What Are the Issues in Shepherding?
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd (5:1–2a)
Therefore refers back to the fact that this epistle’s recipients were suffering persecution (4:12–19) and being attacked for righteousness’ sake. That reality led Peter to exhort the elders to shepherd their troubled, beleaguered sheep. The first and obvious point to note here is that the Holy Spirit affirms that such spiritual leadership and responsibility for the church belongs to elders. That is unmistakable and consistent in the New Testament books dealing with the church. The first mention of elders is in Acts 11:30, where the writer Luke identifies them as the leaders of the Jerusalem church. Subsequent references in Acts (14:23; 15:4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18) continue to make clear their role. In 1 Timothy 5:17 Paul identifies them as those men who rule while laboring “in the word and doctrine” (kjv). Titus 1:5 establishes that elders were to lead every church in every city. The qualifications for such men appear in 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:5–9. (For a detailed treatment of these two passages, see John MacArthur, 1 Timothy, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1995], 91–121; MacArthur, Titus, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1996], 17–52.)
Exhort (parakaleō) means literally “to call alongside,” or in the general sense, “to encourage or compel someone in a certain direction.” The related noun is often associated with the ministry of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16–17, 26; 15:26; 16:7). Here Peter directs the appeal to the elders, who are the Lord’s appointed and gifted leaders of the church. There are three New Testament terms used interchangeably to refer to these men: elder (presbuterion; cf. 1 Tim. 5:19; 2 John 1; 3 John 1), bishop or overseer (episkopos; cf. 2:25; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:2; Titus 1:7), and pastor (poimēn; cf. Eph. 4:11). Elder emphasizes the man’s spiritual maturity necessary for such ministry, and in many Protestant churches it is the official title chosen for the office. Bishop, or overseer, states the general responsibility of guardianship. Pastor is the word shepherd and expresses the priority duty of feeding or teaching the truth of God’s Word.
The Old Testament is filled with references to elders in Israel (e.g., Lev. 4:15; Num. 11:25; Deut. 25:7; 1 Kings 21:11; Ps. 107:32; Prov. 31:23). The New Testament also indicates elders were still important in Jewish society in those days (e.g., Matt. 15:2; 16:21; Luke 9:22; Acts 4:5; 24:1). Each synagogue had its ruling elders who held leadership duties and were responsible for teaching (cf. Neh. 8:4–8; 9:5; Acts 15:21). The early church broadly adopted a similar model (cf. Acts 2:42–47; 6:4), appointing a plurality of godly and gifted men to lead, guard, and feed each local congregation (cf. Titus 1:5). It was their responsibility to proclaim the truth so as to build up the people and protect them against sin and error, while always being the highest examples of godliness to the flock (5:3; 1 Tim. 4:12; Heb. 13:7).
It is significant that Peter used the plural, elders. In reference to this ministry, the term always appears in the plural in the New Testament, affirming that the office was designed for a plurality of men. A singular usage of the word in reference to church leaders occurs only in such instances as when the apostle John calls himself “the elder” (2 John 1; 3 John 1) or Peter here calls himself a fellow elder, and when instruction is given about an accusation against a specific elder (1 Tim. 5:1, kjv, 19). The plurality of godly leaders, as designed by the Lord, not only provides more ministry care (cf. Ex. 18:13–26) but offers some important safeguards (cf. Prov. 11:14). First, it helps protect the church against error. The apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment.… and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor. 14:29, 32). No one was to speak or minister independently (cf. 1 Cor. 14:26–33), teaching strictly on his own and not being accountable or subject to the knowledge of other teachers.
A plurality of elders in a local church also preserves it against imbalance. It is common that dominance by one leader results in his evil domineering over the flock, often with an overemphasis on some doctrine or practice that is out of harmony with the rest of Scripture, exposing people to serious doctrinal error and unbiblical practice. There are varieties of offices, gifts, and administrations (Rom. 12:3–8; 1 Cor. 12:4–11), and each believer, including elders, has a unique gift (see the discussion on 4:10–11 in chapter 21 of this volume), and no two gifts are exactly alike. A plurality of godly and gifted elders enriches the church since God does not give all the spiritual abilities to one man. The undue elevation of one man above what is proper (cf. 1 Tim. 3:6; 5:22) is an abuse against which a plurality of elders in the church safeguards.
Finally, a plurality of elders avoids discontinuity in the church. When a man who has been the sole or dominant leader in a church leaves without ever developing fellow elders, there is no one able to replace him, resulting in a major disruption of ministry for that church. In the shepherdless vacuum, committees of sheep struggle to find a shepherd from among those who have no flock or would like a different one. The results are often disappointing and even divisive. So, God designed the church to be shepherded by a plurality of elders (cf. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).
The task of the shepherd carries with it an unequalled responsibility before the Lord of the church (Heb. 13:17; cf. 1 Cor. 4:1–5). While it includes the positive elements of spiritual leadership toward maturity and Christlikeness, and spiritual guardianship to protect the flock, its chief objective is the feeding of the flock through the skillful preaching and teaching of divine revelation, which is the source of all those positive elements. Peter received firsthand instruction on the shepherd’s foremost responsibility from the risen Lord Himself:
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 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.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.” (John 21:15–17)
Twice Jesus used the word “tend” (boskō), which could be better translated “to feed.” “Shepherd” (poimainō) embodies all the aspects of shepherding. The shepherd’s task is not to tell people only what they want to hear (2 Tim. 4:3–4), but to edify and strengthen them with the deep truths of solid spiritual food that produces discernment, conviction, consistency, power, and effective testimony to the greatness of the saving work of Christ. No matter what New Testament terminology identifies the shepherd and his task, underneath it all is the primacy of biblical truth. He is to feed the sheep.
In Old Testament times, whenever Israel’s spiritual shepherds failed to feed or care for the people, God, through His prophets, rebuked them. Jeremiah declared:
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: “You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,” declares the Lord. “Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply. I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 23:1–4; cf. Ezek. 34:2–16)
Peter includes some compelling motivation in this exhortation for leaders to shepherd. First, the respected apostle humbly identified with them, calling himself a fellow elder. Rather than take advantage of their respect for him as an apostle and elevate himself, he empathized with their task as one who understood the challenges and difficulties inherent in shepherding (see again John 21:15–17).
As another motivation, Peter reminded them that he was a witness of the sufferings of Christ. That he had seen the suffering and risen Christ affirmed the reality of his apostolic identity (Luke 6:12–16; cf. Acts 1:12–17) and gave him authority. Witness (martus) has a twofold meaning: one who personally saw and experienced something, and one who testified to what he saw. Because so many who gave testimony to their experiences with Christ were killed, the term martyred came to refer to one who was killed for being a Christian witness (cf. Matt. 16:24–25; 24:9; Rev. 6:9; 20:4). In Peter’s case, his being a witness to the sufferings of Jesus along with his fellow apostles, and being commissioned to proclaim those sufferings, to declare the gospel message (cf. Luke 24:45–48; Acts 22:15), made him a trustworthy source to encourage the elders to their duty. The Lord’s redemptive work was a primary focus in Peter’s preaching (Acts 2:14–36; 3:12–26; 4:8–12), and a major theme in this letter (1:11, 19; 2:21–24; 3:18; 4:1, 13).
Peter’s mention of future glory motivates by anticipation. As one who was a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, Peter could offer the other elders the genuine hope of an eternal reward for their faithful service. The glory that is to be revealed looks at the return of Christ (cf. 1:7–9; 4:7, 12–13; Matt. 24:30; 25:31; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27; see the discussion of 4:7a in chapter 21 of this volume) when He comes in full expression of His glory to destroy the ungodly, reward His own, and establish His kingdom forever. Peter says he is a partaker (koinōnos) also in that ultimate blessing, indicating that so are the elders. That believers share in eternal glory with their Lord is the essence of their hope (5:10; cf. 2 Cor. 1:1–7; Phil. 3:20–21; Col. 1:27; 3:4; 2 Thess. 2:14; Heb. 2:10; 2 Peter 1:3; 1 John 3:2). And that those shepherds would one day receive that reward from Christ Himself should have been a powerful motivation to all Peter’s readers (see the discussion of 4:13 in the previous chapter of this volume and of 1:3–5 and 1:13 in chapters 2 and 5, respectively). Certainly Peter’s anticipation was magnified exponentially because he had seen that coming glory at the Transfiguration (cf. Matt. 17:1–8; 2 Peter 1:16–19).
Who Must Be Shepherded?
the flock of God among you, (5:2b)
This text clearly states that elders have the most serious, delegated stewardship, to shepherd not their own flock, but the flock of God. Jesus Christ came to earth to redeem His church (cf. John 10:11; Eph. 5:25b–27). After He ascended back to heaven, He sent His Spirit to empower His church (cf. John 16:5–11; Acts 1:4–9) with the necessary spiritual gifts and gifted men to shepherd the flock to Christlikeness (cf. John 14:26; 15:15–17; Eph. 4:11–12). And the fact that Christ purchased that flock with His own blood (1:18–19; cf. Acts 20:28) emphasizes the church’s value to the Lord. In form, the term rendered flock here (poimnion) is a diminutive, a term of endearment, further stressing the preciousness of the church (cf. John 10:1–5). Commentator R. C. H. Lenski echoes this emphasis:
“Flock” brings to mind all the shepherd imagery found in the Scriptures: the sheep gentle, defenseless, liable to stray, needing a shepherd, happy, peaceful under his care, pitiful when lost, scattered, etc. This is “God’s flock” that was bought at a great price (Acts 20:28), that is exceedingly precious in his sight, a great trust placed into the hands of human shepherds who are to pattern after Yahweh, the Shepherd (Ps. 23:1), and Christ, the Archshepherd (v. 4). What shepherd could have the care of any part of God’s flock and treat it carelessly! Peter’s words are sparing but overflow with tender and serious meaning. (The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude [reprint; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966], 218; emphasis in original)
How Must Shepherding Be Done?
exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. (5:2c–3)
To the key question of how elders are to shepherd, Peter provides both positive and negative answers. Exercising oversight actually translates a single Greek word, episkopeō, which literally means “to have scope over,” or “to look upon.” The noun is episkopos (“bishop,” or “overseer”; cf. 1 Tim. 3:1). Its clear connotation here in this first positive answer is that shepherds must watch over the sheep to assess their condition, so as to lead, guard, and feed them.
The second positive way elders exercise oversight is by proving to be examples to the flock. Shepherds are to become sufficiently involved in the lives of the flock that they establish a godly pattern for the people to follow. The most important aspect of spiritual leadership and the best test of its effectiveness is the power of an exemplary life (cf. the apostle Paul’s application of this in Acts 20:17–38; 2 Cor. 1:12–14; 6:3–13; 11:7–11; 1 Thess. 2:1–10; 2 Thess. 3:7–9; 2 Tim. 1:13–14). Paul even went so far as to exhort his sheep to be imitators of him (1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; 1 Thess. 1:6; cf. Heb. 13:7).
Biblical spiritual oversight also involves avoiding three perils inherent in the shepherding task. The first danger Peter mentions is shepherding under compulsion, rather than as eager, willing servant-leaders who minister voluntarily. The obvious point is that the shepherd must be diligent rather than lazy, heart motivated rather than forced to be faithful, and passionate about his privileged duty rather than indifferent. When the heart is fully Christ’s and driven by love for Him and for souls, there is much internal compulsion that precludes any need for external motivational pressure.
Along this line, Paul declares, “If I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:16). He defined the proper compulsion to ministry when he wrote, “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men … the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:11, 14). Paul’s personal passion is also evident in Romans 1:14–16,
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome. For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
This zealous service is according to the will of God, just as the Lord wills the unjust suffering that perfects His saints (4:19). Those who shepherd God’s people should have no doubt about the diligence and seriousness with which they should fulfill their spiritual ministry of caring for the precious souls who are the Lord’s, and they will give an account: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).
The second peril for shepherds to avoid is the temptation to be motivated by money or material benefits. In Acts 20:33–35, Paul manifests the right attitude:
I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (cf. 1 Thess. 2:8–9; 1 Tim. 6:6–11)
The basic scriptural qualifications for an elder also make it clear that he is characterized as a selfless servant committed to sacrifice and not preoccupied with money and materialism (1 Tim. 3:3; Titus 1:7; cf. 2 Tim. 3:1–2). That is not to say, however, that shepherds should not be properly compensated. Paul taught that those who minister the Word have a right to live by that ministry (1 Cor. 9:7–14). In fact, those elders who serve diligently, with greater commitment and excellence in teaching the Word and leading the sheep, should receive greater acknowledgment and more generous remuneration from their congregations (1 Tim. 5:17–18; cf. 1 Thess. 5:12–13).
Sordid gain actually goes beyond just seeking wealth and speaks to the shameful acquisition of it. True shepherds will never use the ministry to steal the sheep’s money or acquire it dishonestly, like false prophets always do. Such despicable behavior is typical of false shepherds, the charlatans and heretics who masquerade as the servants of God, to make themselves rich and their victims destitute (Isa. 56:11; Jer. 6:13; 8:10; Mic. 3:11). In his second letter, Peter characterizes false teachers in vivid language: “In their greed they will exploit you with false words; their judgment from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep” (2:3). True shepherds, instead, will eagerly rejoice at the privilege to serve at all personal costs; as Paul told the Corinthians, “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls” (2 Cor. 12:15). Ministry for money and personal gain is a prostitution of the calling of the Lord of the church, as is laziness and indifference toward the people entrusted to elders. No true shepherd should need personal wealth to motivate him, but he should serve with eagerness (prothumōs, “willingly, freely, eagerly”) because of the high calling and privilege (cf. 1 Tim. 1:12–17).
Finally, those called to shepherd can be imperiled by the desire to sinfully dominate others. Lording it over (katakurieuō) connotes intensity in domineering over people and circumstances (see Diotrephes as an example in 3 John 9–10). Any kind of autocratic, oppressive, and intimidating leadership, with elements of demagoguery—traits that typically characterize the leadership style and methodology of unregenerate men—is a perversion of the overseer’s office. In Matthew 20:25–28, the Lord Jesus set the standard:
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
As if to further challenge elders with the weight of their responsibility, Peter adds a strong reminder that those who shepherd do not choose their responsibility, or those for whom they are responsible. Every shepherd has a flock allotted to his charge (klērōn, “that which is given to another’s care”) by the Lord Himself. Christ’s teaching in Matthew 18, the first instruction regarding life in the church, emphasizes how precious His children (believers) are and how they are to be treated.
Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell. See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven. For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost. What do you think? If any man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go and search for the one that is straying? If it turns out that he finds it, truly I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine which have not gone astray. So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish. (Matt. 18:5–14)
2–3 Peter’s exhortation to those entrusted with spiritual leadership in the community is marked by great care and pastoral sensitivity. He is careful to emphasize how the elders exercise their oversight. He does this in a manner consistent with the sheep/shepherd imagery appropriated earlier (1:19; 2:22–25) and so frequently used in the OT to depict the relationship between God and his people (e.g., Ge 48:15; 1 Ki 22:17; Pss 23:1–6; 80:1; 100:3; 119:176; Jer 3:15; 23:1–4; 31:10; 50:6; Eze 34:2, 11; Mic 5:4; Zec 9:16; 10:2). Peter’s charge is, “Be shepherd of God’s flock that is under your care”—language reminiscent of Paul’s charge to the Ephesian elders (Ac 20:28). Implicit in the shepherding metaphor is a concern for the flock’s total well-being, constitutive elements of which are feeding, watering, protecting, and guiding. Such attentiveness to the flock’s needs is by no means arbitrary, for the flock belongs to God. Hence they have been entrusted by the Lord himself; in the end, shepherds are accountable stewards (cf. 4:11). And certainly an extra measure of passion lies behind Peter’s directive to shepherd the flock, given Jesus’ post-resurrection charge to him: “Feed my lambs.… Take care of my sheep.… Feed my sheep” (Jn 21:15–17).
How precisely are the elders to “serve as overseers”? Three qualifications follow, each consisting of a negative and positive exhortation to form a contrast: (1) not by compulsion, but willingly (cf. 1 Ti 3:1); (2) not for dishonest gain, but eagerly (cf. 1 Ti 3:8; 6:6–10; Tit 1:7; cf. 1 Co 9:7–11); and (3) not lording it over others, but as examples (cf. Mk 10:35–45; Php 3:17; 2 Th 3:9; 1 Ti 4:12; Tit 2:7).
All three speak to the issue of personal motivation. All three strike at the essence of human nature. The exercise of authority, given the human predicament, tends to be coercive, self-centered, and domineering. Jesus’ warning to the disciples at a crucial point in his ministry is poignant: “Not so with you” (Mk 10:43). Rather, Jesus’ prescription is that the true leader “must be your servant.” And this is the spirit of Peter’s admonition. By overseeing in this manner, the elders will be examples (typoi, “types,” GK 5596) to all. One leads not by asserting but by serving the needs of others. A self-serving shepherd is a contradiction in terms.
5:2 / Not surprisingly, after his unforgettable interview with the risen Lord on the shore (John 21:15–17), Peter again employs pastoral language. The church leaders are to be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care (lit. “to shepherd God’s flock among you”). The symbol of shepherd/sheep appeared in 2:25, where it corresponds to Christ/Christians, echoing the frequent ot picture of God as the Shepherd of his people (Ps. 23:1; 80:1; Isa. 40:11; Zech. 9:16). But the image is also applied in the nt to Christian leaders/other believers (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11). The transfer is natural enough, for Christian leaders are acting on behalf of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus himself (5:4), and they are to pattern their ministry after his.
A shepherd is responsible for the total well-being of the flock committed by an employer into his charge. He must see to it that the sheep are fed, watered, and protected at all times, and that, as necessary, they are led from place to place to find fresh pasture. The task can involve not simply the personal inconvenience of putting the sheep before his own comfort, but hardship and danger, even at the risk to his own life (John 10:11). The appropriateness of the metaphor is apparent in the harsh and wild rural economy of Bible days, even if the city-dweller of today may have to make a special effort to appreciate its application to a modern situation.
The flock of church members is described as God’s. The flock belongs to him: it is his property. Elders in their shepherding are to keep that fact always in mind, for they are engaged in fulfilling a divine trust, and in due course they will be answerable to God for what they do—or fail to do—with it.
The elders do not own the sheep, but are serving as overseers, exercising oversight in the church fellowship. But they are not to carry out this responsibility with any unworthy motives. It must be voluntary service (not because you must) and willingly and eagerly given, for such is the true nature of Christian love. Neither must there be any idea of doing for getting, no notion of serving only for what they can squeeze out of it: not greedy for money (1 Tim. 3:8; Titus 1:7). The inclusion of such a warning suggests that it was not unnecessary. Probably since being known as a committed believer meant almost certain ostracism from employment and social life in the general pagan community, the opportunities for grasping money entrusted to Christians in a position of authority might become all too tempting.
5:2. Out of his personal history and his identification with his fellow elders, Peter encouraged and challenged them. The primary role for pastors is to be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care. This is not an optional assignment but a command. It echoes Christ’s command to Peter to “take care of my sheep” (see John 21:16). To “shepherd” means “to lead, to guide, and to rule.”
Since the pastor is the leader of a church, one commentator suggests the following functions of the pastor: “(They) had charge of the financial administration of the church … they were the counselors and administrators of the church. They oversee all the activities of the church and are defenders of the faith. They are also called rulers and teachers and were the paid leaders of the church” (William Barclay, The Letters of James & Peter, Daily Study Bible [Toronto: G. R. Welch Co., 1976], p. 264.)
Although Peter did not allude to the shepherd image in Psalm 23, the model presented there can be applied here. According to that psalm, the tasks of a shepherd are to lead (v. 2), to provide spiritual guidance and feeding (v. 3), to offer comfort (v. 4), strengthening (v. 5), and correction (v. 2).
To accomplish this kind of ministry, a pastor’s motivation must be positive. He must view his role as an overseer of the church not because you must, but because you are willing. “Not because you must” suggests a false sense of unworthiness, a reluctance for responsibility, or a desire to do no more than is absolutely necessary. Ministry should not be an unwanted burden; pastors are not to serve out of a sense of false guilt or fear, or in an attempt to please people. Any of these attitudes or motives can lead to an unwillingness to shepherd or to shepherd in an inappropriate manner.
One of the most inappropriate shepherding motivations is highlighted next: serving because one is greedy for money. Peter did not suggest that pastors should not be paid a salary for their shepherding ministries. The New Testament is very clear that generous remuneration for pastors is incumbent upon the churches (see 1 Tim. 5:17–18). Scripture opposes a motivation for ministry driven by greed, so much so that the pastor either appropriates money dishonestly or is concerned only about personal financial needs. When this occurs, the pastor is not helping the church resist the attacks of Satan, because this is something that Satan often uses to distract us.
How much better to be eager to serve. Eager is a strong term meaning “with enthusiasm, with energy and excitement.” This is certainly difficult when facing the attacks of Satan and when one is attempting to lead a church through a maze of suffering and persecution. At the same time, it is an indispensable characteristic for pastor-leaders to model. It doesn’t suggest that a pastor is never discouraged or that he does not have days when he is not enthusiastic about ministry. This is a big-picture word, a long-haul term that describes the overall tone of his shepherding. Without this, pastors have a tendency to drift toward a harmful approach to ministry.
2. Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3. not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
- “Be shepherds of God’s flock.” The imagery is striking in view of Jesus’ words spoken at the time of Peter’s restoration: “Feed my lambs,” “Take care of my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17). Here is a figure of speech that Jesus often used. He applied the saying I am the good shepherd (John 10:11, 14) to himself and called the church a flock of sheep. He borrowed the imagery from the Old Testament (see, e.g., Ps. 78:52; Isa. 63:11; Jer. 31:10; Zech. 13:7). As Jesus is the “Chief Shepherd” (v. 4), so the elders should be shepherds working under him and caring for God’s people, called “God’s flock.” Here Peter commands the elders to be shepherds while they serve as overseers. They must feed the flock “by discipline and doctrine.”
The expression flock appears four times in the New Testament: Jesus uses it to calm his disciples (“Do not be afraid, little flock” [Luke 12:32]); Paul exhorts the Ephesian elders to “keep watch over yourselves and all the flock” and to protect it from savage wolves that “will not spare the flock” (Acts 20:28–29); Peter tells the elders to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care” (v. 2) and to be “examples to the flock” (v. 3). The Greek word for “flock” is a diminutive form. It is a term of endearment and means “God’s precious flock” that has been bought with the blood of Christ.
- “Serving as overseers.” Elders serve by being overseers of the flock. Peter gives them a number of instructions about how they are to do their work. We have the following scheme, put in parallel form to show the negative and positive directives:
|not because you must
|but because you are willing,
|as God wants you to be
|not greedy for money
|but eager to serve
|not lording it over
|but being examples to the
First, let us consider the negative statement not because you must. In the Greek, the adverbial expression which in the New Testament occurs only here means “by compulsion” or “by force or constraint.”8 The desired attitude is similar to that of the person who donates his gifts: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7).
Positively, an elder must serve willingly and spontaneously to please God (compare Philem. 14). He does so freely, with the sole purpose of doing God’s will. By doing so, he demonstrates his love and thankfulness toward God.
Second, the prohibition not greedy for money is telling, for this is one of the vices the elders should avoid (see 1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7, and see 11). During his earthly ministry, Jesus instructed the disciples: “The worker deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7). Paul amplifies this thought when he writes about the material support of the preacher. Says he, “The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). And in the pastoral Epistles Paul indicates that elders received remuneration for their labors in the church. “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). In the next verse, Paul quotes Jesus’ saying, “The worker deserves his wages,” to show that the term honor includes financial support. The elders, however, ought to shun every desire to enrich themselves. Should they yield to this desire, they would commit the sin of greed, “which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5). “What is forbidden is not the desire for fair remuneration, but the sordid love of gain.”
Peter tells the elders not to be greedy “but eager to serve.” He says that they must be filled with enthusiasm in their task of serving God’s people. They must find their satisfaction in serving Christ, not in serving Money.
Third, as shepherds of the flock, the elders receive their authority directly from the Chief Shepherd (v. 4) through the Holy Spirit (compare Acts 20:28). However, they are not to misuse this authority; hence the admonition, “not lording it over those entrusted to you.” That is, Jesus has given them a charge to serve the people of his flock.
The words lording it over “speak of a high-handed autocratic rule over the flock.” Although Jesus delegates authority to leaders in the church (see 1 Tim. 5:17), no elder may abuse the power he has received. When Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth, he advances their spiritual stability. Says he, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm” (2 Cor. 1:24; also compare Ezek. 34:4).
The apostles Peter and Paul never used their apostolic office for personal advantage. They placed themselves alongside the members of the church to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, and bind up the wounded.
Peter notes that the elders are to serve the people who are entrusted to their care. In the Greek, Peter literally says, “not lording it over the lots.” The lots are “the various parts of the congregation which have been assigned as ‘portions’ to the individual presbyters.” Jesus, then, entrusts various parts of his church to the elders and holds them accountable to God for the work they perform (see Heb. 13:17). The elders serve God’s people not because of natural leadership capabilities or because Peter ordained them as presbyters. They serve because Jesus the Chief Shepherd called them to this task.
Church leaders must “be examples to the flock.” Paul instructs Timothy to be an example to the believers in speech, life, love, faith, and purity (1 Tim. 4:12; and see Titus 2:7). The elders must induce the people to imitate them in true obedience to the gospel of Christ. Furthermore, when these leaders faithfully proclaim the Word and live in accordance with it, they enhance the name of Christ and thus strengthen their authority. In short, for the elders words and deeds must be synonymous (compare 1 Cor. 11:1; Phil. 3:17).
Practical Considerations in 5:2–3
People are slavish borrowers of expressions they do not have in their own tongue. The result is that words in time assume different shades of meaning. Often the original meaning of a word disappears completely.
One such word is the term clergy. Today we use it of ordained pastors. We place it in opposition to the unordained members of the church whom we call “laity.” Now notice an interesting development in the history of these two terms. The word clergy comes from the Greek kleeros (v. 3), which in the original means “lot” or in this verse “an allotment of members of the church.” In early ecclesiastical Latin, the expression clerus signified a congregation and pointed to a group of unordained members. In later years, however, the Latin term clericus became the designation for an ordained person; the rest of the people were called “laity” (from the Greek word laos or laikos, people).
When Peter wrote verses 2 and 3 and instructed the elders to be shepherds of the people, he told them not to lord it over those who were entrusted to their care. But the Greek term he employed to describe the ones entrusted to the elders now functions as a label for the clergy.
5:2 Elders are mature men of Christian character who are qualified by the Holy Spirit to provide spiritual leadership in the assembly. The NT presupposes a plurality of elders—not one elder over a church or over a group of churches, but two or more elders in one assembly (Phil. 1:1). For the qualifications of elders see 1 Timothy 3:1–7 and Titus 1:6–9. In the early church before the NT was available in written form, elders were appointed by the apostles and their representatives, but only after sufficient time had elapsed in a new church for it to be evident who had the qualifications. Today, Christians should recognize and obey those who have the qualifications and who do the work of elders.
Shepherd the flock of God which is among you. The flock belongs to God but elders have been given the responsibility to serve as undershepherds. Not by compulsion but willingly. Overseeing the flock is not a work into which men are coerced by election or appointment. The Holy Spirit provides the burden and ability, and the elders must respond with a willing heart. So we read in 1 Timothy 3:1, “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” Coupled with divine enablement must be human willingness.
Not for dishonest gain but eagerly. Financial reward must not be the motive for being an elder. This does not mean that an elder may not be supported by the local church; the existence of such “full-time elders” is indicated in 1 Timothy 5:17, 18. But it means that a mercenary spirit is incompatible with true Christian ministry.
 Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 352–353). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 190–193). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2280). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.