May 17, 2020
So we have spent several months in the book of I Peter. It’s clear by now Peter was writing to Christians in Asia Minor who were suffering persecution. So he told them and us, make sure you live beautiful lives among unbelievers, even though they oppose you, so they see your good works, your strong faith, and might be attracted. At least intrigued – what is the reason for this hope you have?
Last time we were in the book a couple of weeks ago, he said, don’t be surprised by the fiery ordeal, instead, rejoice because you are blessed. Don’t suffer for doing evil, instead, suffer for being a Christian. Don’t be ashamed of that name, instead, glorify God that you suffer for the name. That was hard to hear, wasn’t it? That the Christian life is hard. It’s not the prosperity that many promise – it’s actually challenging. So what do we do when we face opposition? It seems to me we have a few choices:
First, we can disguise ourselves. Go into hiding. No one really wants to invite persecution, right? So I’ll just fly under the radar. I’ll be good – do good things, be nice, maybe even kind, but I’ll keep my faith to myself. Two things people don’t talk about – politics and religion. So, I’ll be an incognito Christian.
Or second, we can defend ourselves. We can circle the wagons, like the church has done for some time now. We can develop a fortress mentality and hide in our Christian bunkers – only showing our faces as we run from Christian foxhole to Christian foxhole. Never really rubbing shoulders with the enemy – as if unbelievers are the enemy.
Or there is a third option: we can be the church. We can realize that being light in darkness – a city on a hill – will invite opposition. There is a cost to being followers of Jesus. But, we want others to become followers with us, and so, if we suffer for sharing our faith, so be it.
It’s interesting, at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount – the first recorded sermon Jesus preached, He started with the Beatitudes. Remember those? Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
You remember those. But He finished with one we’ve referred to a lot lately. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad.
Then, it’s almost like Jesus knew what our natural tendencies would be – how we would want to disguise ourselves, defend ourselves – develop a fortress mentality to escape and hide behind the walls of the church. Because the next thing He says is this, “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless – that is, it doesn’t do what salt is supposed to do – how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything…. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden….Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”
That sounds familiar. Peter said, live such good lives among unbelievers, that though they oppose you, they may because of your good works, glorify God on the day He visits. Oh yeah – that’s right. Peter was there when Jesus preached that sermon by the Sea of Galilee that day.
So disguising ourselves or defending ourselves aren’t really legitimate options. Rather, we are to let our light shine before men – live beautiful lives – do good deeds, share the gospel, so that some will be saved. This has been the message of I Peter. Yes, I know you’re struggling – keep it up – you will receive praise and honor and glory when Jesus comes back. It’s worth it.
Which brings us to chapter 5. And very interestingly, it begins with the word, therefore. Now, many translations leave that out. And leaving out the conjunction plus the fact we’re starting a new chapter causes many to think we’re changing subjects. Indeed, when you look at the first few verses, it seems like it. But then Peter gets to verses 8 and following and starts talking about suffering again. So maybe, just maybe, these verses have to do with how the church – namely leadership – should conduct itself in the midst of suffering. Maybe the therefore belongs. In light of the suffering we face, not being surprised, but rejoicing, not being ashamed, but glorifying God, in light of God using suffering to purify the church – therefore – look at I Peter 5:1-4…Therefore, because God’s people, that is God’s sheep are suffering, therefore,
We have here a great passage on the duties of elders in the church. And I’m going to talk about that, but can I remind us of the context – elders, I’m talking to us. God’s sheep, His flock, of which Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, and we are but under-shepherds – that flock is suffering. So, shepherd them well. They’re getting abused out there – they don’t need to be abused in here. I cannot begin to imagine the trouble false teachers will face as they’ve sought to fleece the flock of God. Let me give you the quick outline we’ll follow:
- Peter Exhorts Elders (1)
- The Duties of Elders (2-3) – This is, what they do, and what they don’t do.
- The Reward of Elders (4)
About now, you’re thinking, I can turn this off – I’m not an Elder, so this doesn’t have much to do with me. Actually it does. You see, we’ll start by talking about the different kinds of church governing structures, and why we believe ours to be most biblical, effective, and good for you. And you’ll also know what you can expect from Elders.
You see, at Alliance, we have people from many different church backgrounds. As I say that, let me clear – it’s not that we are so middle-of-the-road that everyone, regardless of faith background, fits here. Rather, we are a people, regardless of denominational background, who are passionately committed to the Scripture. We believe in the inspiration, inerrancy and authority of the Bible – and if it says it, we believe it. That has to do with church governing structure as well. If you boil them all down, you’d find there are basically three or four kinds of church governing structures:
- First is the Episcopal form of government, which comes from the word, episkopos. The word is usually translated bishop or overseer in your Bibles. This kind of government recognizes a bishop as the highest authority over a local church or a group of churches. The most obvious is the bishop of Rome, known as the pope. On the local church level, the priest or rector is the final authority – but the bishop is the overseer – usually of a group of churches. Incidentally, this kind of structure arose fairly early in church history – in the second century.
- Second, on the opposite end of that, is the congregational form of government, which is very popular in U.S. churches, because this form is most democratic – it most closely resembles our U.S. Constitution. We like it because it is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. It gives us a say in church decisions. The question I would have you ponder is, while this form is most American, is it most biblical?
Incidentally, this congregational form often finds itself held hostage at the hands of a powerful few in the church – usually those who give the most money or who’ve been around the longest. Or, it is held hostage by a domineering pastor. He’s a dictator under the guise of a democracy.
- Which leads to the third form of government in many churches – it’s called the CEO or the Senior Pastor model – where the Senior Pastor is the highest authority at the local church level – what he says goes. Unfortunately, while quite common, that kind of structure carries no biblical support and little accountability.
- The fourth kind of government is ours – the Presbyterian form of government, which comes from the word, presbuteros. The word is usually translated elder in your Bibles. In this structure, the spiritual authority in the local church is a group of elders. Not one elder per church – that would be a bishop or pastor/dictator – but a plurality of elders in each church. Who those elders are, how they are appointed, and how long they serve varies from church to church, but the bottom line is, the elders are the governing authority.
Now, I would say very lovingly, nowhere in the New Testament do we see an example of congregational rule. We do see the congregation acting and making decisions, under the authority of elders, such as when they selected the first deacons in Acts 6. It’s actually easier to find an example of Episcopal or bishop rule in the person of the Apostle Paul as he directed the churches he founded. But even then, Paul directed that elders be appointed in every church. Don’t just take my word for it, let’s look at a few verses:
The first mention of the term elder in relation to the church – stop right there a moment. The concept of elder was an old one – all the way back in the OT. There, you found elders led the nation of Israel. At the beginning of the NT, elders were part of the Jewish ruling body called the Sanhedrin at a national level, and local synagogues also had elders. So, it was quite natural for this new Christian faith to adopt the practice.
Anyway, the first mention of elders in relation to the church, as you might expect, is in Acts 11. Without explanation, Luke tells us Paul and Barnabas were sent with a gift from the church in Antioch to the elders of the church in Judea. All of a sudden, elders just appear. The next time we find them is in Acts 14 where Paul and Barnabas were traveling through the churches they founded on their first missionary journey – Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe – and they “appointed elders for them in every church….” Notice, plural elders in each, singular, church.
Later in Acts 15, we get to the Jerusalem Council, and see the apostles and elders met to discuss the salvation/law issue for Gentiles. Again, elders appear without explanation, but we see they had the responsibility to discuss and make decisions regarding truth and practice.
In Acts 20, we see Paul call for the elders of the Ephesian church – agin, plural elders, singular church – to give them some instructions. And we remember this is where Timothy was when Paul wrote I Timothy and gave the qualifications for elders. In other places, Paul wrote:
Philippians 1:1 – “Paul and Timothy, bond-servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, including the overseers (that’s episkopois) and deacons.”
In Titus 1, Paul says, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders [presbuterois] in every city….”
In I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, Paul gives the very extensive qualifications for elders. I might add both James and Peter mention elders in their letters – the fact is, they’re all over the New Testament. So the questions I want us to answer are – what is an elder, and what do they do? If you’re one of our elders listening, I would encourage you to pay very careful attention. Because everyone else is going to hear what they can expect from us as we serve them.
The first thing I want you to see is the Scripture uses three different words to refer to the elder in the local church. I believe they refer to one and the same persons or offices.
- The first, obviously, is elder – prebuteros. This title is used most extensively in the New Testament because it was the one most familiar to the Jewish people. It was natural the term would be used within the church to speak of its leaders.
- The second terms is overseer – episkopos. Paul and Peter here uses these two words interchangeably. For example, in Titus 1, where Paul gives the qualifications for elders, we read in verse 5, “For this reason I left you in Crete, [to] appoint elders in every city…” He then give the qualifications for elders and says in verse 7, “For the overseer must be above reproach…” My point is, he uses the terms interchangeably – elders are overseers, overseers are elders. Some suggest the office is elder, and the duty is overseeing.
- The third term is found here, and where Peter tells Elders to “shepherd the church.” The words to shepherd or be shepherds is the verb form of the word poimen, which is translated throughout the New Testament as shepherd. There is only one place in the Bible where the word is translated differently, in Ephesians 4:11 where it’s translated, pastor. Pastor is an old English word for one who takes care of sheep. Pastor, then, is our English word for this function of the elder as shepherd. So, an elder is an overseer in that he has the responsibility of spiritual oversight, and he is a pastor in that he shepherds the church.
Which brings us quickly to our text in I Peter 5. Here, Peter here gives us some duties of elders, keeping in mind, these responsibilities are carried out in the midst of crisis. I can’t help but think of our current crisis – and while not the result of persecution – the principles still apply.
Notice how Peter exhorts elders in verse 1, by appealing to three of his own qualifications for doing so. Which is interesting – he doesn’t appeal to his apostolic authority – he instead comes alongside them as one with them. He says, therefore, in light of the current crisis, I exhort – strongly encourage the elders among you – to do some things – he’ll tell us verses 2 and 3. But first he give those personal qualifications.
First, I am a fellow elder. We don’t know if the apostles were all automatically elders in local churches, but it would certainly make sense. They were spiritual leaders. Peter calls himself, not an apostle, but a fellow elder. Interesting word – only used here in the NT – it seems Peter made the word up. But he does so to come alongside them.
Second, he says I am a witness of the sufferings of Christ. I’m calling to you suffering. I’ve reminded you that Jesus suffered. And now, based on His teaching and example, I’m calling you to lead as He led – through suffering. Think about it – as Elders or leaders in a group facing suffering, they would have the biggest targets on their chests.
Third, he says, with you, I am also a partaker of the glory to be revealed when Jesus returns. It’s interesting he uses the present tense – I am already a partaker of the glory that is coming. It’s not yet here in its fullness, but I do, and will participate with you. He has held that out as a promise throughout the book. Glory is coming. It’s already ours, but the best is yet to come.
Which brings us to the duties of Elders in verses 2 and 3 – which he highlights by way of contrast. That is, do this, don’t do this. I’ll break them down to the following two duties:
- First, and foremost, is to shepherd the flock of God among you. I say foremost because it’s the main verb of the command – the other is a participle supporting this idea of shepherding. Shepherd the flock of God.
The first thing we should note is that the flock – that is, the church, is God’s, not ours. Every once in awhile we’ll say our church, or my church – meaning, this is the church to which I belong. But we, especially as elders, as pastors, should never refer to the church as my church. Our church. It belongs to God – Acts 20 says He bought it with His own blood. So, what then do shepherds do? When Peter says to shepherd the flock – how do we do that? Four things:
- First, they are to lead the flock. That’s what a shepherd does. He doesn’t drive the sheep, he leads the sheep. Paul said it a number of different ways. In Acts 20, they are to keep watch over the flock. In I Timothy 5:17, they are to direct the affairs of the church. In I Timothy 3:5, he says, “but if any man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” Elders, then, are to lead, direct, govern, and manage the flock. They have the responsibility to oversee the ministries of the church to make sure the church meets the God-given mandate of making disciples.
- Second, they are to feed the flock – a very important function of elders. How do they feed? Through sound instruction of the Word of God – be that in an official or unofficial way. Which is why one of the qualifications for elders in I Timothy 3 is they are to be able to teach.
This is a huge responsibility. To Timothy, he says things like, fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Guard the good deposit. Be constantly nourished on the words of the faith and sound doctrine. Prescribe and teach these things. Give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching. Pay close attention to yourself and your teaching. Elders are worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching. He ends I Timothy with, “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.” Do you think sound teaching is important to Paul? In Titus 1:9, Paul elaborates when he says the elder is, “holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.” It’s the elders’ job to feed the sheep sound teaching from the Bible.
- Which leads to the third responsibility, elders, as shepherds, are to protect the flock. A major part of their work is to protect the local church from false teaching. He told Timothy – I left you in Ephesus to instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines. He told Titus, refute those who contradict. That’s what shepherds do. Paul told the Ephesian elders to be on their guard against false teachers – in keeping with the metaphor he calls them wolves – would come from outside – seeking to work their way into the church and destroy it for their own selfish motives. So elders protect the flock from false teaching, which, of course, requires that we know truth. It’s why I regularly point out false teachers – because I know you, God’s sheep, are exposed to them. I’m not just being critical, it’s my job.
- Fourth, elders are to meet the flock’s many other practical needs. In Acts 20:35, we read, “In everything I [Paul] showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak, and remember the words of the Lord Jesus that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” The elders, in caring for the flock, are to care for the weak. James 5 says we can do that primarily through prayer, “Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”
Elders meet the practical needs of the body. If you’re sitting there thinking, “wow, being an elder sounds an awful lot like being a pastor” – you got it. That’s exactly what they are. The pastors at Alliance have the privilege of doing the task vocationally. But I want to tell you – we have a great group of elders. I don’t run this church. The staff pastors don’t run this church. We serve with a very capable group of gifted men God has given to this church. And I can tell you, without hesitation, they love you and it’s their desire to serve and lead you well.
So first, elders shepherd the church. Secondly, the participle, they shepherd by exercising oversight – that is, they have the spiritual oversight responsibility of the flock. And notice how elders are not supposed to do that:
- They are to do so voluntarily, not under compulsion. That is, they have a desire to shepherd and oversee the flock. They shouldn’t be forced into it. The first qualification given in I Timothy 3 is actually in verse 1 – if anyone desires the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
- They are to do the task with eagerness – and not for sordid or unseemly gain. In other words, elders aren’t elders, pastors aren’t pastors for the money. Many in the prosperity movement need to read that verse.
- And third, while elders provide oversight, they don’t set themselves up as lords over the church – lording over the church. This comes straight from Jesus’ teaching. Don’t be like the Gentiles, unbelievers, who seek positions of authority to rule over people. Rather, the ones who seek to lead should be servants of all. Instead of lording over the church, they serve as examples to the flock. They should be men you respect and follow, as they follow Christ. They are examples in their lives and conduct. Interesting timing for this sermon, by the way, since we are in the process of electing our elders. They should be men who meet the qualifications of I Timothy 3 – and they should be shepherds who oversee well as servants, and who set the proper example.
And doing so, verse 4 and our last point – they will be rewarded for their faithful work. Peter says, perform these duties well, and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. This is the only place Jesus is referred to as the Chief Shepherd, but a number of places refer to God’s people as sheep, and to Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. The church is His flock – it only makes sense that He is the chief shepherd. It’s interesting, as the chief shepherd, all other under-shepherds are accountable to Him. Further, since pastor is the old English word for shepherd, Jesus is truly the chief pastor or Senior Pastor of this church – not me.
Perform your duties well, and you will receive an unfading crown of glory. People at this time would have made an immediate connection. If you won an Olympic event, you received a laurel wreath – which faded quickly with time. But here, Peter says the crown given by Christ to His faithful under-shepherds will never fade – it is eternal.
Here’s the point for today. God has given leaders in the church called elders. They are responsible to shepherd the flock of God – voluntarily, with eagerness, without allowing the authority to go to their heads, and not for personal gain. In the midst of hardship – certainly persecution against the church – but in the midst of hardship of any kind principally, shepherd the flock of God, well. He loves the church so much, He bought it with His own blood.