Sermon Text: 1 Peter 5:1–5
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
The Weight & The Glory
There is a mountain fortress in the deserts some miles outside of Jerusalem, a place called Masada. If you were to see it, even today, it would appear impregnable—a fortress built into a tabletop-shaped mountain. When it was built and defended, it could only be approached through a single, narrow path up the side of the mountain.
In the early 70s AD, 960 men, women, and children were besieged inside, surrounded by some 15,000 opposing Roman forces. For months, the attackers worked furiously to move tens of thousands of tons of earth and stone to construct a siege ramp from which to attack the fortress.
Finally, on April 16th in the year 73, the ramp was completed, and the Romans breached the wall in a massive volley of fiery torches and weaponry—a first-century miniature version of the US shock and awe operations in Iraq in Spring 2003.
What the Roman soldiers found when they breached the walls shocked them. Of the 960 people, only two women and five children remained alive, who had hidden themselves in a cistern while all the men slaughtered their own families, then each other, with the last men drawing lots until only one man remained, who killed himself.
Why am I telling you this story? It really happened. I’m telling you this story because every one of the Jewish zealots who died at Masada died because they followed wicked shepherds—wicked shepherds who rejected their Messiah, the Good Shepherd, and therefore turned their backs on the green pastures of life and peace to journey into the wilderness of death and folly.
Flocks who follow good shepherds thrive. Flocks who follow wicked shepherds die.
Today, our brother Peter has a word for the shepherds, the elders, of Refuge Church. We have four: Myself, Dan Berkholder, Cody Hockin, and Norm Dunham, as well as three men serving a one-year testing as elder candidates: Joshua Adams, Kevin Griffin, and Kyle Schroeder.
It is therefore somewhat strange what you are being asked to do—members of a local church listening to a pastor preach a text essentially telling himself what to do. But that’s what Peter intended; these letters would be read aloud in local churches, and chapter five begins with the words, “So I exhort the elders among you…”
You’re supposed to hear this, so that you can see the difference between a good undershepherd of Christ and a pretender; the Lord would protect you from bad men and bad shepherds through his Word.
As we make our way through the text, there are almost certainly going to be moments where specific failures of your elders will come to mind, areas where you are going to think, “What you’re saying is that an elder should be like this, but you are not like that.” Or, “I remember that time when you personally fell so short of that it was hard even tell if you were aiming for it.”
And I’m not going to ask you to stuff those thoughts under the living room rug or pretend like they’re not real. They are. We are weak, sinful men—and it is a good gift from our Lord and part of his good rule that we are to be judged more strictly as ministers of God’s Word in this local church.
We strive to take this and other texts of Scripture where pastors receive their marching orders very seriously, very soberly. We long to be good under-shepherds. But where we fail and fall short, my plea to you is that you would look past us and look with hope and joy at the Chief Shepherd over us all, Jesus Christ. Look with me at 1 Peter 5:1, if you would.
“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: 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; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 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.”
-1 Peter 5:1–5
In our text, Peter gives us four aspects of a shepherd’s ministry:
1. In verse 1, he tells us of a shepherd’s sheepness.
2. In verses 2–3, he tells us about a shepherd’s duties.
3. In verse 4, he tells us about a shepherd’s promise.
4. In verse 51, he tells us about a shepherd’s joy.
We will spend the bulk of our time in that second aspect, the duties of a shepherd, but let’s take a look at each in turn.
A Shepherd’s Sheepness (1)
There’s a lot in verse 1 that could stand as it’s own sermon. Peter, the Apostle who witnessed the very sufferings of Christ, calling himself a fellow elder. There is a rich sermon there on humility that we will pass by without unearthing yet.
There’s a sermon on the foundation of eyewitness testimony the gospel accounts are built on that we will pass by without looking at.
The treasure we’ll work to unearth in verse 1 is the treasure of the shepherd’s sheepness. What I want you to see here in verse 1 is the way in which Peter emphasizes something that is true of every fellow elder and shepherd in a local church: The shepherd’s sheepness—that he is not only a shepherd of the flock, but himself part of the flock. He is a mere Christian before he is a pastor of Christians.
Peter calls himself not only a witness of the sufferings of Christ, but “...a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.”
Partaker. He is a partaker. You have no part in the Kingdom of God unless you join him, unless you sit down at the same table Peter’s sitting at here in verse 1, pull up a plate and a cup, and partake. Partake of the free grace of Christ Jesus, his body given for you and his blood poured out for you.
Partake in the glory-feast of the gospel. Nobody—from the greatest Apostle to the lowliest saint—is every anything more important than this, than a partaker of the gory that is going to be revealed.
Peter won’t let us pastors forget it. Don’t forget it! Your pastors are forgiven sinners, partakers of Christ, just as you are. We kneel at the cross together; a shepherd is first a sheep.
A Shepherd’s Duties (2–3)
In verses two and three, Peter describes five duties of the shepherd:
1. Shepherd the flock of God among you.
When you envision the office of elder, pastor, overseer, minister, shepherd—any of the words the New Testament uses to describe the office of governing authority in the church—a certain class of images probably come to mind: Depending on your church background, either robes and vestments and stained glass, or faux hawks, ripped jeans, and soul patches.
I think I may have just trolled the 22-year-old version of myself.
We think of pastoral ministry in terms of Greek word studies, intense study, theological musings—and these are all important.
But Peter tells his fellow elders that pastoral work is, well, pastoral—meaning earthy, blue collar, dirt-under-your-fingernails kind of work. The very word “pastoral” comes into our language from the Latin pastoralis, meaning “related to the shepherd.” In other words, we should be able to look at David keeping his flocks as a boy and learn about pastoral ministry in the local church.
The work of an elder is the work of a shepherd. He is to feed the sheep on the riches of God’s sustaining word and the true bread of Jesus Christ.
He is to lead the sheep away from the deserts of self-help and autonomous self-rule, to lead them away from the sheer, deadly cliffs of false saviors and idols—and lead them to the green pastures of God’s salvation and divine wisdom in Christ.
He is to protect the sheep from wolves in sheep’s clothing—rightly dividing the Word of God in order to identify those peddling false doctrine and false gospels. And he is to protect the flock from the ravenous predators outside the church who would seek to devour them and deceive them.
The ministry is therefore not a place for lazy men who will not study to show himself a workman approved to handle and carefully divide the divine Word.
It is therefore not a place for proud fools who will not be taught—for men who won’t have their minds changed by the Word when his presuppositions are challenged by it.
The ministry is therefore not a place for cowardly or effeminate men who will never say No! or Over my dead body! It is no place for men without chests, men who want to please everyone, even wolves.
It is therefore not a place for women, since no godly man would let a woman stand between the wolves and himself.
When men who ought not be shepherds become shepherds, the sheep become prey to theological predators. They waste away before theological disease. They wander after their own hearts into deserts and off cliffs. And the Lord hates it, and he is against such false shepherds. Ezekiel 34:1–10,
“The word of the LORD came to me:“Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”
Woe to wicked shepherds!
Peter defines not only the activity of an elder—shepherding sheep—but also the object of that activity. The pastoral call isn’t a call to shepherd “the flock of God,” but rather, “the flock of God among you.”
This is local church language. There is a massive, complicated, diverse, global, trans-temporal thing called “the flock of God,” and then there is a small, local, gathered flock called “the local flock.” The elder is responsible to the second, not the first; Jesus is the Shepherd of the first.
The internet has made it increasingly easy to be overwhelmed by shepherding everyone. It has also made it increasingly easy to be distracted by pastoral issues that may be pressing for some sheep somewhere, but not your sheep here.
Even within the local gathering, there are those the elder is responsible for and those over whom he has much more limited responsibility. I do not, for example, keep watch over the soul (to use the language of Hebrews 13:17) of every person who has attended our corporate gathering on a Sunday. We don’t keep watch over the souls of casual, once-a-month attenders of this church who mainly listen online. How could we?
I am responsible, rather, to shepherd and keep watch over those among that big group who are sheep, that is, Christians, and who have entrusted themselves to this local church as their church—who are members of it in the most biblical sense of the Word, Christian body parts in a local body.
The second duty of the shepherd, from verse 2, is to...
2. Shepherd the flock through careful oversight.
This duty is one of the reasons why a local church ought to be governed, whenever possible, by a plurality of qualified elders. By that, I mean that the local church should have multiple elders ruling together rather than a single elder trying to do everything.
I’m seeing this in the text in verse 2, where Peter underscores a type of pastoral work that all elders are supposed to work in, but at which some elders are particularly gifted and called: Oversight.
All elders must be able to teach and must oversee and manage well—starting in their own households—but there is a particular calling to a ruling sort of elder and a teaching sort of elder. Paul, in 1 Timothy 5:17, talks about the elder who rules well, and the elder who specifically does this in teaching.
So God often calls some elders on a team that are particularly gifted in teaching, and some who are particularly gifted in the work of oversight, in managing/ruling. The word translated “oversight” in the ESV here is the word that also gives us the words “bishop” and “episcopal.” The idea is an organizing guardianship, caring for souls and guarding them through proper managing oversight.
At Refuge, Pastor Dan functions most directly in this role on our team, though every elder is called to this work. Without this work, the flock can’t flourish; flourishing takes management, planning, and careful thought.
3. Shepherd the flock willingly.
“...shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.”
-1 Peter 5:2a
In 1917, a young C.S. Lewis won a scholarship to the great Oxford University after studying for many months under William Kirkpatrick—who probably inspired the great Professor Digory in Narnia, at least in part. But just after winning the scholarship, Lewis dropped everything to voluntarily join the British army as an officer to go to fight in Europe’s Great War.
He fought and was wounded by a shell that killed the man next to him on 15 April, 1918 and spent the rest of his time as a soldier recovering in a hospital.
Lewis didn’t have to go to the Great War, at least not when he did. But he joined because he couldn’t bear the thought of being drafted into the army, as if to say that he wasn’t willing to put his body between those he loved and those who would do them harm unless the government made him.
Pastors are volunteer army, not a draft. That’s Peter’s point in verse 2. They are to serve at the inward compelling of God’s Spirit, out of a deep desire and call, not out of compulsion. A pastor who has to be forced to pastor by others should step down or not step up in the first place.
4. Shepherd the flock for divine glory, not shameful gain.
Speaking of C.S. Lewis, there’s this great couple of paragraphs in sermon he gave and later published in a collection of essays called The Weight of Glory. He said,
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connexion with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not, victory being the proper reward of battle as marriage is the proper reward of love. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.”
-C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory
A pastor who pastors for money is far too easily pleased. Money is a proper aid to ministry—the workman is worthy of his wages and the elder who rules well is to be given a double honor, Paul says. But it is not the proper reward, or motivation, for ministry.
This is why Peter tells us in verse 2 that a pastor is to serve, “...not for shameful gain, but eagerly.” He is to serve eagerly for the sake of the reward of new life and sin forgiven and saints obeying the Lord and the crown of glory from Christ, but not for money.
This isn’t a poverty theology, as if pastors must take a vow of poverty. But it is good reason why we all taste a certain disgust in our mouths when we see pastors in $55-million jets and wearing $3,500 sneakers. Those pastors may just be mercenaries rather than shepherds; the Lord rebuke them.
5. Shepherd the flock by example, not domination.
The work of a pastor isn’t the work of a dictator, but rather an imperfect exemplar following the perfect exemplar, Jesus Christ. Verse 3 tells us that he is to serve eagerly;
“...not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.”
-1 Peter 5:3
The pastor is not a little dictator when he stands in the pulpit. He is to lead primarily by showing rather than shouting.
This doesn’t mean that a pastor doesn’t tell you what to do—that is literally part of his job description when Paul tells Timothy to preach the Word in season and out of season, to rebuke, exhort, correct, whatever is necessary to teach the Lord’s people to obey the Lord’s teaching.
It does mean that he leads the sheep to trust and obey the Shepherd first by himself trusting and obeying the Shepherd. It means his home, his finances, his mouth, his heart—all of them ought to be examples of an imperfect, already-not-yet, grace-dependent man following the Lord.
So one of the ways we assess elders at Refuge is to look at the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 2 and here and ask the question of the man we’re considering, “Do I want more men and families who treat their money like this man? Their marriage like this man? Their devotion to Christ like this man? Do we want more of him? Is he an exemplar?”
None of this stands contra the gospel. None of this is to be applied in a justification by law-obedience sort of way. It is to be applied with wisdom, but with honesty.
These are the shepherds duties. Let’s briefly see the shepherd’s promise in verse 4, and finally the shepherd’s joy in verse 5.
A Shepherd’s Promise (4)
“And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
-1 Peter 5:4
The Lord Jesus is truly a good, gracious, forgiving, and patient Chief Shepherd to his weak undershepherds. He promises faithful pastors a crown of glory at his appearing, literally “a crown of amaranth,” or “amaranthine crown,” a crown made of the mythical Amaranth flower, the unfading flower of Greek mythology.
Shepherding done right is hard work, and the Lord motivates the shepherd, not by telling him to be disinterested in his own gain, but very interested; he just grounds that interest in the proper object—the reward of God—rather than the improper objects—the rewards of money, pride, and man.
This crown, it turns out, is good for throwing, and that’s what we’ll all do with it, every pastor who receives it casts it at the feet of Jesus and says, “It was all you! All of your grace and all to your glory!”
A Shepherd’s Joy (5)
Finally, it is a shepherd’s joy to shepherd sheep who love to obey verse 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.”
-1 Peter 5:5
We’ll be dealing with most of this verse in the section we cover next week, Lord willing, but here Peter calls those under the care of the elders to obey his shepherds.
If you’ll permit me an old joke, in the Greek, the phrase “be subject to the elders” means, “be subject to the elders.” It means to listen to them, to follow them, to obey them, to submit to them. This will take humility, as Peter clearly anticipates and as we’ll see next week.
Peter specifically calls out the young in this instruction because a particularly common weakness of youth is know-it-allness. Biblical instruction most often speaks into the weakness of a group. So it’s not that only young people ought to follow the elders, but that Peter understands the particular weaknesses common to youth and speaks into it.
But as with all the human authority we’ve seen in this letter—that of governor and husband and here, the pastor—it is limited by God’s authority. Do not be subject to an elder who tells you to sin. Fire that elder after establishing your charge with witnesses and dealing with it biblically.
But for the faithful—if imperfect!—elder, may Hebrews 13:17 be your polar star,
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”
I’lll leave it there and trust that the Lord will help you in walking in obedience to this difficult word. Before we close the book, here’s my final word to you and us:
Glad for the Good Shepherd
Your pastors are imperfect men. We are incomplete and inadequate shepherds. This is a fact; not an excuse.
But you have a perfect Man to look to. You have a perfect Shepherd shepherding you—the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who laid his life down for you, who loves you, who is watching over you and bringing you to the green pastures of his eternal glory.
He has never and will never fail to shepherd his flock.
He has never and will never fail to exercise perfect oversight.
He has never and will never fail to shepherd with eager willingness.
He has never and will never fail to shepherd for immortal glory.
He has never and will never fail as a perfect example.
He laid his life down for you. Look to him now with me as we pray and come to his table.