1 Peter 5:1-4 ~ 20090705 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
0705 1 Peter 5:1-4 God's Under-Shepherds
4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And "If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?" 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.
Peter is writing to the suffering saints in Asia Minor. He encourages us not to 'be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you, but rejoice...' He tells us that when we suffer for the name of Christ, we bring glory to God. And he tells us that God's judgment is ready to be unleashed on the unbelieving world. But when God's judgment comes, he begins by cleansing his own house; his own people. We saw this when we looked back at some Old Testament passages like Ezekiel 9
Ezekiel 9:5 And to the others he said in my hearing, “Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. 6 Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the house.
So Peter warns his readers that judgment is coming and exhorts us to self-examination.
1Corinthians 11:31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
God's judgment is coming on the world, and God's disciplinary judgment has already begun in the suffering of his people. If God's judgment begins with his own house, particularly with the leaders of his people, that's where Peter starts. Peter addresses the elders and exhorts them to shepherd in a godly way.
This is an awkward passage to teach from. As I teach God's word, I am obliged to find truth that applies to every person who hears. But not every person is called to lead God's people. So this morning you all get to listen in on a private exhortation to leaders in God's church. And as a leader in God's church, I am acutely aware of my own shortcomings and inadequacies and how desperately I am in need of God's mercy and grace. I am deeply challenged by this passage to be a better shepherd of God's people. So for me today, this is awkward and humbling, and I feel vulnerable. But that is meant to be. That is built in to the passage. God intended it to be so. Put yourself for a minute into a first century group of believers gathering in Asia Minor for worship, teaching, prayer, and communion. One of the elders addresses the group and announces that we have received correspondence from the Apostle Peter, who we have heard has been imprisoned in Rome under the emperor Nero. The letter is addressed 'to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bythinia'. This is a circular letter, intended to be read to all the believers in all the churches in this diverse geographic region. The letter would be read aloud to the entire group. There was no separate sealed envelope containing this paragraph to be read behind closed doors of a board meeting somewhere. If an elder was know in the congregation as pushy and domineering, he would have to read this aloud to the people he was lording it over; if a leader was living large at the expense of his people, he would be publicly rebuked by the Apostle Peter; if he was leading with a grudging heart rather than joyfully, he would be publicly exhorted to lead as God would lead. So from this passage we see that God has designed that there be godly leadership in his church. It is not anarchy and the church is not a democracy. Jesus Christ rules over his church. And he has appointed leadership under him to care for the church. But there is some healthy public accountability built in to that leadership.
Before we dive into the text, we need to have a Greek vocabulary lesson. There are some terms we need to be familiar with to help us understand this passage.
The first term is 'elders' (presbuterov) – it's where we get our English word 'presbyter' – this is where the Presbyterian churches take their name. The word itself points to wisdom that comes from age and experience and maturity, hence the translation 'elder'
The next term is 'shepherd' (poimainw) 'poimano' – here it's a verb, derived from the noun 'shepherd' (poimhn) 'poimen'. The Latin translation of this word is 'pastor' – which is where we get our word 'pastor'. The task of the shepherd or pastor is primarily to lead the sheep to food and to guard the sheep from danger.
The third term we need to look at is (episkopew) translated here 'exercising oversight'. It is the verb form of (episkopov) 'episcopos' which came to us through the Vulgar Latin 'ebiscopos' as 'bishop'. This word is where Episcopalians or the Episcopal Church derives its name. The word means 'to watch over' or 'to oversee'; hence our translation 'exercising oversight'.
So in this one passage (and this is supported by a study of these words in the rest of the New Testament documents), we have lumped together pastors, bishops, and elders. The elders of the church are told to pastor and to bishop or oversee the flock of God that is under their care. Or, dropping the titles, those who have wisdom and maturity and experience are to feed, nurture and protect; they are to supervise, look after and watch over with vigilance and care, God's sheep. Now, understanding the vocabulary, lets dive in to the passage:
5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Peter comes along side the elders of the church to exhort and encourage them to do what God has called them to do. But Peter doesn't appeal to his authority as Apostle of our Lord Jesus Christ, but rather he calls himself a 'fellow-elder'. Addressing those who hold a leadership role in the church, the Apostle comes along side them as one who together with them also holds a leadership role in the church and will with them give account to the Chief Shepherd and Judge. He further designates himself as 'a witness of the sufferings of Christ'. That., for Peter must be a vivid and humbling recollection. I was a witness of the sufferings of Christ. I was with him in the garden when he prayed to his Father and sweat great drops of blood. I fell asleep. I was with him there when he was arrested. I pulled out my little sword and mangled a man's ear. After Jesus repaired the damage and rebuked me, I too ran away and abandoned him. I was there in the courtyard warming myself by the fire while he was being falsely accused and three times I denied that I even knew him. Yes, I am a witness of the sufferings of Christ. But I am also 'a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed'. Peter claims to presently be a participant in the glory that will be revealed in the future. When Jesus returns in all his glory, Peter is assured fellowship with him in his glory. Peter, as a fellow-elder, as one who witnessed Christ's sufferings, as one who participates in his future glory, exhorts the elders among the congregations. His exhortation is simple. Shepherd. Shepherd the flock of God. Peter had failed in his devotion to Christ. He didn't live up to his own expectations. Jesus had called him to make him a fisher of men, but Peter went back to his fishing. Our resurrected Lord met him on the shore, fed him breakfast and spoke to him:
John 21:15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. ...19 ... And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”
In three different phrases, Jesus commissioned Peter to shepherd his flock. Peter now passes on that exhortation to the elders in the churches – feed the sheep. Shepherd the flock. And we must always keep in mind whose flock it is. Consistently in the bible it is God's flock, Jesus' sheep. The lambs do not belong to the elders who are over them. They belong to the Good Shepherd. But what does it mean to shepherd the flock of God? Surely we are not to buy land and graze livestock! Martin Luther put it this way:
“Therefore to tend them is nothing else than to preach the Gospel, by which souls are nourished, made fat and fruitful – since the sheep thrive upon the Gospel and the Word of God. This only is the office of a bishop” [Luther, p.205]
Jeremiah confirms that he is on the right track:
Jeremiah 3:15 “‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.
Turn to Ezekiel. God has an extended rebuke to the shepherds of Israel:
Ezekiel 34:1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. 7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. 11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
The shepherds of Israel are rebuked for not shepherding rightly. From this passage we get a clearer picture of what God expects from his shepherds. Shepherds are to feed the sheep, strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strayed, seek the lost, protect from danger, keep the flock together. Peter gives the clear instruction; Shepherd the flock of God exercising oversight. That is the task. But successful completion of the task is not all that is required of elders. The attitude and motive with which they go about the task is also mandated. Motive matters to God. Attitude matters. Peter gives a list of three negative / positive contrasts to paint the picture of what is expected. Not this, but this; not this, but this; not this, but this.
The first contrast is 'not under compulsion, but willingly'. We are not to have an attitude of grudging obligation and duty bound faithfulness. Instead, the service that God desires is willing voluntary service. Not because I must, but because I get to; not because I am required but because I choose to. What a supreme honor, to be entrusted by the Chief Shepherd with the oversight and care of his own sheep! The church of God is in need of happy pastors in glad service to the King. Peter qualifies this with the phrase 'as God would have you'. In the original that is just two words 'according to God; as God; or like God'. As God is not under compulsion to care for us, but rather willingly and freely chooses to shepherd us and serve us, so we must reflect his glad-hearted service as we care for his sheep.
The next contrast is 'not for shameful gain, but eagerly'. The motive for service is questioned. Why go into pastoral ministry? It's a respectable way to make a living. There's money to be had selling books and videos and holy handkerchiefs. Send your money to me and God will bless you and cause you to prosper. Send lots of money and God will bless you more. Support my ministry and God will heal you.
The bible is clear that 'the laborer deserves his wages' (Lk.10:7; 1Tim5:17-18) 'especially those who labor in preaching and teaching', but this is why part of the qualification for leadership is 'not greedy for gain' (Titus 1:7). Money must not be the motive for service. The contrasting attitude to being motivated by shameful gain is 'eagerly' – with passion, fervor, enthusiasm, zeal. God would have passionate preachers not calculating preachers. The problem with calculating preachers is the content is controlled by the motive for money. Don't teach that – that would offend the biggest givers. Passionate preachers, teachers who have a zeal for God and his truth will get themselves fired for speaking the truth – because they are more concerned about what God thinks than whether the paycheck keeps coming.
The third contrast is 'not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock'. This is exactly what Jesus taught:
Mark 10:42-45 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
Shepherds do not drive the sheep. They walk ahead and call the sheep to follow. We are talking about leadership positions in the church – Pastors, elders, overseers. There is real authority in those offices. There is authority to direct and authority to discipline. But the authority to lead is authority to keep safe from danger and lead to green pastures. The authority to discipline is authority to serve the stray by bringing back into the fold. Jesus was the ultimate example of servant leadership. Peter tells us that we must model for the people what we would have them do. Leaders must serve the people so that the people will in turn serve one another.
Shepherd, exercising oversight not under compulsion, not for shameful gain, not domineering, but rather shepherd willingly, eagerly, living as an example for the flock to follow.
Now that Peter has given us the charge and clarified what it does and does not look like, he gives us the true motive for shepherding. Shepherding can be thankless, emotionally draining, painful, hard work. Overseeing a persecuted church can be dangerous, even life threatening. Peter tells us that it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God, and James tells us that 'we who teach will be judged with greater strictness' (James 3:1). So why do it? Who wants that? Here is the motive:
4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
The motive for faithful shepherding is the appearance of the chief Shepherd. Jesus is coming, and he will reward faithful service. This is amazing, because any service that is faithful is because of his grace, which is why the crowns of glory we receive will go right back to his feet and redound to his glory. At the end of the day, every pastor has much more in common with the sheep than the Shepherd. Leaders by nature are sheep. And all we like sheep have gone astray. But by his grace, he gives some sheep the privilege of caring for and serving other sheep. And by his grace, he enables faithful service. And in the abundance of his grace, he rewards the service he enables.
Psalm 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.