When our home family and church family are functioning according to the will of God, then we live with the two strongest social environments that give us strength in times of trial. In this first letter to the Christian Jews of the Diaspora, Peter wrote to make sure that the individuals of his readership maintained their discipleship. He instructed that the structures of the home be according to the order of God’s will. In chapter 5 he wrote in order to correct any dysfunctions concerning the order of leadership in the family of God as a whole. In view of the coming struggle, the Christians to whom he wrote would be able to better endure the struggles of life as long as their home and church family relationships, over which they had control, functioned according to the will of God.
It would be the shepherds of the flock who would take the sheep through the social turmoil that was coming. As a fellow shepherd, as well as a Jew, we know now why the Holy Spirit chose Peter to write this letter to fellow elders and Jews. Peter could identify with Jewish Christians with whom he had a common heritage. He could also identify with those persecuted sheep who would be suffering wrongfully at the hand of Roman legions. He was the perfect choice as a writer for such an epistle of encouragement to be written in times of social chaos for Jewish Christians.
A. Be a servant leader.
In order to maintain the true organic function of the body of Christ, the leadership (elders) must take ownership of their leadership responsibilities for which they were designated by the flock. They must tend to the spiritual needs of the flock of God. Peter uses the Greek word that is translated “tend” which means to shepherd or to take care of sheep. This was an injunction that Jesus personally gave Peter many years before (Jn 21:16; see At 20:28). In this context, therefore, Peter is dealing with the organic function of the elders among the sheep, not their qualifications to be designated shepherds. They had already been designated shepherds by the sheep, and now it was time that they lead the flock of God through times of struggle.
B. Be among the sheep.
Peter writes, “I exhort the elders who are among you ….”5:1 Since Peter was writing to sheep who were scattered in the regions of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,1:1 then the shepherds were among the sheep in all these regions. It seems superfluous to think that Peter had in mind only the shepherds who were among a small group of sheep who were meeting in a house in some village.
It is the organic function of the shepherds to move among the sheep throughout any particular region. The shepherds move among the sheep. The sheep do not move among the shepherds. The shepherds can lead only by being among the sheep. Shepherds who hold up with only one group of sheep in a particular region are denying the opportunity of the sheep of a region to know them as shepherds.
Shepherds do not function from behind closed doors, or send dictates from head offices. They are not corporate authorities running a religious cooperation. They are moving among the sheep in order to discover the needs of the sheep. If shepherds do not smell like sheep, then certainly they are not functioning among the sheep as they should. Being among the sheep, therefore, assumes that they are not stationary with only a few sheep. In the historical context of those to whom Peter addressed this epistle, the shepherds were functioning among the disciples throughout the provinces of the Roman Empire.
From the location (“Babylon”) where he was writing to those who were scattered in the Jewish Diaspora, Peter still considered himself a “fellow elder.”5:1 If he left his location and journeyed to another location, we would rightly conclude that he would not cease being an elder. If one of the elders to whom he wrote came to him, then we would also conclude that that elder would not cease being an elder while visiting Peter. Peter would have introduced the visiting elder from either Pontus or Galatia as an elder in either Pontus or Galatia. Those elders who fled Judea during the Roman siege of Jerusalem certainly did not cease shepherding the sheep who were also scattered with them. The elders who were seeing over the sheep in Jerusalem did not cease seeing over the sheep once both elders and sheep left the city limits of Jerusalem during the siege of the city.
We must separate the function of the shepherds from the “all authority” of Jesus (Mt 28:18). Elders did not move among the sheep with authority. Only Jesus has authority over His universal body. He has not delegated any of His authority to any person or group of persons on earth. If He had, then He would not be our only Lord who is reigning from heaven over all things with all authority.
Peter carefully worded his instructions concerning the presence and ministry of the elders. The elders are to be among the sheep. It is not that the sheep are to be among the elders. The elders are not a synod of leaders to whom the sheep must cater. Peter wants to make it clear that it is the responsibility of the elders to move among the sheep in order to see after the needs of the sheep. And since nothing is said in this entire context about the assembly of the sheep at any particular location in the provinces to which he writes, then we must assume that the shepherds were moving from house to house throughout the provinces (See At 20:20).
The early church met in the homes of the members in communities throughout the ancient world. Not all the sheep in any region could meet at the same time in the same house. Therefore, for the shepherds to be among the sheep in any region, we correctly conclude that any one shepherd did not hold up in only one assembly. On the contrary, all the shepherds moved among the disciples in order to be known by all the sheep in the provinces to which this epistle was written. Keep in mind that we must not assume that the shepherds moved among assemblies. They certainly did this, but we must not forget that in order to service needs, the shepherds had to move among individual sheep. Discovering the needs of the sheep takes place when elders relate with individuals.
C. Refrain from lordship.
It is not that the elders (shepherds) are a hierarchy of authorities in the universal body of Christ. This was the very problem Peter was addressing in this context. The shepherds were to “shepherd the flock of God” without lording, and thus compelling submission.5:2 Their shepherding of the flock included seeing over the needs of the flock as a shepherd of the field continually looks out over the individuals of the flock in order to service the needs and protect any sheep that might be in danger. Shepherds do not oversee assemblies, but see over individuals.
Their ministry as shepherds was not in the area of being decision-makers for the flock, but servicing the needs of the flock. There is a difference. Decision-makers are always looking for someone else to do the servicing. Servant leaders are always being controlled by needs. Servant shepherds should never find themselves in the situation where they are delegating that which they should be doing. If they do, then they have moved themselves into a corporate boardroom of decision-making, and thus become lords. Any shepherd who delegates that which shepherds are to be doing themselves ia actually not doing that for which he has been delegated to do by the flock. It is the flock who delegates, not the shepherds. Once a shepherd moves himself into a function of delegating, then he has become a lord.
D. Encourage voluntary service and submission.
The shepherds’ service was to be “voluntarily according to God.”5:2 They were to be voluntary servants who shepherded those who voluntarily submitted to their service. The household of Stephanas had “dedicated themselves to the ministry of the saints” (1 Co 16:15). It was the responsibility of the saints in turn to “submit yourselves” to their ministry (1 Co 16:16). It is submission to ministry, not authority, that maintains the organic function of the body of Christ, and the function of the shepherds.
Demagogues always get this wrong. They seek to steal some of the “all authority” that rests only with our Lord Jesus (Mt 28:18). And in their act of authority theft, they seek to submit the sheep to their control. They thus move among the flock “to call the shots” in order to reassert their authority over the flock. But this is the very thing that Peter denounces in this context (See 3 Jn 9,10). Elders who “call the shots” are lords over the flock.
E. Do not serve for money.
Since the elders were to be paid double salary (1 Tm 5:17), then we can understand why someone might take advantage of the contribution of the saints because he was “greedy for money.”5:2
The reason for the double salary was obvious. Those who would be qualified to be shepherds would be those who were the most benevolent among the sheep. The greatest leaders among the sheep are the greatest slaves. If the body was not protective of the shepherds who volunteered to feed and care for the sheep, then they could possibly give themselves and their families into poverty. Through the shepherds, therefore, the entire body ministered to the needs among the sheep. For this reason, serving shepherds were to be given a second salary in order to have sufficient funds to distribute among the needy of the sheep.
F. Remember there is only one Lord.
The elders were not to serve “as being lords over those entrusted” to them.5:3 Lords demand submission. The Christian has only one Lord to whom he submits (Ep 4:4-6). In reference to the use of the word “submission” in our discipleship, we submit to one another’s service (1 Co 16:15,16). We submit to one another because we have submitted to the Lord Jesus. We must remember, therefore, that we submit only to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Our dedication to ministry requires submission to one another and our Lord Jesus in order that we might serve one another (Ep 5:21). Our submission to Jesus’ lordship requires that we live by the authority of His command to submit to one another (Jn 14:15; 15:14).
Since lordship involves commandments to which submission must be made, then the submission of the disciple in reference to authority can only be to our Lord Jesus. If our submission to our Lord is the same as our submission to the shepherds, then we would conclude that the shepherds have the same authority to give commandments as our Lord Jesus. It takes no Bible scholar to figure out the error of this theology. Therefore, the Bible student must understand the context in which the word “submit” is used. If it is used in the context of ministry, then reference is to submission to our ministry to one another. But if the word is used in reference to authority and command, then it used in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ as our only Lord with all authority.
G. Lead by example:
In contrast to being lords over the flock who might assume authority and demand submission, the shepherds are to lead by example, that is, by the serving example of their lives. They are before the sheep with life-style examples, not behind the sheep with commands. Lordship would demand inherent authority. Example would demand only voluntary submission to those who are dedicated to the ministry of the saints.
When the shepherds lead by example, there is no need for authority. The sheep voluntarily follow them because they seek the service of the shepherds for their needs. The shepherds’ submission to the authority of Jesus as the lord of their lives is the example that draws the sheep to follow them. When shepherds lead in this manner, they know that “when the Chief Shepherd appears,” they “will receive a crown of glory that does not fade away.”5:4
Since the fellowship of the body of Christ is a community of slaves, then slaves cannot be led by the authority of command. Slaves can only be led by those who manifest in their lives the greatest example of slavehood. This is what Jesus had in mind when He spoke the following words in reference to the Gentiles who have rulers and lords among them: “… among you it will not be so” (Mk 10:43). Therefore, it is as Jesus concluded after He had washed the disciples’ feet during His last meeting with them on the night of His betrayal: “And he who leads, as he who serves” (Lk 22:26).
[Next lecture: SURVIVOR CHARACTER: January 31]