1 Peter 5:1-5. The Task of the Shepherd

From: "Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <editor@biblicaltheology.com>
Subject: 1 Peter 5:1-5. The Task of the Shepherd
Date: October 27th 2016

1 Peter 5:1-5.
The Task of the Shepherd

Copyright © 2016, Dr. John W. (Jack) Carter.  All rights reserved.
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV

Peter has been writing to a wide-spread church community that, in its early years, was struggling to define itself within a culture that gave it very little acceptance.  One could probably argue that the 21st-century church may be finding itself facing more and more similar challenges as the non-Christian world seems to becoming more and more openly opposed to Christianity.  Unlike many Christian denominations today, the early church had no hierarchy of authority, leaving local congregations to establish and follow their own mission as best as they could with their limited understanding of Christian faith, practice, and doctrine.  Consequently, the leadership that Peter, Paul, and others provided was invaluable to the nurturing of the early church.

Individual churches were small and quite diverse in their demographics, as well as in their doctrine and practice.  They tended to be small house churches where a few would gather together regularly, subject to the hospitality of a host who was usually the leader of the group.  Being such a group leader carried with it a great responsibility, and in a time of persecution, also carried some modicum of additional risk, as they may frequently serve to deflect the bulk of the persecution as well as counsel and minister to those in the group who also so suffer.  As Peter brings this letter to a close, he writes specifically to the leadership of the churches and to the relationship the leader has to his purpose and to his group.  He also writes about the responsibility that the church fellowship has to those who minister on their behalf.

 Shepherding the Flock

2 Peter 5:1.  The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

Peter refers to the leaders as “elders,” a group among whom he considered himself.  Peter never considered himself as an authority figure over the elders, but rather as a co-worker (fellow-elder, sympresbyteros) as they share their witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also as partakers in the glory that shall be revealed. 

Some churches bring great significance into the differences between the Greek words used for “elder,” “overseer,” or “bishop,” but the scripture epistles tend to interchange and overlap their usage.  The word, elder, is a Greek transliteration of the similar Hebrew term used frequently in the Old Testament.  The elders in today’s church would be those who are responsible for the doctrinal integrity and spiritual nurture of the flock, the ones we would refer to as “shepherds of the flock.”  This is quite disparate from the group of words that are translated as “deacon,” those who serve the physical needs of the needy in the fellowship, including widows and children.

We may recall that Paul instructed Titus to appoint leaders that he referred to interchangeably as “elders” and “overseers.”  Our first assumption of this process that Paul recommends is similar to that implied by the modern church fellowship with its pastoral staff and deacon/elder/presbytery.  However, we may be reminded that Titus’ church, as well as the others that we read of in the New Testament were not single, nor large congregations, but rather collections of individual house churches, with each having the need of a shepherd, the elder.

As for a “witness of the sufferings of Christ, Peter probably had more experience than most of these peers.  As he counsels those in the church concerning the difficulties of living their faith in an extremely wicked and perverse world, he certainly does so with memories flooding his mind of the sufferings that he has personally known. 

Often when we think of elders we think of those with life experience as well as grey or thinned hair.  Probably the closest person in today’s church is the small house-church pastor who initially heard the gospel and started a gathering in his own home in response to that experience.  Though this is not the predominant model in our modern denominational organizations, it is a prevalent model in other countries, and is emerging anew in western cultures as small non-denominational groups are becoming common.  These pastor-elders tend to be less formally trained and more dependent upon communication with their peers for counsel and guidance, much like those in the early church.  In more organized denominational work this person is usually the pastor or part of a pastoral staff.  Consequently, Peter is not setting up some form of church organization or hierarchy, but rather is describing responsibilities among equals.

The Greek passage starts with the word, “oun” that can be translated “therefore,” and is omitted in most translations, tying this passage with the previous passage that focuses on persecution.  As a reminder that their work is not in vain, Peter refers to the elders as co-partakers in the “glory that shall be revealed,” an inference to the vindication that will be completed when God’s final judgment is at hand, when those who have persecuted the faithful will be held in account for their rebellion against God.

1 Peter 5:2.  Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

One can only imagine the wide variety of elders that made up the leadership of the early church that reached from Egypt to Asia, and from the Mediterranean to the Fertile Crescent, a disparate brotherhood of varying culture, language, world-view, training, spiritual acumen, etc.  Today we have the Holy Scriptures that serve as a common doctrinal ground, and serve to bring such varying cultures together.  No such resource was as readily available to the early church, so Peter provided some clear instruction to these elders as they seek to shepherd their flock.

Feed the flock.  Drawing from the pastoral imagery of a shepherd and his sheep, Peter notes as a first priority to feed the people.  Peter first notes that the flock belongs to God, not to the shepherd.  This instruction by Peter might remind us of the identical instruction that he heard from Jesus when he was restored after the Passion of Christ.

The agricultural early church fully understood the nature of this responsibility.  Sheep do not tend to find food on their own; they must be led by the shepherd to the location of the grasses upon which to feed, and to the water sources for drinking.  Consequently, the shepherd provides the food and leads the flock to it.  The concept of feeding the flock refers to meeting all of the needs of the sheep.  Caring for the Christian flock involves a wide spectrum of responsibilities, not the least of which is preaching and teaching God’s word.  The shepherd of the faithful flock has the responsibility of immersing himself in God’s word so that he can effectively and accurately share it with the flock.  Caring for the flock also involves meeting all other spiritual needs of the flock as the Holy Spirit gives opportunity, including the tasks of protection, leading, nurturing, etc.  The shepherd gives his life for the sheep as he serves them.  It would not be appropriate for the sheep to serve the shepherd. Nor would it be appropriate for the sheep to demand for themselves any form of spiritual authority over the shepherd.

Take the Oversight.  Many fellowships today are governed by skilled and proud leadership that has no hesitation when charged with taking responsibility for the group.  However, the true humility often found in the sincere believers of the early church necessitated this imperative.  It is a difficult task for a truly sincere and humble Christian to accept a position among Christian brothers and sisters to serve as their shepherd.  True humility reveals that such an imperative is asking one of the sheep to serve as the shepherd, something that is doctrinally a very significant concept, one that is even contradictory to colloquial understanding of humility.  Consequently, Peter admonishes the shepherd to take upon himself the responsibility that comes with serving as a shepherd, the responsibility to care for and feed the flock.  For a sheep to serve as the shepherd he recognizes that this is a task that is beyond himself, necessitating an appropriation of God’s power and wisdom in order to complete it effectively.  For a sheep to try to lead the other sheep with no more than a sheep’s ability would lead only to frustration, failure, and burnout.  Dependence upon the LORD is not an option for the shepherd.

Not by constraint.  One does not accept the task of a shepherd as a result of the prompting or coercion of others, but rather as a deliberate and disciplined submission to the clear and unambiguous call of the Holy Spirit.  The position of the elder is not an elected position, though we do find precedent for choosing deacons by election.  Paul characterized the work of elder as a “noble task,” one that is given by the LORD to those who will be held accountable for their work.

Not for personal gain.  It is evident that the pastors of the early church did receive financial support from the flock, and that the pastors were handling congregational finances.  Consequently, there is always the potential of a pastor serving for the wrong motives.  The proper motive is the “ready mind,” the eagerness to be obedient to God’s call, an eagerness that is evident in the zeal that the pastor expresses for the ministry.  The elders (and the church members) may be reminded that the financial support that they receive from the flock is a gift that is given to the LORD’s work, and not an earned salary.  The pastoral ministry is not a work for gain, but a work of love.   Other scriptures teach clearly that the flock has the responsibility to care for the pastor by providing appropriate and tangible support, so the mechanism for establishing the material support is the responsibility of the flock, not the pastor.

1 Peter 5:3.  Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.

Not as a lord, but as an example.  The position of shepherd is not a position of lordship over the flock.  There is only one LORD, and He is God.  Peter reminds the elders that they, like himself, are simply sheep, and they are not in a position to oppress those whom they serve.  The term “lord over” (katakyrieuo) was used by Jesus as He taught the disciples not to model the Gentiles who seek to appropriate authority that they might rule over others and seek their own interests.  Such behavior is a form of idolatry as they seek for themselves the lordship (kyrio) that belongs only to the LORD. 

Just as there would be a prideful tendency for the shepherd to rule over the flock, there is always the prideful and natural tendency for members of the flock to also rule over one another, establishing a pecking-order much like a pack of animals.  Such behavior is inconsistent with the expression of unconditional agape love that seeks the benefit of others rather than self.  Peter calls upon the elders to serve proactively as an example to the flock of the appropriate expression of agape love as they serve without seeking or obtaining any inappropriate authority over them.  This is an example that is contradictory to the leadership model of the Gentiles, a model that the church would easily embrace if the shepherd fails to set the example.

1 Peter 5:4.  And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

It is only natural and worldly to seek power and glory in this world, and it is that drive that produces much of its conflict.  It is unnatural to live a life that is truly humble, submissive to the Holy Spirit, and submissive to the needs of others.  The natural man desires reward for his work, yet regardless of the value or nature of that reward, in every event that worldly reward is always temporal and short-lived, for none of that reward will be carried from this world to the next. 

Peter reminds the elders that the reward that is received for humble and caring ministry is one that is of far greater value, and it is one that is not temporal but eternal.  The reward is a “crown of glory.”  In apocalyptic literature the crown is used to represent authority.  The reward of “authority” that the elder receives is that blessing that comes from God’s pleasure when one is obedient, when one is faithfully a part of His kingdom work.  The knowledge of a final, eternal, and appropriate reward can help to encourage the faithful to persevere in an environment that seems to provide no intrinsic reward other than ridicule and scorn. 

Mutual Submission

Peter understands the office of the elder/pastor to be one of grave importance.  He understands that individual to be synonymous with the role of a shepherd who cares for all of the needs of the flock, not from a position of authority, but from a position of service.  He also understands that the shepherd is called out of the flock, simply one of the sheep who has accepted this calling.  It is a responsibility that is not to be taken lightly, one that is to be accepted with humility, yet one that requires positive and decisive action.  Peter finds very little reward in this life for the elder.  His experience and his testimony makes it clear that this is a life that is filled with reproach as well as blessing, and the reward for faithful service is not one that will be obtained in this world, but will be found in heaven when those who scorned God will be judged, and those who were faithful will be lifted up.  Among those lifted will be the faithful elders who endured.  It is certainly a worthy calling.

1 Peter 5:5.  Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

Peter summarized the discussion of the responsibility and ministry of the elders by shifting to their relationship with the “younger.”  It should be understood that the word for “younger”, neĊteroi, is not a reference to youthful age, but refers to one who is newer to the faith experience, or a person of faith who is new to ministry responsibilities.  This presumes that the elder/shepherd who serves the flock, unlike the “younger” is not new to the faith, but one who is both mature and experienced. 

The word for submit, common to Pauline writings as well as that of Peter is again the term hupotasso, referring to a voluntary submission among equals for the benefit of both.  The term clearly indicates an equal value or esteem on the part of both, and in virtually every biblical use of the word, this form of submission is mutual, “subject one to another.”  This is not a license for the elder to lord it over the flock.  It is an instruction to those in the flock to graciously allow the elder to conduct his ministry without undue interference, allowing Him to serve the LORD as the shepherd, remembering that even the shepherd of the local congregation is one of the sheep who has been called out for this specific purpose by the One Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  We tend to look at this word “submit” and allow it to inform and exercise our selfish pride as we set up a pecking order, when the intent of the scriptural application is quite the opposite.  Consequently, when both Peter and Paul speak of hypotasso, not only do they emphasize its mutual submission, they also, without fail, emphasize the need for humility.

As the churches to whom Peter write are so varied in their demographics, background, and leadership, he provides some sound advice on the task of the elder/shepherd/pastor and the relationship that he has with the flock.  He emphasizes that the task of the elder is not one that is led by or motivated by pride, but rather by calling as one who is equal to the sheep in the eyes of the LORD, but has a responsibility for the care of the flock.  In order to care for the flock effectively, the flock also recognizes the task of the elder and allows him to serve them through the agape-based form of hypotasso submission.  When we do this we will experience a church at peace and one that is better able to fulfill its gospel mission as it reaches out to those who are lost and serves to nurture those who have entered its fellowship.

Titus 1:5.

Titus 1:7.

With the obvious exception of Paul and the Apostles.

Elliott, John Hall.  Elders as leaders in 1 Peter and the early church.  Currents in Theology and Mission, 28 no 6 Dec 2001, p 555.

John 21:16.

John 10:11,17.

1 Timothy 3:1.

Hebrews 13:17, James 3:1.

1 Corinthians 9:7-11, 1 Timothy 5:17.

1 Corinthians 9:9, e.g.

1 Corinthians 13.

In criticism of the cleavage between the clergy and laity of his day and a monopolization by the former of the means of grace, the great Reformer [Martin Luther] insisted on the equality before God of all the baptized. Through baptism, he asserted, all believers are consecrated as priests (WA 6.407.22-25; cf. also 6.564.6-7), pointing to 1 Pet 2:9 (and Rev 5:10) as the biblical basis for this thought. This priesthood of all believers complements the priesthood of the officially ordained, he maintained, and both general and specific priesthoods participate, each in its own fashion, in the priesthood of Christ.  Elliott, John Hall.  Elders as leaders in 1 Peter and the early church.  Currents in Theology and Mission, 28 no 6 Dec 2001, p 551.


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Written each week by our publisher and editor, John W. (Jack) Carter, these are original, researched, commentaries that may be used for individual study or small-group discussion.
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