1 Peter 5:1-4

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1 Peter 5:1-4
The story is told of a preacher who quit the ministry after twenty years and became a funeral director. When asked why he changed occupations, he said: “I spent three years trying to straighten out John, but John is still an alcoholic. Then I spent six months trying to straighten out Susan’s marriage, but she has filed for divorce. Then I spent five years trying to straighten out Bob’s drug problem, but he’s still an addict. Now at the funeral home, when I straighten them out they stay straight.”
The job of a church leader can certainly be difficult and disappointing at times. As you know, there are good leaders and there are bad leaders.
Turn to 1 Peter 5. Peter has been talking about persecution, but in chapter 5 he abruptly changes the topic to that of church leadership. What would he do that? The reason for the change of topics is because in times of persecution the demand for God’s people to have good spiritual leadership is even greater. Difficult times demand strong leaders who will rise to the challenge. That was true in the first century and it is still true today. Leaders who disappear or run away in times of difficulty are only proving that they are hirelings and not true shepherds. Jesus pointed this out. Jesus said:
John 10:11-14 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me.
You may not be an official leader in the church, but I think you will find that many of the principles Peter gives us in these verses can be applied to leadership in all kinds of settings and relationships, including relationships in the workplace, the home, and in friendships. So let’s take a closer look at the text and see how these verses apply to our lives.
First, there is the ministry of elders.
1 Peter 5:1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed.
As I mentioned again last week, Peter was writing to Christians who were experiencing persecution and were about to experience even more severe and painful persecution. That reality led Peter to encourage the elders to shepherd their suffering sheep. The first and obvious point to note here is that the Bible affirms that such leadership and responsibility for the church belongs to elders.
New Testament churches were organized under the leadership of elders and deacons. The deacons were and are special servants who have specific responsibilities in the church. Even the name “deacon” means “servant.” In Acts 6 the seven men chosen by the congregation were set apart and given the responsibility of serving the widows. Actually, except for the mention of qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3, we never find deacons mentioned again in the Bible.
The elders play a much broader role over the entire church family and are thus mentioned almost a dozen times. There are however, three New Testament terms used interchangeably to refer to men in the role of elders.
The first term is “elder.” In Greek the term is presbuteros. It’s also where the word Presbyterian comes from. It’s used to refer to a congregation that is led by elders. While the term elder can refer to age, it can also refer to rank or experience. It therefore used to emphasize a man’s spiritual maturity, a maturity which is necessary for such ministry and comes through years of experience.
When a relationship with Christ is real and being cultivated, growing, that person has a base from which to share and to minister to others. In fact, it has been said concerning elders as shepherds of the church that as the shepherd goes, so go the sheep. As the shepherd grows, so grow the sheep. If the shepherd is growing, sheep are growing. If the shepherd is stagnating, the sheep will be stagnating. Which means church leaders should be always growing in their personal lives, their spiritual walks, their marriages, their gifts that they use, and their knowledge. All of this is summed up in Peter’s second letter where he wrote:
2 Peter 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.
There was a man who was among one of the passengers who was on a flight flying to different cities in California. When they landed in Sacramento and there was a flight delay the stewardess got on the intercom and she said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we're going to be delayed in this airport for at least forty-five minutes or more. You have the freedom to get up and go into the terminal and we'll re-embark after a period of time." Everybody stood up and got off the plane, except for one man. He stayed seated. He was blind and his Seeing Eye dog was in the seat beside him.
Evidently, the pilot knew the passenger. The pilot went over to the man and called him by name. "Keith," he says, "we're going to be at this airport for about an hour. If you want, you can go out and come back." He goes, "No, I don't need to, I'll stay seated. But my dog would probably like to be walked." The pilot said, "No problem. I'll take care of it."
I want you to imagine what it would have been like to be a passenger in the terminal when your pilot comes off the plane with a Seeing Eye dog. Then, just to add a little bit of fun, the pilot put on his sunglasses as he walked out into the terminal. What would you have thought? That's what they thought. Most of them went to the counter to switch flights. Some wanted to switch airlines altogether. Why? Why did they react that way? It's simple, they had no desire to entrust their lives to a man who couldn't see to fly.
Here's the point: men who don't love their wives, or don't raise their children in a godly fashion, or don't know their Bibles, have no business flying God's plane filled with God's people. Just a pilot has to see to fly the plane, so an elder needs his own personal relationship with the living, resurrected Christ.
The second term, episkopos, is translated as “overseer” or “bishop.” The Greek term and refers to the general responsibility of guardianship and leadership over the church.
The third term used to describe elders is “shepherd” or “pastor.” It comes from the Greek term poimenos which refers to the duty of feeding, guiding, and protecting the church. You’ll remember how Jesus told Peter to feed and take care of his sheep. This is the term Peter uses for elders in verse 2.
2a Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them. . . .
1 Peter 5:2a Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them. . . .
There was a woman who was sick and tired of all those blonde jokes so she decided to dye her hair black. After dying it black she was out for a drive in the country. She slowed down when she came across a shepherd directing a flock of his sheep across the road. So she stopped and she rolled her window down and she yelled out to the shepherd, "Hey, if I can guess exactly how many sheep are in your flock, can I have one of them?" He said, "Sure. Take a stab at it." She said, "You have 257 sheep." He stepped back amazed at her advanced intelligence, because that's exactly how many he had. And so he said, "Well, you're free to take one." So she took one, put it in the car, was about to drive off when she heard a knock on the window. It was the shepherd. He said, "If I can guess what color your hair really is, can I have my dog back?" I guess sheep and dogs need a good shepherd.
We don’t know much about shepherding, but in Bible times shepherds were as common and familiar as telephones and telemarketers are to us. Almost anywhere they looked they would likely have seen at least one flock of sheep. It’s interesting that while the shepherd certainly had authority over the sheep he was also a servant of the sheep. When a tiny lamb was born, one of the first sensations felt by the shivering lamb was the tender hands of the shepherd. The shepherd’s gentle voice was one of the first sounds it would have heard.
In Lynn Anderson’s book, “They Smell Like Sheep,” he states:
The shepherd lived with the lambs for their entire lives – protecting them, caressing them, feeding and watering them, and leading them to the freshest pool and the most luxuriant pastures – day and night, year in and year out. . . . Each sheep came to rely on the shepherd and to know his voice and his alone. They followed him and no one else.
Phillip Keller, in his book, “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23,” said:
It is no accident that God has chosen to call us sheep. The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in many ways. . . . Sheep do not “just take care of themselves” as some might suppose. They require, more than any other class of livestock, endless attention, and meticulous care.
Like sheep, we are prone to wandering, taking in what is bad for us, becoming unclean, and we are highly vulnerable and defenseless on our own. When the sheep are under attack, they need strong and courageous shepherds.
Another important New Testament principle is the plurality of elders. When the role of elders is discussed in the Bible, the term always appears in the plural form. The role of elders was and is an office that is designed for a group of men.
The plurality of godly leaders, as designed by God, not only provides more ministry care, but offers some important safeguards. First, a plurality of elders helps protect the church against error. A group of leaders is not as easily led astray as one person is. Second, a plurality of elders preserves the church from imbalance. Since there are a variety of personality types and temperaments a group of men can balance each other out. And since no one person has every spiritual gift, a group of elders will have more of a balance of spiritual gifts and can round each other out. And third, a plurality of elders protects the church from discontinuity. If the church is led by a single or dominant leader and they vacate the position, then the church faces a major disruption. But when there is a plurality of elders, if and when an elder needs to step down or away from the role there is no major disruption to the church.
Going back to verse 1, did you notice how Peter appealed to these elders on the basis of being a fellow elder? Peter could have addressed them from his position of an apostle, but he didn’t want to flex his apostolic muscle. He humbly wrote as a fellow elder, thus modeling leadership that doesn’t “lord it over” others.
Second, we see the motives of elders.
1 Peter 5:2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.
Peter tells elders that they must do the work of a shepherd by leading, feeding, guarding, and caring for the flock. Notice whose flock they are caring for. The church belongs to God; it is his flock, not ours. All elders are simply under-shepherds caring for a flock that belongs to God.
Peter mentions two motives that must be guarded against in the shepherd’s heart. The first motive has to do with serving willingly and voluntarily, rather than under compulsion. Concerning elders Paul wrote:
1 Timothy 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
Being an elder is a noble task and those who set their hearts on being an elder, for the right reasons, are desiring something good. There are many men who meet the qualifications for being an elder, but they do not desire to be in the role and it is certainly not a role for everyone. No one should feel pressure to serve as an elder. Neither should anyone fill the role because they have been coerced or feel obligated. And we don’t want elders to have the mentality that they serve only because “no one else will do it.” The right motive includes having a willingness to serve as an elder. We need shepherds who are passionate for God’s family and for reaching the lost.
The second motive that must be guarded against has to do with serving only for financial gain. One of the basic qualifications for elders mentioned by Paul made it clear that an elder must not be pre-occupied with money and materialism. Paul said that an elder must not be a “lover of money” (1 Timothy 3:3) and that he must not pursue “dishonest gain” (Titus 1:7). The love of money is nowhere uglier than when it is found in Christian ministries. A lot of damage has been done to the reputation of the church by Christian leaders who have become financially rich by fleecing the church.
That doesn’t mean that a Christian worker doesn’t deserve to be paid; but there is a big difference between receiving money and serving money. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul taught that those who minister the Word have a right to live by that ministry. That was true for both evangelists and elders. Paul told Timothy:
1 Timothy 5:17-18 17 The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. 18 For Scripture says, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.
Nevertheless, no true shepherd should need financial gain to motivate him to serve, rather he should be eager to serve regardless of the financial compensation.
And third, the manner that elders lead.
1 Peter 5:3-4 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
There is a big difference between leadership and dictatorship. Sheep need to be led, not ruled. Elders are to be overseers not overlords. Shepherds are not sovereigns, but servants. Jesus is the only sovereign Lord with absolute authority and there is no place in church leadership for arbitrary, arrogant and excessively restrictive rule.
Do you remember when Jesus was teaching His disciples about the difference between spiritual leadership and worldly leadership? Peter and John had just been caught asking Jesus if they could sit at his left and right. They were asking for seats of importance and leadership over the other ten.
Matthew 20:25-28 25 Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
So rather than lord it over the sheep, shepherds are called to be examples to the flock. People are certainly much more willing to follow leaders who are practicing what they preach, thus giving them a good example to follow. As an example, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to follow him as he followed Christ.
Elders should seek to imitate Christ and encourage others to imitate the Christ they see in them. Of course, this doesn’t mean that elders are always perfect examples. No one is perfect. Therefore, part of being a good example for the flock includes modeling repentance. When elders fall short in some way, they should set the example of being quick to humbly repent and ask for forgiveness.
Have you seen the bumper sticker: “Don’t follow me, I’m lost, too!”? That should not be the mantra of the elders of the church. Elders should lead by good examples. They should know the way and encourage others to follow.
Here’s a story that illustrates the great, humble leadership of Abraham Lincoln. On one occasion, it appears that Abraham Lincoln got caught up in wanting to please a certain politician, so he issued a command to transfer certain regiments within his army. When the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, received the order, he refused to carry it out. He declared that the president was a fool. Word got back to President Lincoln concerning what Stanton had said. Lincoln responded, saying, “If Stanton said I’m a fool, then I must be, for he is nearly always right. I’ll see for myself.” Lincoln went to Stanton and asked him about it. As the two men talked, the President quickly realized that his decision was a serious mistake, and without hesitation, withdrew it.
That’s great example for leaders to follow. That’s a great example for husbands and wives, parents, neighbors, and co-workers to follow.
Listen to this story about Adolf Hitler that illustrates what a cold, self-centered leader he was. In the fall of 1942, Hitler was on a train going to his new headquarters. His army was in trouble at Stalingrad, the Russian front. Hitler was sitting down to supper in his rosewood paneled dining car on his special train. A freight car happened to stop on an adjacent track. The freight car contained a company of starving and wounded German soldiers returning from the eastern front. The soldiers stared in astonishment at Hitler enjoying his meal just a few yards away. Without as much as a gesture of greeting in their direction, Hitler ordered his servant to close the shades. How’s that for caring for the flock you are leading?
I like what Peter wrote in verse 4:
1 Peter 5:4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Peter referred to Jesus as the Chief Shepherd, certainly one of the more meaningful titles of Jesus. Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd in John 10:11 and he’s called the Great Shepherd in Hebrews 13:20-21. When our Chief Shepherd returns, he will give unfading crowns of glory to the faithful shepherds of his flock. What a joy it will be to receive a crown of glory and then to place our crowns at his feet. The reward of eternal glory ought to be all the reason any shepherd needs to keep him serving faithfully.
The promise of future rewards for Christian faithfulness and service is something Peter has been using throughout this letter as incentive. God will reward all the faithful, both followers and leaders.
Shepherding the flock of God is a serious, sobering responsibility, and elders are accountable to God for their ministry to the flock. Certainly, elders face a daunting task that cannot be done except through the power and wisdom of God. But the eternal reward for faithful service is certainly worth it. The goal of all Christians, especially elders, should be to hear these words from the Chief Shepherd:
Matthew 25:23 His master replied, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”
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