Text: I Peter 5:1-14
Speaker: Pastor Paul McPheeters
Today we come to the last chapter of the First Letter of Peter in the New Testament, so I invite you to turn there with me: to chapter 5:1-14. We will hear Peter say at the very end of this chapter that he has written this letter as a brief encouragement to his readers, testifying to the true grace of God and encouraging them to
stand fast in that grace.
That is a pretty accurate description of what this whole letter has been about. Let’s listen now to these final admonitions from Peter, and see what kind of encouragement in the grace of God he has for us today.
So in Peter’s final admonitions he addresses his words of encouragement to two “categories” of people in the churches of Asian Minor: the “elders” and the “youngers.”
And the “elders” were not just the older members of the church, but were the church leaders who were more mature in the faith. And the “youngers” were not just “young men” as the NIV translates the term here, but were those who were newer to the faith and were not “leaders” in the churches, but “followers,” those who were being led in the faith and who were growing to maturity in Christ.
And in Peter’s final admonitions here in chapter 5, he is encouraging the leaders to lead well, and he is encouraging the followers to follow well. Let’s look at what Peter has to say to both groups.
1. To the leaders in the church, “the elders,” Peter’s admonition is: “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.”
And my friends, that is the primary calling for all church leaders. And it’s not just for pastors of churches. That is also the calling for church deacons, and trustees, and Sunday School teachers, and small group leaders, and nursery care volunteers. If people have been placed under our care as a church leader in any capacity, we are called to shepherd them
And what do shepherds do for the flocks under their care? They feed them, and protect them, and lead them, and care for them. And as Jesus said in the earlier reading today from John 10:14, a good shepherd “knows his sheep, and the sheep know him or her.”
Good shepherding of kids in Sunday School is not just about teaching the curriculum, it’s about getting to know the kids, and sharing the stories of Jesus with them in a way that shows what Jesus means to you, and what Jesus can mean for them. And to do that means getting to know the kids, and allowing them to know you.
You see, ministry is first and foremost about people. It’s about caring for the people who are entrusted to our care. And Peter uses this image of shepherding because it was the image he had himself learned from Jesus. In fact, it was the very wording of the commissioning that Jesus had given him.
Do you remember when Jesus met with Peter after the resurrection to forgive and restore him? On the night Jesus was betrayed and arrested, Peter had denied three times that he even knew Jesus. And his failure to own up to his faith in Jesus, and to stand up for what he believed had left him crushed and disappointed with himself and miserable.
But Jesus met him on the shore of the lake of Galilee, and shepherded him back to life. He fed Peter, and forgave Peter, and restored him. And then he commissioned Peter, calling him to now go and take that grace and forgiveness he had received. And Jesus said, “Feed my sheep, Peter. Tend my lambs, Peter. Feed my sheep.”
And that is what Peter spent the rest of his life doing, shepherding the flock that Jesus placed under his care. Now Peter says to these other elders and leaders of Jesus’ church, “This is your calling, too. As a fellow elder, I say to you, “Feed Jesus’ sheep. Tend His lambs. Feed his sheep.”
And it is a great calling to be “under-shepherds” of the great shepherd, whether that is as a pastor, or a deacon, or elder, or Sunday School teacher, or small group leader. Being a leader in Jesus’ church, and having people entrusted to your care is a great calling. Because as a leader, you will learn more about Jesus’ life and love and grace and truth yourself in the process, and you will have the privilege of watching others come to know and experience that grace and truth, too.
And Peter says that in the end when the Great Shepherd returns to bring all things to completion, those who have tended and cared for his sheep will receive a crown of glory that will never fade away.
But he also warns Christian leaders about the flip side of the coin: that is, shepherding sheep for all the wrong reasons.
Like wanting a position of power to lord it over people.
Like wanting to make money out of it.
Like wanting to just get the job done because “church work needs to be done and somebody’s got to do it, and I’m a responsible person (not like all those other people who just come to church to get something out of it), so ok I will do it.”
Peter says, “Don’t lead God’s people with those kinds of attitudes or motivations. Rather, do it because you are willing and eager to serve, and because it is a response to the love and grace God has freely given you. The ministry of the gospel needs to be rooted in a heart that is thankful for the gospel. It was the restoration and forgiveness Peter had personally received from Jesus that motivated him to want to share that restoration and forgiveness with others. It was the kindness he had received from the Chief Shepherd that motivated him to want to be a good shepherd to the flocks entrusted to his care.
Let that be my motivation every day as well.
2. Secondly, Peter turns to the sheep and addresses them as those entrusted to the under-shepherds of Jesus. The “youngers” he calls them, the newbies, those who are younger in the faith. And their primary calling is to “humility” of all things! And submission!
Now there couldn’t be two traits that were less popular or esteemed in the Roman Empire than humility and submission. The Roman Empire was built on power and prestige. Submission and humility were only valued in slaves and wives. And I’d say submission and humility are not what we’d call highly valued traits in our day either. Perhaps not in any age.
But in the Kingdom of God, humility is a highly valued trait. And submissiveness to God, and to those God has placed in leadership is also highly valued. It doesn’t mean blind obedience to leaders or husbands or governmental authorities who are unjust or corrupt. But there is a respect for authorities outside of ourselves that we are called to exemplify. And Peter is calling those who are not leaders in their churches to respect those who are leaders in their churches, and follow their leadership. He urges them to “clothe themselves with humility” because as the Book of Proverbs says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
And I love that phrase, “clothe yourselves with humility.” In Greek it is literally to “tie on the garment of humility.” “Bind it to yourself, and keep wearing it.” It is an active thing we are called to here, not a passive kind of “just be humble” as though humility means not being active.
No. Humility is usually most needed when you don’t want to be humble. Humility is needed when you want to prove to someone that you are right and they are wrong. Humility is needed when you disagree with the leadership of your church because they make a decision you don’t like. Humility is an active thing we need to make ourselves “put on” like an apron of service around ourselves.
It is a conscious choice to not demand our own will and our own way. It is counting the 10 seconds, and taking a deep breath, and then making the decision to say, “Lord, You are God and I am not. This is Your church and not mine. Just because I disagree with this decision doesn’t mean I am right and they are wrong. Maybe I don’t know all the facts of what went into this decision. Maybe they had good reasons for making this decision. Maybe I need to pray for them, and then go talk to them respectfully to find out what caused them to decide the way they did.”
That’s what Peter is talking about here. Humbling ourselves before God and before those God has placed in leadership in our lives, and submitting ourselves respectfully to them. And we do so trusting in God’s mighty hand to work all things together for the good of those who love him. We trust in his sovereignty to work things out. We confess freely that we do not need to try and be in control of everything. We are not the Christ. Jesus is.
And, Peter says, we cast our cares and all our anxieties on Him knowing that He cares for us. Again, this is an active step we are being called to take in hard times. It is when we have cares and anxieties that we are most likely to think that God doesn’t care for us. It is when we are not getting our way, that we think that God is somewhere else in the universe taking care of someone else but is not here caring for me. It is precisely in those times when our church leaders are making decisions we don’t agree with that we need to actively cast our cares on God, and trust that he really does still care for us, and does care for our church; and He really is big enough and strong enough and caring enough to work this thing out for our good and His glory.
So “be self controlled and alert” to these times, Peter says, and be ready to take these active steps to “put on the garment of humility,” and “cast your cares on God.”
“And be aware, too,” Peter says, “that there is an enemy of your soul out there who is like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. So don’t let that be you that gets eaten up!” Peter says. “Don’t let the devil get into your head wreak havoc with your faith, and destroy your relationships with others in the church. Be aware of his schemes and actively resist him. Stand firm in your faith. And know that you are not alone: your brothers and sisters in Christ are going through everything that you are going through as well, and we are all working at this life in Christ together.”
“And the God of all grace,” Peter says, “the God who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm, and steadfast. To Him be power for ever and ever.”
My friends, these were not just words for the apostle Peter. This was the testimony of his life. It was God who had called him. It was Christ who had restored him after he had suffered a little while. It was the Holy Spirit who had at Pentecost filled him and made him strong, firm and steadfast, where once he was weak, and shaky, and disloyal.
The change in him was not anything he had done. It was God’s power that had transformed his life, and that was continuing to empower and transform his life. And it was looking forward to the consummation of that transformation when Christ would come again that enabled Peter to be full of hope and eager expectation, even while living in a difficult world where he now felt like an alien and a stranger.
Can you find hope and encouragement in Peter today for your life? Can you humble yourself under God’s mighty hand this morning here in worship? Accepting the current state of the world and the current state of our church, and the current state of your life as part of His will for this time, but trusting that in due time he will lift us up, and steer us all toward His desired ends?
In the meantime, can you join me in casting our anxieties on God this morning? We all need to trust every day that God really does care for us. We need to trust every day that whatever sufferings we are currently experiencing are not a sign that he doesn’t care for us, but are simply part of life in a broken world, which he is in the process of redeeming?
Can you take a moment this morning to resist the taunts of the enemy who wants you to shake your faith and cause you to doubt God’s love? Ask for God’s help right now to empower you to receive Peter’s admonitions and encouragements today, to place our hope in God, because to Him belongs the power. He is the One who can restore us and make us strong, and firm, and steadfast. He is the one who alone can lift us up.
Let us pray.