1 Peter 5:1-5 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.”
Have you ever been in a chaotic or difficult situation, not one of your own making, but nevertheless one which you were tasked to provide leadership over? For instance, I know many moms at Grace whose home was hit by what felt like the plague. Everyone was sick, including them, but they were responsible for keeping things going. Likewise, how many of you who have some type of managerial position have walked into work to find a catastrophe that you needed to guide your employees through? Military personnel? Coaches? Virtually everyone in a position of leadership has experienced this. The situation was rough on you, but in addition to whatever personal challenges you faced, you had the added task of bearing the weight of the others as well.
In a number of ways, that’s the situation in this passage. For four chapters Peter addressed the manner in which ordinary Christians ought to navigate whatever trials and persecution might come their way. At the beginning of this last chapter, however, Peter turned his attention to how those in positions of leadership ought to handle suffering. That is, 1 Peter 5:1-5 is a passage addressed to church leaders (elders), instructing them on the unique ways that leaders honor God during times of various trials.
The main point of Peter’s exhortation and, therefore, this sermon is this: Elders, as God’s representative shepherds within the local church, are to be particularly careful to elder well when times are hard. In order to help you see that in the text, and what Peter meant by it, we are going to consider the recipients, foundation, content, and goal of this exhortation. Let’s pray that God would make this clear and sweet to us, and true of us.
THE RECIPIENTS OF PETER’S EXHORTATION
To point out the obvious, Peter’s exhortation—his urgent message—in this passage is addressed primarily to local church elders. That Peter shifts his focus (from ordinary Christians) to church leaders becomes plain in the first few words of the chapter. There he wrote, “So I exhort the elders among you…”. That is, elders, in light of the gospel, in light of the persecution you and those under your charge are enduring in Jesus’ name, and in light of everything I’ve already written, I have some specific implications and applications for you.
In case you missed it we spent all last week looking at what the bible has to say about eldership—its origin, description, and requirements. In particular we saw that the role of elder is the last in a long line of offices instituted by God whose primary charge is to provide shepherding care to God’s people on God’s behalf, we saw that elders do so primarily by knowing, leading, feeding, and protecting the church, and we saw that the primary requirement for an elder is exemplary Christlikeness.
Again, as we’ll see in a bit, this exhortation has implications for the entire church, but it is primarily addressed to those who hold the office of elder.
THE FOUNDATION OF PETER’S EXHORTATION
Again, Peter had an urgent message for the elders of the scattered, elect exiles. It was an exhortation, of course, which he expected them to receive and heed. Peter knew that obeying his general instructions would be difficult. And he knew that his instructions to the leaders of God’s people would be more difficult yet. Therefore, it’s natural that before getting to the exhortation itself he would want to encourage the elders. He did so by establishing the foundation of his exhortation in three ways: by (1) empathizing with them, (2) reestablishing his credentials, and (3) reminding them of the reward that awaits those who continue in faithful obedience.
First, he sought to encourage them by empathizing with them. He did so by reminding them of the fact that he too was an elder and subject to his own exhortation. In v.1 we read, “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder…”.
We’ve all experienced the power of this on some level. For instance, those diagnosed with cancer are able to say things to others who have cancer in uniquely powerful ways. Likewise, those who have personally struggled with addiction are often able speak to another addict with an authority unlike anyone else.
Peter knew that what he was about to urge elders to do would be difficulty on top of difficulty. He knew that they were likely already overwhelmed and that the thought of adding anything else to their plates might seem like the final straw. Therefore, he reminded them that he wasn’t exhorting them to do anything that he wasn’t also exhorting himself to do; that he wasn’t asking them to go somewhere he wasn’t willing to go himself. That must have been encouraging and strengthening to the elders; and in a way that no one but a fellow elder could accomplish.
Second, Peter sought to encourage the elders by reminding them of his credentials, of what gave him the right to give such an exhortation. Notice what it wasn’t. He didn’t offer up his education, his bank account, his prestigious references, or his work experience. He didn’t even offer up his own godliness or faithfulness or persecution.
What he did offer as his primary credential was the fact that he personally witnessed the faithful sufferings of Jesus. “I exhort the elders among you,” Peter wrote, “as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ…”. The primary reason given by Peter that the elders should listen to him was that he was there to see the manner and result of Jesus’ suffering. They should listen to and obey Peter because he saw the One with all authority suffer perfectly.
1 Peter is a letter written by Peter with the primary purpose of explaining how God’s people ought to navigate their suffering in a manner pleasing to God. Who better to speak on this than the one who saw God suffer?! If you want to suffer well, look at the suffering of the Son of God. His suffering was an example for all who would suffer for his name (1 Peter 2:21-24). And Peter was there to witness it firsthand.
Third, before exhorting the elders, Peter also sought to encourage them by reminding them of what awaited them if they were to listen and obey. Do you see it? “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…”.
This is the point at which we take a step back and remember what this is all about. It can be so easy to go through the motions of the Christian life; to tire ourselves out by constantly trying to obey and get things right; to work hard to live with a wartime mentality; to feel the constant tension between what we are and what we’re meant to be—all good things. But it’s easy to do all of that and lose sight of why; of what awaits all who persevere in faith; of the glory that is to be revealed. Remember back with me to the very beginning of this letter.
1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire- may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
This is what awaits not only faithful elders, but all who hope in Christ. And this is why Peter’s exhortation, as difficult as it might be, is more than worth whatever it might cost. You see, the economy of God is different than any other economy. God calls his people to give everything—which sounds like a lot, and it is, just not in comparison to what we gain by doing so. If we have $100 God calls us to trust him with all of it, to take every ounce of our hope away from that $100 and place it in him…so that he can give us $1,000,000! That’s the economy that Peter was speaking into.
Elders, Peter wrote, I have an exhortation for you. It’s going to be a challenge, it’s going to cost you everything, but remember: nothing but everlasting glory awaits those of you who hold firm through this light, momentary affliction. That’s encouragement in the highest!
The primary recipients of Peter’s exhortation were elders—those given by God to shepherd the church on his behalf. Before exhorting them to do something difficult, though, he sought to encourage them by empathizing with them, reminding them of why they should listen to him, and by pointing out the reward that awaits those who continue in faithful obedience. That is, Peter laid the foundation for his exhortation.
With that, let’s consider the actual content of the exhortation.
THE CONTENT OF PETER’S EXHORTATION
The heart of Peter’s exhortation is found at the beginning of v.2: “So I exhort the elders among you…: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you.” They were not charged to keep the numbers and budget up. They were not charged to build shiny buildings. They were not charged to rescue the people of God from their persecution. They were not charged to perform miracles. They were charged to shepherd those among them—not the entire Church of Christ, but those within their local congregations (“shepherd the flock of God among you”). Everything that follows (2b-5) is an explanation of what Peter meant by that. That is, the rest of the verses in our passage for this morning are meant to answer the question of what it means to shepherd the flock of God.
Once again, remember (from last week) that the larger charge of an elder is to know, lead, feed, and protect. In this passage Peter focuses on how to lead well. Listen again to vs.2-3. “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. ”
The main way in which Peter exhorts the elders to shepherd the flock is by exercising oversight, and to do so in a particular way. That is, in times of trial, more than anything God’s people need to be led well. But what does it mean to lead well? Peter gives three things that leading well does and three things it does not mean.
Not under compulsion, but willingly. Elders, do you want to know how God would have you elder? This is how: elder not because you have to, but because you want to. This is crucial for elders, but it is also an essential part of the Christian life. God is not after your cold, dutiful, disheartened obedience.
I served at a church once where guys who had been around long enough were just sort of drafted onto the leadership board. Few really wanted to do it, but all felt like they must, and so they did. This is exactly the type of service Peter says to avoid.
Hosea 6:6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice…
2 Corinthians 9:7 Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
Elders, God does not need us to care for his people. He does not need us to shepherd his sheep. He has graciously chosen to allow us to share in the sufferings of Christ that we might share in the joy of Christ. There is no such thing as God-honoring woe-is-me eldering, only willing, joyful eldering.
Not for shameful gain, but eagerly. The second aspect of exercising godly oversight (of leading the Church well, of faithfully shepherding God’s people) mentioned by Peter is that elders must do so, not for some type of personal, worldly gain, but gladly for the purposes of God. Believe it or not, there are all kinds of churches whose leaders get rich from leading. Their desire is the satisfaction of their flesh. Elders must not elder begrudgingly, but eagerly. And elders must be eager for gospel, glory-of-God reasons, not for sinful, selfish, financial, prestigious, reasons.
Not domineering, but in an exemplary manner. The third and final way in which Peter charges the elders to exercise oversight is by doing so in a humble, selfless, serving, kind, exemplary manner, not an iron-fist, harsh, dictatorial, domineering manner.
Don’t confuse this with fake, soft, or wishy-washy leadership. Make no mistake, elders are called to really lead and really exercise real God-given authority. The godly alternative to domineering leadership isn’t passivity or weakness or consensus. The godly alternative is leading like Jesus did, according to his example. He was clear on where he was going, he expected everyone who called on his name to follow him, he didn’t tolerate dissent, and he had harsh words for his enemies. And yet there was never any doubt among his followers about the facts that he was leading them to their good, that whatever lines he drew he drew because they were right, and that as their leader he was eager to lay his life down for them.
And so it must be with us today. Elders are given real authority from God to lead his people, but we are also given a real example in Jesus of what that means.
In short, Peter’s exhortation to the elders is to shepherd, to exercise oversight, with Christ-like integrity and motives; in a way that is easy to see conforms to the example of Jesus, is safely within God’s revealed will, and is good for the souls of all who love God to follow.
Before we get to the final section of this sermon, the goal of Peter’s exhortation, I want to draw your attention to something else under this heading. I hope you’ve noticed that to this point, more than once, I’ve intentionally said that the primary recipients of Peter’s exhortation were the elders. The reason I used the word primary is because Peter clearly expects the rest of the church to be listening in as well. V.5 isn’t a separate exhortation, then. It is simply a clear statement of what his elder-exhortation meant for those under the elders’ care.
If God has given elders to exercise oversight, it stands to reason that he has given the church to be overseen. But what does that look like? Consider v.5 and the two key responses to godly eldership taught in it.
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.”
Church, don’t miss this. God has given you elders because he loves you. He has given you elders because he cares for you. He has given authority to us as elders to lead you toward righteousness. And, therefore, he’s given you to gladly receive his loving, caring, shepherding from us. Peter mentions two specific ways that you ought to respond to the kind of eldering we just saw.
Be subject. If we are to exercise authority, you are to be subject. This means what you think it means. It is our job to give ourselves to the scriptures, to give ourselves to prayer, to give ourselves to following Jesus, to give ourselves to seeking your input, and then to give ourselves to setting a course toward God’s stated purposes; and then it is your job to follow.
For many this sounds harsh. It sounds dangerous. It sounds vulnerable. It sounds difficult. Given the vast number of leaders who have failed to apply the three sets of commands above, that’s not surprising. Nevertheless, as we give ourselves to the things God’s given us to give ourselves to, you are to give yourselves to us. And you do! For the most part you all love us and trust us (I think) because we work so hard to show you through our lives and teaching that we love God, that we love you, and that God’s word is our guide. This is the type of response—your response—that Peter commends to you.
Peter calls you to “be subject.” But there’s another response that Peter calls you to as well.
Be humble. It’s humbling to know you’re a sheep. It’s humbling to need to be led. It’s humbling to know that you can’t do it on your own. Therefore, be humble When we seek to help you grow in Christ, make it easy. When we seek to draw your attention to what appears to be an area of ungodliness in your life, even if you don’t see it at first, give us the benefit of the doubt. When we lay out a vision for how we’re going to fulfill the great commission, be eager to get on board. When we lead, follow in the knowledge that you’re ultimately following Christ.
Be thoughtful and prayerful in these matters—we’re not after a church full of ‘yes-men and women’—but Peter’s point here is that it ought to be your predisposition to eagerly receive our leadership as an expression of God’s care for you. Again, all of this is humbling by God’s design, so be humble.
The primary exhortation given by Peter is for elders to shepherd God’s people. By that he means leading the church, not under compulsion, but willingly, not for shameful gain, but eagerly, and not in a domineering way, but in an exemplary manner. Further, he means the church to respond in subjection and humility. That’s quite a charge for all of us. Among the great news of Christianity, however, is that wherever we find an exhortation from God, we’ve found treasure beyond measure. And that’s what we have here. Let’s close by considering the treasure-filled goal of Peter’s exhortation.
THE GOAL OF PETER’S EXHORTATION
Finally, and briefly then, what is the goal of all of this? What does Peter hope will be accomplished when elders elder in these ways and the church responds in these ways? Ultimately his aim is the glory of God and the spreading of the gospel; that’s what this whole letter is about. When we act this way toward God, each other, and the watching world, we tell the truth about God and his gospel and insodoing people can visibly see the invisible reality of God’s presence and power to save us, change us, and bless the world through us.
But there’s another, more specific purpose as well. Look at the end of v.5. Should you do this, elders, know with certainty that “when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
When those called by God to be elders shepherd in a manner consistent with the shepherding care of Jesus, when Jesus, the chief Shepherd, returns they will receive unfading crowns of glory. I don’t even need to know exactly what that means to know that I want it.
There you have it, Grace: the recipients, the foundation, the content, and the goal of Peter’s exhortation. In short, here it is: Elders, shepherd God’s people well. Do it by leading them for God’s glory and their good. Do it joyfully. Church, respond to this type of Christ-like leadership by humbly obeying your leaders. When you do so your souls will be well cared for and an inheritance awaits you in heaven that is greater, beyond measure, than anything it might cost you in this life. And guest, life is hard, sin means that it always will be. As you consider the burdens of your life, consider the fact that God, right now, is offering help to all who will receive it through Jesus Christ. Would you receive it today in Jesus’ name? Amen.