1 Peter 5:1-7 The Shepherd, the Shepherds, and the Sheep (Rev. Erik Veerman)
1 Peter 5:1-7
The Shepherd, the Shepherds, and the Sheep
Rev. Erik Veerman
We’re taking a couple of weeks to focus on the church. That is in preparation for officer nominations coming up soon. Last week, pastor Chuck preached on the gifts of the spirit. Those are the various ways that each of us contribute to the life of the church – like service, or teaching, or hospitality, or works of mercy. They are from God and given for the express purpose of building up the body of Christ.
Now, you may or may not remember this, but a year ago when we had our very first officer nominations, we had two sermons that focused on the qualifications of elders and deacons. They were primarily from 1 Timothy chapter 3.
This year, we’re going to focus on the primary responsibility of elder and deacons. This morning elders and the call to shepherding. We’ll be looking at 1 Peter 5 for that.
As a brief background, the book of 1 Peter was written by the apostle Peter to the churches in the northeastern Mediterranean region. So, it’s a very broad audience with direct applicability to the church today. And in the beginning of chapter 5, the apostle Peter turns his focus to the elders of the church.
So let’s now come to God’s word.
1 Peter 5 can be found on page 1206 in the pew Bible.
Again, our focus will be on verses 1-7.
Reading of 1 Peter 5:1-7
You probably don’t know this, but the sheep population in Tucker has been on the rise! It’s true. That’s mainly due to a local shepherd named John. He’s a very nice guy… I’ve talked with him a few times. Some of you know him. He’s a Mennonite pastor and I think he has two to three dozen sheep. What he does is rents his sheep out to eat the Kudzu in your yards.
Well, a few months ago, his sheep were attacked by a pack of 11 coyotes. Normally that would spell disaster for the sheep. However, that night, two of his sheep dogs were on duty. Two Great Pyranees. The female dog gathered the sheep as close as possible. That allowed the male dog, Casper, to go on the attack. The fight lasted 30 minutes. By the end of it, Casper had killed 8 coyotes. He chased off the rest. I don’t believe a single sheep was lost.
Of course, the story went viral and Casper is now famous.
Since we’re in a metro area, it's little difficult for us to imagine what it means to be a shepherd. But I think we were given a glimpse. The threats are not just wild animals on the attack. No, shepherds deal with the weather, and with rough terrain, and, at times, lack of food and water. Sheep are not the smartest animals, and often wander off. If they’re not devoured by a wild animal, they can get lost and not know how to find water or make their way back to the fold. And sometimes, the shepherds are the problem! Instead of protecting their sheep, some fail to lead or protect.
I think you know this. One of the most common analogies in the Bible is shepherding - shepherds and sheep. It’s not just a New Testament thing. We sang Psalm 23 earlier – “The Lord is my shepherd.” And the Old Testament speaks of the shepherds of Israel. They were often the focus of God’s anger at their failed shepherding. In the middle of last year, as we were working through Zechariah, we came across one of the many warnings against shepherds.
That’s because the call of a shepherd is to protect and care for and nourish the sheep under his care. To lead and guide them to water to drink and grass to eat. To be on the lookout for danger and to protect. To stay awake and aware at all times, day and night.
It’s no wonder the shepherd and sheep metaphor is used. It captures both those caring for and guiding the flock as well as the flock itself - all of us who need caring for and guiding!
And 1 Peter 5 particularly captures the call of a shepherd. It’s full of meaning. 1 Peter 5 gives us a picture of a spiritual shepherd. It answers the questions, what is the role of a shepherd? How should a shepherd accomplish his role? How should he not accomplish his role? And there’s also guidance given to the sheep.
Now, I mentioned these verses focus on elders. Peter himself says so. And notice he writes as a “fellow elder.” Yes, Peter had a unique role as an apostle. More than that, he witnessed the suffering of Christ, as he says. He was there when Jesus suffered and was crucified. And Peter was there when he rose from the dead.
And let me say, this call for elders to be faithful shepherds was very personal for Peter.
The reason I’m saying that is because of two connected events that Peter experienced.
The first was a low point in Peter’s life. Jesus had predicted that Peter would deny him three times. And that prediction came true despite Peter’s telling Jesus he was willing to die with him. Peter denied Jesus three times, after which, the rooster crowed. His heart was grieved about it. He wept over his own failure to stand by his Lord.
The second connected event happened after Jesus’ resurrection and in a way, pointed back to Peter’s denials. Jesus, of course, appeared to his disciples many times. And one of the first times, Peter and a few of the others were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. And after breakfast, Jesus asked Peter, “do you love me?” Peter, of course responded, “Lord, you know I love you.” And what was Jesus’ response? He said, “Feed my lambs.”
But the interaction didn’t end there. No, three times Jesus asks Peter the same question. “Do you love me?” Now, imagine that you are Peter. You’ve already answered the question. But, yet the Lord persists in asking. “Do you love me, Peter?” Peter was grieved that the Lord asked again. He had already said “yes.” But Jesus asks him three times. Three times as if to remind Peter of his three denials. And Jesus responded similarly each time. First, he said, “Feed my Lambs.” Second, Jesus said, “Tend my sheep.” And third time, “Feed my sheep.” Perhaps by the third time, Peter realized the connection.
This is the call that the Lord had for Peter. To shepherd the flock… to tend and feed God’s sheep.
So, when Peter was writing to the elders in 1 Peter 5, he was passing along the call from Jesus himself. The command to care for the sheep of God’s pasture.
Let’s consider three things related to this shepherding call. First, the shepherds. Second, the sheep – you and me. And third, THE Shepherd. These verses touch upon all three.
So, number 1, shepherds. The call of an elder is the call to shepherd. It is the primary responsibility of elders in the church. And it’s a spiritual responsibility.
•It means praying for the needs of the church family.
•It means lovingly guiding us in matters of faith and practice as we seek to navigate the joys and trials of life.
•It means teaching us what is good and right and true.
Of course, To do all of that requires knowing the sheep…. AND it also requires knowing God’s Word. An elder should not be disconnected from either. Now, there are, of course, human limitations on how many people an elder can know. But being a shepherd elder means being closely connected with a subset of people in the church. And it’s the responsibility of the elders as a whole to work together to know and care for each and every member of their congregation.
And one thing is very clear in these verses. There’s a spiritual oversight given to elders.
Look at the language in verses 2. There’s a responsibility to “exercise oversight.” There’s an active emphasis in the participle. It’s not a passive thing. No, it’s being involved.
Have you ever been to a control center? Where you have all these TVs in front of you. And each monitor is connected to a different camera. You can see all that is going on around a building, inside and outside… different rooms and entrances. And the security guard just sits there and watches. Well, that’s not what this is talking about. It’s not like watching the flock from a distance. Rather an elder needs to “exercise oversight,” to be among the flock, to see and know what is going on in order to best direct and lead and care for the flock of God. In other words, shepherding is an active responsibility.
Another thing that apostle Peter includes here is a contrast between good shepherding and bad shepherding. This is really important,
A bad shepherd uses his sheep. You see, for him, It’s not about the sheep, it’s about himself. A bad shepherd uses his sheep for “shameful gain.” He’s “domineering” over his sheep. Those are the words used here that highlight how not to shepherd.
No, instead, a shepherd should be very different. Notice it says, “not under compulsion.” In other words, a good shepherd feels called to shepherd. It gives him joy – not that it’s always easy, but he has an internal sense of wanting to lead and care for us. Peter also uses the words, “eagerly” and “willingly.”
And besides that, a good shepherd is an “example to the flock.” That’s at the end of verse 3. An example of godliness. A model of faithfulness. Last year when we considered the qualifications of an elder, being a model certainly describes the character and integrity of a man who is called.
Sometimes we think that a good candidate for elder needs to be a proven leader. It’s like we add that qualification to the list. But that’s not so. Being an elder is not like being a corporate executive or board member. Sometimes local churches get sideways because the elders they’ve ordained act more like CEOs than Shepherds. Now, I’m not downplaying the importance of organization, or being aligned, or communicating well. Those are important. Rather, I’m saying that spiritual leadership in a church is different than leadership in a business. An elder’s primary role is shepherding, which requires a demonstrated knowledge of the Scriptures, a demonstrated care for others in spiritual needs, and an ability to teach or disciple in the faith.
So, then, what does that mean for us, here and now?
Well, for one, these are the kind of elders that we should be looking for. This is what it means to be an elder – to be a faithful shepherd. So, as you think and pray about who is qualified to be an elder among us, think and pray about the God given role of shepherding.
And if you are a man with that burden to guide and care for and pray for, and nurture people in the Word and in the Gospel, then I would encourage you to think and pray about accepting a nomination to elder.
Aren’t we blessed to have Tim, Jeff, David, Jonathan, and Chuck shepherding us. Each of them has preached. Each of them is involved in some way teaching the Word or discipling. And each of them prays and cares for each of you.
Before accepting a role as a full-time pastor, I served as a lay elder in the church. By the way, that title pastor is the word for shepherd. In our denomination, pastors are elders. Well, a difficult situation arose with a family in the church. I was their lay elder with responsibility to help shepherd them, so I was involved. We came along side of them, prayed for them, supported them in different ways. It involved some difficult conversations, but in love. And I remember, at that time, we had some guests come into town to stay with us for the weekend. After church, I needed to stay for a little bit because of the situation. I obviously couldn’t share the details, but one of our house guests asked, “why are you involved in helping? I thought that was the job of the pastor.”
I think that’s a common misunderstanding of the responsibility of an elder. As we learn here, it’s first and foremost a role of shepherding. Now, to be sure, the elders have responsibility to protect the mission of the church and to set the spiritual vision for the various ministries, aligning them with the church’s goals and purpose. That is also a form of shepherding. But their primary responsibility is to care for the sheep.
In summary, shepherd elders shepherd the flock.
That brings us, second, to sheep. That includes all of us. All of us need to be shepherded, including the elders.
In these verses, the sheep are also given a responsibility.
You may be thinking, “I’m not called to be an elder, so therefore I can live free as a bird!” Well, that may sound fun, but the reality is that sheep are called to respond to shepherds.
Look at verse 5. “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.” It’s the same word for elder here. Peter is specifically encouraging the younger generation to submit to their elder. Kids, teenagers, college age, young adults, that’s you! It doesn’t mean the rest of us are off the hook. We’re all called to submit ourselves to the spiritual care of our elders. That doesn’t mean always agreeing with everything said nor how shepherding is happening. But what it does mean is recognizing that God has placed elders over us for our care. It means listening and taking serious the call of an elder. It means allowing them to shepherd us, like being vulnerable to share our burdens and fears and sin. Why? So that the elders can focus their prayers for us. And allow them to come alongside of us to support us in specific needs. The times when we begin to wander off, they can gently direct us back to the flock… show us where to find nourishment for our souls.
1 Peter 5 continues, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” In order to submit ourselves to God and Godly elders, we need to be humble and listen and care about their role. Think about the opposite. Pride doesn’t want to listen or be shepherded. Pride says, “No, I think I’ll do my own thing.” Pride says, “You are not the boss of me!” None of us in our natural state wants to have anyone over us. Rather, we want control of our own lives and thoughts.
But the elder described here, is an elder who is a model of truth and love and who cares for you and has the utmost desire to see you flourish in your walk with the Lord. Our responsibility as sheep, then, is to be humble and listen. It includes receiving encouragement from them and at times, admonition… so that we may be renewed and built up in Christ
Of course, the other responsibility that we have as sheep, as I already mentioned, is to seek out qualified elders that can and desire to lead and shepherd in these ways.
So, elders are called to shepherd the flock. Sheep are called to be shepherded by such elders.
And finally, the Shepherd. THEE Shepherd. The one true and great shepherd who shepherds the shepherds and shepherds us all.
Verse 4 calls him, “the chief Shepherd.” Or as Jesus called himself, “the good shepherd.” Or as the author Hebrews calls him, “the great shepherd.”
Jesus is the Shepherd. It’s through him that the shepherds of his people can shepherd.
Really, all the elders and pastors in the church are all lowercase “s” shepherds, or as they are often called “under shepherds.” All serving “under” the chief shepherd.
And there’s something else you should note here in 1 Peter 5. We, the sheep are God’s sheep. It says that back in verse 2, “shepherd the flock of God.” And going back to Jesus’ interaction with Peter. “Feed MY sheep.” “Tend MY lambs.” A shepherd needs to understand that the sheep under his spiritual oversight are God’s sheep. He should be directing them to God – to God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.
Verses 6 and 7 emphasize this. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
The focus should be on God as shepherd, and the earthly shepherds should point to him. Yes, they care for us, the sheep, but we are God’s sheep, and ultimate he is the one, as it says, who cares for us.
Let me put it another way: Jesus, as the chief shepherd, is…
(1) the model of what it means to be a shepherd. Elders should look to Jesus in how he cared for and shepherded.
(2) Jesus as the chief shepherd is the one to whom the earthly shepherds should direct us.
and (3) he is the source of strength and hope for the shepherds and the sheep. That’s what’s captured in verses 6 and 7. The great shepherd “will exalt you,” meaning your hope for eternity is in Jesus, the chief shepherd. That’s why earthly shepherds should direct your hope to him. And they should encourage you to “cast all your anxieties on him.” Jesu will protect you forever.
So, he’s the model, he’s the one to whom shepherds should point, and he is the ultimate source and strength.
Let’s go back to Casper the famous sheep dog for a minute.
I think the most compelling part of the story is what happened after the coyote attack.
You see, the sheep were safe. 8 coyotes had been killed, the rest gone. But Casper was nowhere to be found. In fact, it was thought that maybe Casper himself has been dragged off and killed or had wandered off to die from his wounds. Word went out on social media, but no one could find him.
But two days later, Casper limped back home on his own. Part of his tale was gone. He had open wounds on his neck. The coyotes had torn into his flesh. Some of his skin looked like it had been peeled off, it was so bad. You see, Casper had put his life on the line for his sheep. Fighting to save them. Willing to die and almost dying for them.
This is the call of a true shepherd. To be willing to die for his sheep.
And that is what the chief shepherd has done for you. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
There’s no greater love, no greater care, and no greater protection for his sheep than to die for them. To die in their place so that they would live.
And this is what Christ has done. He gave his life for yours. He endured the suffering and the attacks of the enemy and the just judgment of God, so that you may live. And he bears the scars.
Do you know the chief shepherd? If not his arms are open. He offers to be your chief shepherd and for you to be his sheep, to give your life to him, that he may guide you and lead you, and direct you to what it means to be in the flock of God.
May he be the one to whom our elders direct us. And may he be our good shepherd, forever.