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1 Peter 5:1-5 – Sermon Notes

By July 9, 2023Sermon Notes

One of my favorite quotes comes from 19th Century author George Eliot in her novel Middlemarch. (Her real name was Mary Ann Evans but wrote under a pen name).

Here’s the quote: “..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Now, in the 19th Century, they didn’t have twitter, so their sentences were long and sometimes confusing.

Here’s the gist of the quote: so much that happens in the world is the result of the mundane ordinary faithfulness of people who simply showed up. Nobody goes to their gravesites; nobody writes their biographies. They’re not written in the history books. They “lived faithfully a hidden life.” They lived a life of ordinary faithfulness…which is actually something quite extraordinary.

Let me give you an example of someone who “lived faithfully a hidden life.” And it’s older than the 19th Century. We’ll go all the way back to the 17th Century.

John Owen (1616–1683) is considered by many to be one of the greatest English theologians of all time–– certainly of the 17th Century. He was a Puritan. That was a reform movement within the Church of England that sought to purify the church’s worship so that it more faithfully reflected biblical practices.

He was a prolific author. Crossway is republishing his work in an incredibly ambitious project releasing his completed works in 40 volumes set to be released over the next few years.

Owen was a typical British man–– incredibly private about his personal life. In all his completed works, he gives one sentence about his father. His father, Henry Owen, was a Puritan pastor.

Here’s what Owen wrote: “I was bred up from my infancy under the care of my father, who was a Nonconformist [i.e., a Puritan] all his days, and a painful laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.”

I would love to have that epigraph on my tombstone. “A painful laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.”

To be a pastor is not an easy job– especially a Puritan pastor in the 17th Century. If you remember your American history, the Puritans were a persecuted religious minority. That’s why some of them (known as Separatists) came over to America.

What does this tell us about Owen’s father? To put it lightly he didn’t have it easy. He was a painful laborer (he endured hardship and toiled laboriously) in the vineyard of the Lord all of his days. And apart from this one sentence from John Owen, Henry Owen lived a hidden life.

Those are the stories that don’t get written. Those are the stories that don’t get told.

That was a one-sentence story of a faithful pastor.

The unfaithful pastors get thousands of sentences written about them. They get podcast series and articles. Their stories suck up all the oxygen out of the room. This is not to minimize the horrendous nature of their failures.

In 1 Peter 4:17, Peter writes, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.”

That means the church is not exempt from experiencing God’s wrath and judgment at unchecked rampant sin.

But the gospel teaches us that God’s judgment reveals not only God’s wrath but also his mercy. His judgment can be a means of drawing his church into repentance so we may experience his mercy.

My word of caution to you is not to let negative examples of wolves who have devoured God’s flock distort your perception of leadership in the church writ large.

There are a handful of the thousand-sentence stories of a few unfaithful pastors.

But I would guess there are thousands of one-sentence stories of faithful pastors, who will one day rest in unvisited tombs.

I bring up this topic of faithful and unfaithful pastors because our passage this morning, 1 Peter 5:1–5, provides us with a picture of what a faithful pastor looks like.

In short, here’s the main idea of the passage. The big idea is– pastors are to lead like Jesus. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads his church and laid down his life for the sheep; pastors are the under-shepherds who are to take care of Jesus’ bride. And all this is done in an atmosphere of humility.

Peter lays out what a pastor is and how pastors ought to lead.

Here’s the passage:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Let me give you the “why” of this passage and then we’ll jump into some particulars.


Peter has been addressing the whole congregation, exhorting them to remain faithful as they patiently endure suffering. In the previous verse, 4:19, Peter said “let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.”

That’s a remarkable little verse. Peter reminds those who are suffering to remember and hold fast to the faithfulness of God. In the midst of their suffering, they are to trust their “faithful Creator” while remaining committed to living a life that honors God and brings him glory–– glory through suffering.

After addressing the whole congregation, he addresses the elders (pastors) directly. (We’ll talk more about that term pastor/elder in just a second). But we need to ask the question, why? Why does Peter shift from talking about suffering to talking about church leadership?

It’s not random. He’s writing to a suffering church. So, naturally, he turns to the elders and tells them “Don’t abandon your post!” “Don’t abandon your flock!” “Shepherd the flock.”

Leading is hard. And these elders were not exempt from the suffering. Peter appeals to them as a fellow elder. He appeals to them as someone who has suffered (and as tradition has it, Peter was crucified upside down). He’s saying, “I’m not exempt from suffering, and neither are you. Don’t abandon your sheep. Shepherd the flock.”

This is coming from Peter, the disciple who so confidently proclaimed that he would never deny Christ. He pledged his loyalty to Christ.

After the Last Supper, when Jesus is at the Mount of Olives, he quotes from the prophet Zechariah in which it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.”

Jesus is prophesying about his coming crucifixion. And what does Peter say?

Matt 26:33–35 “Peter answered him, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ Peter said to him, ‘Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!’ And all the disciples said the same.”

We know the story. We know that on that very night, Peter denied any association with Jesus–– just a few hours later–– swearing that he did not know the man. He abandoned his friend. Once Peter realized what he had done, he went out and wept bitterly (Matt 26:75). You can imagine the level of guilt and shame he was wracked with.

Jesus, with deep compassion and mercy, restores Peter. In one of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, he’s having breakfast with Peter on the beach (John 21).

In a reversal of the three times Peter denied Christ, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him.

Do you love me? Feed my lambs. Do you love me? Tend my sheep. Do you love me? Feed my sheep.

Peter made that mistake once. He’s not gonna make it again. So, he addressed the leaders of this suffering church directly: “So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock.

That’s the background to everything Peter is about to say here. That’s the “why” of this passage. It’s not just a random passage about church leadership. When suffering comes, they’re going to be tempted to give up. And as someone speaking from his past mistakes, Peter charges them to remain faithful shepherds.

If that’s the “why,” now let’s turn to the “what” and “how” of this passage.


There are two simple questions that arise from this passage:

  1. What is an elder/pastor?
  2. How do they lead?

Let’s start with the first question, what is an elder?

Before we answer this question, let me encourage you that this is an important question for the whole church to be able to answer. This is not just a question for pastors or those in seminary. No, it is important for the whole church to know how God has structured his church. How does God want his church to be led? This is a concern for everyone- not just those who are leading.

Not just for those who aspire to be pastors.

Now, it might sound surprising to some of you that God wants his church to be led in a particular kind of way. This is revealed to us in Scripture. While not all of us will serve as a pastor, this has implications for the entire church.

The New Testament uses three words for what we today most commonly mean by “pastor.”

The words are elder (presbuteros), overseer (episkopoi) and shepherd/pastor (poimen). Pastor is a word that means “to shepherd.”

There are various examples in the New Testament where it appears that these terms are used interchangeably. (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5–7; 1 Peter 5:1–5).

Thus, I believe they are different titles that refer to one biblical office. That’s not language we use everyday.

What is an office? It’s not merely a little room with books and a computer. In an organization, an office is a position of trust or authority.

For example, I’m an officer in the Air Force. That means, I hold a position of trust and authority, through which the mission of the Air Force is carried out. The officers are the leaders of an organization. That doesn’t mean that other positions in the organization are unimportant or non-essential.

The opposite is true! Any good officer worth his salt knows that the people who actually get the job done are the non-commissioned officers and airmen. Their job is essential for completing the mission. But not all of them are officers, nor can they be—it wouldn’t make any sense.

So it is in the church. The church is not a man-made organization or social club. It is a God-ordained institution comprised of the “called out ones” (ekklesia/church)—those who have been redeemed through Christ.

All of us in the church––men and women alike––have been charged with making disciples (mission essential). That’s the great commission. We all have a role to play—all of us (believers) are priests of the new covenant.

1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.”

That’s the mission of the church. To make disciples of all nations, proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light.

While the Bible outlines the mission, it also outlines two unique offices for the church. Two unique positions of authority in the church.

The two offices are Elders and Deacons/Deaconess.

Deacons/Deaconess comes from a word that means servant. Deacons/deaconesses are men and women who lead and serve the church and meet the church’s various ministry needs.

The office of elder is a unique position of trust, in which men are called to lead Christ’s church through the faithful teaching of God’s Word and by their godly example.

They are men who exemplify Christlike character; they’re above reproach, self-controlled, not greedy, gentle, hospitable, not recent converts, and they’re able to teach. You can read full elder qualifications in passages like 1 Timothy 3:2–3 and Titus 1:7–8.

At River, we believe the office of elder is limited to men as qualified by Scripture. I’m not going to expound on that position here–– I’ve preached on that before. You can find the sermon online where I preached from 1 Timothy 2.

Here’s the key aspect of eldership that I want to focus on today: primary duty of elders is the faithful teaching and preaching of God’s word.

The primary way that elders are to shepherd God’s flock is to feed and nourish his flock with the Word of God. Elders are to teach the Bible.

This has a positive and a negative component. Elders have to play offense and defense. Offensively, they are to encourage sound doctrine (right teaching). Defensively, they are to refute those who contradict sound doctrine.

As we’ll see, elders are to be characterized by humility, not combativeness. But that humility doesn’t mean that they are passive. They lead humbly and confidently, and if required, they will protect God’s flock from wolves.

That was a brief overview of biblical eldership. We’ve answered the question, what is an elder?

Now, let’s look at the second question, how do they lead?

Peter gives us an answer in vv. 2–4: Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

I think Peter gives a series of 4 exhortations for how elders ought to lead.

  1. Elders are to lead willingly, not under compulsion and in accordance with God’s will.

That might seem slightly odd to you. Of course, somebody should lead of their own free will. Why should Peter need to say that? However, I would simply point out that we still do this with solemn oaths today.

For example, in the military, I took an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. One of the lines in that oath says, “that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion.”

That’s a sacred oath. You want the people who are taking that oath to actually mean it. What’s implied in that oath, is that the person making it is pledging their life. They’re saying “I will give up my life if it’s required of me” to protect that document and its ideals.

Something similar is going on for the shepherds who lead Christ’s church. They don’t stand and raise their right hand and take an oath–– but the same ask is required of them.

They too, will voluntarily lay down their life for the sheep.

In John 10:11, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

If elders are under-shepherds of the good shepherd, then they are to model and follow in his footsteps. They are to sacrificially lay down their lives for the good of the church– and if God requires it of them, even unto death.

And if that sounds radical– it is. That’s what Jesus demands of every disciple. And the elders especially are to lead in this way.

Leading must be done freely of your own accord, and as God would have you (in other words, in accordance with God’s will).

  1. Elders are to lead eagerly, not out of greed.

That reference to greed could be financial, but it could also be out of a desire for dishonest gain. It could be a desire for respectability or their own reputation. Their own ulterior motives. The applause of men.

Terry has said this before, “Men who are shooting stars in their 20s–30s are often falling stars in their 40s–50s.”

The sad reality is that those falling stars leave behind them a wake of damaged lives as a result of their own greedy ambition.

The world often values charisma over character. But Peter, and the other texts on biblical eldership consistently prioritize character over charisma.

The road to being a pastor ought to be a slow one. Qualifications for eldership takes time. It takes time to develop Christlike character.

I’ve asked this of myself many times “Do I want the title (pastor) or the character?”

You can microwave the title, but you can’t microwave the character. Character formation requires a slow cooker, not a microwave. As Dallas Willard would say, “your gifts will only carry you as far as your character allows you to go.”

Peter also says that pastors should lead eagerly. That means with excitement or enthusiasm. That doesn’t mean pastors can never be discouraged or that they carry on a fake persona. Here’s what I think it means–– pastors don’t get to be cynics. They don’t get to be jaded.

One thing I love about Terry is his passion for ministry. He hasn’t grown tired, weary, or cynical in his old age. But as he’s gotten older, I think we’ve seen a renewed energy in his service to the church.

  1. Elders are to lead exemplifying Christ’s humility.

Jesus set the bar on this. He was a towel-clad foot-washer. John 13.

Here’s what Jesus said in Matt 20:25–28: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This is baked into the cake at River. This is how our philosophy of ministry is designed. You want to lead? Grab a broom. Start serving. If you’re faithful with little, you can be faithful with much. It’s not arbitrary jumping through hoops. We do this because we want to foster a community of Christlike humility and service.

  1. Elders lead as those accountable to God.

Elders are the under-shepherds who lead Christ’s church until he returns.

In heaven, the groom (Jesus) is going to say to the under-shepherds, “How did you treat my bride?” Did you love her? Did you serve her? Did you protect her? Did you nourish her and provide for her needs? They’re going to have to answer to God for how faithfully they stewarded the gift that God entrusted to them.

That, I think, in part, is why James says, “Not many of you should become teachers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). This is a big deal. There is a weightiness to the stewardship of being a pastor; to be a pastor is to be entrusted with responsibility of eternal significance.

An Atmosphere of Humility

Finally, after addressing the elders specifically and charging them directly to shepherd God’s flock and lead like Jesus, Peter addresses the whole congregation again.

Here’s what he says in v. 5: “Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”

The younger refers to everyone else, not merely the young in age. The elders hold a position of authority in the church; everyone else is tasked with submitting to leadership within biblical limits. That’s one of River’s “Heart Attitudes.”

It doesn’t mean we follow the elders blindly. We follow them, so long as they follow Christ and are faithful to God’s Word. Clothing ourselves with humility means we want to make their job a joy and not a burden.

Peter is describing an atmosphere of humility in the church. From the top down. Jesus is the humble and exalted King. In his extreme humility, he humbled himself to the point of death and therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name (Phil 2).

Likewise, the elders/ under-shepherds are to be characterized by Christ’s humility as they are clothed with Christ. And as we follow and submit to the elders’ leadership, we do so in a spirit of humility.

When the church has an atmosphere of humility, we joyfully recognize each other’s strengths, and we are aware of our own weaknesses. Then we partner together in a spirit of cooperation for the good of the entire church body.

Peter then emphasizes the importance of humility by quoting from Proverbs 3:34, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

God is opposed to the proud, self-centered, and the arrogant. He will humiliate them in due time.

Jesus has modeled for us the better way. It’s the way of humility. He purchased for himself a people for his own possession with his own blood. He sacrificed his life so that we could live with him forever.

This is precisely the power of the cross. It is exaltation through humility. It is power displayed through weakness. This is how Jesus’ kingdom operates–– this is how Jesus turns the world upside down.

We follow Christ, by imitating his cruciform way of life; we pattern our lives in such a way that we reflect Christ’s sacrificial love and service to others. When we serve like this, we do it for God’s glory, the good of others, and our own joy.

Let’s pray.

Jesus, you are the Good Shepherd. You are the humble and exalted King who has given us an example that we should love in the same sacrificial way you have loved us. We humble ourselves before you and ask that you help us to be more like you.