The Chief Shepherd's Shepherds (I Peter 5:1-4)
Topic: I Peter Passage: 1 Peter 5:1–5:4
New Life in the Same Old Place
The Chief Shepherd’s Shepherds
I Peter 5:1-4
September 13th, 2009
Way of Grace Church
I. A Leader by Any Other Name
Abbey, archbishop, bishop, cardinal, cassock, chaplain, cleric, curate, dean, director, divine, ecclesiast, exarch, father, metropolitan, minister, monsignor, padre, parson, patriarch, pope, prelate, presbyter, pontiff, preacher, predicant, priest, primate, pulpiteer, rector, reverend, vicar.
If those sound strange, how about these: senior pastor, youth pastor, associate pastor, singles pastor, pastor of music, pastor of spiritual formation, pastor of worship arts, pastor of sports ministries, pastor of outreach, lay elder, board elder, non-board elder.
In light of all that, is it any wonder that most people are confused about the specifics of church leadership, or what is often called church government or church polity?
Maybe you grew up in a church that had a priest. Or maybe your church had a minister. Maybe a board of deacons made all the decisions. Thinking about all the different models of leadership out there that are designated as 'Christian' is enough to make your head spin!
So what does God's word say about this issue? What does Scripture reveal that can help us navigate these muddles waters?
Turn with me this morning to I Peter 5:1-4. This morning, we begin the first of our last three studies in the book, or we should say, the letter we call I Peter. Peter wrote this letter for a number of churches who were struggling with reality of persecution. Peter encouraged his readers to remain committed to God's path, in spite of the opposition.
Her writes in chapter 2: Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
II. The Passage: "Shepherd the Flock of God" (5:1-4)
But as he comes to the end of the letter, look at where his attention turns. 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.
This morning, in order to better understand what God is teaching us through Peter, I'd like to ask three questions, and then look at three answers for each of those three questions. In light of what we just read, I'd like to ask, "What is an elder?", "What is Peter's Exhortation?", and finally, "What if You're Not an Elder?"
A. What is an Elder?
First of all, we see clearly here that Peter, in verse 1, is addressing "the elders among you". Now the word for elder here is the word, presbuteros. It literally means, 'someone who is older".
So Peter could be addressing everyone over 65, but the rest of the verses indicate that Peter has the leadership of the church in mind. And if we looked at the Old Testament, and the early church in the book of Acts, and the Greek-Roman world at this time, it would not be surprising that the leaders of the church are referred to as "elders". Acts 14 and Titus 1 tell us that the Apostles appointed elders in the churches they planted.
But while village elders were and still are a common feature all over the world, the emphasis here is not on physical maturity, but spiritual maturity.
So who were these elders in the early church? Let's talk about three things we learn from the New Testament about elders.
1. An Elder is an Overseer, Ministering as a Pastor (Shepherd)
First, the title "elder" is the most common title used for the primary leader of Jesus Christ's church. I say the most common, because the New Testament uses two other titles to refer to these leaders. And actually, all of those names are found in one form or another in this passage.
The name "elder" is of course found in verse 1. The verb used in verse 2, translated here as "shepherd" is the verb poimaino. The noun related to this word, the noun poimane is found in Ephesians 4:11 where Paul writes:
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...
So "shepherd" or "pastor" is simply another title for an elder. An elder is one who shepherds God's flock. In Ephesians 4, the phrase "pastors and teachers" probably means, because of the Greek construction here, it probably means "the pastor-teachers". Elders are not literal shepherds with real sheep. They are spiritual shepherd who often guide the flock of God as teachers.
But there is another title connected to a second term in verse 2. Peter says shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight. The word oversight in Greek is the term episkopeo. Again, Paul uses the noun related to this word, the noun episkopos, in many places, including I Timothy 3, where he states:
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded... [and Paul goes on with a number of other qualifications.]
And so here, an elder is also called an "overseer". This is confirmed when Paul gives a very similar list to Titus in Titus chapter 1:
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.
The term overseer is where the title "bishop" comes from. The later church separated the office of bishop from the office of elder. But it's clear from several passages that an elder is an overseer; one who exercises oversight with God's people.
So an elder is a pastor (or shepherd), and an elder is an overseer. Therefore the church of Jesus has only one primary leader who is called an elder, in reference to his spiritual maturity, also called an overseer, in reference to his task, but additionally referred to as a pastor, in reference to how he carries out that task.
2. An Elder May Be Worthy of a "Double Honor"
But the New Testament teaches us something else about elders. While there is no difference between an elder and a pastor and an overseer, we do find a distinction among elders. Paul talks about this in I Timothy 5:
17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Here we see that those elders who lead the church well, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching, these elders should be financially supported. Why? So they can be freed up and devote more of their time to the work of Christ.
Paul valued the financial support he often received because it meant he could focus all of his time and attention on the work of Jesus. Sometimes he had to stop or chose to stop and make tents to provide for himself, but many churches contributed to his support.
Now, this kind of financial support does not make these elders any better than their fellow elders. All of them are still entrusted with the same work. This "double honor" simply means they can devote more time to that work.
3. An Elder is Part of the Body, Not Over It
Now, finally, when Peter addresses the "elders among you", I think that's a great reminder that elders/pastors/overseers are part of the body of Christ, not over the body of Christ.
Paul writes this in Romans chapter 12:
For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Notice there that teaching and leading are simply two gifts among many gifts given to the church. Elders who lead and teach are not any better than any other part of the body. The parts are simply different. They are all important. They are all necessary.
Therefore, the very common distinction between clergy and laity is an unbiblical distinction. All Christians have a higher calling. All Christians do sacred work. Leaders are not holier than those they lead. They simply have a different role. Jesus Christ is over His body. He is the head.
Now we could add other points to these, like the fact that elder leadership is always male leadership in the New Testament, or that elders serve in a plurality, not alone. But the three points we looked at this morning are helpful in correcting some of the common misconceptions in the church about leadership.
Therefore in this church family, Pastor Jason and I serve as your elders. We are pastor-elders, as it indicates on the back of your bulletin. We are overseers of this church. Additionally we are "double honor" elders. We are financially supported by the church. The world might label this as a vocation, but our work has nothing to do with a career. It is a calling according to God's gifts.
But we are hoping very soon to appoint more pastor-elders from among the body at Way of Grace. These pastor-elders will not be financially supported, but they will be entrusted with the same work that we are carrying out among you. What is that work?
B. What is Peter's Exhortation?
Well that brings us to our second question: "What is Peter's Exhortation" to these elders?
An exhortation is simply a strong encouragement to action. But before we look at the action to which Peter is encouraging these elders, look again at how Peter introduces this exhortation.
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...
Why does Peter begin this way? Even though he began the letter stating he was an apostle, here I think he wants to stress to these elders that he speaks as one who is standing in their same shoes. He is also an elder. And when he talks about being a witness of the sufferings of Jesus, and a partaker of glory, I think he is trying to point back to everything he's already said in this letter about suffering and glory, everything he's said to encourage his readers.
So what is the work to which Peter exhorts them? What were the responsibilities of all the elders in these churches, the "double honor" and "single honor" elders? It's right there in verse 2: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight...
A group of elders should not be compared to a board of directors. They should draw their inspiration, not from those concerned with shareholders, but from those who care for sheep. The work of the elders is a pastoral work. It is shepherd leadership. I probably don't have to tell you about the importance of the shepherding metaphor in the Bible. It's all over, isn't it?
All of us like sheep have gone astray (Isaiah 53:6). But the Lord, who is our shepherd (Psalm 23:1), raises up leaders, like the shepherd boy David to care for His flock (II Samuel 5:2). And ultimately, God sent the Son of David, who proclaimed as we saw last week, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).
But Peter’s encouragement for the elders here to shepherd and provide oversight for God’s own flock comes with qualifications, doesn’t it? Let’s look at the three things Peter tells them about the kind of shepherding to which God is calling them.
1. Shepherd from a Willing Heart (v. 2)
First of all, Peter writes, “shepherd, pastor God’s flock…not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you. God wants elders to shepherd from a willing heart.
One writer puts it this way, “If a man serves as an elder because his wife or friends pressure him to serve or because he is trapped by circumstances, or because no one else will do th e work, he is serving ‘under compulsion’”. Another commentator says that elders are not to shepherd “like drafted soldiers, but like volunteers”.
God is looking for men who serve His people, not because they have to, but because they want to. This makes their service a joy, not a chore. And the difference is clear from anyone who has ministered to by an elder who serves willingly.
2. Shepherd with Eagerness (v. 2)
The second thing Peter makes clear here is that God wants these pastor-elders to shepherd with eagerness. Look again at verse 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…
Listen to how Jesus described the same difference Peter is stressing here: I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
When a man serves because he first seeks financial gain or prestige, because he desires the supposed ‘perks’ of leadership, he has already undermined the essential nature of the shepherd’s work. A shepherd first seeks the welfare of the sheep not his own.
Thus a man should not only be willing to serve as an elder, but eager to serve. He should not only give his permission, but also his passion to the work. That is the kind of shepherd God is looking for.
3. Shepherd by Example (v. 3)
Finally, Peter tells these elders that they need to shepherd by example. He says in verse 3, they should be eager, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
While some of us have seen men who served only because they felt they had to, and others can think of church leaders now or in the past who used their position for shameful gain, many more of us have probably encountered a leader in the church who wielded his position like a sledgehammer.
This temptation in regard to leadership is the most common because this is how the world so often thinks about leadership: in terms of power to tell others what to do.
But as followers of Christ, these elders serve the one who said, “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.”
The example of Jesus teaches us that the pastors of God’s flock, the overseers, also need to lead by example. God’s leaders are always servants leaders who follow the lead of Jesus, so that others will by led to serve Christ and others in His name.
Peter knows the temptations that are common to all God’s leaders. And so here, he reminds them not only of God’s call to shepherd the flock, but also God’s call for the heart of the shepherd.
III. What if You’re Not an Elder?
Now, at this point, you may be thinking, “What does this have to do with me. I’m not an elder?” In some sense, maybe I should just dismiss all of you, except for Jason. Then I could put a big mirror right in front of me, and then continue to explain what God wants to say, through Peter, to the pastor-elders.
But the position of this exhortation in the letter, and the call to be examples to the church, I believe, points to the critical role these elders play in helping the church to understand and live out everything Peter has written up to this point.
Peter wanted his readers to understand what the sufferings of Christ said about their sufferings. Peter wanted his readers to understand that they would partake in glory, in spite of the shame they were now experiencing. And so, 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…Peter charges the elders to shepherd the church in light of everything he’s written.
All of this means that in God’s economy, all of us desperately need the shepherding that God wants to provide for us through the men he has called as leaders. That’s not a statement intended to argue for the importance of the man, but for the importance of the work.
In light of this, all of us should be doing three things when it comes to pastor-elders:
1. Pray for Them
First, we should be praying for them. Paul often asked for prayer from those he cared for. God has revealed to us this morning both the task of the elders and the temptations that come with leadership. If the work of the church is the most important work in the universe, and elders are called to lead the church, then they have a very important part to play, a role that needs to be supported by the prayers of God’s people.
2. Encourage Them
Secondly, we need to encourage these leaders in light of what we’ve learned this morning about the work God has given them. Paul puts it this way to the Thessalonian church:
12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. (II Thessalonians 5:12, 13)
I think “esteem very highly in love” is an attitude that results in encouragement for God’s shepherds.
3. Follow Their Lead
Finally, if these leaders are God’s appointed leaders, then we should follow their lead. The author to the Hebrews made this clear in the last chapter of that book. He wrote:
Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith…17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
IV. The Care of the Chief Shepherd
Now, there is the very real possibility that all of this sounds a little self-serving coming from me, an elder among you. But I believe Peter gives the elders and everyone in these churches the most important corrective as he concludes this exhortation in verse 4. He writes: And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
The shepherds to whom Peter writes are simply the Chief Shepherd’s shepherds. They have no function or authority or position apart from the Chief Shepherd. They serve at His pleasure for His purposes. The Good Shepherd commissions them and before Him they will give an account.
That’s not only a statement of encouragement for these leaders, that’s not only a statement that puts these leaders in their place, but it’s also a statement that speaks to every person who wants to be shepherded by Jesus himself.
The chief Shepherd has chosen to use under-shepherds in your life. Jesus Christ wants to bless you through the work of the pastor-elders He himself has appointed in the church. Paul told the elders in Ephesus: Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
All of us are sheep. All of us are prone to wander. All of us need to be fed. All of us need to know the care and concern of the Chief Shepherd. Pray for His under-shepherds; encourage them; follow their lead as they follow Jesus’ lead.