The hirelings and the ear of-the sheep
The Bible gives Jesus the name, Chief Shepherd, and those who believe in Him are called His sheep. This is a beautiful illustration. The Good Shepherd takes care of His sheep and loves them. The sheep follow the Shepherd, need Him, and recognize their own Shepherd's voice from among the voices of strangers. Instruction in God's Word that is based on this illustration should be emphasized in our day, because that which is directly contrary to the teaching of the illustration is happening today. Many shepherds are hirelings. To them their own welfare and security are more important than the fate of their sheep. The sheep are not warned by them concerning the voices of strangers or false doctrine, but are rather urged to be faithful to all shepherds regardless of what they teach.
Jesus says: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). Jesus' sheep listen intently to determine whether the voice they hear is that of their Shepherd or the voice of someone else. If it is all the same to a person what is proclaimed, just as long as something is proclaimed and a nice speech is given, then such a person is not one of Christ's sheep. If on the other hand a person has a desire to hear God's Law so that he will come to a knowledge of his sins, and at the same time has a desire to hear the Gospel in order to believe in the forgiveness of sins, he has the characteristics of a sheep of Jesus. A true Christian also longs to receive instruction that will offer him guidance for leading a Christian life. But what if something contrary to God's Word is taught? To one of Jesus' sheep this type of teaching should be like the howl of a wolf that quickly frightens him away.
A sheep does not trust his shepherd on the basis of sight. Sheep's clothing can deceive. The voice is the deciding factor. Preaching must be in agreement with God's Word. He who teaches contrary to God's Word is a false shepherd. "A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:5). It is the sacred responsibility of God's children to judge whether or not the preaching and teaching they hear is in accordance with God's Word. If it is, they must follow it. If not, they must go where Christ's voice is heard.
Our Reformer Martin Luther says of shepherds: "I am one of God's sheep. I want to have and accept His Word. If you will give me His word, I will regard you as my shepherds. But if you set up another doctrine, and do not offer me the pure Gospel, I do not wish to regard you as shepherds or to accept your voice. For the Ministry of which you boast does not extend any further than the Word does. If someone is a shepherd we must accept him; if he is not, we must depose him from office. For the sheep must judge the voice of the shepherds."
Some have at times advised false teachers to resign from the shepherd's office, but no one has followed such advice. Why not? Well, has anyone ever heard of a wolf, by his own initiative, leaving the sheep he holds captive? This does not happen. The sheep must flee from the wolves and true shepherds must keep the wolves away.
Many do not understand the significance of pure teaching. The ear has become numbed. But a true sheep, the older he becomes, is more and more attached to the voice of the Good Shepherd.