St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

The Undershepherds of Christ

Sermon on 1 Peter 5:1-4

Text: 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: 2 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; 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.

There are a number of instances in the gospels when Jesus began a parable by speaking of a king or a master leaving for a journey and leaving his servants in charge. For example, we read in Mark 13:34, “It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.” The parable’s meaning has to do with the fact that, while our Savior is in heaven, he has given each of us certain tasks to do until he returns on the Last Day. This morning, Peter highlights one of those tasks, as he speaks to the elders, or in our church vernacular, the pastors. Let us spend a few moments and look at THE UNDERSHEPHERDS OF CHRIST. We will look at 1. The Job Description, 2. The Qualifications, and 3. The Reward.

Peter wrote this first letter to the early church to encourage them in the face of persecution. He pointed them back to their Savior as the reason to stand firm as they were being persecuted. Then, he showed them how they were to live their Christianity in the middle of a pagan world. They were to commit themselves to God’s care and continue to do what is good. In order to do so, they needed to be constantly encouraged by God’s Word. For that reason, it was natural that Peter turns his attention to the spiritual leaders of God’s people.

Peter begins by saying, “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.” (Verse 1) Peter describes himself to add urgency to what he was saying. He wasn’t just anybody. He was one of the 12 chosen ones by Jesus. He had been a witness to Jesus’ works and teaching. He was a witness to Jesus’ suffering and resurrection. Peter knew what was at stake for these persecuted believers, because he speaks of sharing in the glory that will be revealed, namely heaven. This was, literally, a life and death issue.

It is for this reason that he speaks so emphatically to the elders of the congregations of his day and the pastors throughout the centuries, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” (Verse 2) Be a shepherd to the people. It may well be that Jesus’ words to Peter, found in John 21, were still ringing in his ears. There Jesus told him to feed his sheep and to feed his lambs. Actually, the word “pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd.” The pastor, the shepherd, is to feed and water his flock with the Word of God. This means that, first of all, there must be the pronouncement of the law. All of us must see very clearly that we cannot live the perfect life that God demands in order to enter heaven. We have sinned with our thoughts, our words, and our actions. These wounding words are never spoken out of hatred, but out of love. Then, having convicted, the pastor has awesome opportunity to tell the members of his flock that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came and laid down his life for us, the wandering sheep. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we become part of the flock of the Good Shepherd. His under-shepherd, the pastor, feeds and waters the flock entrusted to his care. He also uses that Word and the Sacraments to strengthen the flock on their daily walk.

In addition, the pastor shepherds the flock by defending them. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing that would love to take one from the flock of Jesus. The pastor is there to teach the flock the truths of God’s Word, so that they are not easily swayed or distracted by the cunning lies of all of the false teaching that is so prevalent. The job description is really quite simple: Be a shepherd.

Then, Peter talks to those who are the shepherds as to their motivation for carrying out this task. First of all, he says, “Not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be.” (Verse 2) They are to serve by free choice, not by compulsion. Unlike the Aaronic priesthood, being a pastor is not hereditary. No one should ever be pressured or guilted into the ministry. This is not to say that we shouldn’t encourage those who have the talents and the abilities. Sometimes, people need that encouragement when they doubt if they can do it. Yet, they should never feel as though they have to. The pastor must serve willingly to please God. He does so willingly, with the sole purpose of pleasing God. By doing so, he demonstrates his love and thankfulness to God.

Next Peter writes, “Not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve.” (Verse 2) God’s people are served when their leaders are not in it for the money. While the Calling body is obligated to provide a decent living for their workers and families, the worker has a solemn obligation not to be motivated by money. They should never give the impression that they would be willing to do more work, if they were paid more. Rather, it should be that, when they see a need, they act promptly whether they are paid more for the action or not. They should be eager to serve. They are to be filled with enthusiasm in the task of serving God’s people. They find their satisfaction in serving Christ, not money.

Finally, Peter notes that the shepherd’s attitude is, “Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” (Verse 3) There is not to be a slave/master relationship, where the pastor is in control of all things. He is not to make high-handed autocratic rules over the flock. The pastor is not to abuse the position of authority that they are in. We think of the way that the apostles, such as Peter or Paul, acted as they served their people. They never used their apostolic office for personal gain. They placed themselves among the people. God’s people are served when the leaders see themselves as servants to God’s people. He is to set an example for the people of service to others as one way that they can serve God. God wants his church to be led by men who will use their authority as pastors to bring blessings to the flock, not for selfish gain.

Will there ever be a perfect pastor, one who always follows all of these guidelines that Peter lists here? Absolutely not! The pastor is still a sinner. He will fail, on occasion, to measure up to these standards. Yet, just as the rest of the flock, he can come to his Good Shepherd and ask for forgiveness, knowing that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection has paid for that sin, too. He can ask that God would strengthen him so that he can go forward in service as the shepherd to the flock that has been entrusted to him.

Finally, let’s look at what reward there is for the faithful shepherd. “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” (Verse 4) God’s people are served when the pastor subdues his hunger for flattery or compliments as the reward they are seeking. Otherwise, they will just do or say whatever makes them popular. If that is all that they are seeking, they will be completely let down when they don’t come or come as often as they want. Rather, they are to faithfully serve and let the Lord take care of the rewards and glory. They faithfully serve until the Good Shepherd, Jesus, returns in glory on the Last Day. That will be when the Good Shepherd gives his under-shepherds their reward. Then, he will say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21) This is still a part of the joy that the Christian gets when they serve God. They don’t do it to earn something from God. They serve because they want to thank God for all that he has done for them. The fact that God promises a reward is another example of God’s undeserved kindness. God blesses his faithful workers.

It is good for us to think about the pastoral ministry, from time to time. This is especially true at this moment when there are smaller and smaller classes of men studying to be a pastor. For example, this year 27 men graduated from our Seminary. There are over 130 pastoral vacancies. It appears that this trend will continue for the next number of years. We know that the work of the Lord will go on. Yet, are there young men that we might encourage to consider serving the Lord full-time as a pastor? Is there someone who might consider serving as a second career choice? We pray that the Lord would continue to lead young men to consider the pastoral ministry. We thank our God that he has given us faithful shepherds in the past. We ask that he would continue to give us shepherds in the future. We pray all of this in the name of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Amen.