************ Sermon on 1 Peter 5:1-4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 6, 2010
1 Peter 5:1-4
"To the Elders Among You"
Installation of Office Bearers
"I want a church without elders." That is what a pastor I know recently said. And he meant it. He actually is hoping to serve a church without elders. "I want a church without elders."
When Ruth and I are traveling, we sometimes end up at churches that are not Reformed. I always check over the back page of the bulletin – you know, where we keep a list of ministries and missionaries. I am always surprised by all the churches that have deacons listed but not elders.
"I want a church without elders." Why does my colleague say this? Why do so many churches function without elders? Because the men in front of us are a hindrance to ministry? Because they are domineering and dominating and lord it over the minister? Because the Bible does not support the office of elder? Because the office is useless and worthless?
I Three Conclusions
A Let me draw three simple but important conclusions from our Bible reading.
First, I want you to notice that the early New Testament church had elders. Peter writes "To the elders among you ..." (1 Pet 5:1). He doesn't make this conditional – saying "if" or "maybe" or "perhaps." Rather, he assumes their presence.
"To the elders among you ..." (1 Pet 5:1). Which elders? When we look at 1 Peter 1:1, we see that Peter's letter was written to the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. This is a huge area with a diverse population, diverse languages, diverse culture, and diverse nationalities. At the very least, there were dozens of churches; at the very most, there may have been hundreds of church-es. And Peter, without hesitation or qualification, addresses all the elders in those churches.
"To the elders among you ..." (1 Pet 5:1). We learn from this that the early church had elders. In fact, let me go so far as to say that it was expected and accepted that every church had elders. In the same way, of course, the early church also had deacons.
Do you see how unbiblical some churches and my fellow pastor are?
B The second thing I want you to notice is the job or calling of the elders: "be shepherds of God's flock" (1 Pet 5:2). Don't we hear the same language in Paul's address to the elders of Ephesus?
(Acts 20:28) Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
"Be shepherds." Both Paul and Peter say that. If the elders are the shepherds, who are the sheep? Be shepherds "of God's flock that is under you care," says Peter (1 Pet 5:2). Be shepherds "of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood," says Paul. Both Paul and Peter call elders to shepherd people – God's people, people for whom Christ suffered and died. Or, to use language used earlier in Peter's letter,
(1 Pet 2:9) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God...Do you see how highly God thinks of His sheep? The sheep are holy and precious in His sight. So, you elders, don't take this work of shepherding God's people lightly or casually.
"Be shepherds." The image is straight forward enough. But what exactly does this mean? To answer this, our starting point has to be the Palestinian shepherd. The dry summer climate made it necessary for the flocks of sheep and cattle to move about to areas of grass and water – sometimes to isolated areas far from the owner's home. Hence, the herding of sheep and goats and cattle was a very responsible job. Indeed, in view of the threat of wild beasts and robbers, it could even be a dangerous job. Elders are being told their job is responsible and sometimes even dangerous.
"Be shepherds." In the Old Testament, the Lord God is described as the Shepherd Who goes before His flock (Ps 68:7), Who guides it (Ps 23:4), Who leads it to pastures and quiet waters (Ps 23:2)1, Who protects it with His staff (Ps 23:4), Who carries the lambs in His bosom (Is 40:11). Elders are being told to be like God, the Shepherd.
"Be shepherds." Both Jeremiah (Jer 23) and Ezekiel (Ezek 34) speak against the shepherds of Israel who fleece the sheep and care for themselves rather then the sheep. In contrast, God promises a better shepherd – the Messiah (Jer 23:4; Ezek 34:23) – Who will care for and lovingly tend for the sheep as "the [Chief] Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Pet 2:25; cf 1 Pet 5:4). John calls Him the "Good Shepherd" Who lays down His life for the sheep (Jn 10). Elders are being warned not to be like the bad shepherds of Israel but to be like Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Elders, I say to you, "Be shepherds." Care for the sheep. Guard the sheep. Feed the sheep. Lead the sheep. Look for the lost sheep. Guide the sheep. "Be shepherds."
C The third thing I want you to notice is that Elders/Shepherds are told to serve "as overseers" (1 Pet 5:2). An "overseer" is someone who manages the property, business, or estate of another. For instance, Joseph was the overseer for both Potiphar and Pharaoh. The word implies both authority and responsibility. The elders are charged with looking out for the flock. They are charged with being responsible for the flock. However, as the title "overseer" implies, they are answerable to Another, to the Master, to the Lord Jesus. Elders may be shepherds, but the Lord Jesus is the "Chief Shepherd" (1 Pet 5:4), Who holds the elders responsible for His flock and some day they will have to give account to Him.
Do you realize what the word "overseer" says about the church? Elders are "overseers." Theirs is authority and responsibility. In other words, contrary to the opinion of so many, the church is not a democracy run by the will of the majority of members; rather, she is run by the elders/shepherds under Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. The church is not a hierarchy run by a bishop or pope or minister; rather, she is run by the elders/shepherds under Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. The church is not run and controlled by the civil government; rather, she is run by the elders/ shepherds under Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. The church is not run by those with the most money or the biggest donations; rather, she is run by the elders/shepherds under Jesus, the Chief Shepherd. The church is not run by those who do the most work and volunteer for every activity; rather, she is run by the elders/shepherds under Jesus, the Chief Shepherd.
II A Missing Word
A "To the elders among you ..." (1 Pet 5:1). It is not obvious to you, but a word found in my Greek Bible is missing at the start of verse 1: the word "therefore." "Therefore, to the elders among you ..." (1 Pet 5:1). That word "therefore" seems so small and insignificant in the Greek – only three letters; however, here is another instance where great things come in small packages.
What does "therefore" refer to? We need to go back to the last section of 1 Peter 4. Peter talks there about suffering – suffering for being a Christian (1 Pet 4:16). Peter talks about "the painful trial you are suffering" (1 Pet 4:12). Peter mentions "that you participate in the sufferings of Christ" (1 Pet 4:13).
Do you see why the church needs elders? Because the flock is under attack! The Devil attacks her – through the persecution of the beast and the lies of the prophet. The world attacks her – through the adulteries and attractions of Babylon. The flesh attacks her – through the sinful desires of the old man. The church is under attack. "Therefore, to the elders among you, I appeal ... be shepherds of God's flock" (1 Pet 5:1-2).
Peter says this. Peter who personally knows how easy it is to deny the Lord. Peter who personally knows the attacks and temptations of the devil, the world, and the flesh. "Therefore, to the elders among you, I appeal ... be shepherds of God's flock" (1 Pet 5:1-2).
B But there is more. Towards the end of chapter 4, Peter says, "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God" (1 Pet 4:17). Put this together with the first verse of our Bible reading: "For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God ... therefore, to the elders among you, I appeal ... be shepherds of God's flock" (1 Pet 4:17; 5:1-2).
We need to see this in the light of at least two different Old Testament passages. The first is Ezekiel 9. In this passage, God resolves to judge the city of Jerusalem because of "all the detestable things that are done in it" (Ezek 9:4). Listen to what God says to one of six angels:
(Ezek 9:4-6) "Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it." (5) As I listened, he said to the other [five angels], "Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. (6) Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.Remember what Peter said? "Judgment begins with the family of God" (1 Pet 4:17). At the time of Ezekiel, this judgment of the family of God began with the elders.
The second passage to keep in mind comes from the prophecy of Malachi:
(Mal 3:1,3) "See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty ... (3) "He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness ..."The Levites, if you remember, are the priests – in other words, the religious leaders of the people.
Do you see what happens in both passages? God's judgment falls first upon the spiritual leaders of the people.
"Therefore, to the elders among you, I appeal ... be shepherds of God's flock" (1 Pet 5:1-2). Judgment from God begins with the house of God. And, in the house of God, this begins with the elders, the shepherds, the leaders.
It is a fearful and a wonderful thing to be an elder/shepherd in the house of God. It is a wonderful thing to shepherd souls into the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ. But, it is also a scary thing – because God's judgment upon His people begins with you.
Peter says this. As a "fellow elder" (1 Pet 5:1). Peter says this as a "witness of Christ's sufferings" (1 Pet 5:1) – that is, as someone whose witness to and for Christ ends in sacrifice and even martyrdom. Peter says this as someone confronted and judged three times by the risen Christ (Jn 21:15-19). "Therefore, to the elders among you, I appeal ... be shepherds of God's flock" (1 Pet 5:1-2).
III Three Warnings
A Did you notice Peter's warnings? These warnings are addressed "to the elders among you" (1 Pet 5:1) but they apply equally to those in the office of deacon and pastor too. Each warning is expressed negatively and positively.
The first warning: serve "not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be" (1 Pet 5:2). A church that is under attack cannot afford to have elders, deacons, and pastors who don't really want to serve in office. A church that will face the judgment of God cannot afford office bearers who would rather not be in office. The bride of Jesus Christ, the church for Whom He died, needs and deserves and requires office bearers who whole-heartedly are doing the duties of their offices.
God wants men who want to be shepherds.
B The second warning: serve "not greedy for money, but eager to serve" (1 Pet 5:2). There are men who look upon the ministry only as a career and not as a calling. It is a means to make a living, not a way to serve. In other words, they are in it for the money. I become distressed whenever I meet those whose thoughts are constantly on vacations and days off and retirement benefits and salary increases; instead, shouldn't their thoughts be on the truth of God, the saving of souls, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the sufferings and glories of Christ?
A couple of months ago, a series of articles appeared in "World Magazine," "Christianity Today," and the secular press that speaks to this.
Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, heads up both Samaritan's Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. Up until a couple of months ago, he received two salaries, two retirement packages, and other payments from the ministries totaling over $1.2 million a year."Not greedy for money, but eager to serve" (1 Pet 5:2). It is wrong to enter church office because you are greedy for gain.
David Cerullo, CEO of Inspiration Networks, receives compensation exceeding $1.5 million a year – at a time when Inspiration Networks has been cutting jobs, freezing wages, and even adjusting the office thermostat to save money.
C The third warning: "not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock" (1 Pet 5:3). Do you hear the warning here? Those in church office are warned about the abuse of power. Too many people see church office as an ego boost, as a power trip, as a source of pride. They want the office because they lust for the prestige it gives them. In other words, it is all about them. Remember what Jesus said about those who love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues (Mt 23:6)? Instead, be like Jesus Who came not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many (Mt 20:28).
After hearing all of this, you men might want to say, "Forget it, the office is not worth it. The calling is dangerous. The calling involves God's judgment. The calling involves sacrifice. Yet, you expect us to want to serve?"
The passage begins and ends with Christ. It begins with Christ's sufferings. It ends with Christ's glory. This is the path taken by all those who are servants of God and Christ. It begins with suffering. I already talked about that. It ends with glory. What glory? Listen to what Peter says.
(1 Pet 5:4) And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
It isn't easy to be an elder, a deacon, or a pastor. Sometimes we come under attack. Sometimes the sheep are unbelievably stubborn. What keeps us going? What keeps us performing the duties of our offices? Not the love of money. Not the love of power. But love for the Chief Shepherd Who someday will return and ask, "Did you feed my sheep? Did you guard my sheep? Did you seek out the lost sheep? Did you stand watch against the wolves? Did you love my flock?"
We do the duties of our offices because we love the Chief Shepherd. And, congregation, out of love for Jesus, we support these men and pray for these men as they shepherd us under Jesus the Chief Shepherd.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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