Guarded Christian Living: A Strong Faith at the Right Time
The Shepherding Elder
- Peter 5:1-4
Turn to 1 Peter 5. We have all had those who had some authority over us whom we may have dearly loved, and maybe others whom we dearly endured. I had an English teacher in grade 10 who knowingly had a drinking problem. We in his class still remember times when “old” Mr. Gibson would take a drink of something from his desk, and I am sure he was waiting for his teaching career to end. On the other hand, there was my grade four teacher Mrs. Lang, whom I worshipped the ground she walked on. As she was more than a teacher, she was a friend, she enjoyed her class, and frankly she loved us. I think I believed everything she said. I used to come home and my sister Lynne (rolling her eyes) would say, “What did Mrs. Lang say today?”
Sometimes the authorities in our lives are like night and day, and Peter has addressed authorities all throughout his letter. He has told the Christian to submit to the government leaders (2:13), and this may mean submitting under those we greatly respect and love, and it may mean submitting to those whom we greatly struggle. Peter has told us to submit to those we work for. Again, we likely have all had bosses who it is a joy to work for, and others for whom it was a burden to work for. I worked for an owner in Chatham for many years, a man it was a privilege to work for him. Peter has said that wives are to be submissive to their husbands. Again, there are likely great husbands and burdensome husbands, and many husbands in-between.
And here in our passage we are going to see that the younger men are commanded to be submissive to the elders. But what is different in this passage is that Peter will take some time in challenging the elders in how to shepherd. Similar to Paul’s message to children to be submissive to their Mom and Dad, but also his instruction that fathers are not to exasperate their children. And I wish to do two things this morning. One, is to speak directly to the elders. But also, to challenge each of us to consider the character of the elder, for Dad’s we are all to be “elders” in our homes in a spiritual sense. And all of us, men and women, should desire to have many of these character qualities incorporated into our own lives. And I trust that we can do this without taking away from Peter’s principal focus, the character of the shepherding elder. So let’s pray before we begin. Lord, would You help us to see the wonderful blessing of leadership within the church? Not perfect, but loving and wise and careful and gentle. And might these things we speak about today, be a challenge to all of us as we grow in Christ. For we ask this in the name of Christ, amen.
“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, overseeing not under compulsion, but willingly, according to God; and not for dishonest gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders.
1 Pet 5:1-5a (LSB)
Firstly, notice that Peter refers to himself as your fellow elder. This is important as he does not place himself over the elders of the recipients of his letter, though Peter is actually an apostle. Let’s not look beyond this too quickly. Peter, who lived with Christ, who walked on water at least for a few seconds, considers himself on the same level with these other godly men, as the church is to have elders who have been recognized within a church body, and display a unique type of life. Paul actually gives us a detailed list of character qualities in his letters to Timothy and Titus. Paul includes such things as being one, above reproach. These are men who are capable of having the list of qualities that are required for elders. Above reproach could be considered the overarching quality. Men who are sincere, men who do not hide sin. Secondly, men who are pure. A husband of one wife. A great carefulness in their choices and lifestyle, and their wives’ character is also very important. Thirdly, men who are disciplined (Titus 1:8). He must be self-controlled and disciplined, hard-working, and uses his time wisely. Fourthly, men who have a good reputation, respected outside of the church. He makes sure as best he can that his relationships with others are good, that he doesn’t run from trouble with people. Fifthly, men who are kind. Though this may seem insignificant, an elder is to be hospitable, devoted to the welfare of others. That he does what is inconvenient at times. That he takes time with people, because frankly ministry is hard and it does take a great amount of sacrifice
Sixthly, men who are capable teachers, able to defend the truth. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have to teach or preach in a formal setting, but to be able to teach one-on-one, or to teach a small group of people. I feel more comfortable teaching Sunday morning and evening, than teaching a small group. Yet other men are far better at that than I am. Next, a gentleman. Paul told Timothy to not be quarrelsome or arrogant. Listeners, gracious. He must respond to those who disagree with gentleness. He must be an honest man, content with what he has, and a man of integrity. A sincere man, who is not pretending to be something he is not. Not thinking that every decision he makes is always right. If you are expecting perfect elders, you will not find them here or anywhere else. Finally, a man of faith, mature in his faith. Able to manage his family well. In other words, they are Christian men at home, at the workplace, in the community.
I would suggest that we know this to be a strength here at Elim. The elders: Larry, Ian, Michael, and myself, men who have been seen in this congregation with these qualities and giftedness. And it is also important to note that though I am a full-time staff, this does not make me an elder above these men. I just happen to be paid, and therefore have the opportunity to be around here more. I also want to note here that we have two deacons here at Elim, Steve Levitt and Stewart Campbell. And the character requirements for deacons are almost identical in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, except for the qualification to teach, though both these men can teach very well. And a strength is also the quality of our deacons, that though some of their oversight is more on the practical nature. I specifically think of their decisions regarding ministry and finance, and it is so beneficial to have men who think through these matters in such a spiritual way. So all these men, both elders, and deacons are excellent men, men whom I respect greatly, and are a huge part of the stability of the ministry here. So let’s look at what Peter considers to be vital in regards to elders.
- The Spiritual Condition of the Elder (vs 1)
Notice what it says about the elder that he is a (vs 1) “witness of the sufferings of Christ.” What does that mean? Well what Peter is stressing here is that the elder must be a fellow believer. And before we say, well obviously, I think it is important that we see the high bar here given to the term believer. As being a Christian is not just easy-believism or nominal Christianity, as there is no such thing in the Bible as someone who says something like I believe in Christ and then just floats along in his or her spiritual life. And this is to be true of every Christian, not just the elder. Peter has been teaching this all along in his letter, that becoming a Christian is becoming a slave of Jesus Christ, it is an allegiance to Christ, where a person leaves his former loyalties and now serves Christ as Saviour and Lord. So the shepherd elder is saved. He understands this. He understands that being a slave of Christ involves (vs 1) sharing in the sufferings of Christ. This means that he knows that being a Christian is not easy, and that there will be unique hits and hurts just because he is in leadership. Elders can be easy targets because they must lead, as sometimes decisions have to be made where everyone does not completely understand the whole story. This is where it is good to know the elder well, that they are given the benefit of the doubt. Not blind loyalty, but understanding that decision-making is not always easy and that some decisions are not always black and white.
So Peter says there will be times of unique suffering, and he then says this about the elder (end of vs 1), “a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed.” The elder is truly born again, and therefore he understands that someday he will partake of the glory of Christ in eternity. The elder has been saved, been born again. He did not morph into a believer. No, there was a time in his life when he realized his own sinfulness and gave his heart and life to Christ. So this changed the direction of his life. Sure, he may have been raised in a Christian family, but there still needed to be a day when he surrendered himself to Jesus, and then was baptised to show that change publicly before others. So Peter recognizes first and foremost the elders spiritual condition. But there is more here.
- The Care from the Elder (vs 2a)
Verse 2, he is to “shepherd the flock of God … overseeing not with compulsion (not because he has to) but willingly.” Now this is a unique responsibility of the elder. Shepherd, overseer, the responsibility to care for, and feeling that burden at times. This is something that cannot be forced, it cannot be done by someone going through the motions. No, it must be something that comes from the heart, as Peter here says it must be done willingly. And it cannot be for dishonest gain (obviously the elders had some part of the money that was collected), but this would also include that he is not an elder for just some kind of fanfare or gain in attention or popularity or prestige. Notice the small phrase there, “according to God.” The shepherding must be done with a sincerity, according to God. In other words, there can be no other motives involved. A deep-seated desire for the flock. As elders we are not as concerned with whether the flock that the Lord sends us fifty or one hundred people or more, but that as shepherds to have the responsibility to care for whomever the Lord sends here in this place.
Listen to Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3:2, “You are our letter [the Corinthians], having been written in our hearts.” These people were precious to Paul. They were written in his heart. They were so special to him. You need to know the care and concern that leadership has here for the ministry, that your family life, work, spiritual well-being, ministry involvement, is so thought about and cared for. Safe to say that when you rejoice the leadership rejoices, and when you hurt the leadership hurts. One of the most influential men in my life was a dynamic preacher who challenged me week after week as a young Dad, but also cared and loved us deeply. The care from the elder.
- The Passion within the Elder (vs 2b)
Notice Peter says that elder shepherds with eagerness. There must be a certain amount of passion. From a sports perspective, I would say that in anything we are passionate about there must be at least some competitiveness. Can we say that? Things that we are not competitive about, we likely do not care about a whole lot. Maybe the better biblical word is persistence, that good leaders are persistent in the ministry. That we persist in prayer, that we persist in doing good, that we persist in challenging, that we persist in leading forward. One of the things I learned in youth ministry, is to never give up on anyone. As sometimes a grade nine boy comes with a lot of immaturities, but persistence saw them leave after four years with a great desire to serve Christ. Therefore, a good leader, a good elder will not give up on ministry or people. Personally, I cannot promise perfection or that you will like everything about me. If that was my goal, I realize that after one year, that shining goal is long-gone. But I will not give up, but give it all I have.
That word translated “eagerness” could be translated a “ready mind.” In other words, this is where their heart is. That should be said of all of us, that as we come to church, as we are involved in ministry, it is something that we are eager to do. If I am going somewhere that is exciting, you can ask Anne, I can be a little antsy until we get there. This is what Peter is talking about here, the elder’s heart for ministry and church life and his relationship with God, passionate. The next one is so important, verse 3, “… nor yet as lording it over those allotted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
- The Example by the Elder (vs 3)
Who likes to be challenged? Who likes to be coddled? The more I look at the landscape of ministry, churches that tend to ease off, who do lower the bar, eventually disappear. Or they may still be around, but their effectiveness for Christ and the gospel is long-gone. I was speaking with Phil Laird, who was here visiting with us last Sunday (Phil and Brenda). By the way, someone said to him and said surprisingly, “Mark had friends?” Well we sort of grew up together in Chatham at Emmanuel and look to that time as young Dads as a time when we grew spiritually. There are countless young men from that church who are now serving the Lord in full-time ministry, and many, who are now serving and laboring for the Lord tremendously. Why? A high bar was taught. Not with rigidness, not without love and care, not with coldness. No, the truth of the Bible was taught with the desire that each one would grow spiritually. And it became the expectation and people responded, a spirit of involvement and depth and loving relationships grew. And this intensity is to be taught. Certainly Jesus and Paul and Peter never give the idea that the Christian is to ease off the brakes. So, this to be taught, and I trust taught here. And if someone does not like to be challenged each week, there are many churches that you can find that make church life easier.
So, the challenging message of serving Christ must be taught, but also … it is to be lived by the elder! And elders are to live out that example before others. Involved in the lives of people, praying for people, examples of what it looks like to serve Christ passionately. An elder becomes a bit of an open book, for the effectiveness of someone like Peter and Paul was that the church knew them, their lives were observed, they knew them from the inside. Therefore, an elder must be an example, he cannot hide a part of his life. Finally,
- The Reward for the Elder (vs 4)
Verse 4, “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” It is true that we are not saved by our works, and we must be careful to understand that. Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, so that no one may boast.” However, this also does not mean the Christian does not work hard, not for his salvation, but because he is a slave of Christ. For how can you be a good slave of someone without working hard for them. For a truly saved person will understand his responsibility to labour for Christ. In fact, James teaches that if you claim to know Christ, have faith in Christ. Yet, there is no evidence of that faith in your life, your faith is dead. In other words, if God has given a person life, that will be evidenced by fruit growing from the life, and if there is no fruit, it means the person is still dead, not a Christian.
I enjoy planting trees. We have a number of trees at our new place, but I noticed one of them is dead. So, I have planted five more. Anne questioned that! And it was obvious that the tree was dead because during the summer it had no leaves, or we could say it had no fruit. And that fruit spiritually is produced in a person by the work of the Holy Spirit and the effort given on the behalf of the Christian is rewarded by God. And we do not know a whole lot about rewards in eternity. Certainly they are rewards that must be a great blessing for the Christian! In Roman days the winners of events were not given trophies as in our culture: the Stanley Cup, the Grey Cup, and then a step down, the Super Bowl. But they were given crowns. Paul taught this all the time, for he said to the Christian to run in such a way to receive the prize. In other words, don’t just doodle, but run! And he called the prize an unperishable wreath or crown. So this crown that Peter refers to as well is an unfading crown of glory. James spoke about the crown of life. Other times Paul referred to a crown of rejoicing.
You know this is something we do not emphasize enough, and that is the striving for rewards. Think about what Peter has already said in his letter. 1 Peter 1:4-5, “to obtain an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and unfading, having been kept in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” See the anticipation here! 1 Peter 1:13, “fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” As the author of Hebrews says, looking to Jesus! 1 Peter 4:13, “keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation.” Jesus, I served You, I served You! Paul said:
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith. In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
- Tim 4:7-8 (LSB)
And I trust we understand the great love which Christ has for His sheep, as look at the wording in verse 5, “and when the Great Shepherd appears.” Why the Great Shepherd? Here we are confronted with the ultimate love. The Great Shepherd who gave His life for you and I. The Great Shepherd who was willing to wear the crown of thorns on our behalf, now offers to us, who now serve Him as King, a crown of glory. Let’s pray. Father, would You continue to teach us what it means to be a true slave of Christ? Might we share in the excitement of all those who truly believe. Lord, I thank You for the men You have called to lead here. May each one be the type of man: who knows Christ, who cares dearly for the flock, who passionately serves, who leads by example, and who looks to Christ for his eternal reward. And may we as a congregation submit to such leadership, and love our leadership. And all God’s people said, amen.