As we look around the world today it is clear that these are times of trial and persecution for many Christians. At the moment we think particularly of those going through great suffering in East Timor, in Ambon, Indonesia and in the Sudan. Here in this country some of you in CYFA may be facing persecution at school, others of you may face the same at college or at work or from your family. (See Mt 5:11).
There is certainly opposition to the truth of the gospel from some in the church (See 2 Timothy 3). Those who stand up for the true faith and for Biblical truth face opposition from bishops, some of whom are false shepherds while others are weak. Over the summer you may have heard Richard Holloway, the Primus of the Episcopal Church of Scotland, making godless comments on morality, to quote his book. On Radio 4 this past week the Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey was weak in his defence of the resurrection and then refused to condemn outright the use of the morning after pill. 1 Peter 4:17 states:
"For it is time for judgement to begin with the house of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God".
In the midst of suffering and persecution, which we must not be surprised about, the Apostle Peter calls his readers and us today to stand fast in the faith. Look at v.12 of 1 Peter 5:
"I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it".
And, in the preceding 11 verses of chapter 5, Peter calls for two attitudes which we are to display as we stand fast and if we are to continue to stand fast and encourage others to stand fast, both as leaders and otherwise: humility toward others and bold resistance to evil. In vv.1-4 Peter recognised first that such times demand godly, humble, servant spiritual leadership, that leaders in the church are to be true shepherds and not hirelings. And so since purifying judgement is beginning with God's house, and especially with the leaders of God's house, therefore I exhort the elders among you, says Peter, - "Be shepherds of God's flock", my first heading:
First - ELDERS: BE SHEPHERDS OF GOD'S FLOCK vv.1-4
Look at vv.1-4.
1 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: 2 Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers--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. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
Peter appeals to the elders or pastors among you, be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers. Be shepherds of God's flock and keep on being shepherds in times of suffering. Leaders who run away in times of difficulty only prove that they are hirelings and not true shepherds (Jn 10:12-14).
But what does being a shepherd of God's flock involve? and there are principles here for all of us who have some of God's flock under our care as Home Group leaders, youth leaders, Focus leaders and other small group leaders. Jesus is the Chief Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, the only Lord of the flock but he calls some of his sheep to serve him as shepherds, to walk in his steps, to be undershepherds of God's flock that is under their care. Shepherds lead, feed, protect and care for the sheep. A good shepherd will know each of his sheep by name. The Good Shepherd does know each of his sheep by name. In John 21:15-19 when Jesus recommissioned Peter, Jesus charged Peter to feed his sheep and tend them. But it's instructive that Jesus first asked Peter about his love for him three times.
"Peter do you truly love me?" "Yes Lord you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." Again Jesus said, " Do you truly love me?" Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." The third time he said to Peter, "Do you love me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time. He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me."
Do we love Jesus? Are we prepared to follow the Chief Shepherd and feed and serve his sheep even though that could cost us our lives? Jesus the good shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. You see the care of pastors for their flock will be proportional to their care for the Lord. Love for Christ will kindle compassion for Christ's sheep, for the little ones for whom Christ died. Love for the Lord will motivate elders to imitate the care of the Good Shepherd. A love for the Lord which involves both our wills and our emotions according to the words for love used by Jesus in John 21. Jesus leads his sheep by going before them.
So too the undershepherd is to lead God's flock by walking on ahead. The undershepherd is not to be a cowboy. The cowboy drives the herd of cattle, the undershepherd leads the flock by going on ahead. Central to the work of the shepherd is the feeding of the flock. They led the flock from pasture to pasture so that they could be adequately fed. Pastors are to lead their people into the green pastures of the Word of God so they can feed and grow. In the reading we had from Ezekiel 34:3 the false shepherds are condemned for taking from the flock to feed themselves rather than giving of themselves to feed the flock.
Jesus guards his sheep. The undershepherds are to protect God's people from those who want to harm the flock. Paul encourages the Ephesian elders in Acts 20 to guard against the wolves, the false teachers, that circle the flock and who may appear in the midst of the sheep, sometimes in sheep's clothing. Sometimes a shepherd will have to seek out a lost or wayward sheep and give it some personal attention. Again Jesus is the example. He took time to visit and speak to Zacchaeus. He took time with Peter himself. In caring for God's flock the Apostle Paul ministered to people personally in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 2:11) and loved them dearly.
Peter in this letter speaks a great deal about loving one another deeply - both shepherds and sheep. At the close of the day the shepherd would examine each sheep to see if it needed special attention and, for example, would remove briars from the wool. Undershepherds need to be exercising watchful care over the sheep - which is part of what it means to be serving as overseers. Not in a heavy way but in a loving and serving way for the benefit of the sheep. So undershepherds are not to be leading the sheep in their own ways but by and into the Word of the Lord. And the flock does not belong to the undershepherd - they are God's sheep purchased by the precious blood of his Son. Also, as v.4 reminds us, elders must be careful how they shepherd God's sheep for one day they will have to give an account of their ministry. Though the sheep will also one day give an account of how they have obeyed their spiritual leaders. Hebrews 13:17 says,
"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."
How are we shepherding the sheep? How are we serving as overseers? Are we among as well as over God's flock? As someone has said: "Sheep cannot be managed by telecommunication". Which leads us on to the second half of v.2 and v.3 which prompt the questions in what way? in what manner? with what motive, behaviour and action are elders to serve as shepherds and as overseers? Peter says first, be shepherds serving as overseers, "not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be". Not reluctantly, but willingly. We're not to serve simply out of obligation or grudgingly but because we are willing, as God wants us to be. Are we willing? Now there will be effort involved, there will be hard work and long hours sometimes. But if we are serving only because we feel we must then it will be purely grudging service and probably not very effective. God wants our ungrudging service.
Second Peter says be shepherds of God's flock and serve as overseers, not greedy for money, but eager to serve. Not for shameful gain, but eagerly. The true shepherd is eager to serve. He loves the sheep whereas a hireling only works because he is paid for it. Are we eager to serve at the start of this term? We are to guard against greed and selfish interest which are so near at hand in all human hearts. I've mentioned before that a vicar in the last diocese I was in made an extra £200,000 in 5 years by charging for every baptism and wedding interview and rehearsal!
Third Peter says be shepherds and serve as overseers, not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. Pastors are to be overseers and not overlords. There should not be any heavy shepherding which was certainly popular in some house churches some years ago. There should be servant leadership not dictatorship. It has been said that the church needs leaders who serve and servants who lead. We are to be examples even in times of stress, pressure and trial. We are to be Christlike.
"And, when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" (verse 4).
It is tempting for Christian leaders to work for many kinds of rewards, for example: the building of personal empires, the applause of men or promotion in the denomination. The only reward that will not fade away is the crown of glory given by Christ to faithful elders when he returns. The crown of life and the crown of righteousness is given to all believers and refers to the heavenly life in general. But this is a special reward. Be faithful elders, be shepherds, serve as overseers, in spite of the suffering and pressure and be encouraged - you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Well we now move from the humble rule of Christ's elders to the humble service of Christ's people in vv.5-11. So:
Secondly, YOUNG MEN: BE SUBJECT TO THE ELDERS v.5
Peter now briefly addresses the young men in the church and says be submissive to the elders. Peter is not saying that only the young men are to be submissive to the elders. No everybody in the church is to be submissive to the governing authority of faithful elders. But perhaps the younger people and especially the young men needed a particular reminder to be submissive. The word be subject or be submissive literally means a general willingness to support the elders directions, unless they direct people to sin. What it doesn't mean is give up your youthful enthusiasm and ideas, energy and service.
Thirdly, ALL OF YOU: BE HUMBLE TOWARD EACH OTHER v.5b
Now Peter addresses everybody in the church - elders, leaders and members - and continues to do so for the rest of the chapter. Look at vv.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.
The word humility here means an attitude which puts others first. So we are to put on an attitude which puts others first. Philippians 2:3-4 defines it well:
"Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than or more important than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others".
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who is the supreme example of this. Apart from imitating Christ why are we to clothe ourselves with humility towards one another? Because,
"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble".
Why does God oppose the proud but gives grace to the humble? Because the proud, who are arrogant and think of themselves as more important than everyone else, trust in themselves and seek glory for themselves; while the humble trust in God and give glory to God. God delights in being trusted and the glory rightfully belongs to God. Therefore says Peter whatever your responsibility in the church:
"Humble yourselves under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxieties on him because he cares for you".
Bow to his wisdom, accept his will and give him all your concerns and in due time he will exalt you or lift you up, to share Christ's glory when the Chief Shepherd returns. Look again at v.7. In the original this is not a new sentence and this phrase tells us how to gain humility - by casting all our anxieties on him, for he cares about us. One barrier to putting others first and thinking of them as more important is the concern, 'But who will then care for me?' For those who are elders the concern could be, 'Who pastors the pastor?' The answer is that God himself will care for our needs. He is able to do so far better than we are for his hand is mighty and he wants to care for our needs, for he continually cares for his children, says v.7. "Therefore casting all your anxieties on him is the path to humility, freeing a person from constant concern for himself and enabling him or her to be truly concerned for the needs of others." (Grudem)
Fourthly, BE SELF CONTROLLED AND ALERT vv.8-9
All of you be self controlled and alert. Why? Look at v.8.
"Our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour."
We are to be spiritually alert. As all the work gets underway this term there is the genuine danger of attacks by the enemy who is like a prowling lion. And a prowling lion attacks suddenly, viciously, and often when its unsuspecting victim is engaged in routine activities. Are we spirtually alert or spiritually drowsy? Ready to resist or ready to be devoured? Be sober and watchful. But Christians are not to fear this formidable enemy. "He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world." Instead we are to, v.9,
"resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings".
Resist the devil, standing firm in the faith and God will give the Christian victory. James 4:7 tells us to resist the devil and he will flee from you. How should we resist the devil? We are to resist standing firm in the faith. And Ephesians 6:10-18 tells us to put on the whole armour of God, to pray, to use the Word of God, to stand with other believers. "Christians must resist, expecting that the enemy will flee, God's kingdom will advance and they will grow in faith and holiness through conflict." (Grudem) And, v.9b, there is encouragement to resist from knowing that others are experiencing the same kind of sufferings, that others are facing the same spiritual battle. Which brings us to the last two verses and my final heading:
Fifthly, GOD WILL RESTORE YOU AND MAKE YOU STRONG, FIRM AND STEADFAST vv.10-11
Look at vv.10-11:
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.
The suffering and the attacks of the devil which accompany the suffering and which are the cause of some of the suffering will not last forever. Indeed after you have suffered a little while the God of all grace will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. And don't forget he has called us to his eternal glory in Christ. Here is promise of abundant grace sufficient to overcome any kind of suffering in this life. What encouragement as we press on, fight, contend, evangelise, preach the Word and shepherd the sheep in the face of opposition but with many opportunities. Finally v.11 appropriately looks to God's power and rule over a world where so much evil is present, a world so badly in need of God's just reign: To him be the power or dominion for ever and ever.