Shepherding the Suffering, Part 2 (1 Peter 5:1-5)

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Introduction

In today’s sermon, we are going to return to our study in the book of 1 Peter. It’s been several weeks now since we left the book for a while, and I am looking forward to getting back to it today. But, because we have been away so long, I will need to do a bit of review this morning to make sure we remember where we were at when we stepped away for several weeks.

So, I do invite you to turn with me in your Bibles back to the book of 1 Peter. In our previous sermon from this book, we had made it to the final chapter in the letter—1 Peter 5. And in today’s sermon, we will return to that chapter by covering the first five verses. So 1 Peter 5:1-5. If you do not have a Bible with you this morning, or if you’d like to follow along in the translation I will be preaching from, please make use of one of the pew Bibles where you will find this passage located on page 1016.

So, let’s go ahead and read these five verses now, to jog our memories a bit as to what we were talking about the last time we looked studied 1 Peter. Peter says,

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. 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 5:1–5 ESV)

So, in our previous sermon from this passage, we talked about how the Bible uses three different titles to refer to those God has called to lead local churches. And, I pointed out how this is a pretty normal thing for us to do both inside and outside the church. For example, we often use the words doctor, physician, and pediatrician interchangeably when we talk about those who provide medical care to our children. We also use the words professor, teacher, and educator to describe the same person. The same is true for those in law enforcement. Sometimes we call them cops, other times the police, and other times officers of the law. And, within the church, it is not uncommon for someone to refer to folks like me as their pastor, or their preacher, or their minister. And, all these descriptions are helpful, because they each highlight a slightly different aspect of the pastor’s work.

Well, in this passage from 1 Peter 5, we see that the Bible uses three slightly different words to describe these people and their roles. And those terms, which are found not only in 1 Peter, but in other places throughout the New Testament, are pastor, overseer, and elder. Yes, as we discussed in the previous sermon from this passage, these are three interchangeable terms that are used by the New Testament authors to describe those men God has called to lead local churches.

Now, the title I have chosen for these two sermons from this particular part of Peter’s letter is “Shepherding the Suffering.” And the reason I have chosen that title is that the people to whom Peter was writing when he composed this letter, were people who, because of their decision to follow Jesus, had been ostracized in many ways from friends and family and normal everyday society. They were seen as strange and different and were often mocked and ridiculed as a result. For the most part, they weren’t dealing with physical persecution or anything like that yet, but they were dealing with the same sort of stuff that we sometimes have to deal with as American Christians today.

In fact, if you look back with me at the final verse from the previous chapter, 1 Peter 4:19, you will see that Peter says, “Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” So when Peter begins to address those who are leading this suffering flock of God in the very next verse—in 1 Peter 5:1—he is, indeed, talking to people who are shepherding the suffering.

Now, the main point of my previous sermon on this passage was to point out that when God’s sheep are suffering for their faith, they need shepherds to feed them and to lead them. That is how Peter is exhorting these men called by God to serve as elders over this suffering group of people in Christ’s church. He is exhorting them, as elders, to feed the sheep and lead the sheep. And that fits well with the terms shepherd and overseer, doesn’t it?

Think about it. What is the most important thing that a pastor or a shepherd can do for his sheep? (Remember the word pastor is just the Latin word for shepherd.) Well, no matter what else a shepherd does to care for his flock, if he doesn’t feed them, they are going to die. And that is why the primary responsibility of a pastor is to feed the sheep of God with the Word of God. That’s not the only thing a pastor or a shepherd does, but none of the other stuff is going to matter if the sheep starve to death, right? So, a shepherd, or a pastor, must feed the sheep before he even thinks about doing anything else.

But, in addition to caring for God’s people within the local church in the way that a shepherd cares for his sheep, those in church leadership also have the responsibility to oversee the church and its people. And that’s why in addition to exhorting these elders to “shepherd the flock of God,” Peter emphasizes that “exercising oversight” is another way that they care for the sheep. Do you see that in the middle of verse 2?

And, we sort of know what it means for someone to exercise oversight, don’t we? It means they are to keep a watch over things. They are to keep a watch over the affairs of the church and over the people who make up the church. This is about having the responsibility of overseeing the ministries and affairs of the church and the people within it. It is about providing leadership and direction. That is part of the responsibility we have assumed as pastors. And, the Bible says that we will answer to God about this one day. For example, in Hebrews 13:17 it says,

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. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)

And so, you can’t serve God in this way if you are doing it under compulsion. And you are not going to get his nod of approval if you are only doing it for financial gain or so that you can domineer over others. That is not what it means to be an overseer. Instead, an overseer is someone who leads by example. Notice that at the end of verse 3. Peter says that overseers must be examples to the flock.

Okay, so that is a brief summary of what we talked about in the previous sermon from this passage. And today we are going to add on to that by looking closely at what Peter has to say in verses 4 and 5. Let me read those to us again. After urging the elders to lead by example, Peter says,

4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

And then he goes on to say,

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 5:4–5 ESV)

So, in the remainder of our time together this morning, I want us to focus on three additional things that are necessary if pastors are going to shepherd the suffering sheep God has placed under their care. Now, don’t tune me out thinking that this is only a passage and a sermon that has to do with pastors, because that is not the case at all. In fact, two of the three points I want to make today apply directly to the sheep. And, as weird as I always find when we come to a portion of Scripture that requires me to talk about the role I am filling within the church, I do believe that churches who clearly understand the obligations and responsibilities God has given to pastors, will end up being healthier than churches who do not understand these things. There are a whole lot of ideas floating around today about what pastors should be doing and how they should be doing it. And it is also true, that the way we define the work of pastors goes a long way toward defining the work of the church in general. So, it is important that we understand these things and get them right. And, hopefully, the time we have taken to talk about the titles pastor, overseer, and elder have helped in that regard. And hopefully, our discussion of verses 4 and 5 will help as well.

Focus on the Reward

So, the first thing Peter tells these pastors in verses 4 and 5, is that if they are going to shepherd the suffering sheep under their care, they must remain focused on their heavenly reward. Yes, in verse 4, he encourages them to remain faithful in their calling so that they “will receive the unfading crown of glory” when the “chief Shepherd appears.” Now, of course, the chief Shepherd is Jesus Christ. Yes, ultimately, the Lord us our shepherd. But, he has also appointed undershepherds to care for the sheep as well. And that is what pastors are—we are undershepherds serving under the authority of the chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. And, as shepherds, we have the responsibility to feed the sheep and to protect them from a variety of different dangers. There is dangerous territory to navigate. Wolves are lurking in the darkness. Yes, there are all sorts of things that threaten the welfare of the sheep, and it is the shepherd’s responsibility to be ready and prepared to protect the sheep from these things and to act quickly when trouble strikes.

But, the work is difficult, and it is a burden. And it can be frustrating and discouraging sometimes. And Peter knows that. And that is why he reminds the pastors he is addressing in this part of the letter, that if they faithfully shepherd the flock of God, and diligently watch over them, they will receive “the unfading crown of glory” on the day Jesus returns. Yes, that is one of the ways pastors keep from becoming discouraged or distracted or deterred. They do so by focusing on promises like this one when the going gets tough.

Never forget, friends, that those who serve as pastors are just human beings like everyone else. Yes, God has called us to this task, but he has not done away with our human frailty. And sometimes, it’s not easy to keep at it. Sometimes it is difficult not to want to throw in the towel. It’s not much different than the way you sometimes feel at your work. Again, pastors are just human beings with real human struggles. And we can become frustrated and discouraged with our work just like you can become frustrated and discouraged with yours.

And, for these pastors to whom Peter was writing in these verses, the pressure was really high. Life was pretty difficult for them and their sheep. Being ostracized the way they were, was tough. It was tough in the same way that it is tough for many Christians around the world today, and for their pastors who are walking around carrying the tremendous burden of caring for a flock of suffering sheep. And so, Peter’s reminder to the pastors who were the original recipients of this letter is helpful and applicable for pastors today.

And listen, while he is talking specifically to pastors here, this principle applies to each and every Christian who finds himself or herself in difficult and trying times. Remember, that Christ has promised to come again and that when he comes again, there will be great and wonderful rewards for those who have remained faithful to him. That is what the Bible promises. In fact, according to 1 Peter 1:3-4, we have all been “born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, [and] to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3–4 ESV). That is true for all of us. And so, no matter what you are going through today, brothers and sisters, you can face it with a certain hope that better days are coming! Yes, praise the Lord, better days are coming because Jesus is coming! That is a sure and certain promise we have from God. Peter was reminding these pastors of that fact. And I want to remind you of it as well.

The sheep must be willing to submit to their leadership.

So, the first thing that will help pastors shepherd suffering sheep (which by the way, until Jesus returns we are all suffering sheep in one way or another), is that they must remain focused on the reward so that they do not allow themselves to become discouraged. But, at the beginning of verse 5, Peter shifts his focus away from the shepherds and back to the sheep. Notice what he says; he says, “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.”

Now, we know that Peter is not talking about people who are advanced in age when he uses the term “elders” in this passage. He is talking about those who lead the church by shepherding the flock of God and by exercising oversight in the church. As we have already said, “elder” is one of three terms that the Bible uses interchangeably to refer to those who lead local churches and it has nothing to do with age.

But, who then is he talking to when he says, “you who are  younger, be subject to the elders?” Is he talking to people who are actually young, or is there something else going on here? Well, what is going on, is that Peter is doing a little play on words. He is not only urging the young people in the church to submit to the leadership of the pastor/elders. No, by using the word “younger,” he is referring to all the members of the church who are not pastors and elders. Does that make sense? The younger/elder contrast is just a way for him to refer to everyone besides the pastors and elders. Obviously, it would make little sense for Peter to say, “Now, listen, you who are under the age of 18 (or 25, or 30, or whatever), you follow the leadership of your pastor, but once you get past that age you can start ignoring their leadership.” Right? That wouldn’t make any sense. So, this is just a way for him to describe all of those who have not been called to pastoral leadership within the church. It doesn’t have anything to do with age.

And what Peter expects, is that for the good of the church and its mission, pastors and elders will feed and lead, and the flock will allow them to feed and lead. Yes, in addition to the importance of pastors and elders focusing on their heavenly award to avoid discouragement, it is also important for the sheep to willingly place themselves under the leadership of their shepherds. That’s what he means when he says, “be subject to the elders.” Peter has already said that believers should be subject to governing authorities (2:13), and he has already said that believers should submit to their superiors at work (2:18), and he has already said that for the good of the family, wives should submit to the leadership of their husbands (3:1). Well, here he is saying that those in the church should willingly submit to those God has placed in leadership positions within the church family. Not because they are smarter or better or more important, but for the good of the church and its mission. Yes, sometimes those in church leadership abuse their authority, and in those cases, they should be ignored and removed. But generally speaking, that is not the case. Generally speaking those in pastoral leadership can be trusted to feed and lead and should be allowed to feed and lead. And this was particularly true for the pastors Peter was addressing in this letter who were suffering in very intense ways because of their calling.

Now listen, this is sort of an awkward thing for me to stand up here and talk about. It’s awkward to stand in front of a group of people and say, “Hey, the Bible says you should follow me.” But, I am committed to preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word and so, when I get to passages like these, I have shoot you straight, or else I am not being a good shepherd. So, in God’s order of things, he has given the church pastors/elders/overseers, who are supposed to feed the church and lead the church. And he has given the rest of the church the responsibility of following the leadership of these individuals who ought to be feeding and leading according to the Word of God. That is how God has structured the church, and it is, therefore, what is best for the church.

Everyone must practice humility

But Peter was a pretty smart guy; he knew that this would never work unless we all learn to practice humility. And that’s the third thing I want to point out from this passage. Yes, if the church is going to be healthy, pastors have to learn to be humble and to lead like Jesus. And, church members have to learn to be humble if they are going to follow the lead of people who have a long way to go before they look anything like Jesus. So pastors must be humble, and church members must be humble. That what Peter means in the second half of verse 5 when he says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

Oh, brothers and sisters, if I could snap my fingers and make one thing true of each and every one of us in this room, I would like to snap my fingers and replace our prideful hearts with humble hearts. The truth is, pride is at the root of almost every problem within local churches. There are prideful pastors who see the church as their little project that makes them look good in front of their pastor friends. And, there are prideful church members who see the church as “their” church and who refuse to allow anything to happen within it that they don’t agree with. But, if we are going to be a healthy church, we must learn to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another. Yes, when people look at us, the first thing they ought to see is our humility. We ought to wear it like a garment. And that means doing nothing from selfish ambition or conceit (Philippians 2:3). It means counting others more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3). It means looking out, not only for our own interests, but also for the interests of others (Philippians 2:4). It means being like Jesus and taking on the form of a servant (Philippians 2:7). Remember, Jesus said, “The greatest among you shall be your servant” (Matthew 23:11 ESV).

Brothers and sisters, when we come to a place where we see ourselves as slaves of God and as servants of one another, pride will no longer be an issue for us. And so many of the problems that local congregations deal with, including our own from time to time, will no longer hinder us in our disciple-making mission. So, for the sake of our church, and for the sake of God’s Kingdom, I want to encourage you to work on setting your aside pride, remembering that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 ESV). This is something we all struggle with, and I am probably worse than most of you. But, we must clothe ourselves, all of us, with humility toward one another if we are serious about being a church where people know what Jesus is like because they can see what we are like.

Conclusion

So, in this passage, Peter has shown us that if pastors are going to successfully shepherd suffering sheep, three things must happen. First, the shepherds must remain focused on their heavenly reward. Yes, the truth is, sometimes we have to look away from the sheep toward the reward or else we will go nuts. That’s just the facts. And so, Peter reminds these pastors of the unfading crown of glory that awaits them.

Second, the sheep must be willing to submit to the leadership of their shepherds—just like in a family. It doesn’t mean pastors are perfect any more than fathers are perfect. But, God has designed the church to operate in a certain way. And he has called some of us to serve the church in pastoral leadership. But, for the church to be healthy and effective, pastoral leadership must be followed. And that is why Peter exhorts the members of these churches to submit to the leadership of the pastors and elders.

And third, everyone (both shepherds and sheep) must learn to practice humility. It has been said that “pride is an ugly thing.” Well, pride is also a deadly thing. Pride keeps people from admitting their need for a Savior. And pride keeps churches from being healthy and effective in their disciple-making mission. When pride runs rampant in a church, it is impossible to work together, and there will always be bickering and fighting, usually over small and inconsequential things. That is why Peter says we must clothe ourselves with humility, and that is why God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

So, in closing, let me point you to Jesus, who did all these things well. Yes, Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2 ESV). Yes, let me point you to Jesus, who freely submitted himself to the will of his heavenly Father (Luke 22:42). And let me point you to Jesus who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8 ESV). Yes, let me point you to Jesus, because “God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9–11 ESV).

Friends, Jesus is not only our Savior. He is also our example. He has shown us what it looks like to focus on heavenly joy. He has shown us what it looks like to submit to God’s will. And he has shown us what it means to humble yourself before God and before one another. Let us then follow the example of our Savior and Lord. Let us do it for the sake of his kingdom and for the good of our brothers and sisters.