As Peter comes near to the end of his letter to suffering believers, he gives some specific instruction to the elders among them. To those entrusted with leadership within the dispersed church. His goal is to help them in being effective shepherds to God’s people.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.1 Peter 5:1-4 NIV
This passage is addressed to the elders in the church. It would be tempting to think of this as just the older people within the body. But that is really not who Peter has in mind. While elders tended toward being older members of the community, age did not automatically make one an elder.
Elders had a leadership role within a community. And that carried over to a church community. They were men, generally, who through long experience and personal integrity had developed a reputation that allowed them to lead others. Sometimes elders were appointed to positions of leadership (Acts 14:23). But other times people would just look to them for that leadership. Becoming an elder was a long process, taking years.
The earliest church did not have much in the way of an established leadership structure. There were apostles and prophets who served the church as a whole. And there were bishops, elders, and deacons serving within the local church. And it is quite likely that the bishops and elders were actually the same position. The acknowledged elders within each church provided all of the needed leadership for that body.
Shepherds of the Flock
Peter encourages the elders to be shepherds of the flock that is under their care. This hearkens back to Jesus identification of himself as the good shepherd in John 10:1-18. Peter’s instruction here is for the elders to mimic Jesus’ care for the church as a whole, caring for that part of the church entrusted to them. Serving as under-shepherds under Jesus, the Chief Shepherd.
A shepherd has responsibility for the flock under his care. He protects it from danger. Leads it to food and water. Tends to any wounds or illnesses. And rescues those who wander astray.
And this is what Peter is encouraging the elders to do. Protecting members from danger by equipping them to stand against the wiles of the enemy. Feeding them on God’s word. Coming alongside as an encourager to those who are struggling. And providing any needed correction to those who are wandering.
The Motivation for Shepherding
There are a couple of primary reasons why a person may take on leadership within the church. Some might do it for personal reasons, because of what they gain by it. While others lead because God has called them to it. In this passage Peter encourages those who would lead to do so with the right motives.
Don’t lead out of obligation. Rather lead with a willing heart. All too often, especially in smaller churches, people take on leadership roles because they feel obligated to. If they don’t lead, no one else will. But that is not a good reason to be a leader.
Peter also tells elders that their motivation should not be financial gain. That is not to say that we should not financially support our elders. But that should not be their motivation for serving.
And, finally, they should not be lording it over the flock. Some might see leadership as a way to get people to do what they want done. But true leadership within the body is a serving role. Encourage the body. Help them to grow. Lead them to know and follow God’s will.
The Reward for Good Shepherding
There is great reward in providing faithful leadership within the church. You may experience reward for your service while in this life. But that is really only incidental. The primary reward comes when Christ, the chief shepherd, appears. At that time you will receive a crown of glory that will never fade away.
There are two different kinds of crowns found in the Scripture. The first is the crown that a king might wear. It signifies power and authority. The second is the crown given to the victor in athletic contests. These floral wreaths were comparable to the medals we give out today. And this is the type of crown given to faithful elders. A victor’s crown.
The problem with the victor’s crown is that it would quickly fade and become little more than a wreath of sticks. But the crown given by Christ is one that will never fade. The honor that comes from a job well done here in this life will extend throughout eternity.
Call to Action
Peter’s words here are specifically to the leadership within the local churches. But the instructions he gives are really applicable to all believers within the body. Be faithful in the service that God has called you to. Are you called to provide leadership in some fashion? Then lead faithfully, equipping the saints. Are you called to serve? Then be faithful in your particular area of service.
Don’t lead, or serve, with the thought of personal gain. But do it willingly, with eagerness to serve. Desiring to be an instrument that God will use to build up the body of Christ. Serve, looking forward to a crown of glory that will never fade.
- What are the qualifications for being an elder? See 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9.
- What should motivate an elder to serve?
- What is the reward for serving faithfully as an elder?
- Does this passage have any application to those who are not elders?
The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.
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