Standing in the True Grace of God, Lesson 15

Originally posted February 18, 2018, at Women of Purpose.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and 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 your elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 1-5

Peter addressed various groups in the church, from servants, to wives and husbands, before giving a deeply compassionate discourse on suffering persecution for the faith. He now turns to the elders, exhorting them to shepherd their flocks, which, because of persecution, may be wounded and afraid. According to Scripture, elders are those in the church appointed to labor in preaching and teaching and worthy of double honor, who, in their private and public lives, are above reproach, the husband of one wife, whose children are believers, and are not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. They are God’s stewards of the flock and must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or drunkards or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. They must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that they may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (1 Tim. 5:17; Titus 1:6-9).

“Elder refers not so much to age as to the role of the person who holds the position of elder in the church. The apostles appointed elders in every church (Acts 14:23), and apostolic helpers were instructed to do likewise (Titus 1:5). The apostles charged the elders to provide spiritual care for the members of the church by teaching and preaching the Word; to guard the purity of the Christian faith by warning God’s people against false doctrines; and to promote peace and order in the church by setting examples in their own households (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 5:17).”[1]

In verse 1, Peter identifies himself as a fellow elder. In this, he is identifying himself with the elders in the churches to which he is writing, not in a manner of lowering himself to join them, but rather elevating them to his higher level of authority and responsibility.

He next writes that he is a witness of the sufferings of Christ because he did witness our Lord’s sufferings as he prayed in Gethsemane, and then underwent the kangaroo court before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. But deeper than this, I wonder if he might not also be remembering the suffering he saw in his Master’s eyes after he denied him three times in the courtyard of the high priest. Peter not only witnessed Christ’s sufferings, he contributed to them. And now he is addressing men who have been called to the high responsibility of shepherding the flock of Christ, men who also may feel the sting of past sin. Indeed, already in this epistle Peter has called his readers to make a complete break with their former sinful lives and live fully for Christ. The men who are now elders in these churches were once pagans who were called out of that darkness into the marvelous light of the gospel and, having received mercy, are now people of God’s own possession (2:9, 10).

The broader context of this epistle is also a context of suffering. The believers in the churches to which Peter is writing—including the elders—have been suffering persecution for their faith, and more fiery trials are coming. So, Peter reminds them once more that Christ also suffered, and he witnessed it with his own eyes. His call for them to persevere is therefore credible, because he understands real suffering: Peter is a fellow sufferer, and they follow a Savior who suffered.

And then he writes that he is also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. He has mentioned this glory before, and it, too, has been in the context of suffering. The tested genuineness of their faith, which is tested by the grievous trials which they are suffering, will result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:7). Their suffering will lead to glory, and Peter shares this in common with them. Peter knows, after all, that his own death for the sake of Christ will be by crucifixion, because Jesus told him this in the same conversation in which he called Peter to shepherd his flock (John 21:18, 19). Peter therefore intimately understands the responsibility and the perseverance to which he is calling these men. And he sees the glory, as if he is already partaking of it, which will be revealed at the end of his own life.

God has used the imagery of a shepherd tending his flock throughout Scripture. This is a powerful and instructive image because, as Daniel Doriani writes, “everyone knew that sheep stray, find trouble, and cannot extricate themselves from it. Unless they receive constant care and oversight, they perish.”[2]

The 23rd Psalm, one of the best known and loved portions of Scripture, in which the shepherd and his sheep imagery is found, illustrates the care with which God cares for his people.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness  for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

“Psalm 23 pictures the Lord as a shepherd to his people. In John 10, Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd, the Lord who feeds his sheep, seeks the lost, gathers the scattered, and heals the wounded. Then he commissions men to become shepherds under him. God told David, “You will shepherd my people Israel” (2 Sam. 5:2). Jesus commanded Peter to be a shepherd, and now Peter commands elders to be shepherds. What the Lord did for them, they must do for others.”[3]

This calling to shepherd God’s flock was especially dear to Peter’s heart because it is the very call he received from his beloved Master, as Jesus restored Peter to himself after his wretched denials and fall (John 21:15-17). Jesus charged Peter to shepherd his flock in response to Peter’s humble, loving repentance. Peter is now passing the torch because he knows that this is not his flock, but God’s, and the flock will continue to grow and live on after he dies and must have shepherds to watch over them.

In verses 2 and 3 Peter warns against three sinful motivations for serving and contrasts them with right motives. Elders must not serve under compulsion, but willingly; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; and not domineering over their flocks, but being examples to them.

Peter is calling elders to serve willingly, because they must freely embrace their roles: when the pressure is turned up with further persecution, as well as in the ordinary issues of daily life and the trials through which they will be shepherding their people. They must be willing, because the service they give won’t always be pleasant. They must be willing, because they may suffer for their calling.

They must serve eagerly, not for shameful gain, because they will be caring for the souls of weak and vulnerable sinners. If they are only motivated by what they will get out of their service, then what do they have to pour into their service? If they aren’t serving eagerly, they will lose the trust of their flock. Elders must serve God’s flock out of love for Christ and the church, not love for money.

Thirdly, elders must not be domineering over those who are in their charge, but their lives should be examples of Christian living. Elders aren’t to bend the flock to their will but lead the flock in submitting to the Lordship of Christ. They are to serve the flock, following the example of our Lord who came not to be served but to serve.

This is not an easy calling. Someone once said, God doesn’t call the equipped, but he equips the called.  Doriani agrees: “What sane person would want to be a leader? The deluded and power-hungry want it, the naïve and grasping hunger for it. More importantly, those whom God has called and gifted to lead desire it.”[4]

Shepherding God’s flock under compulsion, for shameful gain, or in a domineering fashion undermines the health of the church and does damage to the sheep. It is idolatrous and abusive, and, from those who are responsible to teach and preach the Word it can lead to theological error or even heresy.

“Pastors should never forget that they are directly responsible to Jesus who bears the title Chief Shepherd in this text. They ought to remember that the church belongs to Jesus, even though they faithfully love and serve God’s people. They must acknowledge that they serve the Master Shepherd, whom they serve until he returns. As Jesus’ undershepherds, they guide his sheep to the green pastures of his Word and feed them spiritual food.”[5]

In contrast to sinful motivations, the right motivations build and strengthen the church.

“Churches need shepherds even in the best times. Even the saints can wander into sin, and the immature need a godly example (1 Peter 5:2-3). And however much individual Christians may progress, the church needs men to lead and to harness its diverse gifts (4:10-11). The greater the talents, the greater the need for leaders. It is the most gifted orchestra, comprising musicians with the greatest capabilities and the most fertile imaginations, that needs the strongest conductor.”[6]

Clearly, shepherding God’s people is a costly sacrifice. Our elders not only help to bear the griefs, trials, and struggles with sin borne by the sheep of their flock, they also bear the brunt of criticisms, nit-picking complaints, and petty squabbles among the sheep. To borrow another image with which we may be familiar, the elders are driving the minivan, and the kids are in the backseats: there’s one who won’t stop asking questions, some are arguing, others are tattling, and the quiet child seated way in the back just threw up. Perhaps we should pause for a minute and consider how we might show our elders gratitude for the care which they give us, their flock (or, their curious, argumentative, unpleasant, messy, and sometimes smelly kids). Certainly, we should pray for them, that God would give them wisdom, grace, and endurance for their task.

Personal story: years ago, while at a Ligonier conference in Orlando with several members of our church, a friend and I were perusing the bookstore (shocking—I know) when we saw our pastor across the room speaking with one of the Ligonier staff. We went to say hello, and when he saw us he delightedly introduced us as “two of his lambs.” At the time, I was touched. Now, years later, knowing the heartaches and trials he bore with us for a season, the memory brings a tear to my eye.

Peter now refers to Jesus as the Chief Shepherd. He has already written about what Jesus, as our Shepherd, has done for us: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (2:24, 25). Jesus himself described what he has done and is doing for us as our Shepherd:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-15)

[Coming attractions: When we get into 2 Peter there will be more discussion of our shepherds and the wolves who threaten the flock.]

Peter declares that the elders who serve the flock of God as undershepherds of Christ will receive from him the “unfading crown of glory” when he appears. Peter has already said that all the church’s elders will share in the glory that will be revealed (5:1). He is speaking of the glorious eternal rewards that await these faithful servants of Christ, who have willingly, eagerly, and selflessly shepherded God’s little lambs. Their salvation was a free gift of grace, their rewards as shepherds will have been hard-earned and well-deserved.

In verse 5, Peter addresses the attitude younger men (and women) should have toward their elders in the church. Considering the duties that Peter has outlined for the elders, “the prime duty of the younger is to be submissive, to yield, to follow, to defer, even to obey.”[7] The author of Hebrews writes plainly that the members of the church should respectfully follow their elders, and why: “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” (13:17). To return to the image of children, we are to submit cheerfully, from the heart, for the peace and harmony of the entire family (and stop kicking the back of Dad’s seat while he drives!).

Peter continues in verse 5 to describe the characteristic which ought to be the hallmark of all Christians: humility.

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

This is the calling of every believer, whether young or old, whether a leader or a follower, our mutual humility should be obvious to us within the family and to those looking in from the outside.

“By definition, a church is a gathering of the humble. Disciples are confident of their worth, since we know that God created us in his image and valued us enough to send his Son for us. Yet every believer is aware of his sin and need. Every disciple has repented, and when we repent, we both confess particular sins and admit that we are selfish and rebellious to the bone. Knowing that we are incapable of self-reform, we trust in Christ to forgive and restore us.”[8]

Peter declares that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble,” to which Kistemaker comments: “The believer ought to know that God has provided everything he needs. He possesses nothing he has not received, is nothing but for the grace of God, and, apart from Christ can do nothing. Should he attribute anything to himself, he would not only rob God, but also meet him as his adversary.”[9]

Living as followers of Jesus is counter-cultural. We are called to embrace suffering now, knowing that glory is coming; we are to serve instead of demanding our rights; we are to live humbly, submitting to one another instead of being proud. Certainly, in all this, there lies a challenge for each of us. Let us commit ourselves to God in prayer, asking him to help us to follow in Jesus’ steps. And let us pray for one another and our church, that we would live out our callings to our mutual blessing, and as a light shining in the darkness, to draw in the lost sheep not yet in the Master’s fold.

[1] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Exposition of 1 Peter, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1986/1987), 188.

[2] Daniel M. Doriani, Reformed Expository Commentary, 1 Peter, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Publishing, 2014), 208.

[3] Ibid., 208.

[4] Ibid., 202.

[5] Kistemaker, 194.

[6] Doriani, 203.

[7] Ibid., 220.

[8] Ibid., 221.

[9] Kistemaker, 197.

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