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TEXT: I Peter 5:1-4
SUBJECT: I Peter #15: Undershepherds
'Submission' is one of the key words in Peter's first Epistle. He cites the example of Christ several times, and urges us to follow Him, to be the humble and submissive person that He was when He lived among us. No one has or can live up to His standards, of course, but we ought to do our best...to do our best, to be as Christlike as we can be, especially in the area of submitting ourselves to God's glory and the good of His people.
The word 'submission' simply means to 'come under' somebody, to put his or her needs above your own, as Paul says--
To esteem others better than yourself.
In developing his theme, Peter applies it to several relationships: (a) our relationship to God occupies the first place, but also (b) the citizen's relationship to the civil powers, (c) the servant's to his master, and then, (d) the wife to her husband. In every case, Peter uses the same word: 'be submissive', come under God's unlimited authority, and the narrower authority of king, master, or husband.
The duty must be very important to Peter because, having left it for the most part, at the end of Chapter 3, he picks it up again in Chapter 5, applying it to younger people submitting to their elders (v.5a) and, then each of us to each other (v.5b).
When I was a boy, I loved a cartoon called, Goofy Gophers. If I remember correctly, it was sometimes featured on The Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner Show. The two gophers were named Mac and Tosh, and--unlike The Simpsons, Southpark, and today's rude and snarky cartoons, they were extremely polite! When they came to a door, it took them a long time to get through it because each esteemed the other better than himself--
No, after you.
I insist, after you...
The Gophers were outdoing each other in courtesy, not only willing for the other to go first, but sincerely wanting him to.
Peter wants us to be like the Goofy Gophers! He wants us to--
Be submissive to one another.
But then, in 5:1-4, he singles out the elders, or pastors of the church, and he doesn't tell them to submit to anybody--not directly, he doesn't. This has led to a great deal of abuse in the church, where shepherds, who should have been caring for God's sheep, have instead ignored them or sheared them, or even butchered them! Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel lambaste the shepherds of Israel for doing this, and, in the New Testament, the Lord is no easier on the leaders of the church.
Not even the best pastor has all the pastoral gifts, and from a New Testament point-of-view, this is no problem because churches should have teams of pastors, and not just one. When it comes to Church Government, the Bible is very vague, and if you study the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Congregational church models today, you'll see there's truth in all of them. How we combine the best of each while filtering out the worst is way above my pay grade! And not the topic of today's text.
Peter knows that the various churches he's writing to have multiple pastors, and he wants us to live up to our calling, to be pastors in deed--and not in word only.
He doesn't tell us all we ought to be doing--no one passage does that--but what he tells is plenty to chew on for a very long time.
THE PEOPLE TO WHOM HE'S WRITING.
As I said a few minutes ago, Peter has singled out particular classes in the church for special exhortations, husbands, wives, employees, citizens, and so on. Here, he does it again, directing the first four verses of Chapter 5 to--
The elders who are among you.
Paper was expensive in those days, and poor men like Peter never wrote a jot or a tittle more than they needed to. This makes me wonder why he didn't simply say, the elders. Why does he add what seems to be the unnecessary elders...who are among you? What other elders could he be referring to: elders who are not among you?
I think I know the answer: Peter is underlining the fact that he's addressing these particular men. He won't let them think that he's writing for hypothetical elders, living, dead, and not yet born. He makes it personal. He wants these elders--men whose names he knows--to live up to their calling. And since I Peter is not only the word of Peter but also the Word of God, God calls your three elders by name, urging us to do the same.
What does he want us to do? Before we get to that, note the word he uses--
The word falls somewhere between 'command' and 'invite'. There's authority in the word, but it's a gentle authority. Peter is not cracking heads! He's not coming down on the less-than-perfect pastors as if they're false shepherds: fools, hypocrites, even criminals.
He takes this tone because he thinks of himself as an elder. Peter has a higher calling than ordinary pastors, but he's still a pastor, bearing the same responsibilities and doing it with the very same weaknesses, blindspots, and remaining sin.
In the second half of v.1, he describes himself in a somewhat surprising way. This fellow-pastor is--
A witness of the suffering of Christ.
In his second Epistle, Peter demonstrates his authority by reminding the readers that he had seen Christ in His glory. But here, he ignores the Transfiguration, the Resurrection, and the Asenscion to God's Right Hand, and points to Christ's suffering.
Why? It's because our Lord's suffering reminds Peter of his own failure. When Jesus needed His friend most, Peter was not there for Him--and more than 'not there for Him', he was there 'against him', three times cursing and swearing that he did not know Him.
Peter doesn't want the pastors to think too highly of themselves or the churches to put these men on a pedestal. Pastors are cut from the same cloth as any other Christian, subject to the same temptations and in need of the same daily grace.
What does Peter want the elders to do> He wants us to--
Shepherd the flock of God.
Whatever else this means, it chiefly means to care for them. To guide them with God's Word, to pray for them, to help them in practical ways. In a somewhat similar passage, Paul says his--and the pastor's job is to be--
Helpers of your joy.
Not horrible Pharisees, jumping down your throat every chance they get; but helping you to keep your joy in this world and have it in full in the world to come!
This is what the pastor is supposed to do. And, as I said a bit earlier, it's why the pastorate is best met by a team of men, and not just one. Many gifts are needed to shepherd the flock of God, and no one man has them all, and even if he did, they'd be unequally developed.
Let the brothers who do better at preaching than visiting do most of the preaching; and vice versa.
In the second part of v.2 and v.3 he tells pastors how to do this work--
Not by constraint, but willingly;
Not for dishonest gain, but eagerly;
Nor as being lords over those entrusted to you,
but being examples to the flock.
Don't do it only because you have to, or because you'll get in trouble if you don't! Don't go into it for the money, but for the work; and whatever you do, don't forget the sheep belong to God, not to you. He has not given the churches to their pastors, but pastors to the churches, to serve them, to love them, and to show them how--
God's service is perfect freedom.
The pastors' reward is commensurate with their work. Because Jesus Christ wants His people to be fed with His Word and gently guided to Heaven, when they get there, the men who helped them on the way will not be forgotten.
Near the beginning of this sermon, I told you that because pastors are nowhere commanded to 'submit to their churches' some of them think they are not accountable, that they can pretty much do what they want, and nobody has the right to questions them.
I hope you know that I don't share this opinion. Pastors are answerable to each other and to the churches they serve. But, above our accountability to man, we are accountable to Christ. Though we're called to shepherd the flock of God, we are not shepherds: we are undershepherds, men who tend a small part of Christ's flock for a few years, at most, and then turn them back over to the Chief Shepherd who will closely inspect them, and assess our work.
Peter knows this judgment awaits all pastors, including himself. He feels the solemnity of this prospect, but he's not scared to death of it.
Because he believes the Gospel himself and knows that as pastors apply to themselves and their churches, the Flock will be healthy and flourishing when Christ gathers them to Himself.
LAW AND GOSPEL
There's a place for the Law in church, for telling people to (a) do this, (b) not that; to do it (c) this way, and (d) not that way; and to do it (e) now, (f) not later. If the New Testament is full of commandments and sometimes detailed instructions, woe to the pastor who never tells anyone to do or not do anything!
But, as important as the Law is in the church, it is always--always--secondary to the Gospel! Thus, as pastors try to preach the Word of God from the pulpit or teach it in a Bible study or counsel people with it, let them never get Law and Gospel backward! Let us always keep the Gospel where it belongs, let us always be--as Paul said--
Ministers of the New Covenant.
As we pastors look at today's passage, let us be broken and humbled, broken for ever thinking the church belongs to us and humbled under the weight of our duty and its evaluation.
But let us also be joyful, that God calls broken men to this work, and somehow uses us to advance His cause in the world. If only perfect, or nearly perfect, men could be pastors, the Church would still be waiting for one to show up! We're all bad pastors, but thank God a Good Spirit works in us--
Both to will and to do of His good pleasure.
To non-pastors, let me say it clearly: your first responsibility is to pray for your pastors. We're not above criticism, and sometimes we need it. But the Lord doesn't call you to pick, pick, pick at our scabs, but to pray for our healing. And, allow us, however imperfectly we try, to help you on your way to Heaven.
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