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Erik, I don’t much go in for sentimentality—that may come as a surprise to you.  But in this moment, it seems appropriate to engage in a bit of wanton sentimentalism.  So, here is one paragraph—listen closely.  It’s hard to believe that you—the pastor of the Water’s Edge and the father of eight children are the same young man who came into Mount of Olives not quite 20 years ago with his beautiful fiancé and a head full of dreams about teaching middle school math, playing basketball and a modest-sized family.  It’s hard to believe you’re the same fellow who worked only part time in the summer mowing lawns to give you time for as many rounds of golf as Jessica would allow.  You’ve come a long way, Erik!  God has done an impressive work of grace in your life on multiple fronts and the same is equally true of you, Jessica.  I am very privileged to be here today to celebrate with you.

Our text for this afternoon is First Peter 5:1-4.  This is addressed to pastors but no section of Scripture is just for pastors or musicians or teachers—the entire Bible is for all of us, so I trust this will bless all of us, not just the pastor types. First Peter was written during a time of persecution to multiple churches across several provinces in what is modern-day Turkey.  Peter repeatedly urges his recipients to be faithful to endure the persecution that assailing each of these gentile churches.  Since the text is short, let’s read through the whole thing and then we’ll unpack it.  Peter writes, 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. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

In verse one, he introduces himself to the elders and as he does that, he also gives first mention of the key truths he will be teaching to the elders.  He says, “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.  Peter says three things about himself.  First, he is a “fellow elder.”  Peter wants these elders (and elders is plural—more than one) to know that he closely identifies with them because not only is he an apostle—“a sent one” he is also an elder—probably doing pastoral work at the church in Jerusalem.  Peter wants them to know his empathy for them—he knows the trials, tribulations and joys of shepherding. 

He also says he is a “witness of the sufferings of Christ.”  He brings to light this truth about Jesus’ sufferings because he’ll later tell us that Christ is the pastor’s chief Shepherd or chief example.  Betrayal, denial, teaching people who are slow to believe—being beat up by those who claim to be with you—who claim to love you.  In all those sufferings, Christ is our example.  Third, he says he is “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.”  He will later raise this as the ultimate motivation for being a faithful shepherd.  In 1:11, he’s speaks of  the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.  Don’t miss that pairing—the sufferings and subsequent glories.  In the previous chapter in verses 12-14, Peter again places these two side by side.  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.” 

Don’t miss how high he sets the bar here.  Rather than be surprised by our suffering as a believer, we should instead rejoice because in some small way we are experiencing what Jesus went through and that connection to him will make us rejoice all the more when he comes back in glory.  Is that the way we think when we suffer?  Do we love Jesus so much that we count it a privilege to share in his sufferings?   Again, suffering and glory are paired up and “what God has joined together, let not man separate.”  These two go together.  When we suffer, we should be comforted by the truth of the  glory that awaits us.  We all want the future glory in heaven with Jesus.  But we tend to treat suffering as if it were some strange anomaly—(something is wrong because this hurts!)  Peter says when we suffer it’s NOTas though something strange were happening to you.”  It comes down to this--if you want the glory, you must experience the prerequisite suffering.  This is especially the case for undershepherds who have Christ as their chief Shepherd and example. 

Peter’s main command opens verse two.  Shepherd the flock of God that is among you…”  This tells us WHOSE flock we as shepherds must tend.  One of the most important truths a shepherd can remember is that those sheep he ministers to are not his—they belong to God.  They are his flock.  They were purchased with the blood of his Son and they are very precious to him.  Think of it this way.  Elders and prospective elders, if you were by some freak circumstance kidnapped for 18 months, you would want someone to look after your family—to be there when the water heater breaks or  the roof leaks.  Let’s say, as you were being hunted down by your captors, you manage to make a phone call to one of your fellow elders.  You tell him to look after your family—to tend to their needs as you would.  You tell him that your last words to your family were that they should listen to you, heed your counsel and submit to your loving and hopefully temporary leadership. 

Imagine that scenario.  How would you feel if when you were released from captivity and returned home you discovered that this elder used the authority you had given him to compel your kids to plant his garden and mow his lawn and wash his car and your wife to sleep with him.  Instead of loving them, he used the authority he had been given over them to satisfy his selfish desires.  What would you feel toward that man when you discovered how he had “shepherded” your family?

You’d be infuriated because the clear expectation was that this elder would take the same kind of care of your family that you showed to them.  You trusted him to do that but instead he abused the authority you gave him by using your family to serve him instead of him living to serve them.  That helps us to know how the Father feels when we (for our own interests) use his flock that he entrusted to our care.  We can use them in many ways.  We can use them to feed our egos or carry out our personal agendas or expect them to supply us with nice material perks.  God expects his shepherds to protect his flock from false teaching and warn them of the ever-encroaching pleasures and ways of this world as much as we are able.  He expects us to treat his flock with the same kind of respect and sacrificial love he has given them—“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  That’s our example.  We must remember WHOSE flock we shepherd and feel both the privilege and responsibility of that.

Second, Peter tells us WHAT we must do as shepherds.  In verse two he gives two words, “exercising oversight.”  This is a very broad job description that means we are to oversee and superintend the flock.  Think of a Middle Eastern shepherd standing in front of his flock, surveying the sheep to spy those who are abusing each other in conflict—you’re looking for those who are wounded and vulnerable to attack—you’re taking note of those who are sick or who keep separating themselves from the rest of the flock.  Oversight means to manage the flock—to lead the flock where God directs, to feed them the Word of God—driven by the gospel with God at the center.  But a lot of oversight means solving problems that arise.  And that means getting your hands dirty.  The shepherd doesn’t simply preach to his flock—that’s the high profile aspect of shepherding but it’s only one part of overseeing them. 

We must enter their world, not just when they invite us, but when God reveals something is wrong.  We must be proactive—not ignore a problem you notice until it blows up and something terrible happens.  This may mean personally injecting yourself into a situation where you know you are not wanted.  At the very least it means you are to pray—pray a lot for what concerns you about the flock!  Oswald Chambers said, “God gives us discernment (into people’s problems and faults) not to criticize but to intercede.”  When we see sin in one or more of the sheep, it’s because God allowed his undershepherd to see it.  If it’s not something we can openly confront, we must pray that God would expose the sin in a way that will allow Christ’s redemptive ministry to be brought to bear in that person’s life.  If we don’t pray for God to work in it and/or perhaps openly confront the sin in some way, it will only get worse.  Good shepherds, through careful observance of their sheep, catch the problems early before they negatively impact the entire flock.  This is a big part of “exercising oversight” and it can result in much pain to the shepherd because people in sin often don’t want to be alerted to that fact.  And we aren’t wild about telling them, either!

Third, Peter tells us HOW we must shepherd the flock.  In the middle of verse two Peter says, “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.”  One thing you notice right away about Peter’s instructions is that he phrases all of them negatively.  He doesn’t just say—“shepherd the flock willingly”—as a positive command, but he instead says we are to shepherd the flock NOT under compulsion and the same dynamic is seen in all three of his admonitions here. 

The reason he does that is because these things that we are forbidden to do—we can find very easy TO DO, so Peter’s point is that we intentionally work to NOT do them.  First, we are to exercise oversight, “not under compulsion, but willingly.  There are several applications here.  First, faithful pastors work hard, are harassed and at times, even attacked.  Those three working in combination can bring temptation to resentment and frustration.  When you feel like you’re giving it all you’ve got and in return you get angry complaints and even accusations, it’s very easy to be motivated to shepherd ONLY out of a raw sense of duty.  When you’ve been wounded , what you really want to do is just limp away and lick your wounds but these sheep need you.  You may be angry at those who have hurt you, and if you aren’t, your wife will be!  (You’ll notice I didn’t say, she MAY be). When you’re in that place of resentment and discouragement, you’re probably not shepherding willingly. 

But that’s only one example.  You can easily shepherd out of compulsion when there are lots of needs on the home front, but it’s a critical time in the church and the Lord has made it clear that you can’t pull away.  Someone  wants you home, but you know God wants you to minister at the church.  As I’ve told you before, Erik, you hear all the time that the pastor’s priorities should be GOD, FAMILY, CHURCH in that order.  That’s generally the way it should work, but that typology isn’t nuanced enough for the realities of life and ministry.  Leith Anderson says it’s more like a board with a spinner on it—like you’d use in “Twister.”  The spinner dial is God—he’s calling all the shots—he’s first all the time.  The largest color on the board (where the spinner will rest much of the time) represents family—wife and then kids.  The next largest color represents the church.  As a rule your family will be your top priority, but when God spins the wheel to his flock in times of great need and/or crisis—that’s where you have to be—even if that doesn’t go easy at home.  When that happens, that can easily cause you to feel like shepherding is something you have to do instead of something you want to do because what you want to do is go home and minister to your wife and kids. 

One more example.  You can shepherd under compulsion if what is ultimately driving you is the compulsion to make everyone in church happy.   Pastors who do that find that it’s impossible and if they persist in making that their goal, they’ll eventually find great discouragement and can even leave the ministry.  If you’re ministering to people in order to gain their admiration and appreciation, when they don’t admire or appreciate you, one of the implications is--- you feel ONLY a sense of dry, obligatory duty to minister to these horribly ungrateful sheep.  If we shepherd to please people, a compulsion-driven ministry is inevitable. 

Peter tells us we are to shepherd “willingly.” That means you shepherd because you regularly remind yourself how important your job is and you do it, not because you have to or because “someone has to do it,” but because it’s a privilege from God who, before you were born placed a special call on your life to do it.  One of the qualifications for eldership in First Timothy is that you desire to do it and by God’s grace, that desire should stay with us through thick and thin.  One reason a plural eldership is God’s design is because the temptation to shepherd under compulsion is often overcome as your fellow elders remind you of the joys and privileges of shepherding.  That has happened to me more than once and it’s a blessing.

Second, we are to exercise oversight, “not for shameful gain, but eagerly.”  This can be done on several levels.  The most outrageous are those pastors who embezzle from the church or who minister only for the money—they’re all about the money.  The false teachers were motivated by this, but if tomorrow your church told you they couldn’t pay you a salary, many pastors today would by default immediately look for another charge.  But one of the implications of NOT being a professional (as John Piper would say) is--we pastor because we’re called by God to shepherd his flock, not because it’s our career or vocation.  That means salary is not the fundamental determinate.  If your church tells you they cannot pay you, the default option for you is NOT to leave, but to seek other sources of income while continuing to pastor the flock under your care.  Unless God calls you away or unless you cannot provide for your own from other sources of income, you stay because God called you to that flock.  Now, we will not be able to do in 20 hours/week what we did in 50 hours, but we do the best we can to be faithful to our calling. That’s no excuse for churches to slight their vocational pastors, but it should be the attitude of vocational pastors.

This material motivation can creep in very subtly.  We can overlook the sin of a man we know gives a lot to the church—we can delay confrontation or even avoid it altogether.  If we discover the new member has a fishing boat or a membership at Northland or who has special skills that you really could use in some way on a personal level.  If we treat them differently than others—we’re especially nice to them, they we’re pastoring for shameful gain.  Peter contrasts this with shepherding eagerly.  We’re not only to be willing to pastor, we should have a positive emotional connection to it[1]—we should crave to do it, yearn to do it and miss it when we are not engaged in it.

Third, shepherds are to exercise oversight, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”  Again, this domineering can take several forms.  It can be seen in the insecure man who has an emotional need to be in charge—to be “the boss.”  These guys often end up being tyrants because they’re not driven by the gospel, but by their need to be important.  Most of the time, these people don’t survive in the pastorate very long.  Domineering means “forcefully ruling over, subduing” and that can take several forms depending on the personality of the pastor.  A gifted communicator (for instance) can domineer the flock by out arguing everyone else about the direction of the church.  The church may be ready to go where he wants to take them, but they can’t match the pastor’s arguments so they either go along or leave.  That’s a form of domineering that sadly is often wrongly called leadership.  Leadership means loving your people enough to teach them and pray for them and wait until a large percentage of them are ready to move with you.  Likewise, a gifted administrative personality in the pastorate can wrongly domineeringly compel the church to do ministry or avoid ministries purely because they make sense from a business perspective.  And because he has expert power as a good administrator, he can domineer the church by reducing the Holy Spirit to an accountant.  A good rule of thumb I was told many years ago is—sheep are led, not driven.  You can drive cattle.  Get up on your horse, get a few dogs and a few men and you can drive cows and they’ll go where you want them—that’s the way God made them.  Sheep are not cattle.  They need to led, not driven.  The difference is the presence of gentleness and patience.  To lead like Jesus means to gently come alongside and teach and explain and pray and wait.  To drive means to get your arguments polished and unleash them on a church, or maneuver politically to get a majority of the church to go your way and quickly call for a vote—like the Speaker of the House. That’s domineering.

Jesus never did any of those things. He was so patient.  I’m convinced one reason the disciples were so wooden-headed at times was to give Jesus an opportunity to demonstrate for us his patience—his steadfast love for them.  He loved them whether they caught on quickly or not.  He loved Peter when Peter tried to direct his ministry away from the cross and he loved him enough to rebuke him—sharply.  Sometimes love means sharply rebuking a sheep that is clearly posturing to move the church away from the course Jesus has plotted in his Word.  Instead of domineering, we are to “be examples to the flock.”  To be an example is to show someone how to do something by doing it in front of them. The members of our churches should know how to deal with difficult or combative or high maintenance people at least in part because they’ve watched us do it.  The members of our church should know how to respond when they’re suffering because they have watched the pastors suffer and they work to follow their example.  The members of our church should know how to respond in the face of severe disappointment because they’ve watched us go through that.  We’re not to drive the flock to be better disciples, we are to lead by modeling for the flock what it is to be a disciple of Jesus.  We should not be shepherds our churches have to follow. We should be shepherds they WANT to follow.

Fourth, Peter tells us WHY we should shepherd the flock.  Verse four says, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.  Notice two things.  First, the reference to the chief Shepherd implies that undershepherds are servants because we work for the Chief Shepherd.  Undershepherds do the bidding of the Chief Shepherd.  We don’t define the terms of our office, he does.  Second, you’ll notice that Peter doesn’t mention any earthly reward.  He doesn’t say, “If you are faithful, you’ll earn the respect and admiration from the flock and your community.”  Not necessarily.  In some parts of the world, if you’re a  faithful shepherd, you’ll get a bullet in the back of your head.  Earthly rewards may come and if they do, praise God.  But there’s no promise they will come and so we have no right to carry those expectations.  If they don’t happen, rather than be disappointed because my church doesn’t appreciate me as much as the church down the street appreciates their pastor, we should look to the source of our real reward—we should look to glory.  Peter says the motivation for faithful shepherding is eternal—“the unfading crown of glory.  This crown is probably distinct from the other crowns mentioned in the New Testament.  In at least five other places the word “crown” or stephanos is used to represent the reward of eternal life. 

There are two types of crowns mentioned in the New Testament--a golden crown (and many scholars think that’s what Peter is talking about here)  and a “victor’s crown” or the “wreath” in athletic contests.  The victor’s crown was a laurel wreath placed over the ears and quickly faded.  Peter says the crown of the faithful shepherd is the “unfading crown of glory.”  In every use of the golden crown in the Bible it is according to Wayne Grudem, “a sign of special honor, given not to all but only to those worthy of particular public recognition. Commonly a reward for some kind of unusually meritorious service.[2]  That should excite us, not because we can’t wait to waltz around heaven with a golden crown on our heads if we’re faithful—that’s a ridiculous notion.  There will only be One bearing a crown in heaven.  What’s exciting is that if, by God’s grace, we’re faithful to our calling as undershepherds, we’ll get an unfading golden crown to throw at the feet of Jesus in worship as we—like the 24 elders in Revelation fall down in worship of the Lamb.  We should labor for the unfading crown of glory so we’ll have the privilege of giving it to our King!

There is almost nothing in our culture to reinforce being motivated by an eternal reward.  Instant or near-instant gratification is the order of the day.  We feel ill-used if we have to wait two second for a web page to come up.  Having to wait for anything is an almost heretical notion to our culture.  For those pastors thrown into prison for their work, eternal motivation comes easier because that’s all they have.  But for us in our instant and affluent culture, being motivated by something in eternity is something we have to work hard at.  And we work hard at it by being gospel-centered.  That means we define ourselves not only by what Jesus did for us on the cross 2000 years ago.  We also define ourselves by the fulfillment of that work at his second coming when we can see our Savior in glory.  That thought should be so sweet to us.  If it’s not, we are in trouble.

Erik, enjoy your day—God has been so faithful to you. In response to his faithfulness to send his Son to die for you, rescue you from your sin and call you into his ministry, take care to remember whose flock it is—what your task is and how and why to do it for his glory and your joy.

[1] Grudem, Wayne (1988).  Vol 17: 1 Peter:  An introduction and commentary.  Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (192-201).  Downers Grove, IL:  Intervarsity Press.

[2] Grudem, TNTC, I Peter, electronic edition


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