According to W. E. Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, a hireling, as used in John 10: 12-13, “expresses, not only one who has no real interest in his duty, but one who is unfaithful in the discharge of it; that sense attaches always to the word rendered ‘hireling’.”
Jesus’ statement in this passage is as follows:
He that is a hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf snatcheth them, and scattereth them: he fleeth because he is a hireling and careth not for the sheep” (John 10:12-13).
Let’s talk about preachers first. In my 30 years as a gospel preacher, I have viewed with fear the temptation to become a “hireling” in the Lord’s work. It is always easier to yield to the powers that be within a congregation than it is to take a firm and strong stand for the truth on each and every issue that faces a local church. A man who will compromise his God-given responsibility of being faithful to the trust that he has received of God will suffer a guilty conscience (if his conscience is still sensitive), and will suffer the loss of respect of his fellow Christians, and this is not the worst thing–he also incurs the wrath of God upon himself for being unfaithful in his “preaching of the word.”
A man who works in the Lord’s kingdom as a preacher of the gospel or as an elder of the church must be one who has “counted the cost” and has properly concluded concerning the responsibility he must assume in the great task of leading the Lord’s church.
Any man who works as a gospel preacher who is primarily interested in pleasing all other men (even those outside the church, and including the worldly and unfaithful within the church) even to the compromise of his teaching and life for the Lord, is a hireling! Often there are those who occupy pulpits who are willing to stop their own mouths–or allow someone else to silence their voices by the mere suggestion of the ones in “authority”, even when the matter under consideration is a matter that the Lord has given clear and plain truth teaching regarding. A man who will refuse to confront sin with sincere and strong rebuke (even if it involves the elders of the church, see I Timothy 5:20) is a hireling preacher–not God’s man! This man serves his own belly. He stands judged by God’s present law as a hireling!
Elders of the church who are unwilling to stand squarely on biblical principles in dealing with church matters are also “hirelings.” Although they may not receive money for their “work,” often they remain the hirelings because they receive what they value more than money–the praise of men and the feeling of power and/or importance.
Brother Guy N. Woods has this comment in his Commentary on the Gospel of John, page 211:
Individual and organizations abound which prey on people in the name of religion whose sole purpose is the personal profit they derive. And, the church today is not without those who feel no obligation to defend the truth against false teachers and godless philosophies and who flee at the first approach of such in their congregations because they love the “peace’ and tranquility they enjoy, being in perfect harmony with denominational bodies round about. All who thus do, whether elders, preachers, prominent members or obscure ones, are hirelings in the sense our Lord used the word in this allegory.
Any eldership that bends its decisions to the will of a few in the membership while knowing that those decisions are against true Bible teaching is a hireling eldership and will not escape the wrath of God, and will not long delude honest and good Christians.
How important it is for us to be faithful to God’s law–come what may! If the Lord is our helper, why should we fear what men may do to us, or say about us?
-Glenn B. Ramsey
From TBC’s Living Oracles April 1989, Volume 1, #7