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Practical Suffering, Part 5a: Priorities of Shepherds and Sheep

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ and as a partaker of the glory about to be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God among you. Overseeing not under compulsion but willingly according to God. Not greedily but eagerly. Not as lording over those allotted to you but becoming examples for the flock. Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, the young men must submit to elders. So, all of you must clothe yourselves in humility. For, God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

By recognizing Peter’s connection to Ezekiel 9 from 4:17 we are already anticipating his exhortation to the elders of the churches of Asia Minor. Yhwh told Ezekiel that the destruction of wrath will begin in His sanctuary and the elders of Israel will be the first to be put to the sword (Ezek. 9:6).[1] If God’s refining judgment is brought first to His own house (4:17), then the elders will be the first to feel its heat. “Therefore” (οὖν)[2] makes a syntactical connection back to 4:12-19 and Peter’s command to face the coming refining fire with perseverance without surprise. Yet suffering can take its toll on a body. Nothing reveals sin so much as pressure. If there was ever a time for strong leadership and a sense of duty, it is now.

By observing the text, we should take note of the repetition of terms elder (πρεσβύτερος) and shepherd/sheep (ποιμαίνω/ποιμήν/ποίμνιον). The elders found within the churches of Asia Minor are the direct addressees in vv. 1-4 and Peter identifies himself also as an elder. “Elder” is mentioned again in v. 5 as the object of submission. Each time our English versions read “flock” (ποίμνιον) we could easily substitute the term “sheep” (vv. 2, 3) which, like our English, shares a root with the term shepherd (vv. 2, 4). Peter stresses both those placed over God’s people (elders/shepherds) as well as the people under their care (sheep/flock). As the churches of Asia Minor prepare to suffer for the sake of righteousness, it is imperative that both the shepherds and the sheep understand their priorities.

Priority of the Shepherds (vv. 1-4)

The health of the body directly flows from the faithfulness of her leadership. A healthy family is led by a faithful father. A healthy nation is led by a faithful king. A healthy church is only found where there are faithful elders. One of the marks of the Protestant Reformation was to recognize that Scripture makes no distinction between pastors, elders, and bishops (overseers). Unfortunately, most churches in our day draw an arbitrary line between what they refer to as pastors and those men who serve as elders. Paul wrote much on the subject to his disciples Timothy (1 Tim. 3:1-7) and Titus (Tit. 1:5-9), yet most of this is largely ignored among progressive evangelicals. In our time the title Pastor designates one who stands at the head of all others, likely has obtained some sort of graduate degree, and more or less runs the church service. Elders (if they exist) are common laymen who may occasionally fill the pulpit, but whose main function is to balance the church’s checkbook as a kind of board of directors. This model is utterly foreign to Scripture.

It is necessary that we understand that the title Pastor is not found in Scripture at all. The office of elder and bishop (overseer) are one and the same without any distinction. Our term pastor is a transliteration (not a translation) of the Greek ποιμήν meaning shepherd. This term is never used as a title of church office but is used to describe a specific spiritual gift (Eph. 4:11) and the unquestionable duty of elders. Rather than three synonymous terms (pastor, elder, overseer/bishop), the Bible contains two synonymous terms (elder, overseer/bishop) whose duty consists of pastoring or shepherding. An elder is not a pastor so much as an elder spends his time pastoring. Every elder is called upon to perform the duties of a pastor.

Shepherding Demanded (vv. 1-2a)

In light of the coming refining fire from God (4:12-19) Peter sets aside a piece of exhortation specifically for the elders. It is necessary to see that Peter assumes that each church which receives this encyclical letter has elders, for he writes to the elders among you (ἐν ὑμῖν). Each church is equipped with a plurality of her own elders. It is also important that we notice the manner in which Peter addresses these elders.

Basis for the Demand (v. 1)

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ and as a partaker of the glory about to be revealed:

The whole of v. 1 contains the basis for the command that Peter delivers in v. 2 (shepherd the flock of God!). Peter identifies himself, the one who is exhorting the elders, with two appositional descriptions. Peter first appeals to the elders of Asia Minor as one of their equals. While his apostolic authority has already been established (1:1), he speaks to these elders on their level by calling himself a fellow elder (συμπρεσβύτερος).

To this he adds that he is also a witness (μάρτυς) of Christ’s sufferings. Technically speaking, a witness is more than a passive spectator, but one who testifies regarding what they have seen or experienced.[3] In a court of law, no one cares what someone may or may not have seen unless they are willing to testify about it. With this addition though we see Peter lead with humility. Of all people, Peter would not boast about witnessing Christ’s sufferings. It is true that Christ commanded His disciples, Peter included, to go about this business of testifying of His death, burial, and resurrection (Acts. 1:8) and that Peter leapt at every opportunity (Acts. 3:15; 10:39). But if we recall the events as recorded in the gospels, Peter was not at his best when he witnessed Christ’s sufferings (Lk. 22:61). Peter addresses these elders as one of their own, one who has been humbled, and one who has been charged with a specific task; a task he is now fulfilling.

The second description Peter uses of himself is as a fellow partaker of the coming glory. Again, Peter does not address these elders from a lofty position of grandeur, but as one who shares in something they also possess. The coming glory does not refer to anything that Peter has already experienced, such as the glory of Christ’s resurrection or transfiguration. This glory has not come yet and is not yet revealed. This glory is the glory of Christ’s second advent when He returns to rule and reign in righteousness. He exhorts (παρακαλέω) the elders of Asia Minor on the basis that He too is an elder like them and shares the same secure hope of glory in the eschaton. The coming command is not based on Peter’s accomplishments or resumé, but on what God has transformed Peter to be. He appeals to them on the basis of God’s work.

Content of the Demand (v. 2a)

Shepherd the flock of God among you!

The command comes in one swift and decisive imperative. The aorist commands immediate and complete obedience. There is slight play on words that might be recognized if we translated this as shepherd the sheep of God among you (ποιμάνατε τὸ ἐν ὑμῖν ποίμνιον τοῦ θεοῦ). The same “among you” (ἐν ὑμῖν) is repeated from v. 1 with a similar implication. Just as each church has a plurality of elders, each elder is responsible for their own sheep. The business of a shepherd concerns the sheep under his care and those sheep alone. The verb from ποιμαίνω simply means to engage in all the duties of a shepherd.

A shepherd guides, guards, feeds, and folds the sheep. He leads them from the place where they sleep to the place where they will pasture. While they have their heads to the ground eating grass, the shepherd pulls security to ensure that no predator enters, and no sheep wanders off. The shepherd chooses the place where they will stop to eat and drink, making sure that the feed is of quality and the water clean. When the day is done, it is the shepherd who leads the flock back to the fold where they will sleep in safety because the shepherd continues to stand between them and anything that may harm them.

There is a familiar ring to this command, especially as coming from Peter. This imperative echoes Jesus’ personal command to this zealous disciple: “He said to him again a second time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love Me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes Lord; You know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Shepherd My sheep.’” (Jn. 21:16). What the Lord had given directly to Peter, Peter now commands his fellow shepherds. In a sense, Peter confesses his betrayal by claiming to witness Christ’s sufferings and shares his restoration.

This translates into ministry with ease. The food and drink of God’s flock is His word. The elders must feed the sheep by teaching, preaching, proclaiming, exhorting, reminding, rebuking, correcting with and by the Bible. The sheep will die without this nourishment so the elders must ensure that they receive it. In addition to the ministry of the word, the elders are those who pray with and for the sheep. The ministry is wholly accomplished by God and so it is to Him that the elders must turn and turn others to. The elders must also be among the sheep so that they know when wounds need binding up and the weak need stability. This is after all God’s flock. The elders must not neglect the people who belong to God, for He will ask for an accounting and the judgment begins here.

Shepherding Defined (vv. 2b-3)

Immediately after delivering this command to shepherd God’s sheep, Peter seeks to define the terms of shepherding. The participle ἐπισκοποῦντες is a cognate of ἐπισκοπός meaning “overseer” or “bishop.” Of the three terms used to describe the leadership of the Christian church (elder, pastor, overseer) Peter uses all three in the span of two verses. Elders are certainly those who care for God’s flock, but that necessitates that they are also those in charge of the flock. The shepherd, not the sheep, determine where they will go, how long they will stay, and when it is time to go home. It is the shepherd, not the sheep, who oversees the flock, yet this oversight must be conducted in righteousness. Three common sins among shepherds are addressed and the antidotes given. If times of trial are upon us, then the sheep need their shepherds at the peak of their game.

Shepherds as Volunteers

Overseeing not under compulsion but willingly according to God

Their shepherding oversight is not to be conducted in the way of a reluctant draftee. The idea of under compulsion (ἀναγκαστῶς) conveys the pressure one might feel to perform his duty. This is the epitome of doing something because you have to rather than because you want to. “No one should be pressured into accepting a church office which he does not really want to have.[4] The task of overseeing the flock of God is a difficult job that comes with many tasks offering few opportunities for rest. This oversight should be done willingly as one who desires the work. It is of no small significance that the first qualification of the elder is that of desiring the work (1 Tim. 3:1). But even this desire or willingness is not left without qualification. To this Peter adds according to God (κατὰ θεόν) indicating the standard by which this oversight is measured. The elders are to act as overseers in the same manner and to the same standard that God oversees His flock.[5]

Shepherds as Servants

Not greedily but eagerly

This second negated adverb (αἰσχροκερδῶς) describes a desire for dishonest gain or filthy lucre (KJV). Peter intends a wider meaning than to prohibit elders from using their position to obtain money, though that would be included. Shepherds are to love the sheep, not the sheep’s fleece.[6] The idea parallels Ezekiel 34:8-10:[7]

‘As I live,’ declares the Lord Yhwh, ‘surely because My flock has become a prey, My flock has even become food for all the beasts of the field for lack of a shepherd, and My shepherds did not search for My flock, but rather the shepherds fed themselves and did not feed My flock;’ therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of Yhwh: Thus says the Lord Yhwh, ‘Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will demand My sheep from them and make them cease from feeding sheep. So, the shepherds will not feed themselves anymore, but I will deliver My flock from their mouth, so that they will not be food for them.’

The antidote is like the willing service of a volunteer. Peter writes eagerly (προθύμως) or from a deep-seated desire to serve rather than be served. The words of President Kennedy ring true here as well, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but you can do for your country.” This is the attitude of the elder who shepherds the flock of God. He is not driven by what he can get out of the flock or his service to the flock. His motivation is deeply seated in what he can provide for the sheep.

Shepherds as Examples

Not as lording over those allotted to you but becoming examples for the flock

Peter changes from using adverbs to participles in v. 3, but the terms continue to modify the right understanding of oversight. While it is true that the elders rule the church, they are not little popes or tyrants or despots. A shepherd is not a lord. The people under them are not their own possessions to do with as they please. They belong to God (v. 2) and are only allotted to their charge (τῶν κλήρων). The term κλῆρος indicates a die or lot that is cast to determine one’s portion. Peter uses it here to indicate the thing apportioned. Each congregation is the portion placed under the oversight of the elders. This is a very different thing than suggesting that each congregation is a fiefdom ruled by the elders. Elders are leaders, not rulers. Their leadership consists of proclaiming and pointing, not demanding and dictating. They proclaim the Word of God and point to Christ. The primary means of pointing to Christ is their own lives as examples.

Sheep follow their shepherd. It is true that there are times when a flock needs to be driven, but the general idea is that a Shepherd reveals the path to be taken by first taking it himself. This is what Paul meant when writing to the Thessalonians that they were imitators of Paul and the Lord (1 Thess. 1:6) and to the Corinthians he commanded them to imitate him as he imitated Christ (1 Cor. 11:1). The sheep need to see what obedience looks like in addition to hearing obedience proclaimed. The shepherd provides direction and demonstration.

The Shepherd’s Distinction (v. 4)

Then when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory

Lest anyone think that the task of shepherding is without any reward, Peter points his readers to Christ and the reward to come. Their reward is not in this present life but will be received when the Chief Shepherd appears. The verb appears (φανερόω) is only used twice by Peter. The first time this verb occurs is in 1:20 in a description of Christ’s first advent. Christ, as the Chief Shepherd, will appear again upon His return to rule and reign in righteousness. Peter here refers to Christ’s second coming.[8]

By referring to Christ in this way he automatically places every shepherd of the church as an under shepherd, one who is under the Chief shepherd. This is the same good shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep (Jn. 10:11) and the same great shepherd who works out His divine purpose in His sheep (Heb. 13:20).[9] When this great, good, and chief of all shepherds returns, the under shepherds will be evaluated and rewarded.

Peter ever points to the eschaton when speaking of reward and does so again here. When Christ returns and is revealed, the shepherds who oversee His flock will receive an unfading crown of glory. Both the terms unfading (ἀμαράντινος) and of glory (τῆς δόξης) describe this crown (στέφανος), a victor’s crown that signifies the completion of a hard-won task. The laurel wreaths given to victors at the games or victorious generals upon a successful campaign would soon wilt, wither, and turn to dust. This crown is made of stuff that is unfading (ἀμαράντινος), a term that is based on the amaranth flower (ἀμάραντος) that was said to never fade and would revive when dipped in water.[10] This crown that is made of the stuff of unfading and consists of glory. The eternal prize of a faithful servant awaits these under shepherds. They will receive their commendation from the Lord upon His return.

This is meant as motivation for the elders of Asia Minor. It is important that their objective is aimed at faithfulness until the time when they return the bride to the Bridegroom and it is at that time, not now, that they will receive their reward. Shepherds looking for a taste of their reward in this age will become disappointed and discouraged. Prophetic truth is highly practical.[11]

Priorities of the Sheep (v. 5)

There is more at stake than the elders and so Peter turns to address the rest of the congregations in this verse. It matters a great deal how the elders go about their business, but the sheep also need to be exhorted how to respond to their shepherds.

Submission to Shepherds (v. 5a)

Likewise, the young men must submit to elders.

The adverb likewise (ὁμοίως) connects this statement with the exhortation before it just as it connected the exhortation to husbands (3:7) and to wives (3:1-6). The young men (νεώτεροι) mentioned here are just that, young men. Peter does not mean to speak in subjective or obtuse terms to describe those who are new to the faith and/or immature. Generally speaking, to address men who are short in years describes both of those ideas anyway. He points to the young men for two reasons. First, the young are generally those who are the last to submit to anyone. They are convinced that they know all things and thus are not in need of any direction or oversight. Second, by addressing the young men first Peter easily slides into an address aimed at the entire congregation. The imperative given here is simple, direct, and pointed. Young men are to submit to their elders.

There is no reason to make this verse about respect for the elderly. The same term (πρεσβύτερος) is used here as in v. 1. Submission to Christ’s under shepherds is the point. If the task of oversight has been given to these men by Christ and Christ has carefully defined what righteous oversight looks like, then what problem would anyone have in submitting to them? If the task of the elders is to lead the sheep in such a way that always and only glorifies God and produces good for the sheep, rebellion against them only reveals a heart that does not want God’s glory nor their good. This submission is not blind, but nor is it constantly second guessing or demanding. The heart of the sheep must be like the heart of the shepherd; drenched in humility.

Submission to other Sheep (v. 5bc)

So, all of you must clothe yourselves in humility. For, God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

Peter now easily uses language that encompasses the whole church. “All of you” (πάντες) points to each person regardless of age, sex, or position. He addresses men and women, elders and laypeople. The command given to them is no less pointed. The imperative from ἐγκομβόομαι (clothe) is quite rare and literally means to tie. The object of the verb is humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη). The scene Peter has in mind is not so much the adornment of beautiful robes that consist of humility so much as the tying on of the simple servant’s apron. The point is not to don humility like a fine robe but to tie on humility in preparation to serve. It is not a stretch to imagine Peter recounting Jesus as He discarded His own robes for the towel of a servant in order to wash the feet of His disciples (Jn. 13).[12] The lesson that Peter failed to understand then has been learned in full. Now, the zealous disciple turns to teach others. The sheep are not only to submit to the leadership of their elders but are to also submit to the service of each other. Humility must be a hallmark of Christ’s sheep because God fights against the proud.

The reason Peter provides comes from Prov. 3:34 and is identical to James’ use of the same verse (4:6). The imagery here is striking. God opposes or resists (ἀντιτάσσω) those who are arrogant and proud. He is dressed in battle array, ready to contend with them. Those who are proud have no need for God and judge themselves with a high regard. They hold others to the standard that they have created for themselves. It matters not if God would offer them grace, for they would reject it. They have no need of it. So God resists them.

The other side of the coin pictures the humble. Peter uses the cognate noun (ταπεινός) of the adjective used earlier in the verse. The sheep must tie on humility because God gives grace to the humble. The humble are those who see themselves for what they truly are, desperate sinners who are lost and damned. The arrogant and proud would never describe themselves in such terms. Yet, it is to these who see themselves for what they are that God grants grace (χάρις). He bestows His favor upon them, and because they are humble, they accept it with joy.

It is imperative that the shepherds lead the sheep in humility as they render their service to the Chief Shepherd. But the sheep must follow and display this same humility with each other.


There is much confusion today regarding the purpose and structure of the church. It is little wonder that at the root of much of this misunderstanding is naked pride. The sheep don’t want to be led, and so they abandon their shepherds. Shepherds have no desire to tend Christ’s sheep, and so they busy themselves by building a kingdom for themselves. Pride goes before destruction. The fire of judgment must first come to God’s house. The elders will be first to feel this heat, but the sheep will not be left untouched. Let us submit to the Chief Shepherd and repent of the pride that blinds us and keeps us from faithfulness.

Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 230-1. [2] Scholarship has long accepted οὖν as original but in the most recent editions of the GNT (UBS5 and NA28) the decision has been reversed. There is no clear answer for this decision because the contextual evidence as well as the external evidence all point to οὖν as genuine to Peter’s hand. [3] D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 300-1. [4] Wayne Grudem, 1 Peter, vol. 17, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2009), p. 194-5. [5] Hiebert, p. 303-4. [6] Ibid, p. 304. [7] Schreiner, p. 233. [8] Ibid, p. 236. [9] Hiebert, p. 306. [10] Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 132. [11] Hiebert, p. 307. [12] Robertson, p. 132.


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