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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The Chief Shepherd Cares for his Flock
Text:1 Peter 5:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Church Building
 
Preached:2019
Added:2019-12-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 100:1,2                                                                                  

Ps 79:3,5

Reading – John 10:1-18; 1 Peter 5

Ps 23:1,2,3

Sermon – 1 Peter 5:1-5a

Hy 56:1,2,3,4

Hy 82:3,4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved, the Bible is full of comparisons. The Holy Spirit places one thing alongside another in order to show truth in a memorable way. For instance, comparisons are made about the LORD: God is like a rock, like a warrior, a consuming fire. There are also comparisons about God’s people: we’re like a vineyard, a temple, and we’re like sheep.     

That last one is fairly common. If you do some paging through the Bible, you’ll notice that God often says we’re like sheep. Think of the well-known Psalm 23. Or Ezekiel 34, all about God’s sheep being led in wrong ways and right ways. Or John 10, where Christ the good Shepherd talks about his precious flock.

Like every good comparison, the image of sheep is one that God’s people can understand. Especially to the Bible’s first readers, this picture spoke powerfully. Theirs was a farming society, so they knew firsthand about the ways of sheep and shepherds. And I think we too, can understand this image.

God’s people are like sheep. That means we’re weak. It means we’re prone to wander. We’re easy prey for the enemy, and we need to be fed and guided and shepherded along. All true, but that’s not actually the main point of the comparison. For in these passages, it’s striking that not much is said about the sheep themselves. Instead, the focus falls on the Shepherd! What’s the Shepherd doing for the sheep? How is the Shepherd at work? And that’s good news: in all our weakness and wandering, God yet faithfully cares for us.

In 1 Peter 5:1-5 we’ll see how Christ blesses us through his shepherd-apprentices, the office bearers of his church, on this theme.

The Chief Shepherd cares for his flock:

  1. the words spoken by one shepherd
  2. the calling placed on the helper-shepherds
  3. the reward promised by the Chief Shepherd
  4. the duty given to all the sheep

 

1) the words spoken by one shepherd: Peter is realistic—he’s not going to be around forever. The man who wrote this letter would one day finish his earthly journey. And that’s OK. Because the church doesn’t depend on its human leaders. Ministers will come and go, elders and deacons will change. But Christ will always watch over his dearly-loved flock. So Peter now writes to those who will carry on the task in Jesus’ name, long after Peter has departed. He begins, “The elders who are among you I exhort…” (v 1).

Now, the Greek word translated “elder” here simply means “an older man.” But the apostle isn’t just talking about a certain age-bracket within the church—anyone who is more than fifty years old, for example. No, these “older men” have a specific calling; these are the men who are “overseers,” they are “shepherds.”

Peter wants to impress some important things on these brothers. We’ll get to that. Yet first notice how he addresses them. He exhorts them as “a fellow elder” (v 1). Why is that striking? Just remember who’s speaking! This is Peter, one of the twelve apostles, even one of Jesus’ inner circle, leader of the Jerusalem church—but here he’s simply “a fellow elder.”

So Peter is speaking of himself with deep humility. Jesus had given him a place in the very foundation of the church, vested him and the other apostles with a real authority. Maybe Peter could’ve been expected to trot out his impressive credentials, and say to the churches: “I’m an apostle of the Lord Jesus, so this is how it’s going to be! Elders, listen up: here’s your assignment.” But he won’t speak down to them—he’s a colleague and brother.

This is quite a change from Peter in his younger days. He was brash at times, supremely confident, and quick to speak for others. Once he even claimed to love Christ more than anyone else did. Peter has toned down his self-assurance and has become humble.

Because since those early years, Peter had been through a lot. As perhaps the most life-changing of events, he’d faced the deep shame of denying his Lord. Remember the three times he’d said he didn’t know Jesus—pretty shocking. Yet instead of being fired from his position, rejected by Christ, he had experienced God’s restoring grace. Such kindness makes a mark!

It’s probably been about thirty years since that event, and the apostle Peter has been on the front lines of the church the whole time: preaching, teaching, writing, testifying. He’d probably become much more aware of his own frailty. Being an office bearer does that to a person—you come to see very clearly your inadequacy, your weakness.

But despite his failings, Peter has also become very clear on what his calling is. Indeed, for Peter to refer to himself as an elder—and then also a shepherd—recalls the words of Christ from long ago. It was shortly after his resurrection, the morning when the risen Lord met his disciples by the lake. Then, Jesus had charged Peter (and the others) with a simple task: “Feed my lambs. Take care of my sheep. Until I come back,” Christ said to them, “I want you to be shepherds. I want you to watch over my flock.”

Even for the apostles—privileged as they were—that meant getting down to ground level, being among the sheep, walking beside them. From the beginning, that’s been a duty of first importance: to nurture, protect, and maintain the people of Christ. Yes, the apostles would soon die out—many of them were gone already. But these elders whom Peter writes would carry on the work—right up to today. It’s the elders who continue the shepherding task once begun by the Lord’s apostles. These elders stand in the same line as the apostles, in the same line as Christ, whose whole focus is on the well-being of his sheep.

Sure, in a way Peter was special. He mentions how he was “a witness of the sufferings of Christ” (v 1). He had been there, seeing the most important events in the history of the world, what happened at the cross and then three days later. But he doesn’t say that to boast. For he knows that all Christians will be familiar with Christ’s suffering—his sufferings “live on,” you could say, they live on among all who follow him. Like Jesus said, “If this is what they do to the Master, think of how they’ll treat his followers.”

In this letter Peter has talked a lot about Christian suffering. And he wants the elders (and the deacons) to know this, too. Your job won’t be an easy one. There’s going to be very difficult days, because that’s what Christian service often requires. If you’re really a disciple of Jesus, then you can expect hardship of some kind, wherever you are. The disciples won’t be above their Master as they do his will. But He will provide all the strength we need.

           

2) the duty placed on the helper-shepherds: Now Peter gets to the heart of the matter. What are elders to do? How are the shepherds to shepherd? Yet he doesn’t give a lot of precise instruction. Peter doesn’t explain how to conduct a home visit, he doesn’t give ten tips for being a good listener, or lay down guidelines for church discipline.

Instead, he teaches general principles for shaping all the work of the elders. And let’s be clear: so much of what he says applies to the deacons too. Because Peter describes the kind of attitude that office bearers must have. It’s your attitude—what’s in the heart—that determines how you speak to people, and how you react to trouble, and what you’ll do to help. If our perspective on other people is right, if our spirit is pleasing before God, then we’re already well on the way to doing our work faithfully.

So he exhorts elders to have this spirit: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (vv 2-3). This is leadership that’s fitting for the church—a style that never goes out of style!

Consider what he puts first: “Shepherd the flock.” So much is implied in those three words. Recall how often the Bible compares the leaders of God’s people—and God himself!—to shepherds. In a way, a shepherd’s task is simple: he’s got to take care of sheep. But that’s like saying a mom “just” has to take care of her children—so much is included in that assignment.

As Jesus said in John 21, a shepherd must feed his sheep. And what’s our food but the Word of God? The office bearers must bring us the nourishment of the Scriptures. With the Word they can give advice in times of uncertainty. They can offer encouragement in distress. They speak comfort into our sorrow. They must teach when there’s ignorance. More than anything else, the sheep need the soul-restoring, life-nourishing waters of the Scripture!

If you’re a shepherd, then you also protect your sheep. So the office bearers are called to keep watch for any threats. They should know what kind of temptations are nearby, and what false teachings can creep in. Know the dangers we all face: whether it’s materialism, or laziness, or pride, or idolatry in all its many forms. Elders and deacons must know these things, then defend the sheep against them.

A shepherd needs to guide the sheep too. For we’re all prone to wander. We’re fascinated by the greener grass on the other side of the fence. Other ways of life seem easier, less demanding. Other churches seem more attractive. Unbelievers can seem so much more interesting than boring old church folk. We’re pushed and pulled, and our hearts go astray. So office bearers try to make sure the sheep don’t become confused, but give good direction.

Shepherds must also seek out the sheep who’ve become lost. There are some who cut loose from the flock, pursue other fields and pastures, until you can’t even see them anymore. They seem gone forever. Yet a faithful shepherd doesn’t forget the one sheep out of a 100, he goes after them. So he makes that difficult phone call. He arranges that tough visit and he reaches out in love.

“Shepherd the flock.” Peter probably has his eyes on Jesus here. Remember how Jesus introduces himself in John 10, “I am the good shepherd” (v 11). What kind of shepherd is He? He’s the shepherd who lay down his life for this sheep. He’s the one who doesn’t flee when wolves approach. Christ knows his sheep, and He seeks them out. He’s the Chief Shepherd who shows the apprentice shepherds how it’s done. For He was devoted to his sheep, to the very end.

Peter now explains that devotion. He puts it in three statements, each with a negative and a positive side: not this, but that. The first is this: A true shepherd serves, “not by compulsion but willingly” (v 2). From experience, Peter knew the work of shepherding can be tough. Maybe he didn’t know about long consistory meetings, but he surely knew about difficult people, and agonizing decisions, and the burden of other people’s sins and struggles. So he understands how any office bearer can start to become half-hearted about certain visits or duties, “I’ll do it, but only because I have to. I’ll go, but I won’t like it. I don’t have a choice, do I?”

But an office bearer should be willing. Willing, because you get to care for those whom Jesus bought with his own blood! You get to tend the sheep for whom Christ laid down his life! Even in the hard and trying times, an office bearer can be “willing,” because he knows it to be a great privilege and a meaningful task.

Which also means we shouldn’t think of getting any personal advantage. Peter says we should work “not for dishonest gain” (v 2). At his time, this was a concern. Elders back then sometimes got a form of payment for their work. So someone might want to be an elder, just for the money: “dishonest gain.”

I don’t think we have room on the budget to pay our elders and deacons… yet this verse still speaks today! Because an office bearer might still seek some personal benefit from doing the work. May he gets greedy for compliments on a job well done. Maybe he feels recognized and important when he sits at the front. Maybe we want that sense of self-worth, when you’re a leader and you’re doing a few things right, and you start to think that church life depends on you. Our motives—even in Christian service—can so easily become impure.

Instead, the Holy Spirit says, we must serve “eagerly.” That little word means a lot: eagerly. It’s being ready to serve other people. It’s being oriented to their needs. An office bearer should approach his task in a Christ-like spirit of putting others ahead of himself. His question should always be this: “What can I do to help? Where can I assist?” Eagerly!

Another temptation is alluded to in the third warning: Do your task, “not as being lords over those entrusted to you” (v 3). Whenever you have a bit of authority—as a parent, a teacher, a boss, an office bearer—you can take the attitude of being a lord or master. The simplest thing is to give orders, dictate according to our will. Elders and deacons too, sometimes want to tell others how it should be. “This is what you need to change. This is what you’re doing wrong in your life—now fix it.” Dictating is easier than shepherding, but shepherding is what we have to do: when you walk among the sheep and take the time to teach and lead and help.

When you’re in leadership, you might also look down on others. An office bearer comes to find out about the member’s failures and struggles. He knows their weaknesses, hears of their mistakes. Marriage problems. Poor financial decisions. Lack of self-control. And an office bearer might start to judge: “Why don’t they ever learn? How can he be so stubborn?”

Instead of being a domineering “lord,” office bearers must be “examples to the flock” (v 3). If the members will notice the elders and deacons, if they will “praise” them, let it be for things like their humility, love, and wisdom. As they walk among the sheep, these brothers should be examples to the flock.

Any office bearer will find these words deeply humbling. Who can ever have this kind of godly attitude? Who can really be a shepherd like Christ is? Yet the truth remains: the Chief Shepherd wants to use humble humans for his work. So He’ll give words to say. He’ll give strength to serve. And He’ll even give an eternal reward.

 

3) the reward promised by the Chief Shepherd: Elders and deacons sometimes do their work, just counting down to the end of their three-year term. Ministers sometimes do their work, counting down to their next vacation. Peter too, was always looking ahead—but he was looking ahead to Christ’s return. That’s the goal he sets in front of us: “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (v 4).

At the end of time, it’ll be like the scene you might witness at work. The boss gets back from his extended time away, and he calls his employees into his office. “What have you done while I was gone? How have you carried out your tasks?” And he rewards them accordingly. So on the last day, all the shepherds will stand before the Chief Shepherd. And our work will be seen for what it is. How did we answer the call?

And to those who by God’s grace are faithful, Christ will grant the “crown of glory that does not fade away” (v 4). Here Peter isn’t talking about farming anymore, but athletics, when winning athletes were given a garland “crown,” a crown woven from the branches of an olive or some other tree—kind of like the medal around the neck of an Olympic winner.

Yet a crown of olive leaves soon withers. Even a gold medal loses its shine. But for those who serve well in the church, there’s a lasting reward. Faithful shepherds receive glory! Peter himself has his eyes on this prize. Notice how he counts himself as “a partaker of the glory that will be revealed” (v 1). That’s what Peter counted on: the reward which Christ promised. And that should be our goal too: Work for the treasure that lasts! As long as you live on earth, keep your eyes on heaven.

That’s a perspective we should all keep, as we study, as we parent, as we serve, as we love. The work we’re doing isn’t just about this life and what it offers. While we’re here, we’re getting ready for glory, the joy of being in God’s presence forever.

Just one consequence of that is how office bearers shouldn’t look for instant results, nor expect perfect conclusions. Sheep can be awfully messy, and it’s not going to get all straightened out while we’re still here. That doesn’t mean we give up. But we remember the long horizon God has. Eternal glory is always our motive and the goal, in our encouraging, in our preaching, in our visiting, in our helping and guiding. More than anything, we want this person to share by faith in Christ’s gift of life-everlasting. It can take a while to get there, and it can be an immense amount of work, but the reward is sure.

 

4) the duty given to all the sheep: So what about everyone else? This sermon applies to the elders and deacons and the minister, especially. But what about you? Keep in mind that Peter writes this letter to an entire congregation. Everyone had to read this, because office bearers have a vital task. They’re not more important—they’re just men: the shepherds are just sheep themselves! But through them the Lord watches over us, and through them He grants the blessing of his Word and Spirit.

So Peter exhorts the other members: “Likewise, you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders” (v 5). He’s spoken about the elders, so now he speaks to the younger crowd. But it’s not just them, it’s the middle-aged, and the younger women, older women, children, and those older men who aren’t elders. Christ calls all the sheep to “submit” to their shepherds.

God calls the members to follow the lead of the office bearers, and to pay attention to their words. The elders and deacons, despite every weaknesses and shortcoming, are men called to serve and help. Christ gives them to us to assist us on our way to glory.

This needs to shape the attitude of the sheep toward the shepherds. “Submit,” Peter says. It means being honest and open with the elders and deacons. It means speaking kindly to them. Or it means speaking kindly about them (if you really need to). Because they come to us in Jesus’ name, we should gladly welcome the elders and deacons into our home when they call. It means that we pray for the office bearers in their challenging work, and ask for them to receive God’s strength and his Spirit.

Such an attitude of love and submission toward the elders and deacons will make their work a rich blessing among us. Christ wants to bless us through their ministry, and He will bless us together as his holy flock under their care. That’s a great promise for the future: Christ is our Good Shepherd, and when we listen to his voice, He will teach us, guide us, and care for us. He’s our Loving Shepherd, who wants us to walk in his steps here below, that we may dwell in his house forever!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2019, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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