, and teaches us the lesson of trust and reciprocal duty. For it defines our relation to Him, and the obligations involved in that relation. Within the fold of Christ we are not compared to cattle, to be driven by force or fear; we are not as swine, to wallow in the mire and filth of sin; but we are sheep, to follow a Divine Shepherd's voice. If the tenderness and love of Christ be not a sufficient power to make us obedient, He will use no force. If the constraining power of the Cross fails to guide our wayward feet, then we will not be guided by Him at all. And the severest penalty of our disobedience will be our own going astray; our self-exclusion from the fold of Christ; our loss of His watchful care, and our exposure to the power of the adversary. And then, as if to interpret for all time the fulness of this office of our Lord, another word is added, whose meaning was destined to be permanently fresh in every age. The pastoral life of Oriental lands might lose its meaning when transplanted to other lands and centuries; but the office and function of a bishop is preserved forever from oblivion by its inherent position in the organisation of the Church. And this word the apostle places side by side with the other word of local significance, that both might go down the ages together, and each interpret the meaning of the other. And so the Good Shepherd is also the Bishop of souls. The title, in its comprehensive significance, lifts our thoughts to that Divine episcopate whose cathedral is the temple not made with hands, eternal in the heavens; whose diocese is the universe of souls, and whose affairs are administered today from the right hand of the Majesty on high. The collective pastorate of the Church on earth, acting in His name, is 'but the representative of the infinite care and ominiscient watchfulness of the great Shepherd above.

(W. A. Snively, D. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward.

WEB: Servants, be in subjection to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the wicked.

The Return of the Flock
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