How we respond in times of difficulty reflects how God has truly worked within our lives. In the final chapter of Peter’s first letter, we see what is needed for survival and endurance in the heat of persecution and judgment. What we discover is that the church, as well as any family and nation, cannot survive apart from having the right response from leaders and followers alike. In times of testing, failure stands before us to consume us. Yet, even in failure we can learn powerful lessons that enable us to grow into the kind of people God desires for us to become.
Consider Peter himself who failed so miserably the night Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane. It states that Peter followed from afar and found himself gathered with a crowd outside the high priest’s home. The crowd that gathered around the fire was hostile to his master and all that he represented. I wonder if Peter was reflecting if his vision of God’s new kingdom was now coming to an end. The dream of a new Israel. Yet Peter, driven by a sense of loyalty to Jesus, found himself in great jeopardy. He was fearful for his very life. Already he had denied being with Jesus twice. As he was huddled by the fire, another challenged his relationship with Jesus and before Peter realized what had happened, he found himself cursing and swearing that he knew not the Lord. At that precise moment the cock crowed, and Jesus’ eyes fell on Peter. All at once the words returned with crushing impact: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.’ Matthew records for us Peter’s response. “And he went outside and wept bitterly (Matthew 26:75).”
How many leaders have fallen since? How many fathers and mothers have surrendered to sinful passions, denying their Lord? People struggle when leaders fall. It often undermines their confidence in leadership. They may even question whether they can stand. If so and so fell, what hope is there for me? Some might even question the validity of Christianity because of these failures. But what contributed to the fall of Peter, is also a factor in the fall of godly men and women today. Many today, like Peter before his failure, have a wrong concept of Biblical leadership. I recognize that our text is directed at spiritual leaders in the church setting, but this concept of leadership is also applicable in our homes, at our place of employment, at school and other contexts in our society. It is also a warning for those who have been believers for a long time, that we can grow careless and negligent in our relationship with God and cause reproach to the name of our Lord, to ourselves and others. One significant measure of how well I’m serving God is reflected in how I treat others.
Peter in this letter has written to encourage fellow believers who are experiencing great persecution and suffering. He has just finished warning of judgment which begins first with God’s people.
For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?[i]
The exhortation to the elders among Peter’s readers follows upon Peter’s explanation in 4:17-19 that persecution of the church is the beginning of the sorting process by which those who are truly God’s are separated from those who are not. It is better, Peter explains, to suffer persecution according to God’s will for being a Christian than to renounce Christ in order to avoid trouble for this moment only and then face a worse judgment later.[ii]
Peter’s comments seem to reflect the words of the prophet Ezekiel where God was warning of impending judgment on the nation for their sins beginning at the Temple and among the elders. David Helms connects the dots and relates the application to what Peter has been saying about judgment beginning with God’s people.
To put it as clearly as possible, his exhortation to elders is made in light of what he has just said on judgment. …What will elders today need to know if they are going to exercise faithful leadership during this end-time of refining judgment?[iii]
The great need of our hour is the need for godly leaders.
Although our talents, personalities, and gifts may vary, I believe Scripture teaches us clearly that there is one leadership ‘style’ which is uniquely Christian. It has been given to us by the Lord of the Church. He has modelled this leadership style and commanded us to do likewise. It is the model of ‘servant leadership’.[iv]
Is it not interesting that in the context of suffering, Peter brings up the whole issue of leadership? Leighton Ford points out in his book, Transforming Leadership:
Jesus was deeply convinced of the place of suffering and death in God’s plan. This sets his understanding of leadership apart from the slick success-oriented versions of leadership that abound in our modern world. When we plan our strategies for our life and work, we do not program an element of suffering. Nor should we, for it would be morbid. Yet Jesus saw suffering as fertile ground for leadership. The seed must fall into the ground and die. Reflecting on this, someone, I think perhaps the great Augustine, said: ‘God had one Son without sin; he has no sons without suffering.’
In his last battle with sin and evil, Jesus showed his strength most authentically. Dying for truth and for the world’s sin, he showed where true greatness lies. Those who have followed his leadership since have known that the leader who is willing to suffer is the greatest servant of all. Almost every advance in human history has been costly, achieved through difficulty and testing that was willingly accepted.[v]
So as we come to Peter’s words addressing the nature of biblical leadership, we read these words of instruction for all maturing believers, particularly those who are called to be leaders in their homes and within God’s household, the church.
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: [once again the theme of suffering and glory are together.]
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.[vi]
Here in our text we can identify three elements that make up the nature of biblical leadership.
THE FIRST ELEMENT THAT REFLECTS THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP IS THE TASK THAT ONE IS CALLED TO
In other words, what is the real function of biblical leadership? What do leaders actually do?
What does it mean to shepherd God’s flock under our care? So, what are elders? Or who are elders? Howard Marshall explains this concept.
Leaders in Jewish communities were called elders, both in Old Testament and New Testament times. Thus the development of the use of elders to mean ‘leaders’ was a natural one. Although the elders here are contrasted with the young men, the description of their tasks makes it clear that Peter is thinking of them in their capacity as church leaders.[vii]
A. The imagery of a Shepherd.
It is interesting that in both the Old and New Testaments leaders were called shepherds. God also uses that metaphor to speak of his own leadership over his people. He is the great shepherd. The role of the church then is to continue to fulfil this mandate of gathering lost sheep and making disciples.
Peter sees the formation of the Christian community as a fulfilment of God’s promise to seek out the scattered sheep and to oversee them. …It is not surprising that Peter is drawn to the shepherding motif in Isaiah and Ezekiel, when one remembers his reconciliation with Christ in John 21:15-19, where Jesus asks Peter to feed and care for his sheep as an undershepherd.[viii]
1. Shepherds were there to protect the sheep from thieves and wild animals that would seek to devour the sheep. A true shepherd was willing to lay his life on the line for the safety of the sheep. The shepherd’s rod was used to fight off predators as well as to discipline the sheep. The rod is symbolic of the word of God. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4).”
In Philip Keller’s book on Psalm 23 he shares an experience that he had when he was in Africa. He was over there taking pictures of Kenya and he was with one of the shepherd boys. And as they were coming up to take a picture of a herd of elephants that were below the ridge they were on, they realized as they were looking down that they couldn’t take a good picture because of the heavy vegetation. So they decided to roll a boulder down and scare them out into the open. As they were doing that, all of a sudden, a cobra that was shielded by this boulder was poised and ready to strike. But before the snake could move, the shepherd boy struck the snake with his rod. You see he had not let go of the rod for one instant, even though he was busy helping with the boulder. What a picture of God’s word destroying the works of darkness that is aimed at destroying our lives. So, we can see that the shepherd protects the sheep by faithfully teaching the word of God which brings comfort and protection against the wiles of the devil. The word of God also instructs and guides us into what is right for our lives.
The shepherd leads them from pasture to pasture. He goes before the flock and searches out the land so that there is nothing there to harm the flock. He checks for snakes, pits, poisonous plants, and dangerous animals.[ix]
It is stated that one of the reasons for using the metaphor is the nature of sheep and people. Like sheep who stray and are therefore rendered helpless, it is equally true of us as human beings. We also stray and go our own way and encounter danger to our souls. It is therefore the responsibility of the elders to inquire after people’s welfare. Ezekiel describes the nature of God as a shepherd to his people.
For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.
As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.[x]
It is not without significance that Jesus called himself the good shepherd. We see him feeding the multitudes, both the physical and spiritual bread of life. Jesus gathers the flock of God unto Himself. Matthew identifies this motif in his gospel when we read these touching words.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.[xi]
2. It has already been implied, but the shepherd must feed the flock.
A certain species, called honey ants, survive in difficult times by their dependence upon certain members of their group that act as ‘social stomachs.’ These ‘honey pots’, as they are otherwise known, actually take in so much nectar that they swell into ‘little round berries’ hardly able to move. When food and water become scarce, they sustain the entire colony by dispensing what they have stored in their own bodies.[xii]
This is what biblical leaders must be doing. Pastors, parents, Christian employers, and teachers; we all need to be filling our souls with God’s powerful, life-giving word that we can mentor others in times of perplexity and difficulty. We can only give to others what we have first received and experienced in our lives. I would argue that every believer needs to become a ‘honey pot,’ to our unsaved family, friends, and those God brings across our paths. We can be sharing God’s wisdom, and our experiences so those we are nurturing others, helping them avoid some of the pitfalls that we have fallen into.
B. The nature of an Overseer.
Notice that the elders were not only to shepherd the flock but also take oversight. Watching over those God entrusts to our care is the role of those who are overseers. As the church grows, the need for more structure and oversight is required. It becomes impossible for one person to care for each individual personally. However, the responsibility for the care of the entire group still falls under the elders. There is nothing wrong with delegating care to others, as long as we continue to be a part of the process, modelling, and equipping others to be involved in the process. The nature of oversight, is making sure people are cared for. Leaders must delegate responsibilities to others and but also create some level of accountability. How did Moses and David shepherd their people? How did they maintain oversight? By sharing the responsibility with others. Moses was rebuked by his father-in-law Jethro for endeavouring to do it all by himself.
Moses’ father-in-law replied, ‘What you are doing is not good.
You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.
Listen now to me and I will give you some advice, and may God be with you. You must be the people’s representative before God and bring their disputes to him.
Teach them the decrees and instructions, and show them the way they are to live and how they are to behave.[xiii]
Leaders, elders, mentors are to teach and to model.
THE SECOND ELEMENT THAT REFLECTS THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP IS THE ISSUE OF MOTIVATION
This answers the question of why we do what we do. If our motives become tainted, so also the reason and ultimately the reward of what we have been called to do by God.
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;[xiv]
A. We serve not because we are being constrained by false motives, but by truth.
Here Peter explains that we serve willingly not because we are being constraint to serve out of guilt or a sense of duty; nor should we serve reluctantly. We should serve because we delight to fulfil God’s call upon our lives. God’s love should be the motivation for serving others. C. S. Lewis captures this concept with a very simple illustration.
A perfect man would never act from a sense of duty; he’d always want the right thing more than the wrong one. Duty is a substitute for love (of God and other people) like a crutch which is a substitute for a leg. Most of us need the crutch at times; but of course it is idiotic to use the crutch when our own legs (our own loves, tastes, habits, etc.) can do the journey on their own.[xv]
B. We serve not motivated by greed, but rather by enjoying what we are doing.
Think of the difference in the effectiveness of our ministry if we are ministering with eagerness, initiative, and enthusiasm as opposed to doing it simply because we have to or because we are seeking personal gain or recognition. It is the difference between a boy carrying out the garbage because his mother made him do it as opposed to that same boy playing baseball because he wants to do it. We have pastors today who act as if they are ‘carrying out the garbage’ in their ministries. They need to be transformed into those who are eagerly ‘playing in the game’ which God has prepared for them with excitement and enthusiasm, giving it everything they have – to the glory of God.[xvi]
C. The ultimate compensation is receiving the crown of glory that never fades away.
One of the great motivators today is recognition or appreciation. Though much of what a leader, parent, or a person who is responsible for others goes unnoticed, we can be sure that God misses nothing. “And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4).”
It is interesting how Peter moves to this amazing picture of the crown. The adjective, ‘unfading’ here actually refers to a ‘red flower whose colour was unfading.’
The crown is an image well known to the first-century Greco-Roman world, for a wreath of leaves worn on the head was commonly awarded to those who won athletic competitions. A similar wreath, but made of gold, was frequently given as the reward for civic benefactors (Llewelyn 1994:240). In using this imagery, Peter encourages the presbyteroi [elders] to faithful service in trying times. But their victory is sure, for it depends on the appearing of Christ, not on their own efforts. The victory they attain through perseverance is an unfading (everlasting) glory. This image of a crown of unfading flowers contrasts with the withering and falling flowers of all human glory acquired apart from Christ (1:24).[xvii]
We need to remember that our earthly labour will ultimately be rewarded later in eternity. This will occur when Jesus returns with his rewards for those who have faithfully served well on earth.
THE FINAL ELEMENT THAT REFLECTS THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL LEADERSHIP IS THEIR METHOD
This is dealing with how biblical leaders are going to go about leading. What is the methodology? What is the spirit that will help others do what they need to do in order to all to benefit? Here we see that leaders are to lead by example. Our actions as leaders of others always speak louder than our words. Peter starts here with a warning.
A. Biblical leadership doesn’t abuse, manipulate, or control those they lead.
Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3).”
Jesus is obviously our primary model of how a biblical leader is to go about leading others, not by oppressing others. Jesus explained the contrasting nature of biblical leadership over how people in society lead.
Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.
Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.[xviii]
Jesus had come to use his power for God’s glory. And he had come for the service of others. He was not a dominator but a developer, and he showed that the true leader uses power to make his followers twice the people they were before.[xix]
Too often those who develop a dominating or manipulating leadership style reflect either a sense of personal insecurity or have never had the model of a strong servant leader.
Jesus could see a moral outcast or a disreputable, despised tax gatherer like Levi and call him because he knew what he could become…. He could also look at the rough and ready fisherman Simon and say, ‘You are Simon….You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter – Jn 1:42). In his vision he saw an unstable ‘reed man’ – implied in the name Simon – who would become a sturdy ‘rock man,’ which is the meaning of Peter. …Jesus looked at people in the same way. That was the unconstrained part of his realistic vision which took into account both the tragedy of the human condition and the enormous possibility of human change by God’s power.[xx]
Having instructed those in leadership as to their eagerness to serve with the right motivation and methodology, Peter challenges those who are followers to submit to those in leadership with the right attitude.
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.[xxi]
Peter has been telling us throughout his letter that the two important keys to surviving in hard, uncertain, and hostile times is to learn to walk in submission and humility entrusting ourselves to our faithful God.
How are we serving God? Willingly? Eagerly? Humbly? Are we frustrated because at times it is painful and difficult? Have we given up? I want to in closing leave you with this image in your mind: When we stand before Jesus, what do you hope to hear from Him? Will it be ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness (cf. Matthew 25:21)’?
[i] 1 Peter 4:17, The New International Version of the Bible, 2011.
[ii] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on The New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2005), 299.
[iii] David Helm, 1-2 Peter and Jude: Sharing Christ’s Sufferings, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 158.
[iv] Paul Cedar, Strength in Servant Leadership, 25.
[v] Leighton Ford, Transforming Leadership, 134.
[vi] I Peter 5:1-4.
[vii] I Howard Marshall, 1 Peter, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, (Downers Grove, IL: I. V. P Academic, 1991), 159-60.
[viii] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 304.
[ix] Warren Wiersbe, Be Hopeful, 127.
[x] Ezekiel 34:11-12.
[xi] Matthew 9:36.
[xii] Infosearch, Leadership, #4.
[xiii] Exodus 18:17-20.
[xiv] I Peter 5:2.
[xv] C. S. Lewis, Letters of C. S. Lewis, July 18, 1957, as quoted by Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, The Quotable Lewis (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1989), 171.
[xvi] Paul Cedar, I Peter, Communicator’s Commentary, (), 190,191.
[xvii] Karen Jobes, 1 Peter, 306-07.
[xviii] Mark 10:42-45.
[xix] Leighton Ford, Transforming Leadership, 135.
[xx] Ibid, 141.
[xxi] 1 Peter 5:5.