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1 Peter 5:1-4
Bob DeGray
November 4, 2012

Key Sentence

An elder should be a shepherd worth imitating.


I. The elder’s job (1 Peter 5:1-2)
II. The elder’s qualifications (1 Peter 5:2-3)
III. The elder’s reward (1 Peter 5:4)


When I first preached this passage we were, as a new church, getting ready to vote on our constitution, and affirm our first elders. We took that vote on March 28th, 1993, and the first elders were Gary Kingry, Bob Mohn and Paul Christiansen. It was a great moment, and a great time to preach a text about elders. But there’s never really a bad time to preach this. In Trinity’s twenty years we’ve had consistently good elders who have served well and faithfully. And this twenty year milestone is a great time to review what elders are supposed to be, and the fact that a good elder is worth imitating.

Right at the moment we have four elders, besides me. And I wanted the four of them to each share a Scripture about elders. But two of them are on the men’s retreat, another wasn’t able to be here. So I video-taped them reading these key elder Scriptures, which don’t include today’s text.:

Todd: Acts 14:23 “And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” Acts 20:28 “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

Earl: 1 Timothy 3:1-7 “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”

Dan: 1 Timothy 5:17-19 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.

Murry: Titus 1:5-9 “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you - 6if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it.”

So these are four of the key texts on elders, and our passage today, 1st Peter 5:1-4 is the fifth. What we learn in this passage is that an elder should be a shepherd worth imitating. Even if we’re not elders, we need to listen well to what these texts say, because even if our elders were to fall short in some way, the text shows us qualities and qualifications that are worth imitating.

I. The elder's job (1 Peter 5:1-2)

So we begin with 1 Peter, Chapter 5:1, and the first half of verse 2: 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: 2shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,

Here we find a key description of the elder's role: the elder is a shepherd. Peter begins with a personal appeal. He says “I appeal to you, I exhort the elders among you.” Peter hasn’t visited all these churches, but he assumes they will be led by elders. In fact Peter, Paul, John, and Luke, the key New Testament writers, all imply that churches will be led by multiple elders. This is almost the only sure statement you can make about church government in the New Testament, that churches will be led by multiple elders.

And Peter appeals to these elders as is a fellow elder. We know he’s an apostle, writing with authority, but we also see him in Acts functioning as an elder in the church in Jerusalem. He says “I am a fellow elder, and I’m a witness to Christ's sufferings, and one who will share in the glory to be revealed.” One of the things Peter has been thinking about in this letter is the sufferings of Christ, recalling even the words that Christ spoke on the cross. Now Peter says, I was a witness to these things: I saw his suffering, was an eye-witness of his resurrection, and, heard the promise that he will come again in glory.

Look back for just a moment at last week’s verses, and notice Peter personalizes what he just taught. He says in chapter 4, verse 13 “But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” He applies this truth to himself and his fellow elders - we may suffer now, but we will be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.

So Peter has them ready at this point, and he gives a command, a one word job description for elders. ‘Shepherd.’ It’s a verb, shepherd the sheep under your care. And the sheep under the care of an elder, are the people in a local church, So what he is saying with the metaphor taken out is this: take care of the people who are in your church. It could hardly get more simple - an elder is someone who takes care of, who looks out for, the people in his church.

But Peter could not have chosen a richer word to describe this care. First, the word has all the richness Jesus gave it in John 10 when he said “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” We’ll focus on that when we transition to communion. This is also the word typically translated ‘pastor’ in Ephesians 4:11. Paul says “and he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.” Why? Verse 12 “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, building up the body of Christ.” Elders are the shepherds who build up the body of Christ.

But we also remember that ‘shepherd’ has great meaning in the Old Testament. We normally think of Psalm 23 as God taking care of us - and he does. But if we are to be shepherds, or imitate shepherds, it makes sense to think through Psalm 23 with us in the shepherd role: the Lord is my shepherd, and I am to be a shepherd to others. I am to provide for them so that they shall not want. I am to help them to lie down in green pastures, where they can be fed. I am to lead them beside quiet waters, places of safety and rest. I am to restore their souls to spiritual fitness. I am to guide them in paths of righteousness. I am to be with them when they walk through valleys of death and suffering. I am to provide them true spiritual food, God’s word at God’s table.

In short, as a shepherd, I am to give of myself to take care of others. And as you look around this room there are clearly many, male and female, who have this shepherd’s heart, as have so many in Church history. If you’ve ever done any discipleship with the Navigators, you know they instill in everyone who wants to make disciples this quality of caring and guiding. And they get that, I believe, from their founder, Dawson Trotman, whose heart was wrapped up in bringing people to a mature relationship with the Savior, and who displayed that caring, one life at a time, to the people around him.

One of the differences between the real world and the metaphor of the shepherd is that real sheep don’t imitate their shepherd. But God’s people can learn to follow good examples, and if our shepherds are examples of caring for others, we should imitate them by caring. As I put it twenty years ago “Our church will be outstanding, if we each have the mindset that I am taking care of these others around me, and if our elders serve as examples of that care.”

So, the job description for elders from First Peter is ‘shepherd the sheep under your care,’ and he adds the phrase "exercising oversight or “serving as overseers." This is the other main word used for this position in the New Testament. It implies watching over or guarding the wellbeing of the church. These are the same traits Peter used to describe Christ back in 2:25; he is the shepherd and overseer of your souls. So elders, as shepherds and overseers, imitate Christ. They are under-shepherds, learning from the shepherd of their souls.

But Peter's one word job description is ‘shepherd.’ Paul agrees with Peter in this. In Acts when Paul spoke to the elders from the church at Ephesus he said to them: give careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers; be shepherds of the church of God which he obtained with his own blood.” Furthermore, this is the command that Jesus gave Peter in the last chapter of John: “Shepherd my sheep.”

But there are other job descriptions for elders in Scripture. One is to lead, rule or govern the church. In I Timothy 5:17 we read “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor.” In the 1st Timothy qualifications for elders, the elder is required to manage his household well; if he doesn't, how can he manage the church of God? So the elders serve as leaders in the government of the church, certainly on the business side, but more emphatically in the area of spiritual nurture.

Elders are also teachers in the local church. I Timothy 3:2 says the elder must be able to teach, and Titus 1:9 says he must be able to give instruction in sound doctrine. Elders teach, in part, to provide protective oversight to the flock. They guard sound doctrine. This doesn’t necessarily mean that all elders will be preachers, though I think it implies the main preacher in a church should be an elder. I Timothy 5:17 says Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” The person who does regular preaching should be an elder.

So the roles that we have seen are shepherding, leading, teaching, and I would add, praying. In James, when someone is sick, he is to call the elders to pray for him. In Acts 6, when they establish deacons in the Jerusalem church it’s so the apostles can give their attention to Word and to prayer. This is why one of the most frequent things our elders do is pray for the people of the church.

II. The elder's qualifications (1 Peter 5:2-3)

So here is the job description of an elder: shepherd, lead, teach, and pray. But Peter also gives us qualifications for being an elder, verses 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; 3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

There are three qualifications here for being an elder; each is stated as a negative and a positive. First, not because you must, but because you are willing. It's just not right to compel somebody to serve. Too often in the church we have used guilt to get people to do things. But you can’t compel somebody, to be a shepherd any more than you can compel a peanut butter sandwich to be a keyboard. They both have their uses, but they are not interchangeable.

The church needs people who are called to shepherd and care for the sheep. Jesus talks in John 10 about a shepherd who is a hired hand, he’s compelled to do the work but he has no commitment to it. What we’re looking for as elders are people who are gifted and called to be shepherds, and so willingly give the sheep the concentrated care they need. That’s why we want our elders to be people who teach and lead small groups and initiate relationships; that’s what shepherding in the real, rather than metaphorical world is all about.

So the first qualification is willingness, the second is right motive. Peter says: not for shameful gain, but eagerly. This is a requirement that cuts both ways. In Peter's day it may well have been that most of the elders took some or all of their support from gifts to the church. So there would have been a temptation to desire the office of elder to obtain that. But in our day it can work in reverse: Today if you commit yourself to the work of an elder, you may have to back off from your secular work; to work fewer hours than the hotshot below you; maybe to get a lower rating, a lower ranking; a smaller raise; passed over for a promotion; refusing a move, or a management position.

The question becomes, is your shepherding, your leading, teaching and praying. really more important, when the rubber meets the road, than those career considerations? Jesus said it: where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. And when you treasure the work God gives you in the church, then and only then will you be able to do it, as Peter says, eagerly, convinced that serving God is more eternally profitable than any earthly gain.

Finally, verse 3, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. The shepherd’s work cannot be done in a domineering way. The word he uses means subduing, or ruling over by force. Elders are not to be characterized by autocratic rule, but by servant leadership. Elders must not govern by the use of threats, emotional intimidation, or abused authority. Instead, elders must lead as servants, overflow with compassion and be examples of providing for people’s needs and encouraging people’s hearts.

Jesus is the model, though not always a model easy to follow. But he met all those broken by their sins with compassion and companionship; and he saved hard words and deeds for those who were themselves without compassion.

An elder should be a shepherd worth imitating. Peter is almost certainly remembers what Jesus taught in Matthew 20: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them,” same word, “and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be your slave. Just as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus is our example of servant leadership; elders are called to be like him in care for others.

But, you ask, how can an elder be an example? In what ways? Well, this is where the descriptions of elders in 1st Timothy and Titus become very useful. We only have time to list a few of these qualifications, but clearly they are worth imitating. From 1 Timothy we find that this person is above reproach, successfully married, careful about alcohol, self-controlled in other areas, respected, given to hospitality, able to teach, gentle, not quarrelsome, and not greedy. So would a person like that be a worthy example to follow?

And the qualifications from Titus are similar: except that Paul starts with the need for the person to have done well with his own family. What takes place there, with our guard down, is a real measure of what we are as people. He goes on to say that the person should be blameless, not overbearing or quick-tempered or violent, not greedy or having problems with addictive behaviors. Instead he should show hospitality, love what is good, be self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. Now is that the kind of person who you want as an example for yourself and your children? You bet!

The hard part is that none of us, inside, is this sinless. When we examine ourselves we always find sin we fear would disqualify us. I think we need to work through the qualifications Scripture teaches with four questions. First: do I have a fixed intention to behave these ways? Is it my strong desire? Second: have I had that intention long enough to see positive results? Not perfection yet, but positive movement that is honestly dealing with my shortcomings?

Third: Is my family doing OK? Again, you can’t expect perfection, but you can expect to see honest engagement with the tings of God. And finally, but not least important - do others know me well enough to see me behaving in these ways. When other people evaluate me objectively, do they think I'm qualified. We don’t expect elders to be perfect, but we want people who have grown and are growing in godliness, able to be a positive example.

So we have looked at the elder's job: to care for and lead and teach and pray And we have looked at the elders qualifications willingness to serve, and a life that is an example to others.

III. The elder's reward (1 Peter 5:4)

Peter closes the section by describing briefly the elder's reward: Verse 4: And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

The elder who is a shepherd worth imitating receives special affirmation in Christ's kingdom. Notice that this is a future reward: it occurs when the Chief Shepherd appears, at the end of the age. We do not rely on present rewards for our service, but we do look for the approval of the chief shepherd.

Do you remember when Christ gave Peter his shepherding charge? It was in John 21, after Christ's resurrection, And what he told Peter was “feed my lambs,” “shepherd my sheep.” So while we indeed are shepherds, we are shepherds under the Chief Shepherd. He is the one whose flocks we in fact are taking care of. Elders in the church are under-shepherds, under Christ.

And it is Christ who will reward them for faithful shepherding. Peter says they will receive an unfading crown of glory. There is disagreement as to whether this crown is different than the crowns other believers receive. Some say that the crown is simply glory. Peter has just said that we will be partakers in the glory to be revealed. So we will be crowned with unfading glory.

But others say no, these are real crowns, and they point out that the terminology here, is the same as that used of crowns, that were given under Roman rule. In the Roman military, if you were a commander and served with distinction and leadership in a battle, you might receive a crown, a wreath.

I've read a fictional account where the commander of an army allied with the Romans rescued a battle by a brilliant strategic move, and sheer bravery. And when the battle was over, and he rode up to the Roman general, the crowd of Roman officers around began to cheer “Ave Imperator Ave Imperator” The commander said - what is this - what does this mean? And the general said - they hail you as leader- worthy to lead Romans in battle. And the general ordered that the commander be given a corona aurae - a silver crown or a silver wreath recognizing him for distinguished leadership.

And when I read that, it stirred me. Wouldn't you love to be such a person, that when you stand before the Lord, he will tell you that you have been worthy to serve as you have led his people. And in addition to the ‘well done’ that we all long for, he will give you an unfading crown, to recognize you for that service. Then we will cast our crowns at his feet. For truly it cannot be something we have done, but something Christ has done through us. He’s the chief shepherd, the good shepherd, our shepherd. And he wants all of us to imitate the callings and character of a shepherd.