“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing …” (1 Peter 5:2)
Today we complete our study of 1 Peter. Looking back over the past eight weeks, an appropriate key verse for these studies might be 2:9, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Peter says, that “you are … a royal priesthood [and] a holy nation …” But what does this really mean? In reference to today’s passage, we can say that it means a shepherd nation. As we know, a shepherd is one who teaches the Bible and prays for others. But Peter didn’t really talk about the duties of a shepherd prior to today’s passage. Instead, he talked about something else. What did he talk about? He mostly talked about sufferings. He talked about participating in the sufferings of Christ—suffering to refine our faith (1:7), suffering to be holy (1:15) suffering to submit to authorities (2:13), suffering for doing good (3:17) and suffering for being a Christian (4:13). So it follows that being a shepherd also has something to do with suffering. In fact, it could be said that suffering for being a shepherd is one of the most practical ways to participate in the sufferings of Christ. If you think about it, suffering for being a shepherd involves all of the aforementioned sufferings—suffering to refine our faith, suffering to be holy, suffering to submit to authorities, suffering for doing good and suffering for being Christian all rolled up in one. So in today’s passage Peter says, “Be shepherds …” Let’s consider his exhortation in two parts.
Part I. “To the Elders among You”
Look at verse 1.
“To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who will also share in the glory to be revealed …”
Here the Apostle Peter addressed the elders in the church. An elder refers mainly to those that are mature in faith. Peter made an appeal to them, not as a superior, but as a “fellow elder”. In this way, he acknowledged that what he was going to say applied equally to him. In other words, he wasn’t going to ask them to do something that he himself was not willing to do.
Peter also made his appeal to them as a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who would share in his glory. According to the gospel accounts, Peter was probably not present at Jesus’ crucifixion. But he calls himself a witness of Christ’s sufferings. Evidently, being a witness of Christ’s sufferings does not simply imply being an eyewitness. After all, not everyone who witnessed Jesus on the cross firsthand believed. Jesus was crucified between two criminals, but only one of them believed and became a true witness of his sufferings. The other became a mocker. Then how did Peter become a witness of Christ’s sufferings? It was probably through participating in Christ’s sufferings.
Even though none of us were actually there at Jesus’ Crucifixion, we can still become witnesses of his sufferings. To be a witness of Christ’s sufferings means to have fellowship with Jesus and to suffer together with Jesus. Say, “Suffer together with Jesus!” Do you suffer alone, or do you suffer together with Jesus? Suffering alone is shameful, but suffering together with Jesus is glorious? When Apostle Peter suffered together with Jesus he knew that he would also share in his glory to be revealed.
Look at verse 2, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers …” This was the Apostle Peter’s appeal to the elders. What does it mean to be shepherds of God’s flock? First of all they are God’s flock. They belong to God, not to the shepherd. So shepherd gives glory to God and serves them according to God’s will. And they are answerable to God.
They are God’s flock. However, they are under the shepherd’s care. The shepherd is an overseer, especially overseeing their spiritual life. We can think of this as kind of like babysitting. A good babysitter knows what a baby needs. They change their dirty diapers. They put them down at their nap time. They help them to wash there hands before eating and help them to eat their vegetables. They keep them from running into the street. They teach them right from wrong. On top of all of this, the best babysitters also teach children Biblical principles. It’s the same with the flock of God. Caring for the flock of God doesn’t mean giving them what they want, but giving them what is best for them. Ultimately, it means to consider their salvation.
To consider one person’s salvation is not a small matter. It requires praying for that person, preparing and feeding them with the proper words of God-to correct, rebuke and encouraged. It requires touching on their sin problem again and again. It requires serving as a mother, father, teacher, guidance councilor, chauffeur, nurse, chef and in any and every other possible way. To consider one person’s salvation requires a lot of love and sacrifice on behalf of God’s flock.
The motive of a shepherd is also important. Look at verse 2b-3.
“…not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
The work of a shepherd cannot be carried out as an obligation. It must be done out of a willing heart. God wants us to be shepherds for the flock of God, but he is not going to force us. He wants us to want what he wants. This means that our desires should be changed. For example, the desire to make money should be changed into a desire to serve others. And all of our selfish desires should be changed into sacrificial ones. But how can we be changed? Obviously, we cannot change ourselves. But keep in mind that God wants to change us. He wants to give us a willing heart to serve him. He wants to provide for us financially and in every way. So a shepherd needs to first accept God’s love themselves and then serve others.
Finally, shepherding must be done by example. It is not a matter of telling others what to do, and so lording over them. Rather, it is a matter of setting others an example of what to do. A shepherd must set a good example above all else. Sheep do not learn much from a shepherd’s teaching, but they learn from their example.
A shepherd that tells others what to do without setting them an example will end up abusing their authority. They will either end up using coercion or manipulation to get God’s flock to obey them, or they will become complacent and indifferent to the needs of God’s flock. Eventually, all the sheep will run away from such a shepherd. The only way to lead as a shepherd is by example and then words. A good shepherd first shepherds themselves before God—relying on God as their shepherd.
Shepherds sacrifice a lot. How will they be rewarded by God? Look at verse 4.
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
Jesus is the Chief shepherd. When he comes again he will reward all the shepherds under him with a crown of glory that will never fade away. I don’t know if we all get the same crown or if shepherd get a special crown. However, I am so happy to be a shepherd, because through this I can know Jesus as the Chief Shepherd. In John 10:11. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” As the good shepherd Jesus laid down his life. But he will come again as the Chief Shepherd to reward me.
The Apostle Paul appealed to the elders of the church to be shepherds of the flock of God. But does this mean that young men cannot be shepherds?
Part II. “Young Men, in the Same Way …”
Look at verse 5
“Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.”
The Apostle Peter is now addressing young men. However, the words “in the same way” tell us that there is no change of subject matter. He is still talking about being shepherds. Young men are sort of shepherds in training. As shepherds in training, they are to submit to the authority of the elders—or shepherds above them—in order to learn from them. Peter did not say that young men should not be shepherds. But, they should first learn to be good sheep. If you think about it, it is the same for all of us. Before we can be good shepherds, we must first be good sheep of Jesus, by submitting to the authority of those he has placed above us.
Look at verse 5b-7.
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you …
Here Peter begins with the words, “All of you”. Maybe he was referring to all young men, because young men can have a certain propensity for becoming proud. But really these verses apply to everyone. Shepherds, sheep, elders, young men—all can become proud.
But a shepherd must be humble. So how can we humble ourselves? According to these verses, humbling ourselves comes from finding ourselves under God’s mighty hand. When we become proud, we must come and fall down before the Almighty God before whom we are nothing. Then he will lift us up, not according to our time, but his.
Worry and anxiety is another symptom of pride. We worry because in our pride we try to take care of things by ourselves. We try to take care of our futures by ourselves, of our finances by ourselves, of our relationship and all of our responsibilities by ourselves. So we end up full of worry and anxiety. But when we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand, we can cast our cares on him. We can trust that he will take care of them all by his mighty power, because he cares for us.
To cast our cares on him is not a passive exercise. It is very active; like casting a large rock into the sea. It requires initiative struggle and determination to cast our anxiety on him. But when we do, he takes away our anxiety, cares and worries and gives us peace.
Look at verses 8-9.
Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
Not to frighten anyone, but if you are going to be a shepherd get ready for a spiritual battle. These verses paint a very scary picture of the danger we face at the hands our enemy the devil. The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. The way to fight against him is threefold.
First of all, we must be self-controlled and alert. Danger can be near at any time. We must see it and be ready to fight against it. Especially, the devil looks for an easy target. He likes to attack when we are tired or weak. So at these times we need to pray even more.
Secondly, we must resist him. The devil is more powerful than us. But we have the power to resist him. When we resist him, God helps us to win the victory over temptation. The devil is more powerful than us, but God is more powerful than the devil. Based on this, we should begin our own personal resistance movement based on faith in God. .
Thirdly, we must accept temptations as common sufferings in Christ. We are not alone in our sufferings as the hand of the devil. God is with us, but also our brothers and sisters around the world are also with us. They are undergoing the same kinds of sufferings as we are. Knowing this can also help us to resist the devil.
And God promise to help us. Look at verses 10-11.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
It is important to know that our suffering is not for ever. It is only for a little while. When we resist the devil, God shows us grace. And, by his grace, he restores us and makes us strong. In this way, each time we resist the devils temptation, we become stronger. His grace makes us stronger.
Moreover, not only is each temptation only for a little while before he restores us, but also, all sufferings are this way. In other words, although we suffer during this lifetime, it will only be during this lifetime. When Christ appears in his eternal glory, all sufferings will be over. We will enjoy eternal glory and eternal peace together in his kingdom.
Sometimes, we wonder how long we need to continue to suffer—one month, one year, two years, twenty years, more? But Peter doesn’t give us a specific length of time. Instead, he uses words like “a little while” or “in due time” So we don’t know how long. It is up to God. But even if our suffering lasts a lifetime still that is a little while compared to eternity.
Personally, I learned through this passage that I need to be a shepherd all the time; not just with Bible students, but also at home and not just when sheep are near, but also when I’m alone. I need to be a shepherd while I’m working and while I’m studying. I need to be a shepherd while I’m playing sports or talking with friends, while I’m eating, while I’m driving-so that I don’t tailgate or cut anybody off, while I’m getting dressed, while I’m using the restroom—so that I always put down the toilet seat and replace the toilet paper roll, I need to be a shepherd while doing the dishes, and even while I’m sleeping. It needs to be my identity and what drives me at each and every moment.
Look at verses 12-14.
“With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it. 13 She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ.
Peter co-worked with Silas to write this letter. He also co-worked with mark and with others. Peter must have considered them his partners in suffering for the gospel.
And he concluded by testifying to the true grace of God. Maybe he had in mind our participation in the sufferings of Christ and especially the sufferings to live as a shepherd for God’s flock. These could be the true grace of God because through them we grow in our faith and overcome the word.