Chapter 5:1-4 (ESV) - 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: 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; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Question to consider: Who is Peter addressing in these verses?
Remember that in the verses leading up to this exhortation, Peter proclaimed that the church scattered throughout Asia Minor should not be surprised at the painful trial they were suffering because judgment had begun with the house of God. Their response was to put their trust in their faithful Creator while they continue to do good.
In order to do that, Peter recognized that they needed good and faithful people to lead them so he made an appeal to the elders to serve faithfully. The word “elder” here is not necessarily talking about physical age, rather spiritual maturity, though many times they go hand-in-hand. This originates from the tradition of the synagogues where a congregation was led by elders who would manage their spiritual growth through the teaching of the law and prophets. Peter also refers to them as overseers (episcopos which we translate as “bishops”) and pastors (which means shepherd). Peter approaches them with humility in referring to himself as a fellow elder. He looked upon these elders as the flock under his own care and asked them to likewise shepherd their own.
I think Peter’s exhortation to shepherd the flock extended from the threefold command given to him from Jesus to feed and tend Jesus’ sheep in John 21:15-19. If we love Jesus, we show it by loving and serving one another and making sure that none are led away from the faith by the temptations of the world or a false teacher. This is done through the teaching of God’s word and the preaching of both law and gospel. The Holy Spirit uses the law to convict our hearts and remind us of God’s holiness. The law weighs heavily on our hearts so it is important to constantly be reminded of the wonderful remedy which was won for us by Jesus on the cross. A church that preaches all law and no gospel crushes their congregation and yet a church that only preaches gospel without the law creates pride and selfishness as if God were somehow obligated to bless us.
Although becoming a pastor may be the result of a calling by God, it’s important to note that Peter does not want people serving under compulsion, but willingly, and definitely not to achieve personal gain or power over their flock. They should live humble, godly lives as an example to the flock.
Finally, Peter reminds them that just as he is their shepherd, every elder has Christ as their Chief Shepherd so it is ultimately to Him that everyone must give an account. James in chapter 3 of his epistle says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” This is a good reminder that the call of a pastor is a heavy responsibility.
Dear heavenly father, thank you for providing the pastors and elders who faithfully serve in our churches. We know this is a difficult task and pray that you will protect them and show them how they can best shepherd the flock under their care. Help those in the congregation provide an environment in which their pastor can serve with joy and help us to share one another’s burdens. We also ask that you protect churches from false teachers and those who seek to control or make merchandise out of their congregations. Amen.