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Entries in Elders (1)


Serving the Head Shepherd

Today we will be looking at 1 Peter 5:1-4.  In this passage Peter speaks to the elders within the Christian body.  Although you may not be an elder in the Church it is instructive to all of us how God would have us serve in any position of authority, whether as a parent, Sunday School Teacher, or fellow Christian.

Called To Be Elders And Overseers

Peter first lets us know that God calls some within his people to serve as Elders and Overseers.  The word elder refers to someone who is spiritually mature and wise.  Although it has an age aspect, the spiritual maturity is the emphasis not as much as age.  Thus Paul warns Timothy not to make a new Christian an elder, even though they may be physically older than others who are serving as elders.  The Greek word that is translated as elder is where we get the word presbyter or Presbyterian—more on that later.  Overseer is mentioned in verse 2.  It is more of a reference to one of the duties of an elder.  However it quickly became a title.  The Greek here is where we get the word Episcopalian.  The word bishop also comes from this word.  Throughout the New Testament the words elders and bishop or elders and overseers are used interchangeably.  However throughout history they have taken on different forms from one another.

Peter reminds them that he is a fellow elder, although a “special” kind of elder.  He is also an apostle of Jesus.  He was a witness of the teachings, life, sufferings, death, and resurrection of Christ.  He is not just an witness in that he saw it all.  But he is also a witness in that he is actively telling others what he saw and heard.  Peter was also a “partaker of the glory that will be revealed” (verse 1).  To be a “partaker” is to be one who has a share or portion in an endeavor.  Much like an inheritance, Peter has a portion that belongs to him in the glory that will be revealed.  This is clearly looking forward to that great unveiling of Christ at his Second Coming.  The curtain will be pulled back and the full Glory of Christ will be revealed to the nations.  However, Peter had “partaken” or had a “taste test” at the Transfiguration.  This event can be read about in the gospels.  Peter also speaks of it in 2 Peter 1:16-19.  Peter says that they were eye witnesses of his “majesty.”  What Peter had a taste of the other elders could only imagine and wait for the Second Coming.

At this point it would be helpful to have a brief, historical reminder of the governance of the Church that developed and changed through the centuries.  As Christians spread out and converted others to Jesus the groups began to grow and quickly needed leaders.  Thus we see in the New Testament a development of elders who would serve the spiritual needs of the Church and deacons who would serve the natural needs of the Church.  Generally one of the elders would stand out as a “leading elder.”  In fact generally such lead elders from larger churches would tend to have influence and sway with the elders of smaller or more rural churches.  Over time (500 AD) the Bishops of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Rome, and Constantinople were viewed as having authority over the churches in their areas.  A system had developed where the priest of a small church would answer to a bishop of the area, who would in turn answer to the “arch” bishop from one of these cities.  Of course this is highly simplified.  It the turn of the first millennium the issue of authority over doctrinal matters led to the division of the Eastern catholic church from the Western or Roman Catholic Church.  But it wasn’t until the Protestant reformation that the system of governance was changed at all.  Some Protestant groups retained the hierarchical system of bishops.  Thus the term Episcopalian is a reference to how the Church should be governed, i.e. by individual leaders accountable in series to a supreme leader.  Some felt that this system was too open to abuse through the years and called for a Presbyterian form of governance.  It focused on groups of elders who were accountable to a larger group of presbyters.  Even further groups have what is called a “congregational” governance which treats each individual church as sovereign in its own right.

Now the Bible does not tell us exactly what system should be used.  In fact it could be said that God has left that up to us.  However, it has given clear instruction that those who are spiritually mature and wise (i.e. elders) should watch over the people of God’s Church.  No matter what we are accountable to be leaders in God’s people.

Shepherding the Flock of God

So what are the duties of Church leaders?  Primarily they are to “shepherd” the flock of God.  Peter clearly uses language that Jesus had used personally with him back in John chapter 22.  Jesus told Peter that if Peter loved him then he would feed his sheep (not that Peter wasn’t a sheep himself).  This wording is also found in the Old Testament.  David in Psalms 23 recognized that God was like a shepherd to him.  Why?  He saw that God gave him spiritual drink and food.  He saw that God led him on the paths of righteousness that led to these places.  He saw that God was his protector and rewarder.  Thus the task of Leaders hearkens back to the very character of God.  Jesus had shepherded the disciples and now he wanted them to be like him to those they would be sent.  They would also need to raise up other elders to shepherd the flock of God.  Ultimately we are to help our brothers and sisters in the Lord’s stead.  What a weighty calling and one that we will be accountable to him.

Thus the term Overseer is not about dictatorial control.  Rather, it is about care and concern for well-being.  Perhaps the best example in our modern day would be to compare doctors with government.  A doctor asks all manner of personal, even embarrassing questions, that we put up with because in general we know they are using that information to help us or heal us.  Thus doctors keep personal information confidential and the best ones have good bedside manner.  However, when the government shows up, either as an auditor or a regulator of some sort, we do not have that same feeling that they are there to help us.  We know they are there to control us.  God’s leaders need to be like doctors.  They need to always operate for the spiritual health and well-being of God’s people.   If we lie to ourselves about what that is…well, then we will give account to the head shepherd.

Peter then describes the reasons we should lead and many that we shouldn’t have.  On the “not” side, he warns against serving because you were forced to, or in order to dishonestly gain (financial or otherwise), and not to “lord” leadership over others.  Positively, they need to lead because they are willing to serve their Lord this way and have a ready mind.  We also need to lead by example rather than being a dictator.  It is not our church and they are not our sheep.  We come alongside fellow sheep and point them to Jesus.  Words are cheap, but our life will back up (or not) what we say.

Thus leaders in God’s Church need to watch over the souls of those in their charge and willingly, lovingly help them to keep their eyes on Jesus in the midst of the junk of this life.

Serving Well Will Have Its Reward

God does bless us in this life, but it must never be the ultimate reward we seek.  At his appearing Jesus will bring with him our reward for serving well.  The chief shepherd will not just reward, but will also have some who say, “Lord, we prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and have done many wonders in your name.”    Can you imagine standing before the Lord and hearing, “I never knew you.  Depart from me you who practice lawlessness.”  Ouch!

Peter speaks of a crown of glory.  This crown is not a royal crown, but rather a victor’s crown for accomplishment.  The New Testament mentions several crowns such as: the crown of Life, the crown of righteousness, and the crown of glory.  It is not clear if these are different crowns/honors or if they are different words for the same thing.  However, the point is not the crown itself, but the unfading glory that will be ours when Jesus returns.  Our greatest reward is the fact that when the glorious Jesus shows up, we belong to him and him to us.  We will share in his great glory.

Final Thoughts

We are all a part of the flock of God and should resist those inevitable tricks of the enemy to separate us into clergy versus laity.  Leaders are not better than the people who are not leaders.  In fact they are in a far more precarious position of responsibility, with far more difficult temptations and deceptions to face.  Leaders should serve as a brother and those who are not in leadership should love them and recognize the burden they carry.  God has not given all his gifts to every believer.  We need each other and, if we trust God’s Word, we will help each other to cross the finish line of faith.

Serving Head Shepherd Audio