The Heart of a Shepherd: Part 2
Passage: 1 Peter 5:1-4
Last Sunday, I began a two-part sermon on this text, which we’ll finish this morning. By way of review, the center of this passage is the exhortation in v. 2 to “shepherd the flock of God.” My outline consists of five points that are built around this exhortation. We finished three of them last week. First, we talked about the “recipients of exhortation” and particularly about the three titles elder, shepherd, and overseer. I talked about the significance of each title as well as their relationship to each other. Peter clearly assumed that all three titles refer to the same office. I argued that there is no NT basis for making a distinction between pastors and a higher office of bishop or for making a distinction between pastors and a lower office of elder. Second, we talked about the “authority of the exhortation.” In v. 1, Peter gives three descriptions of himself that both empathize with the elders he is exhorting and also give his credentials for exhorting them. Third, we talked about the “center of the exhortation,” which is given at the beginning of v. 2. I talked about the fact that the church is ultimately God’s flock and so pastors must shepherd with a sense of urgency. I hope that you came away from the sermon last week with a better appreciation of the significance of the pastoral office. It requires a broad range of gifts and a carful combination of grace and strength. My point is not to puff Pastor Kris or myself up. Rather I hope that you will pray for us and help us fulfill our calling well.
This morning, we will cover the final two points regarding the exhortation. Of course the primary focus in the remainder of the text continues to be the pastoral office; however, there is a lot of significance in what Peter has to say for how we should approach any and all ministry.
In light of that, let’s consider…
The Explanation of the Exhortation (vv. 2b–3):
The structure of vv. 2–3 is pretty simple to follow. As we already noted, the center of the paragraph is the command to “shepherd the flock of God.” Peter follows with three explanatory statements regarding what proper shepherding looks like. Each statement includes a negative and positive quality.
Shepherd joyfully (v. 2b).
Let’s talk first of all about this idea of “compulsion.” The idea is not hard to understand because we have all done things by compulsion like watching a Jane Eyre movie with your wife or sitting through a baseball game on a miserably cold or hot day with your husband. Ladies, maybe you’ve had to remove a dead mouse from a trap while your husband is away. We’ve all had to do many things that we don’t want to do but we just have to get done. Peter warns the elders to make sure that they do not fulfill their responsibilities based only on compulsion. Peter may have been concerned that this kind of motivation would fail in the face of persecution. As well, in some of these smaller house churches, it may have been that some men were elders simply because “someone’s got to do it,” but they never had the desire for the office. That’s a problem because 1 Timothy 3:1 says that desire is an essential requirement for the office. No one should enter the ministry or serve as a pastor simply because, “I have to do something.” But even for those who are called, it’s easy to get in a rut and let ministry become little more than a job or a duty that just has to get done. We can think, “I’ve got to come up with something to say on Sunday,” or “If I don’t make this phone call, I’m going to look really bad.” Instead, Peter charges pastors to fulfill their ministry “willingly.” The idea is that you minister gladly because you love the Lord, and you love the people God has called you to serve. This doesn’t mean that a pastor will always feel like doing everything he needs to do or that if he doesn’t feel like it, he shouldn’t do it. In particular, confronting sin is never pleasant. If it is, your heart is probably in the wrong place. But even if the task itself is painful, there should be a sense that I care about this person enough that I will walk into a buzz saw for him or that God’s glory is worth confronting it and not allowing it to corrupt God’s temple. Therefore, you do it willingly.
Of course, this challenge doesn’t just apply to pastors. It should be challenging to all of us as we think about our ministry roles. God’s work, no matter how insignificant it may seem, always deserves much more than, “somebody has to do it.” Love for God and love for people ought to drive us to gladly serve wherever we are needed. If you teach a class, you should be excited to study the Scriptures and to communicate divine truth to needy souls. If you cook a meal for a new mother, you should be excited for the opportunity to lift a burden for an exhausted and overwhelmed young lady. If you serve in the nursery, you should be disappointed that you have to miss the service, but you ought to be glad that you can make it possible for someone else to participate without distraction. Don’t lose sight of the fact that ministry is a privilege. Even when you are exhausted and overwhelmed thank to Lord that you get to be an instrument of his grace in ministering to others. We must always serve willingly because God and his church deserve more than half-hearted, corner-cutting service.
Next Peter condemns shepherding for the sake of dishonest gain. Peter is not saying that pastors should not be paid. First Timothy 5:17–18 states, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages.’” Paul taught that pastors should receive fair compensation for their work; however, he also warned the churches about false teachers who were out to make a dishonest profit (Titus 1:7, 10–12). It seems that they were sometimes able to take advantage of the churches because it was fairly normal in Greek society for traveling philosophers to be paid exorbitantly for their teaching. But pastors shouldn’t be looking to get rich off their work. As well, Peter’s warning may have been tied to handling the church finances. The house churches didn’t have the same complex budgets as our churches, but they collected offerings to pay their pastors, to care for the needy, and to support Paul and other missionaries. Paul warns the pastors to make sure they never abuse the trust they have been given with the church’s finances. Sadly these abuses are common today. We’ve all probably heard stories about televangelists making ridiculous profits through preaching the prosperity gospel. Several mega-church pastors have come under heavy scrutiny in the past couple of years for having annual salaries in the millions or multi-million dollar homes. But Peter warns pastors that they better not be in it for the money. Instead, they should serve “eagerly.” It’s interesting that Peter does not contrast dishonest gain with honest gain. Instead, he points to an even higher motivation. They should serve out of eager zeal for God and the church. The idea here is not much different than “willingly” in the previous statement, though this term emphasizes enthusiasm. A pastor should be motivated to fulfill his duties not by money, popularity, or any other selfish desire but by a glad desire to serve his God and God’s flock,.
One of the best things you can pray for Pastor Kris and me is that we would serve eagerly. Pray that we would not get disillusioned and that we would always see pastoring as a privilege. Pray that we would walk with God, that we would love the church, and that these affections would drive us to fulfill our duties with all of our strength. Pray that we would study, preach, counsel, evangelism, manage, and lead “heartily as to the Lord,” as Colossians 3:23 says. But the idea of “eagerness” should challenge all of us we think about our service in the church. Everything we do for the Lord should be done wholeheartedly. We should sing passionately, we should fellowship with intentionality. If you teach a lesson, you should prepare and teach to the best of your ability. Don’t ever shoot from the hip or cut corners if you are communicating God’s truth. The same goes for helping in AWANA, singing in the choir, greeting, going on outreach, or making a hospital visit. I realize eagerness isn’t always natural. Life is busy and stressful. We get tired or bored. Sometimes people don’t appreciate your hard work. You may work hard to put together a SS lesson only to have the kids be totally disinterested. When you are discouraged or exhausted, discipline your focus. Remember your ultimate audience and the eternal significance of ministry. And then press forward, not for dishonest gain, not for human recognition or prestige but for God’s glory and the good of his church.
Shepherd by example.
Verse 3 forbids “lording over” the church. This is a dictatorial, domineering kind of leadership. Peter is not forbidding the exercise of authority. The title “overseer” implies leadership. Hebrews 13:7 describes pastors as “those who rule over you,” and v. 17 says “obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls.” A pastor is disobeying God if he does not exercise a proper authority, but he also disobeys God if he abuses that authority as wicked authorities often do. I have to think that Peter wrote this thinking of a scathing rebuke he and the other disciples received in Matthew 20:25–28. The disciples craved power and human greatness, but Jesus condemns how political powers often use their position to “lord” (same word as Peter uses) over those under them. Similarly, Peter warns pastors not to use their position selfishly to advance themselves or abusively to get their way. He grounds this exhortation in another gentle reminder that the church is not yours. The church belongs to God, and he has simply “entrusted” it to you. I made a big point last week of the fact that we all need to remember this is God’s church. Instead of leading by domination, Peter exhorts pastors to lead by “being examples to the flock.” Having grown up on a cattle farm, I know exactly what Peter is talking about because cows and sheep have some similarities. In the summer, we would put our cattle out in large pastures, and from the time we would unload them, we would begin training them to corral them in the fall. A couple of times a week we would bring a few buckets of corn to the pasture and feed the cows in a corral. When we arrived the cows would come running because they love the corn. If I were carrying a feed bucket, they would follow closely behind. That trust made corralling them in the fall very easy. We would put some feed in the trough, they would run in, and we would shut the gate. It was a whole lot easier for us than for a cowboy who has to drive wild cattle that don’t know or trust them. There is a fundamental difference between how we moved cattle in a smaller context and how a cowboy does it. We led the cattle based on trust. The cowboy leads based on sheer power—the power of a horse and a lasso. This pattern is also true of sheep and of people. Leadership that is built on trust is far more effective than leadership that is built on position. Therefore Peter exhorts pastors to lead by example. A pastor should primarily lead by the force of his godly life, obvious love for the church, and clear commitment to discernment and wisdom. The NT talks frequently about this kind of spiritual leadership. Paul said in Philippians 3:17, “Join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern.”
This means that the greatest key to my leadership as a pastor is that I must consistently walk with God and reflect his character in everything I do. Rather than demanding that you follow based on my position, I must earn your trust based on the example of my life. The pastor who constantly has to remind people of his authority in order to get them to follow is not leading well. This is a principle of tremendous value not only for pastoral leadership but any kind of leadership. I worked with teenagers for years at a church with a Christian school, and it was fascinating to see how the teens responded to different teachers. Some teachers are constantly battling to keep order in the classrooms, while others never have an issue. It has little to do with strictness; in fact some teachers who try the hardest to be strict have the most chaotic classrooms. The key is respect. Do the students trust the teacher, do they know that he cares, and do they fear letting him down? The same pattern is often true in parenting. Just about every child will resist his or her parents in some ways but some command a much more powerful respect than others. It’s also true in marriage. Some couples have incredible unity even while the husband leads well. Other couples constantly battle. I don’t know how many teachers, parents, or husbands I’ve heard complain about how people don’t submit to them but they never deal honestly with whether or not they are leading well. I’m not saying those under them are not sinning. Earlier in 1 Peter, we saw that slaves are to honor evil masters. You are sinning anytime you use the faults of a leader to excuse disobedience. But as a leader, I ought to be more concerned about why people don’t want to follow me than I am about what’s wrong with them. If you are constantly having to pull the authority card—“I’m the teacher,” “I’m the parent,” or “I’m the husband,” then maybe you should stop worrying about what’s wrong with the people under you and start thinking about why they don’t trust your leadership. Maybe you get angry and act irrationally, so they just ignore you. Maybe you run your mouth, so they don’t tell you anything. Maybe you don’t think through decisions seriously, so they don’t trust your judgment. Maybe you don’t live a consistent Christian life, so they dismiss your exhortations. Maybe you are proud and selfish, and they know you care more about yourself than about them. Maybe you need to stop worrying about their insubordination and start thinking about becoming a better leader because a title doesn’t make you a leader. Character and trust are what make a leader.
And so Peter commands elders to shepherd, and then he explains that they are to do so willingly, eagerly, and by example. I hope that you will pray that God will make Pastor Kris and me this kind of leader, and I hope that we will all be challenged to serve God according to the pattern of this text. Notice finally…
The Hope in the Exhortation (v. 4):
I’d like to make two points regarding v. 4.
Under-shepherds are accountable to the Chief Shepherd.
The Chief Shepherd, of course, is Christ. 2:25 called Christ the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” In John 10:11, Jesus calls himself the “good shepherd.” By calling Christ the “Chief Shepherd” in our text, Peter reminds pastors again that the church does not belong to them. We are simply farmhands, so to speak, who have been called to manage Christ’s church. Because of that, we will be held accountable. It’s a sobering fact to think that someday I’m going to stand before Christ and give an account of how I managed his church. Pastor Kris and I need to take our responsibility very seriously. But what does this mean for the rest of you? Hebrews 13:17 answers this very question. It says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” You can make our accountability joyful by supporting us and giving us the opportunity to serve you well. This verse adds that in so doing, you will make our accountability joyful, but you will also bring profit to yourself as you do so.
The second point I’d like to make from v. 4 is that…
Christ will richly reward the faithful pastor.
After Jesus raptures the church, all Christians will give an account of their lives, and we will be rewarded for our service to Christ. It’s at this time that pastors will also give an account. And Peter says that if they obey the command to shepherd God’s flock willingly, eagerly, and by a good example, they will receive an unfading crown of glory. I remember as a kid hearing a Sunday School lesson on the different types of crowns that God will give in the judgment based on the various texts in the NT that talk about crowns. I think we are oftentimes guilty of reading speculation into these texts that isn’t legitimate. But while the Scriptures don’t give many specifics about the nature of God’s eternal rewards, they are very clear that they will be great and clearly worth every sacrifice. The distinction that the Scriptures most commonly highlight is the fact that blessings in this world are temporary; whereas, heavenly rewards are eternal. Peter makes that point also by noting that his crown is unfading. This is interesting because the word translated as crown is stephanos. It doesn’t refer to a crown made of gold and precious metals but to an organic crown made of ivy, leaves, flowers, and so forth. This kind of crown was the normal prize for winning an Olympic event. It symbolized the glory of victory. But this kind of crown would ultimately wilt and fade. However, God’s rewards will be eternal. They will never fade. Pastoring is hard, sacrificial work, but God will make it worth every sacrifice. That’s true of all Christian service. Ministry is rarely convenient. It’s exhausting and oftentimes painful. But even if no one else notices; God does. He will reward your service. Press on. Don’t get discouraged. Keep serving willingly and eagerly.
God’s reward awaits those who serve him faithfully, but sadly many people refuse to follow Christ because they just don’t want to give up a certain group of sins that they really enjoy. Maybe that’s you. You understand why Jesus died and what it means to become a Christian. You would like to go to heaven, but you like your sin more. I hope you will see the foolishness of that choice. There is nothing you can obtain in this life that can measure up to the unfading rewards God has for his people in eternity. Jesus said in Matthew 13:44, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” Christ is a great treasure. Come to him today and be saved.