The following are edited notes of a sermon I preached tonight on 1 Peter 5:1-5. Someone at church said he hoped he had it written down. I took that as a lead to publish it here…
The number of times in Scripture that the people of God are compared to or called sheep is absolutely staggering. From Genesis to Revelation and so many places in between, the relationship between God and those He calls His own is described in the terms of a shepherd and his sheep.
- In Genesis 48:15 Jacob, near death, blessed Joseph by invoking the name of “The God before whom [his] fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, The God who [had] been [his] shepherd all [the days of his life].”
- In Numbers 27:17 Moses asked God for a successor, so that Israel would not be like sheep which have no shepherd.
- In 2 Samuel 5:2 David was being made king over all Israel and the people said, “Previously when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you, ‘You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel.’”
- In Psalm 23:1 it is the LORD, YHWH, who is our Shepherd.
- In Psalm 28:9 David cries out, “Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; Be their shepherd also, and carry them forever.”
- Ezekiel was writing and prophesying after David’s death. He was looking toward Christ when he wrote 37:24: “My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them.”
- There are myriad more Old Testament verses I could quote. What about the New Testament, though? Matthew 2:6 is a quotation of Micah 5:2 in reference to Christ. He is the One “who will shepherd My people Israel.”
- In Matthew 9:36, Jesus has compassion on the crowds because they are distressed and disspirited, like sheep without a shepherd.
- In Hebrews 13:20 it is the God of peace who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant.
- Earlier in 1 Peter 2:25, it is Jesus who is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls.
- And in Revelation 7:17, with regard to the great multitude which no one can number singing praise to God, it is said that “the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” What a glorious day that shall be.
These verses merely scratch the surface of how much God has used the Shepherd-sheep analogy to describe the relationship He has to His people.
If it were used one time it would be a powerful analogy, but because it is used so often, by so many different biblical authors, employing so many different literary styles, in times of writing which spanned at least 1500 years… Beloved, we would do well to take heed tonight to the relationship between a shepherd and a flock of sheep, especially given that this evening we arrive at the fifth and final chapter of 1 Peter. And this is what the word of God says in 1 Peter 5:1-5:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your bfellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as alording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be bexamples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
Peter is in the throes of finishing this rich letter, but while he is switching subjects here we cannot ignore the context. Going back to the end of chapter four, Peter stressed that it is with difficulty that the righteous is saved. Judgment is starting with the household of God. Persecution will come. Suffering will come. But it will be much worse, eternally so, for the godless man and the sinner. We are to entrust our souls to God, our faithful Creator, and do what is right.
But sometimes doing what is right can be hard, even in the church, even among the people of God. It’s true in the year 2011, but it was just as true in the middle of the first century A.D. In three decades since the resurrection and ascension of Christ the gospel had spread, and was continuing to spread, very rapidly. But that didn’t mean the church was without its problems.
So as he is ending the letter, Peter gives this whopping exhortation to the elders of the churches who would read this, and through the corridor of time he is giving that exhortation to us as well, and to me especially as your pastor. I preach this evening with an acute sense of my own need for the Lord, and for the truth of His word to go forth. And the truth is what Peter has written, the truth is the word of God, and it says, to elders, “shepherd the flock of God among you.”
I’ve been thinking about this passage for weeks, and in that time I have contemplated no shortage of ways to come at this text, or rather, methods by which to communicate to you what the text is saying. But I’ve settled on this one: As Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of His flock – all believers – so am I to be as Jesus, shepherding this particular flock that He has given me charge over.
It is an awesome task He has called me to. A fearful thing, really. We are all called to be like Christ, of course, but when that Christ-like calling is accompanied by a responsibility for more of His people, it is an awesome, fearful thing, especially because I know my own shortcomings better than anyone other than God Himself.
Nevertheless, God called men to lead His church; men who would be appointed elders, which is a term for the office of pastor. Bishop, or overseer, is another term. These words all describe one office. That fact can actually be made from this very text, because Peter is writing to elders, telling them to shepherd (which is the word for pastor) and to exercise oversight (as in being an overseer). God has called me to do this, in spite of myself, so here I am.
Peter must have felt similar to how I often feel. Here was a man God gave tremendous insight, enough to proclaim boldly that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the God, the Living One. Yet, he was very familiar with failure. Admonished more than once by Jesus Himself, Peter actually denied Christ three times just hours before His death. He shrunk away in shame rather than boldly stand up for the truth. Yet still, after Christ arose, He restored Peter and then some. In John 21 Jesus asked him three times, “Do you love Me?” And then He said, “Tend My lambs… Shepherd my sheep… Tend My sheep.” Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, where he did not deny Christ, but boldly preached the gospel to the glory of God.
Yet, even as an apostle, Peter did not consider himself more important than anyone else. His testimony as an apostle carried weight because he was a witness to the sufferings of Christ. He knew for certain that Jesus had been crucified, and that He was dead and buried. Peter was also a partaker in the glory to be revealed. He knew Jesus had risen. He’d seen Him first hand. He’d seen Him ascend into heaven. He knew He would come back. And you could even point back to Jesus’ transfiguration, to which Peter was a witness, to see how Peter knew the glory of God. Still, he considered himself not special, but a “fellow elder,” as John referred to himself as an elder in letters to a local church in 2 John and 3 John.
As an apostle, and as a fellow elder, he writes, exhorting elders, “shepherd the flock of God among you.” And for all of the biblical witness to the idea of a shepherd and sheep in Scripture, we cannot progress further until we continue the One Peter calls the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. And who is Jesus Christ as a Shepherd?
Well, He is the full manifestation of God in human flesh. In John 1 He is called the logos, the word (or message) of God. John 1:18 says “No one has seen God at any time;… [BUT…] the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father [that is Jesus], He has explained Him.” So Jesus, being fully God and fully man, has fully explained to men God the Father. So, beloved, while I am not, myself, a message from God, as a shepherd modeling myself after Jesus Christ to you, it is my duty to present to you, in full, the message from God. It is my job as a shepherd to feed you, to fill you. In Acts 20, as Paul was about to depart from Ephesus, he made a point to exhort the elders there by saying that he did not shrink from declaring to them the whole purpose of God. That is my job: to declare the whole purpose, the whole counsel, of God. The full message. That’s what one of God’s shepherds does.
Because of that, there are times when shepherding might mean I need to be forceful. Jesus, our Chief Shepherd, was sometimes forceful. In John 2 He went to the temple and found the money changers seated at their tables. He drove them out with a scourge of cords and said, “Take this things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” Jesus was sometimes very forceful. And there must be times when the men God has placed as your pastors, your elders, must be forceful as well, for the benefit and protection of the sheep. It’s part of the job of shepherding like Christ.
Of course, pastors are not gods. Pastors are not kings. Jesus is the King of Kings, but during His life and ministry He was a humble shepherd. Was He ever humble! Philippians 2:8 says, “Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” A godly shepherd will emulate Jesus’ humility. The history of the church is replete with the stories of pastors who failed to be humble. I want you to know, beloved, that I take with the utmost seriousness the requirement that I be a man of humility. It is to be Christ-like to be humble, and the flock of God needs a shepherd that is humble.
That said, the shepherd must also be authoritative. If the shepherds are not in charge of the sheep, then the sheep will go astray and be in grave danger. In reference to our relationship with God, W. Phillip Keller writes, “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.”
God created some animals with a built-in GPS, an uncanny ability to find home. Sheep aren’t them. When sheep stray into unfamiliar territory they become disoriented. They can’t find their way back to where they need to be. In 1 Kings 22 the prophet Micaiah was speaking about the imminent death of King Ahab during what would be Israel’s defeat at the hands of Ramoth-gilead. He said, “I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep without a shepherd.” The king would be dead and the people would have no leader. The sheep wouldn’t know where to go and what to do. That’s why they needed a shepherd — to guide them, to provide for them, to protect them, to rescue them from harm, to lead them.
The shepherd doesn’t ask the sheep where they all need to go. He leads them. The sheep don’t tell the shepherd what they want to eat. They eat and drink and feed off of the pasture that the shepherd has led them to. The shepherd has to be watchful about what the sheep eat. Sheep are practically defenseless against predators. In the Bible we read of wolves. The shepherd has to continually guard them to defend them and rescue them from an attack.
And for the shepherd to do that he must be authoritative with the sheep. For the shepherd to exercise the kind of oversight God calls him to he must have authority. That’s why Paul in 1 Timothy 5:17 speaks to his beloved son in the faith about elders who rule well. Jesus, our Chief Shepherd, was authoritative in His ministry, as He still is. Why were the people in the synagogue amazed at His teaching? Because He taught with authority. For Jesus to not have authority would have made Him an ineffective Shepherd, an impotent Guardian of the souls of His sheep. So too must the elder in the church model Christ in the realm of authority.
Yet, that authority must be tempered with the aforementioned humility… and with love. In John 10:11 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Verses 14-15: “I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” Jesus does this, of course, out of love. Romans 8:38-39 say that nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is “in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As your shepherd it is not merely my privilege, but my duty, to love you. But you have to remember that love doesn’t always do what the other person wants, and so sometimes I won’t do what you want me to do. Yet, love always does for the other person what is best. I know that I am not perfect in my love for you all the way the love of Christ is perfect, but it is this type of love I strive for. And I want you to know that I do love you.
And I have compassion for you, too. Jesus, the good shepherd, has compassion for us. We are like sheep without a shepherd without Him. But He feels for all of His people from the core of His being, from deep down within Himself, and we are talking about deep down within the person of God here, so that’s saying something. Like Jesus our Chief Shepherd, I am to have compassion for you as well. I want you to know that I do… again, not perfectly… but I do. Paul writes of all the sufferings he had faced in 2 Corinthians 11, and the last of them is not the least of them, concern for the churches. Paul is viewed by many as a hard man, a hard apostle, but he had so much compassion. I’m betting his concern for the churches kept him up nights. My concern for Covenant Baptist Church keeps me up some nights. That’s not be bragging, it’s just reality, it’s part of the job, part of the calling, and I accept it. I want you to know I have compassion for you, but I want to have it even more, for your good.
These things… fullness, forcefulness when needed, humility, authority, love, and compassion… these are just a few of the things I see in the good shepherding of our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, that I must and want to emulate for you, His flock which He has given me charge over.
In verse two, the elder, in his shepherding, is to exercise oversight. He is not a king anymore than a literal shepherd of literal sheep can have unilateral control over every facet of every one of the sheep’s lives. But he is a manager of the flock as a whole. An elder, a pastor, is an overseer. He is the one who will give an account for the sheep of the flock when he stands before God. And Peter gives three ways, three contrasts really, for the shepherd is to exercise that oversight.
First, a pastor is to shepherd, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God. A pastor is to shepherd, not because he has to, but because he wants to, because it’s what he’s been called to. The Father and the Son didn’t have to have it out in heaven before He finally obeyed. No! Jesus willingly, voluntarily, took on flesh and dwelt among us, that He might, in love, save His sheep. Likewise, a pastor shouldn’t need any external motivation to do his work. His heart should be so aflame for Jesus, so in love with Jesus, that the pressures that come from the outside would be superfluous at best. Beloved, this is the heart I hope you see in me. It is the heart I feel I have and always want to have.
Second, a pastor is to shepherd, not for sordid gain, but with eagerness. The world has too many so-called men of God who are in it for the money, or in it for the ego trip. That’s not what shepherding is about. In 2 Peter 2:3 the apostle calls out false teachers who, in their greed, exploit people with false teaching, whereas Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:15 says, “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” Consider Jesus Christ, who did not take on flesh for personal gain, but that He might save persons. That’s the heart of a true shepherd. That’s a heart I personally pray to have.
Third, a pastor is to shepherd, not lording it over those allotted to his charge, but instead proving to be an example to the flock. In 3 John, a man by the name of Diotrephes loved to be first, but while a shepherd is to rule well, while a shepherd is to have authority, and while a shepherd must sometimes be forceful, Peter here speaks against any kind of leadership that is oppressive or domineering. That is a perversion of the humility the shepherd is called to, and it does not reflect the example of our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Christ left the example of Himself for us to follow. So too is the shepherd to prove himself an example for the flock of God he is charged with. I pray that I might be that example.
Jesus said to Peter and the disciples in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.” Beloved, that is certainly a true statement that applies to us all. If you have been given the gift of salvation… if you have been given eternal life on the basis of Christ’s resurrection, then you have indeed been given much. I know that I have been given much. I know that much is required of me, all the more because God has called me to this office.
Yet that is why I am also thankful for verse four: “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Not everyone who holds the office of pastor can honestly say this, but I didn’t get into this for the money. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t even do it to attain a special reward from God. Yet, I praise Him and thank Him for the promise of verse four, the promise of an unfading crown of glory for every faithful shepherd of God’s flock, a priceless, eternal reward that will come from the Chief Shepherd Himself, Jesus Christ.
If I’m faithful much will be given to me, but I know that much is required as well. The expectations which Peter lays out for elders… and the requirements laid out in other places by other biblical writers… you should have these expectations of the men who fill this office. The office of the pastorate has taken quite a beating over the past century of so, but it is indeed a high calling with an incomprehensibly high responsibility. I do not take that lightly and neither should you, because rather you realize it or not, you, too, have been called to live in a certain way, and do certain things, as it relates to pastors.
First, and this is important to remember, pastors are gifts from God to His church. I don’t say that to toot my horn. In Ephesians 4:10-13 we read this: “He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things.) And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.”
We are not to take lightly or not treasure the gifts God has given us, whether that be the gifts He gives us individually or the gifts He gives His church. I know that over the course of time I have come to treasure the pastors God gave me. I didn’t always feel that way. Maybe being a pastor yourself changes your perspective. The word of God says that pastors are a gift to the church. That is to say nothing special about myself personally, but He has called me to the office, just as He called Pastor Brown to the office here for 53 years. James 1:17 says that “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” To not properly esteem God’s gifts is to not properly esteem God. It is, in fact, to rob Him of the glory due His name. So His church is called to recognize the pastorate not just as a job, an office, but as a gift, something given for the benefit of His church, for your equipping, for your building up, for your better knowledge of Jesus Himself.
But that is not where your responsibility to the office of pastor – elder – overseer ends. In Hebrews 13:17 we are told, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” Believe me when I tell you how humbling it is to be up here and saying this, beloved, but this is the word of God and what it says is as plain as when it says that Jesus Christ is Lord. The leaders in view here are pastors, for it is the only office of the church in which the New Testament invests authority. And the word the writer of Hebrews uses here for “leaders” is translated well in the King James, “those who have the rule over you,” for this word for “leaders” is the same word used of the type of authoritative leading the Holy Spirit gives believers.
This goes back to the explicit and necessary authority pastors are given by God in the church. His Spirit, inspiring whoever it was that penned Hebrews, says it is for your good to obey, to submit to the pastors God has given you. That’s not my opinion. That’s what the Bible says. It is unprofitable for you not to obey God in this. It is unprofitable for you, unprofitable for the church, when pastors are not able to do the work God has called them to do with joy, and not grief. So, beloved, I do not say this for my mere personal benefit, but for the benefit of this church, for the advancement of this church, that you consider your own obedience to the Lord in what He has called us all to do.
First Thessalonians 5:12-13 also says, “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” Again, this is for the benefit not merely of you, but of the whole church. Paul continues in verse 14: “We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Verse 15: “See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” So it is the responsibility of the members of the church to obey and submit and appreciate the gifts God has given them in the form of pastors, and not only that, but to admonish, in love of course, those who are not doing this, those who are not esteeming very highly what God has given.
And this is something Peter gets at in verse 5: “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
This is a difficult verse, in English at least, because it seems as though Peter turns on a dime the way he is using the word elders. He seems to go from talking about an office in the church in the first four verses to talking about men of a higher age in verse five, given the use of the word younger. But is that what he is really doing?
I say no. I believe that the King James, again here, has the better of the major English translations when it simply says “ye younger,” because I don’t believe that Peter has young men in particular, in mind here. I don’t think he’s telling the generation of lesser age to be subject to the generation of greater age. That may be true elsewhere in Scripture, but I don’t believe it’s what is being said here. After all, we know that young men could and can be elders. Timothy was pastoring the church at Ephesus when Paul told him, in 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”
When we weigh all of the biblical evidence, it doesn’t make sense to the context of 1 Peter or to the rest of the New Testament teaching that Peter would be changing the way he uses the word elders like that, so suddenly. The question then becomes, what does he mean by “ye younger,” or how my New American Standard translates it, “You younger men”?
Well, as I understand it, the word “younger” is being used here to talk about anyone in the church who is not an elder, that is to say, you all, the congregation. And I believe there is a biblical basis for this, and for that I look to Peter’s friend and contemporary, the apostle John. John was an elder. All three of his letters in Scripture have a very pastoral tone to them. And I take note of how often John refers to those whom he is writing to as children.
- Working backwards, in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” John isn’t referring to literal physical children here. He’s referring to those he has charge over. They were, in a sense, his children in the faith.
- In 2 John 1 he’s writing to the chosen lady and her children. I believe this is a letter to a specific church, the lady, and her children are her members.
- But in 1 John is where we see him use the terminology of “children” repeatedly. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. . . . Children, it is the last hour; and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have appeared; from this we know that it is the last hour. . . . Now, little children, abide in Him. . . . Little children, be sure that no one deceives you. . . . Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. . . . You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” And finally, “Little children, guard yourselves from idols.”
Peter’s use of the word “younger,” in my humble opinion, has nothing to do with age, but everything to do with position, the same way John, as an elder, used the word “children” in his letters. John was writing just to little boys and girls in his letter. He was writing to believers. That’s what Peter is doing here. In verse five I believe Peter is reinforcing the necessity of those who are not elders to be subject to those who are.
But lest any pastor, myself included, get a big head about that, he then immediately says as well, “and all of you [elders included], clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” So God has called pastors, elders, to have a certain authority in the church, and God has called those who are not pastors to be subject to that God-given authority… but God has called everyone, pastor and non-pastor alike, to clothe, to be full of, humility, just as Christ was clothed with humility.
It is not an easy thing to do… for the pastor, for the church member, for anybody. Our flesh is bent toward pride, toward doing what makes us happy in the moment, toward cherishing personal freedom and control. It’s not an easy thing to do, to humble oneself… But there is this promise of blessing that will come as a result: “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Here at the end of this paragraph is a beautiful reminder to us of what it’s all about. God’s grace… revealed to us in His gospel. Peter is telling us here that an elder, shepherding like he’s supposed to, advances the gospel. The people, the sheep, being how they should be and doing what they should do in relation to their shepherd advances the gospel. It advances the church. When we are living out the gospel we understand, we comprehend, and we enjoy all the more the grace that God has afforded us in Jesus Christ. And that reveals to us, increasingly, the glory of God.
And we need to be all about the glory of God. That is our mission… to do all to the glory of God. But a church that doesn’t understand what it means to be a flock and have a shepherd, and pastor who don’t understand what it means to have a flock and be their shepherd… well, the mission will be hamstrung until that changes.
May Covenant Baptist Church not be hamstrung, but for the sake of the One who has called us, the One who gave His life on the cross that we might be forgiven our sins, let us press on to complete the mission He has given us, together, with humility.
As Jesus is the Chief Shepherd of His flock, so am I to be as Jesus, shepherd this of His flock He has charged me with. Pray for me as I continue to be your pastor.