September 14, 2014

The Shepherds and the Flock - Sep 14, 2014

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When I was a kid we used to visit my grandparents in Faulkton, South Dakota. Out in back of the house my uncle Mike had a couple of dogs that he took care of.

These weren’t show dogs. They were what you’d call “mutts”. And they were a bit of a rescue effort. Whoever had owned these dogs previously had treated them harshly, and it showed.

I can’t remember the names of the dogs, but I do remember that one of them was missing an eye. You had to be careful when you approached him. His hearing wasn’t so good, so if you came up on his blindside you were likely to startle the little beast and get yourself bitten. And even if you approached from the right side, more often than not the dog would slink away from your touch.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Dog is supposed to be man’s best friend, greeting its owner with excitement and energy, not slinking away in fear. Clearly, there is a right way to treat animals, and a wrong way.
And the same is true when it comes to the people of God’s Church. There’s a right way for us to treat one another which leads to peace, harmony, and spiritual growth. And there’s a wrong way to treat each another which leads to friction, fear, and spiritual stagnation.

In our sermon reading for today, the Apostle Peter teaches the right way to be a leader in God’s Church, and also how the flock should interact with their shepherds, and one another.

1 Peter 5:1-5 (NASB)

1Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
5You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.
When Jesus described the Church of God, he didn’t use the analogy of a dog and his master. Instead, he used the analogy of a shepherd and his flock of sheep. In our text Peter uses the same comparison.

As our Savior from sin, Jesus is our caring shepherd. He leads us, he feeds us, he protects our souls from danger by continually revealing our sins to us and bringing us back to the Gospel of forgiveness.

As the Good Shepherd of many sheep, Jesus also assigns under-shepherds to watch over us. It is these under-shepherd of Christ that Peter addresses first in our text. Peter knows that leaders in the church need guidance and encouragement in their work. And Peter is well qualified to offer this.

First of all, Peter was himself an elder in the church. He knew what it was like to watch over his fellow believers. He had served as a leader in the church in Jerusalem before persecution drove the apostles out into the larger world. And there is reason to believe that Peter was writing this particular letter from the city of Rome, where we believe he served as an elder shortly before he was martyred for the faith.

Peter was also particularly suited to counsel shepherds because he had witnessed the suffering  and death of the Good Shepherd. He had been taught by Jesus himself, both before Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and after. He knew the importance of Christ’s cross, that it was the only way sinners could stand before God in the final judgment. And so, Peter was well qualified to teach pastors how to shepherd the flock of God, while keeping them focused on the most important message.

Peter was also qualified to counsel the leaders of God’s people because, like them, he was part of the flock also. He too looked forward to sharing in the glory of heaven when Christ returned to round up his flock on the Last Day.

It’s notable that before telling the elders of the churches how to shepherd the people, Peter reminds them of two important events: the suffering of Christ, by which their sins were atoned for, and the glory to come, which was the sure hope of everyone who looked to Christ as their Savior. This made up the prime substance of their shepherding work. Remind the people of the forgiveness they had because of Christ’s suffering in their place, and remind the people of the glory that was to come to those who held on to Christ by faith.
From these pillars of the Christian faith, Peter then moved on to address the “hows” of shepherding God’s flock.

First of all, elders in the church were to have the right attitude. They weren’t to serve as elders in the church because they were forced to. Rather, elders in the church were to serve because they chose to. They wanted to. Sure, they were elected to serve as elders by the congregation, but they were to recognize that this wasn’t just an assignment forced on them by others, this was an assignment graciously given to them by God. And if it was God’s will for them to serve as elders, then they should gladly do the will of God.

This is the right attitude when it comes to service in God’s church. And I think we all understand why attitude is important. The worker who does something because it’s “his job”, often does shoddy work, just good enough to be passable. But the worker who does something because it’s his PASSION, that’s the kind of worker you want.
Secondly, the elders of the church were to serve with the right emotion.

We’re not told which shepherds got paid, and how they got paid, and how much, or with what. But we are told that some leaders in the church were paid so that as they devoted their time to serving their fellow Christians, they would have what was needed for daily life.

But elders weren’t supposed to serve in the church for the PURPOSE of getting paid. And they weren’t supposed to use their position as a way to get stuff for themselves. Greed wasn’t to motivate their service in any way.

But all the same, they were to serve with enthusiasm. It’s sad how money can wield so much power over the way we do things. A common way of thinking is that if you’re getting paid for it, you better do a good job! But if you’re not, well, then do whatever you feel like doing.

This wasn’t the way leaders in the church were to act. Money, or no money. Appreciation, or no appreciation. Either way, the leaders in God’s church were to serve with enthusiasm, knowing that it was God whom they were ultimately working for.

In Colossians it is written…

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV).
Thirdly, in shepherding  God’s flock, the elders of the church were to use the right method.

The rulers of secular government might rule with an iron fist, but that wasn’t the way Christ’s representatives were to govern the church. Instead of making rule after rule and imposing harsh punishments for those who didn’t get things right, the leaders of God’s flock were to serve the people in a way that was a good example for the people to follow.

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “Be the change you want to see in the world” (Mahatma Ghandi). This was the method that Christ’s under-shepherds were to employ.  Sure, they would teach God’s Word verbally. Sure, they would rebuke bad behavior. Yes, they would gently correct their fellow Christians when appropriate. But the way they went about every aspect of their ministry was to be a good example for others to see and emulate.

This is a high calling, and when leaders in God’s church meditate on how God has called them to carry out their ministry, we can’t help but feel inadequate. For who can say they have always served as a good example for their fellow Christians. Sins stain our thoughts, our choices, our words, the way we deal with situations, and even the counsel we give.

And yet, even in connection with our sins we can serve as good examples to the flock. We can openly admit our faults and failings. We can apologize, and ask to be forgiven. We can bring our sins to Jesus through prayer, trusting that in Him we will find everlasting forgiveness. Perhaps this is why Christ set sinful human beings as leaders in his Church instead of holy angels. For when we bring our sins, and the sins of others to Christ for forgiveness, what better example can be set for those whose hope rests in Christ Jesus?
Voluntary service, eager service, and service by example—this was how the leaders in God’s church were to serve. And while seeking to serve in this way, the elders of the churches were to remember that THIS FLOCKDIDN’T BELONG TO THEM, and IT DIDN’T BELONG TO THE PEOPLE EITHER—it was GOD’S FLOCK. The congregation was made up of people bought by the precious blood of God’s own Son.

And since this was God’s flock, the elders were also to remember that they weren’t the CHIEF SHEPHERD. That was Jesus. And that was a good thing. For one day the Chief Shepherd would appear. And Peter says that with him he will bring an unfading crown of glory for his shepherds, and all his flock.

Crowns symbolize different things. In the Olympic games of ancient Greece, a crown of laurel leaves was given to the winner of each event. It symbolized victory. This is the crown Jesus will give each one of us on the last day. A crown that says, “In Christ I have triumphed. In Christ I stand forgiven.”

It was this crown that Peter encouraged the elders to think about as they went about serving their fellow Christians.
But what about the flock? So far we’re heard a lot about how the leaders of the flock are to act. But what about the flock itself?

In the final words of our reading for today Peter addresses the congregation in general. He says…

5You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NASB).

For the younger men in the congregation, those who weren’t elders yet, Peter says, “Know your place. Order yourselves under the leaders that God has put over you for your blessing.”

And to everyone in the congregation, Peter says, “Be humble. Put each other first.”

The analogy of a flock of sheep helps us to visualize what Peter is teaching. Imagine the scene. A shepherd walks through a narrow gate, leading his flock. If the flock is panicky, they cram into the doorway, wedging against each other, slowing the progress of the flock, and injuring the weak. But if the sheep fall in line calmly, things move smoothly, and the slower, weaker sheep don’t get hurt, or left behind.

5You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (1 Peter 5:5 NASB).
On the night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples…

34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35 ESV).

There is a connection between the love which Jesus spoke of, and the humility that Peter encourages in our text. You could say that humility is a manifestation of love. Godly humility is love in action.

When you love someone, you want what is good for them. You’re willing to put your own needs on hold, for them. When our interaction with fellow Christians is marked by humility, we are showing love. And as Jesus said, love is one of the things that marks Christ’s followers as his own redeemed people.

And you know, the versatile thing about humility, is that it can be practiced in almost every situation. Whether you’re serving as a pastor or a teacher, an elder or a deacon, a builder or a cleaner, a musician or a singer, a leader or a helper—in all these roles we can clothe ourselves with humility, and thus show the love we have received and learned from Christ.
When it comes to animals, there is a right way to treat them, and to train them. And in the flock of God, there’s a right way too. A right way for leaders to lead. A right way for the flock to follow. May the Holy Spirit bless the portion of God’s flock that gathers here at Redemption Church so that our elders lead according to God’s instruction, and we all show ourselves to be Christ’s people by exhibiting the love and humility that mark us as His own.


The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.

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