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Shepherd The Flock

Updated: Jun 4, 2023




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Shepherding was a common occupation in the ancient Mediterranean world. It was one in which shepherds were responsible for protecting and caring for their flock. Shepherding also has a rich history in the Scriptures. One of the earliest biblical shepherds we read of is Abel.


Abel was a "keeper of the flocks" (Gen. 4:2). Abraham had great flocks and herds (Gen. 24:35). Jacob cared for Laban's flocks (Gen. 29-30). Joseph tended to flocks (Gen 37:2, 12; 46:32–34; 47:3). Moses tended to the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro (Ex. 3:1) and David, the great king of Israel. When we are first introduced to David, we are introduced to him as a shepherd caring for his father's flocks (1 Sam 16:11, 19; 17:15). It's a remarkable study to consider shepherds through the Old Testament as we move forward in the biblical story to the "Chief Shepherd," Jesus (1 Peter 5:4).


In (1 Peter 5), as Peter concludes his letter, he addresses Shepherds and the flock. So in our studies today, I would like for us to consider Shepherds (1 Peter 5:1-4).


In The Text


1 Peter 5:1–4

"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ's sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."


With the New International Version and other translations, it is easy to miss the flow of thought. It seems like Peter jumps to a new thought. Peter has been encouraging Christians who stand out amid the background of their culture and who are experiencing injustices and suffering for not following the current of their culture. However, Peter is not shifting his thoughts or jumping to a new topic. Notice how the New American Standard Bible begins chapter 5:


1 Peter 5:1 (NASB95)

"Therefore, 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" (EMPH. ADDED)


It begins with the word "Therefore," and I believe it better captures the original language for us. Peter is continuing to encourage Christians who are suffering for following the life of Jesus, notice (5:8-9):


1 Peter 5:8–9

"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings." (EMPH. ADDED)


Peter is continuing his thoughts, so why is Peter encouraging shepherds, and how is this connected to suffering and the hope we share in Christ that Peter has been discussing throughout this letter?


Elders, Shepherds, & Overseers


Peter, an Apostle of Jesus, makes his appeal to the elders by identifying himself (1) with his fellow elders, (2) as a witness to Christ's sufferings, and as (3) one who will participate with them in the glory to be revealed. His appeal is based on something other than apostolic authority, although he could have done so. Peter identifies with those who are suffering for following the way of Christ. Peter is not unaware of the trials and sufferings experienced by those who follow Christ, and he is participating with them in the glory to be revealed as they look forward in hopeful expectation of the Lord's return.


1 Peter 5:1

"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ's sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed"

The New Testament often uses the language of elders, shepherds, and overseers to describe different aspects of the same function. We see this in the (5:1-2).


1 Peter 5:1–2 (NKJV)

"The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly"


Elder (πρεσβύτερος) describes someone senior or older.

Shepherd (ποιμαίνω) is someone who tends and feeds

Overseerer (ἐπισκοπέω) is someone who is aware and looks diligently


These words are used throughout the New Testament to describe different aspects of one who serves the church in such a capacity. What develops is not a picture of authoritarian leadership but of nurturing care and service.


What A Shepherd Is NOT


Unfortunately, we have seen and perhaps experienced examples of this servant role abused in the church. Peter emphasizes the nature and character of those who serve the church in this capacity for this very reason.


1 Peter 5:2–4

"Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away."


a. Shepherds are to be people who are willing. It is important to recognize that shepherds of the Lord's church should not be "pressured" into fulfilling this responsibility. In the face of trials and persecution, someone pressured into fulfilling this responsibility will likely abandon their commitment. Shepherds should exemplify a faithful commitment to stand firm in the Lord amid trials.


b. A shepherd is a person eager to serve from pure motives. Shepherds who serve with false motives only serve to devour the flock.


Ezekiel 34:1–6

"The word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them."


A shepherd should be eager to serve from pure motives.


c. A shepherd should be an example of faithfulness. Ezekiel speaks of shepherds who have ruled harshly and brutally. As a result, the flock was scattered. Shepherds are not to "lord" over the flock (5:3) but serve as models for others to follow. They are not to drive the family of God out but lead in mature Christian character.


Those who serve with the character and nature of Christ will receive a never fading "crown of glory" (5:4).


Bridging The Context


Why is Peter encouraging shepherds, and how is this connected to his letter? Shepherds must be willing to serve faithfully and stand steadfastly in the faith during trials and persecution as examples to the church. They also need to be those who strengthen and bind up the wounded as they seek for all to remain in the fold.


I am hard-pressed to think of a greater responsibility someone could have than serving as a shepherd in the Lord's church.


"James A. Garfield was the twentieth president of the United States, serving less than four months before he was assassinated. He was a member of the church and served as an elder. When Garfield relinquished his role as elder, it is said that he stated, "I resign the highest office in the land to become president of the United States." Serving as an elder in Christ's church is the highest position a man can attain on this earth.”(1)


The church needs faithful followers of Christ as we continue to share the good news of God's kingdom in our world today.




notes:

Unless otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from: Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.


(NASB95) New American Standard Bible; Copyright 1995

(NKJV) New King James Version; Copyright 1982


(1) Jackson, Wayne. “The Awesome Responsibility of Church Leadership.” Christian Courier, christiancourier.com/articles/the-awesome-responsibility-of-church-leadership. Accessed 3 June 2023.


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