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. (ESV)
Peter now gives instructions about shepherds. But what does this have to do with suffering? Has Peter gone on a theological tangent? No, because in verse 9 we see that Peter is still talking about suffering as he concludes his letter. The first word of verse 1, “so” or “therefore,” shows that this discussion is connected to the theme of having hope during hard times. So why is Peter exhorting the shepherds at this point and how does this exhortation fit in with suffering? First, it is a call to courageous leadership in the face of suffering. We need leaders to rise to the top and not cower in the shadows during hard times. There are too many men who do not want to be shepherds because of the difficulty of the work. Let us not forget that Peter is writing during a time of persecution and severe suffering. One could certainly imagine that shepherds would have a bullseye on their back from the persecutors. Second, we need shepherds to help us and lead us, the flock, during difficult times. Shepherds are needed all the more during hard times, during persecution, when suffering for the sake of righteousness. Peter is describing Christians who are molding into the world rather than suffering persecution. The shepherds were needed to bring those who are struggling back.
Peter begins with an appeal to the elders who were in the various churches in Asia Minor. But it should catch our eye that Peter does not make this appeal on the basis of the apostolic authority granted to him by Jesus. Rather, Peter makes this appeal based upon three things: (1) Peter is a fellow elder. Peter knows the challenges and difficulties of functioning as a shepherd over a local church. Peter says that he is writing to the shepherds as a shepherd himself. Jesus charged Peter to feed his sheep in John 21. (2) Peter is a witness of the sufferings of Christ. Peter is not unaware of the suffering that these shepherds were enduring. But Peter saw the suffering of our master, teacher, and Lord. Peter is not unaware of the suffering of Jesus and for Jesus. (3) Peter is a partaker in the glory to be revealed. Though suffering, their hope is in the glory that will come later. Peter is sharing in that hope, looking forward to the glorious return of the Lord. On the basis of these three things, Peter now makes his appeal to the elders.
Elders functioning as shepherds is a vivid image of what these men are supposed to do for the flock of God. The scriptures are full of images of what good shepherds look like and what bad shepherds look like. Let us begin with what bad shepherds look like. Turn to Ezekiel 34:1-8 to see what condemned shepherds did. First, notice that they were feeding themselves and not feeding the sheep. The sheep must be fed. One of the primary functions of the shepherds is to feed the flock. The shepherds need to make sure that the evangelist is feeding the flock with his teachings. The shepherds themselves must be teaching and instructing the flock so that it is fed. This does not mean that shepherds preach sermons. It means that they are involved in the lives of the flock and are feeding them with their communication. The shepherds are teaching in small groups and teaching one on one. Shepherds feed the flock. The sheep must expect the shepherds to teach, train, and instruct them.
Second, the weak sheep were not strengthen, the sick sheep were not healed, the injured sheep were not bound up, the straying sheep were not brought back, and the lost sheep were not sought after. Another primary work of the shepherds is to be there for the weak, sick, and broken sheep. The shepherds are to seek after them. Shepherds love their sheep and they will try everything to bring the sheep back. As sheep, do not be surprised when the shepherds come to us when we are weak, sick, injured, straying, or lost. It is their job as a shepherd. Don’t be offended because they are simply working as a shepherd.
Third, the shepherds had failed in Ezekiel 34 because they ruled them with force and harshness. God condemns shepherds who see their position as shepherds as a position of power. Godly shepherds are not to be “my way or the highway” leaders. They will not rule with force or harshness.
By contrast, it does not take much work to see what good shepherds look like. Jesus called himself the good shepherd in John 10. The example of Jesus is what good shepherding looks like. Thus, in 1 Peter 5:4 Jesus is called the Chief Shepherd. Jesus is the model in how he led his disciples, how he lead the multitudes, and how he led the religious leaders. These are the images that are bound up in the verb “shepherd.” Shepherd the flock of God that is among you.
The Flock of God Among You
This is an important, yet overlook, phrase. The shepherding takes place among the sheep that are here. They are not shepherding sheep in other cities. They are not shepherding sheep in other churches that might be in this city. We are their flock and they are watching out for you. As sheep we need to get to know our shepherds. You may be someone who is regularly coming but is trying not to get too connected. But understand that our shepherds are going to assume responsibility for you because they care about you and your eternal soul. They are going to try to get you more involved and more connected. They are not trying to embarrass you or make you feel awkward. They are watching out for you. They want to know their sheep better and you should want to get to know them better because they care for you. Our shepherds are pastoring this church and no other. We are not connected or affiliated with any other churches, even those who have the same description as ourselves. Our shepherds make decisions for this church. There are no other churches, conventions, or pow-wows that tell us what to do. These shepherds make decisions for this flock. How should our shepherds lead us? Peter tells us.
Not Under Compulsion, But Willingly
There are three “not, but” statements. Do not shepherd like this, but shepherd like this. First, they are not to shepherd under compulsion. I don’t think that Peter is saying that we should not compel men to be shepherds who do not want to be shepherds. While that point may be true, that is not the point here. Shepherds should want to do their job willingly. We should not have to compel them to strengthen weak sheep. We should not have to force them to bring back straying sheep. Sheep must be the shepherd’s desire. The shepherds are working willing among us. I believe Peter is exhorting to shepherds to love their work and be willing to do it. Be willing to track after the sheep. Be willing to bring them back. Be willing to bind them up. This is their function and purpose. As sheep, we need to appreciate our shepherds’ willingness to shepherd us.
Not For Shameful Gain, But Eagerly
Not only should the shepherds be willing to work, they should not shepherd for the pay. That is not a problem here since our shepherds do not receive pay. That is not to say that they do not deserve such pay, but a recognition of our financial situation. They are worthy of pay, but shepherd us because of the heart they have for God’s kingdom and the flock. Our shepherds have a zeal for this flock and are actively working to improve us spiritually. Shepherds are not to lead us for the pay. They lead us because they love God and they love us.
Not Domineering Over Those In Your Charge, But Being Examples To The Flock
The shepherds have charge over us. Notice that Peter says we are in their care and under their charge. But with that charge comes great responsibility. The shepherds are not to be domineering, lording their rule over the flock. That is what the shepherds were doing in Ezekiel 34 and God condemned those shepherds. I think one of the primary ways that shepherds domineer over the flock is by telling others to do things that they are unwilling to do themselves. Notice that this is the contrast that Peter draws out. Shepherds are not about telling the flock what to do. Shepherds are doing what is right and godly and they are telling us to join them in the work. Thus, they are examples to the flock. If they are not examples, then they are domineering. The shepherds are doing what is right and telling us to do the work with them. Their lives are reflecting the direction that they are taking this church. Shepherds do not have the attitude of “I’m the boss” and “you must do what I say.” Jesus, the chief Shepherd never exhibited this quality among his disciples. Shepherds are to be examples to the flock, not dictators who can never be questioned. Shepherds are not to be making secret, back room decisions and the flock has no idea what is going on. Everything needs to be before the flock. The shepherds lead by saying, “This is what we are doing; join with us.” They are not saying, “This is what you should do, not me.”
The reward is the unfading crown of glory from the chief Shepherd, Jesus. The wreaths and crowns that they received from their sports and competitions all faded and wilted with time. But Jesus is giving us unfading victory. Do these things, in the face of persecution and suffering, and you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Shepherding is a thankless job. Our shepherds do not get paid and they must deal with the problems of the flock. Give them thanks for their work. Give them due honor and respect for the shepherding they do.
Peter tells us that we need to yield to the shepherds. Yield to them. Join with them. As they take us forward and lead us, let us join with them in the work. Let us roll up our sleeves and jump in. They are working many things at this church that they want you to join with them in working together. Get connected, get active, get involved, and join in the work as we serve our chief Shepherd.