I exhort the elders among you
Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 5:1-4
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: 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; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
In this letter, Peter has been speaking into the lives of people who have believed upon the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sin and life everlasting – an utterly unique people on earth.
They are those whose identity is fundamentally that of citizens of glory, heirs of the eternal riches in Christ Jesus, people reborn of God’s own Seed/Spirit, God Almighty Himself being for them and guarding them for a soon to be realized salvation – which means that Christians are by definition pilgrims and sojourners here.
This is not our home. We are still looking forward to our home land, a better country, a city that God has prepared for us in Christ Jesus (Hebrews 11:14-16).
And because this is who Christians are, we are to live in this world, according to Peter, as children of God, His sons and daughters, His offspring, in holiness and brotherly love. We are the people designed – by virtue of our once having been lost and rebellious and dead in sin, now having been raised to life, shown mercy, and made God’s own people by grace through faith in Jesus Christ – we are a people specially designed to trumpet the excellencies of God who called us. And we do this gospel proclamation with our words, yes, but, as Peter has again and again made clear, we demonstrate the potency of the message with conduct among the Gentiles that is honorable, that is Christ-like.
Peter has been laying out the contours of what our lives as this utterly unique people are to look like. He has told us about relating to governing authorities; He has told us about relating to earthly masters; He has told us about relating to husbands and relating to wives; He has told us about relating to one another. And the consistent theme in all those contexts is that we, with minds sober and ready for action, having set our hope fully upon the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ, we are to behave like Christ did so that in everything God is glorified through Jesus Christ.
Our love for one another, our hospitality, our serving one another as the very people of God on earth will either demonstrate that the power of the work of Christ has indeed come to this place or it will demonstrate that God has not visited us.
Last time Peter called us, as this heavenly host now yet on earth, to prepare ourselves for what Christ promised His people in this world: painful persecution. And at the end Peter summarized his instruction in this way: let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing what is good.
Out of this context Peter now turns to those appointed to lead God’s people on earth.
He says in verse 1 of chapter 5, “So I exhort the elders among you…”
The first thing we need to be clear about is just who Peter is addressing here. On first reading we might be tempted to say that Peter is speaking to those who are older in the congregations since he seems to contrast elders with those who are younger in verse 5.
But on closer examination it becomes clear that Peter is not, in these first 4 verses, addressing those who are older in years but those who hold the leadership office of elder. We know this because in verses 2,3, and 4 Peter describes the responsibilities unique to the office of elder.
In the New Testament the term elder is used to describe those men appointed by the Holy Spirit to care for the church of God (Acts 20:17 and 28; see also Acts 11:30; 14:23; 15:2,4,6,22-23; 16:4; 21:18; James 5:14; 1 Timothy 5:17; Titus 1:5 ). And as we will see in this passage they are to care for the church of God by shepherding and overseeing.
Because this is the function of the elders they are sometimes called overseers (1 Timothy 3:1; Titus 1:5 and 7) or pastors/shepherds (Ephesians 4:11). I think it is also important to note that it appears that there were always a plurality of elders in the New Testament churches. So for example,
And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
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—
Some of us may be used to thinking in terms of “the pastor” as some separate office, but in the New Testament it is “the pastors,” that is the elders who are commissioned to oversee and shepherd the precious flock of God purchased with the blood of Christ.
So, because of what Peter tells the elders to be doing it is clear that he has in mind the commissioned leaders.
Instruction to Elders For All Our Good
Now, our time this morning will be spent thinking about what the elders should be doing and how and why they should be doing it. But that does not mean that the rest of you should tune out.
First of all we all want to be on the same page – do you know what the elders are supposed to be doing? Are your expectations of “the pastor,” or more accurately, of the pastors biblical? We may have some vague ideas or we may have some unspoken assumptions that do not reflect God’s design for His church. So, it is important for everyone to hear what Peter instructs the elders to be and do.
In another way, what Peter says here to the elders is applicable to each of us who finds ourselves responsible to care for others. Whether we are a mother or a father or a husband or one commissioned to lead a bible study or some other ministry to others what Peter says here to the elders has far reaching application.
So, let’s look at Peter’s instruction here.
An Appeal From One Whose There
Notice first of all that before Peter gives his instructions to the elders he points out who he himself is. And he describes himself in three ways here. He is a fellow elder, a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed. This is not some detached, ivory tower theologian giving instructions regarding something he knows nothing about.
I remember how frustrating it was working at the prison when we would get new policies explaining how we were required to do our job and the policies were written by people who had never spoken to an inmate. They just had no idea what they were talking about.
That is not Peter.
He is a fellow elder. What he is saying to the elders he is saying to himself. He is not placing on the elders any requirement that he himself does not bear.
He is also a witness of the sufferings of Christ. Now, this could mean that he was an eye witness of Christ’s life, arrest, rejection, and crucifixion or Peter may have in mind the sufferings of Christ’s people experience in the world. Remember he said in 4:13 that we are to rejoice insofar as we share in Christ’s sufferings. It may be that Peter is saying, “I have seen first hand what is required to be a person in this world who follows Christ. I am not a stranger to the pain and the difficulty.”
But he is also a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed. Peter is exhorting the leaders of Christ’s people on earth as one who, like them, is not truly at home on earth. It is as if he is saying, “I, like you, do not truly belong to this present passing age. I, like you, am a partaker of the glory that will be revealed.” Again, the instructions about to be given do not come from a dispassionate agnostic, but from a fully invested and devoted follower of Christ who has set his hope completely upon the grace of God in Christ Jesus who will soon appear.
So, what does he have to say?
Shepherd the Flock of God that is Among You
Verse 2 says, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight…” Now there are a number of things to note and unpack here.
The Flock of God
First of all notice that God’s people are called the flock of God. I think Peter is highlighting something very significant: the church does not belong to the leaders; the church belongs to God.
I love how Paul expresses this same truth in Acts chapter 20. There he says to the elders,
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.
We all who believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ belong body and soul to Him. We are His treasured possession. Every member of the church is precious to Him because they were obtained at the cost of Jesus’ own blood. This has massive implications for leadership within the church.
The body of Christ does not belong to the elders and it is not theirs to do with as they please – we are stewards of a precious possession.
It is quite common to here pastors talking about their church, their people, their ministry and when understood to mean the church entrusted to their care, the people for whose souls they will give an account to God, and the ministry they are commissioned by God to oversee – then fine. The problem comes when my church, my people, my ministry shifts so that the most significant person in all our thinking is not longer Jesus Christ.
Elders must be so careful to keep themselves from thinking that they are anything but stewards and under-shepherds.
And elders must remember how important this stewardship is. The souls of God’s people are not trifles to be cast aside and discarded or ignored simply because they are obstinate or tiresome or hard to get along with or don’t appreciate you. The Lord of heaven and earth came from heaven and bought the church with His own blood on the cross. The church is in fact the one precious bride of Christ and her value to Him is beyond estimation.
It is far to easy to walk into the church meeting and regard one another in terms of personality and physical appearance and ability and giftedness and social status and age and especially past history and current relational tensions, but oh, if we could see each other as we will soon be.
C. S. Lewis says it so well,
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship…
— C. S. Lewis, from The Weight of Glory
Insofar as we are a true expression of the church we are a congregation of soon to be glorified people. This is not a trivial place. This is not a trivial institution and leaders must take this to heart. This is God’s flock and elders will give an account to God for those under their care.
Now, the first thing that Peter says the elders are to be doing is shepherding God’s flock. We are vary familiar with the term pastor, which is the same term as shepherd of herdsmen, and it a term designed to tells us what elders are to be doing. So, what does it mean to shepherd the flock of God?
Again, I think that Acts 20 really helps us gain some clarity on this question. Paul is addressing the Ephesian elders before he departs from them for what he believes is the last time.
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. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
So catch the picture here. Paul understands the church as a whole in terms of a flock of sheep. And this flock we know is very precious to God. But this flock is vulnerable to predators – he calls them fierce wolves which will come, not sparing the flock. But what is the danger? What does this picture of wolves among sheep represent in this church, for example?
Paul says that the fierce wolves are men who arise speaking twisted, perverted, misleading things. And these people will arise even from our own church! And what they do by their speech is to draw away the disciples after them into spiritual ruin – what you listen to and believe really matters!
But there are not just sheep and wolves. There have been placed among the sheep shepherds who are commissioned to pay careful attention to themselves and to all the precious flock as overseers. They are to be alert to the dangers and follow Paul’s example as a good shepherd who for the three years he was in Ephesus did not cease night or day to admonish (warn, urge) everyone with tears.
So the shepherds guard the sheep by constantly and passionately admonishing every one. The twisted words of the wolves which draw the people of God away from the truth are combated with true words and passionate pleas.
And notice what Paul leaves with the Shepherds to guide them and the flock. In verse 32 he commends them to God and to the Word of His grace, which is able to build them up and to give them an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. God has left His Word and Spirit and it is the Word of God’s grace, the gospel which will strengthen God’s people to resist being drawn away into ruin.
So when Peter exhorts the elders to shepherd the flock of God that is among them, he is talking about guarding the people of God by sincerely and with great love and care and passion speaking the Word of God’s grace to them and admonishing them not to abandon that gospel of Jesus Christ.
The primary task of an elder is to teach the Word of God. Elders must lead the precious people of God to the nourishing pastures of God’s Word and refute the errors of false doctrine. An elder must be able to teach because this is what they must always be doing night and day with tears. As Jesus said to Peter in John 21, “…do you love me? …feed my lambs…do you love me? …tend my sheep… do you love me? …feed my sheep.”
And notice that Peter further qualifies this shepherding duty by adding the phrase, ‘exercising oversight.’ The shepherds must be aware of what the people of God are listening to; what they are believing; whether they are clinging to Christ in the gospel or ready to abandon Him.
So often we think of the elders primarily as those who are responsible for the details related to the church corporation, organization, budgets, policies, etc. And course the elders must oversee all that goes on – not so that they can dictate every action, but to teach the Word of God, to make sure the gospel of Jesus Christ is central among us and pure and so that they can guard God’s people from error and misunderstanding and spiritual ruin.
Now Peter gives us three clarifying contrasts to help us get a better handle on what this shepherding and overseeing should look like. He says in verse 3,
…shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, (1.) not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; (2.) not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (3.) not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Not Under Compulsion, But Willingly
So the first contrast, which helps us define how an elder should shepherd and oversee the flock, is that elders are not to do there work under compulsion. That means they shouldn’t do it because they feel forced to do it or constrained to do it – by someone or something other than their own desire. Elders are to serve willingly because they want to, they are eager to. This is how Peter says God would have the shepherds serve. Someone who is unwilling or forced into the office of elder will not be a very good shepherd or overseer of the souls of God’s people. There must be a desire for the work.
Not for shameful Gain, But Eagerly
The next contrast is that elders should not serve for shameful gain, but eagerly. Money and earthly benefits must not be the motivation for the shepherds. They must be eager to serve regardless of whether their is any personal benefit in this life.
But it is precisely because the NT urges the church to pay shepherds that this exhortation must be made. Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17 and 18,
Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
It is without question that the New Testament tells us that it is not wrong to pay elders as the church is able – in fact we should. But it is also without question that the New Testament warns again and again that money cannot be the motivating factor. Yes, we should pay the shepherds as we are able and as the circumstances call for so that they are freed to do the work God has called them to do unhindered. But elders are not to assume the office to obtain profit or personal advantage.
Elders are to serve the precious people of God with the nourishing Word of God for the safety and healing and strength of the body not for their own gain.
Not Domineering, But Being Examples
The final contrast is that elders are not to be domineering over those in their charge, instead they are to be examples to the flock. The elders are not given their positions in the church to arrogantly or intimidatingly force those under them to do as they say. The responsibility of a shepherd instead is to set the believers an example of gospel motivated godliness.
I have often been strengthened by Paul’s words to his young friend and fellow elder in 1 Timothy 4:12-16,
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
The biblical picture of a council of elder is not a group that struts and bosses and intimidates, but a group whose speech and conduct and love and faith and purity is an example to the people of God and tirelessly brings them to the Word of Gospel.
And When the Chief Shepherd Appears
Peter finishes his exhortation to the elders by reminded them why it is worth all the effort.
When an elder shepherds the flock of God, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have them; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in their charge, but being examples to the flock the reward is nothing less then an eternal crown of glory when the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ appears.
Now, let me broaden this to all of us. All our labor, no matter what office or role we have in the church, to love and serve each other must be motivated ultimately by the reward we will receive from God, that imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance kept in heaven for us.
Yes I believe it is when we stand before the Great Shepherd of the Sheep and we hear, “well done good and faithful servant” that all the pain of loving one another and calling each other back to Christ again and again and being disliked or lied about or misunderstood will fade into very very small sacrifices compared to His smiling face and the sound of souls we have encouraged praising God for bringing them safely home.
Let us be praying for God to strengthen and mature the elders of Windham Bible Chapel.
Let us also be praying that God would raise up men who are able and willing to gladly take up the call to shepherd the precious flock of God.
Let us also take seriously that each of us is vulnerable to fierce wolves. We need one another to speak the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and we need shepherds who will devote themselves to it.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
What we need is to know Christ and the glorious hope that have in Him. He is the great Shepherd – Are we seeking Him in the Word? Are we hold fast our original confession? Are we listening to Him?