************ Sermon on 1 Peter 5:2a ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 6, 2021
1 Peter 5:1-4
1 Peter 5:2a
"Be Shepherds of God's Flock"
"To the elders among you ..." Elders, pastors, shepherds. I don't mean to exclude the deacons; everything Peter says about the elders applies to you as well. Peter is writing to those in church office.
"To the elders among you ..." What elders? Go back to Peter's audience listed in 1 Peter 1:1. Peter is writing to God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout the Roman provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. So Peter is writing to the elders in that part of the Roman world. I am guessing this would be a large number of elders.
Peter's message to those in church office: "Be shepherds of God's flock." Let's note the phrase, "God's flock." I try to never use the phrase, "my church." Rather, I use the phrase, "the church I serve." Because it isn't my church. It isn't your church. Rather, it is God's church, God's flock, God's sheep. Those in church office are called to be shepherds over God's people.
We will look at four points this morning: first, sheep and shepherds; second, Peter's command; third, Peter's calling; fourth, Peter's directives.
I Sheep and Shepherds
A The Bible often mentions sheep and shepherds. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob's sons all were shepherds. David was a shepherd: "The Lord is my shepherd" (Ps 23:1). Ezekiel, like Jesus, condemns the bad shepherds of Israel (Ezek 34: Jn 10). Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd (Jn 10).
What do we think of when we think of sheep? We think of the cute lambs at the Tulare County Fair or in the petting section of the Fresno Zoo. Most of us have no idea what sheep are really like.
Congregation, as I describe what sheep are really like I want you to keep asking the question, "Am I like sheep?"
B Sheep lack a sense of direction. When I was six years old we moved about twenty miles to another farm. Moving with us was our big German Shepherd dog. After a day or two the dog went missing and we couldn't find it anywhere. About a week later we got a phone call from the people living in our old house telling us our dog was there. Somehow the dog knew how to get back to what it thought of as home. Sheep cannot do that. They get lost easily -- even in familiar territory. So it is with believers -- we can't guide ourselves. As Isaiah puts it, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way" (Is 53:6).
Sheep are virtually defenseless. Most animals have sharp claws; teeth; speed; the ability to hide; keenness of smell, sight, and hearing; great strength; a loud bark or growl; great size; powerful and deadly horns. But sheep are awkward and weak; they have spindly legs, tiny hoofs, and are pitifully slow. They bleat instead of growl. Defenseless! Their only protection is the shepherd. So it is with the believer -- our defense and strength is the Lord and His mighty power (Eph 6:10).
Sheep are easily frightened. Strange noises, strange shapes, strange shadows can leave them shaking. They are assured only by the shepherd's presence and his songs at night. Likewise, we also need the constant assurance of the Shepherd's presence.
Sheep, by nature, are unclean. Other animals lick, scrape, and roll in the grass to clean themselves -- but not sheep. They will remain filthy unless the shepherd cleanses them. Because of sin we, by nature, are unclean and filthy. Apart from our tender Shepherd's cleansing we would remain perpetually dirty (Isa 64:6).
Sheep cannot find food or water. While most animals have a keen sense of smell, sheep depend upon their shepherd completely. If left to themselves, sheep will eat poisonous weeds and die -- and when one does it the others will follow the leader. Like sheep, we are totally dependent upon the care of the Shepherd.
Sheep are really fussy about the water they drink. It needs to be clean, pure water. It can't be moving water because rapidly moving water scares them and/or knocks them off their feet. They need the still waters mentioned by David in Psalm 23.
Sheep have so many needs. They can't find their way home. They can't protect themselves. They scare easily. They are dirty. They can't find food or water. They are helpless.
C Do you know what sheep need? They need shepherds to look after them. And, do you hear what it means to be a shepherd? It is hard, dirty, never-ending work.
Remember the question we are supposed to ask: "Am I like sheep?" Of course we are. So we also need shepherds to look after us.
Now, remember, Peter is writing to the persecuted church (1 Pet 1:6; 2:20; 3:13,16; 4:12,13,19; 5:8,10). The persecuted church, the suffering church, needs shepherds to take care of the sheep. When the church is experiencing persecution, attack, deception, falsehood, ignorance, and heresy she needs good shepherds. The Lord demands good shepherds.
In many churches this is not the case. In many churches the shepherds are irresponsible: they don't keep watch over the sheep, they feed them falsehoods, they don't protect them from false doctrines, they don't do their duty.
II Peter's Command
A Against this background we hear the command of our second point this morning: "be shepherds of God's flock." Because the church is under attack, because the sheep are weak and helpless, because times are difficult, be shepherds of God's flock. Peter says this to the elders, the overseers, the bishops, the pastors -- they all refer to the same office. As I said earlier, the deacons are not being excluded.
Notice the plurals: elders, shepherds. It isn't God's will that there be one man in charge. There is wisdom to be found in many counselors. There is a multitude of gifts and perspectives to be found in a group.
B "To the elders among you ... be shepherds of God's flock." We already looked at what it means to be a shepherd: guide, protect, assure, clean, feed, and water the sheep. It is hard work. At times it is dirty work. It is never-ending work.
"To the elders among you ... be shepherds of God's flock." During COVID I watched many churches and pastors flounder and flip and flop like fish on a dock. They didn't know what to do. They thought ministry was administration. They thought ministry was programs. They thought ministry was music and solos and praise teams. They thought ministry was meetings. But COVID meant they couldn't do any of this. They were lost. Ministry is about none of this. Rather, in ministry the elders are to guide, protect, assure, clean, feed, and water the sheep.
C "To the elders among you ... be shepherds of God's flock." It isn't a universal command. Be shepherds of God's flock "that is under your care" (1 Pet 5:2). In verse 3 Peter speaks of those "entrusted to you." The elders Peter is speaking to are not responsible for the church universal. Trinity's elders and pastors are not first of all responsible for the federation or the church in general. They are responsible for their portion of the flock. No pastor or elder can ever get so busy with kingdom or denominational causes that they neglect the flock front of them.
III Peter's Calling
A "To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder ..." (1 Pet 5:1). In this third point Peter is thinking back to the calling given him at the seashore. Peter denied Jesus three times. So three times Jesus asked him, "Do you love me?" Three times Peter said, "Yes Lord, you know I love you." And three times Jesus said, "Feed my sheep, feed my lambs." That is, Peter was told to be a shepherd and look after the sheep.
"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder ..." (1 Pet 5:1). Peter is talking from personal experience. He knows firsthand what it means to be an elder. He knows the hard work. He knows how difficult the sheep can be at times. He knows and understands what elders and pastors go through. He knows the pain, the suffering, the challenges, the joys, the sorrows.
B Peter speaks not only as a fellow elder but also as "a witness of Christ's sufferings and ... glory" (1 Pet 5:1). He was there: when Jesus was arrested, when Jesus was put on trial, when Jesus was beaten, and he knew about the cross and the grave. He was there: when Jesus was transfigured, when the tomb was empty, when Jesus appeared in the Upper Room, when Jesus appeared at the seashore, when Jesus performed miracle after miracle.
Peter witnessed Jesus' sufferings and Jesus' glory. Do you realize what Peter is telling us about himself? That he is not just an elder but also an apostle -- because an apostle is a witness to Jesus' sufferings and glory (Acts 1:21-22). So he is speaking with authority to the elders.
IV Peter's Directives
A "To the elders among you ... be shepherds of God's flock." Peter gives not only the command, he declares not only his calling and authority, but he also gives direction or guidelines. He gives three positive statements and three negative statements.
The first positive statement: be shepherds of God's flock "serving as overseers" (1 Pet 5:2). Oversight is what is in mind. Watch over. Direct. Care. Guard. All of this is in mind. It isn't the congregation that is in charge, as in many evangelical churches today. It isn't the pastor who is in charge. In Reformed churches it is the body of elders who are in charge.
The second positive statement: be shepherds of God's flock "being examples to the flock" (1 Pet 5:3). The sheep need examples to follow. The elders need to be examples for the flock. We can never underestimate how important this is. Elders and pastors are called upon to be Christlike examples to young and old alike. I would go so far as to say this is the most important quality of leadership in the church. Over the years I've been given books on leadership in the church. The author usually lists six or seven or eleven or twelve characteristics of effective leaders. The only one I remember -- because it is the most important -- is that leaders in the church need to be examples the flock can follow.
The third positive statement: be shepherds of God's flock "eager to serve" (1 Pet 5:2). Eager. God doesn't want people in church office who have to be dragged in kicking and screaming and trying their best to stay out. They are to be willing. They are to be eager. To serve. Serve who? God, of course. But also the church, the sheep, the flock. Brothers, be eager to serve.
B And then the negatives, the warnings, for those who are leaders in the church.
The first negative: be shepherds of God's flock "not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be" (1 Pet 5:2). Elders and pastors should not be forced into their position. I know of two men who became ministers because their mother forced them into the role since they were little boys; needless to say, neither lasted long in the ministry. I have seen elders forced into their position by pride, peer pressure, guilt, ambition.
Elders and pastors are to have a calling from God. I keep telling elders and pastors that if don't have that calling, they should never ever serve in this capacity.
Someone asked me this past week how I got into the ministry. I told them the people who knew me recognized my gifts and encouraged me to go in this direction. So I went to Calvin College and enrolled in Greek class. My hope was that I would fail Greek so I couldn't be a minister and be an accountant or engineer instead. Can you believe it, I passed. Three years later Calvin Seminary started with a full month of nothing but Hebrew. Again, my hope was that I would flunk. Can you believe it, but I passed again. I had the same hope with the exam before classis. Again, I passed. None of this means I was not willing to be a pastor -- because I wanted this. Nor does it mean that I didn't work hard at Greek, Hebrew, and theology. But it does mean I recognized my calling has to first of all come from God. Which is a scary and very weighty thing. This is true for everyone in church office. Brothers, your calling is from God.
The second negative: be shepherds of God's flock "not greedy for money." You are not in it to become rich. We kid each other in the consistory room that we should double the pay of the elders. Two times zero is still zero. But Paul tells us it is okay to pay the pastor. However, the motive is not to be riches. That's what false teachers do. Remember, we looked at that in 2 Peter -- how false teachers would look for a free meal, a free home, a free hearing at the expense of the church. Remember the pastor a couple of years ago who asked for donations so he could buy a bigger jet?
The third negative: be shepherds of God's flock "not lording it over those entrusted to you" (1 Pet 5:3). Lord. Dominate. Intimidate. Domineer. Be in charge. Control. I've been called in as a church visitor more times than I can remember because of elders and pastors who are this way in church office. In the last number of years I've had to advise four different consistories to remove someone from office because the elder or pastor was power hungry. Those who are power hungry are not suitable for church office.
So how do you shepherd? Watch over the flock. Be an example. Be eager to serve. Have a calling from God. Don't be greedy for money. Don't be power hungry
Let me conclude how Peter concludes. It is an absolutely wonderful conclusion:
(1 Pe 5:4; NIV84) — 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.Brothers, you know what this tells me? That faithful ministry has its rewards. Yes, there are many heartbreaks and challenges -- especially when sinners don't repent. But there are also so many joys -- professions of faith in the Lord Jesus, sinners repenting, babies being baptized, marriages in the Lord, elderly saints going to glory. But the greatest joy we won't experience until Jesus returns: the crown of glory that will never fade away.
The glories of this life quickly fade. I don't remember who won the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NCAA basketball championship, the Stanley Cup, or the Tour de France more than a year ago. That's because it is a fading glory. The crown that awaits faithful preachers and elders and deacons is nothing like this. It comes from the Lord. He places His mark of commendation upon you and says, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."
So I say with Peter again: "be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care."
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