Vol. 7, No. 5
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The apostle Peter identified himself as a "fellow elder" when he addressed those who, in like manner, were entrusted with the sheepfold of God (1 Peter 5:1-5). How fitting it is that just such an address would be made by the one to whom our Lord said repeatedly, "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). In writing these words, Peter personally acknowledged the gravity of this most essential work in the Lord's church. From the current text (1 Peter 1:1-5), we wish to address some points of interest that the apostle recorded to benefit the shepherds of all ages.
Elders are Exhorted to Shepherd. Peter says, "The elders who are among you I exhort, shepherd the flock of God" (v.1-2a). The concept of shepherding is not new for the Lord's people. God has always required that those of wisdom, age and character set the example and guide the path of those who would follow him; with what great vehemence he opposes those who fail by apathy and neglect (see: Ezekiel 34:1-6)!
Elders are eager to serve: "serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly" (v.2b). Eagerness is a quality fast losing virtue. It seems fewer people are eager to do any "thankless" work. The value of mental diligence and/or physical labor seems less attractive to every generation. An elder is a person who does not have to be prodded or begged to see spiritual needs; he sees them by virtue of his deeply cultivated respect for souls. To this state, he has risen by serving his Lord; in this state, he continues to improve, knowing he has never arrived (Philippians 3:12). He, like every Christian, must remember his voluntary compulsion to serve God and man before himself, in the example of Christ (Matthew 22:37-39; cf. Philippians 2:5-11).
Elders are entrusted with souls: "nor as being lords over those entrusted to you" (v.3a). Have you ever considered the above solemn thought when reading Hebrews 13:17? It is our opinion that men would be far less likely to criticize otherwise faithful elders, and to complain about petty matters if they would more often remember this salient truth. There is certainly scriptural place for objection when matters of faith are under consideration, and the church is responsible for this (1 Timothy 5:1, 19). However, take special notice that the Spirit of God spoke to the negative first, "receive not" and "rebuke not," (cf. 1 Timothy 5:1,19) as if to warn us of the great potential danger of one's soul who unjustly accuses these men.
Elders are examples to saints: "but being examples to the flock" (v.3b). Example is a lofty theme. We learn to love properly in the example of God himself (Romans 5:8, NKJV). We learn to honor God in the example of Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1-3). We learn to suffer hardships, liberties of opinion and persecution by the example of Christ (1 Peter 2:19-21). Surely, there is nothing God requires us to do that he has not done through example, particularly in the person and work of Christ. Elders are to personify on earth the type of life that is honorable and praiseworthy before the Father, that we may follow their steps unto eternal glory.
Elders are exalted by the Savior: "and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (v.4). Imagine something more humbling than Christ toiling similarly as we do. As the carpenter once said of Jesus, "I don't know right where his shed may have stood, But often as I've been a planing my wood, I've took off my hat just when thinking of he, At the same work as me" (J. Paterson Smyth, qtd. in John Stott, The Incomparable Christ, IVP, 2001, p. 133). The often-thankless work of elders is physically, emotionally and spiritually rigorous. But they may always take heart that they are enduring all things along side him who labors with them [Jesus], shepherding the flock of God.
May God bless each of them as they labor faithfully, that they may serve with joy, not grief, and lead the Christ-like host to heavenly bliss. May each of us who serve humbly by the side of faithful elders encourage them, esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake, thank them and pray for them daily as they serve the Good Shepherd along with us.