Humble Leaders and Members in the Church (1 Peter 5:1-5)

Sermon by Rev. Daniel L. Sonnenberg | February 19, 2012


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: 2 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; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 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.” (1 Peter 5:1-5)


As Peter’s first letter to the churches of Asia Minor is drawing to a close, he addresses the leaders and members of the persecuted church and their relationships to one another.

When a church is under stress and danger externally – from forces outside itself – it is imperative that it function well internally. It is extremely important that each person and each group of persons is clear on how they are to relate to one another – what they should do, what they should not do, what should motivate them their behaviors.

Just like a family, when external pressures are brought to bear on it – through the parents’ work, the kids’ school, neighbors, extended family members, or whatever – those pressures can bring out the worst and the best in the members of the family.

When you have a common enemy, if you can manage to combine forces with each person fulfilling his or her role, you can become a force to be reckoned with. But if you are unclear about your roles and therefore cannot work together, the external forces can overpower you.

Today we’ll look at both sides of three directives and their motivations that Peter wrote to the persecuted churches under his care.

  • How elders should lead
  • How members should follow
  • How all should behave toward one another

Since Christ, the chief Shepherd will reward accordingly those who faithfully carry out his commands, elders should oversee the flock under their care willingly, eagerly, and in exemplary fashion; while those who follow their lead should do so submissively; and all should behave humbly toward one another by the grace of God.

Peter introduces this section with an appeal to the elders.  The context indicates that Peter is directing his commands to the appointed elders – those holding the office of elder – rather than just older men in general.

First, Peter appeals to them as a fellow elder.

He claims his solidarity with the elders of the churches and at the same time their solidarity with him. He comes down to their level and brings them up to his level.

1 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:

When your boss comes in to bring you a directive, it can be done in several ways. It can be handed down as an edict from on high – Do it or else! Or the person bringing the directive can try to find some common ground with you before stating the directive. Isn’t it nice when your boss takes the second route!?

That’s what Peter does here. He tries to find common ground with the elders of the churches. He tells them he is a fellow-elder, a fellow-witness of Christ’s suffering, and fellow-partaker in Christ’s glory – with them. He’s saying in effect, I’m in this with you, you’re in this with me; we’re in this together. Peter models for the elders the attitude they should take toward their own flock. This attitude of humility comes out in Peter’s second letter writes in,

2 Peter 1:1 Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ: (2Pe 1:1 ESV)

Though he was an apostle, he claimed an equal standing for the elders of the churches and later, for even the members of the churches – an equality by the righteousness of Christ. In Christ, we have equal standing, yet we have different roles to fill according to God’s call.

Illustration: Story of song-writers’ workshop – God raises up according to his purpose, be faithful to your call wherever you are placed.\

Second, Peter appeals to them as stewards of God’s flock.

2a shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,

He uses a common metaphor from both the OT and NT – the shepherd and the sheep – to remind the elders first that it is God’s flock that they are called to shepherd – and by implication not their own. They are like stewards in a household – in charge of everything, yet not owners themselves.

He also points out second that they too are members of the flock. The flock is “among them.” He could have said the flock is “under you,” but instead says it is among you. In other words, you are one of them, you are part of God’s flock as well. You are the steward of the house but you are also a member of the household.

Third, he instructs them to exercise oversight of the flock. This is simply a modifier of the main verb – to shepherd – which further explains what they are to do.

One aspect of shepherding the flock is to exercise oversight. This extends the metaphor of steward even further. A steward oversees the operation of a household or business, though he or she is not the owner of the business. This is like a modern manager or general manager of a business. He or she is on site, day to day, overseeing every aspect of the operation.

So Peter has established common ground with the elders, and pointed out that they are stewards of this part of God’s flock.

Next, he goes on to direct them in

HOW elders should serve – what they should do, what they should not do, and what should motivate their attitudes and actions.

First, they are to lead

  •  Willingly, not as if they are forced to do so

2… not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;  

Sometimes, an elder is compelled to serve, not by God’s internal call that is then confirmed by the elders and members of the church, but by some other compulsion strictly from the outside. Maybe by other elders who are going off Session, maybe by members of the church who say, “We’ve got to have someone to fill this slot!”

The elders or congregation may use guilt, bribery, or some other means to compel him. But the result is the same. When push comes to shove, the elder does his duties grudgingly or with much groaning and complaining, because he did not want to do this in the first place. He did not have the internal call of God that motivates a person to do a task that requires at times hard work and perseverance. He should have never been called in the first place or should have declined when asked.

Other times, even those who have the internal call to serve as an elder become burned out, often by extended difficulties in the church they have had to deal with. As a result, they begin to serve grudgingly, sometimes with much groaning. They begin to see the needs of the congregation as an excessive burden and meetings to discuss the needs of the congregation something they can no longer bear – at least for now. They are no longer serving willingly, often through no fault of their own. They need a rest, maybe an extended rest from overseeing the flock. They may need to serve in some other part of the church for a time to become rejuvenated until they are ready to serve willingly once again, with an internal joy in doing so.

The goal, however, is that the elders serve “willingly, as God would have you.”

Willingly, in contrast to grudgingly. That is, joyfully doing what is expected of you as an elder. Gladly accepting the responsibility you have been given.

As God would have you, implies elders should act in the same manner as God acts toward us – voluntarily, out of his grace. He willingly sent his Son, Jesus willingly – voluntarily – became flesh and dwelt among us, in order to redeem us to God. Elders, likewise, should act voluntarily, drawing on the grace given to them in their call by God.

Second, they are to lead

  • Eagerly, that is, eager to give to others, not to get for themselves

2… not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

Some elders, unfortunately, accept the call in order to gain something for themselves. They see it as an opportunity to advance their career, to market their product or service, or to move up the ladder of power or prestige. They spend their time, not concerned about the flock but concerned about themselves and how they might profit from their position. They do so with a calculating mentality always asking what can I get out of this?

Others may initially accept the call with the right motives, but later fall into seeking personal gratification or financial gain when they see one or more tempting opportunities.

One ruling elder from a past church took advantage of his position as an elder and a youth worker to prey on junior high boys for his personal sexual gratification. When it came out, he was removed from the Session, barred from the property and eventually went to jail for a number of years. It certainly became a blot on the church’s record.

Most elders, however, serve as Peter instructs – eagerly. What is implied is that they are eager to serve others rather than to serve themselves. They do so energetically, enthusiastically and zealously with care for the needs of others. They care for the welfare of the congregation, not just their own welfare.

They serve as Christ did, not for personal gain, but like Christ who eagerly served others through his death on the cross as we see in Phil (2:5ff) 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Jesus did not grasp – hold onto – something for himself, but eagerly served others through his death on the cross. That is how elders should serve the flock under their care.

Third, elders should be

  • Examples to the flock, not dominating them

3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

 Nobody wants to be bossed around. It’s demeaning and unmotivating.

Illustration: In a recent TV episode of Undercover Bosses, they featured the CEO of Checkers and Rallys. He went to work as a trainee to see how the store operated. What he found in one store was that the manager was bossing everyone around, yelling and threatening. When asked why he explained that they wouldn’t do anything he said unless he yelled and threatened them.

When pressed further he explained that he came in as an assistant manager and the manager who was training him left after only two weeks and he was instructed to take over as the new manager without completing his training.

He admitted that he had not been able to fully train his crew  because he had not been fully trained himself, so he had resorted to ordering them around.

When a person feels inferior, often, they act superior to compensate. They try to overcome their feelings of inferiority by acting superior to others – bossing them around, yelling, and demeaning them, without regard to their feelings.

Fortunately, the CEO stepped in, closed the store briefly and brought in some good managers from other stores to ensure that the manager and his crew were fully trained so they could work together in harmony.

Sometimes elders, out of desperation, resort to what amounts to bossing church members and staff around. What you hear people saying is, “The elders are treating the church too much like a business.” What the people mean is that it seems the elders are not considering the feelings of the people involved.

Remember the movie, You’ve Got Mail, with Tom Hanks (Joe Fox) and Meg Ryan (Kathleen Kelly)?  His big bookstore (Fox Books) moved into the neighborhood and forced her little bookstore (The Shop Around the Corner) out of business.

In the course of their email correspondence – in which he knew it was her but she didn’t know it was him – when trying to explain his actions he typed the phrase,

Joe Fox: It wasn’t… personal. [To which she responded]
Kathleen Kelly: What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s *personal* to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?
Joe Fox: Uh, nothing.
Kathleen Kelly: Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.

In other words everything that has to do with human beings is personal – to someone. Elders, who are shepherds to the flock, should remember that everything is personal – to someone.

Peter says, instead of domineering the flock elders should be examples to them. Instead of yelling, or bossing or controlling, elders should show by their good example, what the members should do and say and think.

Christ did this in many ways, but especially by washing his disciples’ feet in the upper room. He humbled himself to perform the act of a servant, even though he was the teacher. He wrapped himself with towel, filled a bowl with water and washed their dirty feet.

Only later did he explain his actions, teaching them what they should learn from his example, (Joh 13:12-17 ESV) “”Do you understand what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.  If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Finally, let’s look at

What should motivate the elders to serve the flock

4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Two points can be made here.

First, what they will receive and second, from whom they will receive it.

  •  What they will receive – an unfading crown of glory. On the one hand it is like an athlete’s victory crown, the crown made of vines that an athlete received for winning a competition in the first century. But on the other hand, this crown is unfading, like the inheritance laid up for us in heaven in 1 Peter 1:3. Unlike the athlete’s crown made of vines which will wilt and dry up and be thrown into the fire, the faithful elders’ crown is unfading. It will not pass away.
  • From whom they will receive it – Christ himself. Now it is stated directly that the elders in the local church serve under Christ who is the Chief Shepherd, who when he returns will reward those who have served him faithfully as his under-shepherds.

Therefore, it is worth striving and working for in order to receive a reward that will not pass away from none other than Christ himself.

Not only does Peter give instructions to the elders on how to lead, but he also gives instructions on

How members should follow

 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.

Earlier, the context indicated that Peter was directing his commands to the appointed elders rather than just older men in general.

Now, the context indicates that he is directing his command, not just to those who are chronologically younger, but to everyone who is not an appointed elder. His directive to them is much shorter.

  • Obediently, respectfully, deferentially

He says to them “be subject” to the elders. Earlier in the letter Peter outlined what it meant for Christians to be subject to every human institution (2:13), for slaves to be subject to their masters (2:18), and for wives to be subject to their husbands,  (3:1) generally whether those human authorities are just or unjust, because the Lord, having all authority himself, has established all human authority.

In this case, the elders of the local church are the human authority in view. Elders are appointed in the church by one means or another, under the Lord’s authority, to serve as overseers of the flock. As such, whether just or unjust, the members of the church should be subject to them as to the Lord.

Being subject implies obedience, respect and deference toward the appointed elders. The opposite of this is rebellion, undermining, impatience, impertinence, and second-guessing their decisions. This is the temptation of those who are younger. When we are younger we often don’t see or understand the bigger picture and all the elements that need to be considered when they make a decision. We often see things only from the viewpoint of our own preferences or from the standpoint of what will benefit or promote the ministry in which we participate.

I did this frequently as a young music director in the church. I saw most everything from the standpoint of how the elders’ decisions would affect the music ministry which was dear to my heart. Later, however, I realized that God was accomplishing his will through them even when it do not go my way.

The elders’ charge from the EPC Book of Order is “to represent the mind of Christ” as they make decisions about the church. They are not charged to represent this constituency or that constituency as are elected officials in our Republic. Rather, the elders are to represent the mind of Christ as they understand it based on Scripture and the leading of the Spirit.

Those who are not appointed elders then should obey them as they obey the Lord, trusting that if they’re wrong, they will be held responsible by the Chief Shepherd. There are exceptions, and Scriptures and the BOO give us guidelines for that as well. We will deal with that another day.

Finally, Peter instructs both elders and members

How all should behave toward one another

5b Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

In a word, we all should behave humbly towards one another. He uses the word that we translate “clothe” perhaps to bring to mind the apron that Christ put on before he washed the disciples feet. All of you put on the apron of foot-washing, of humble service toward one another, as Christ did.

In that act, Christ humbled himself, and showed them an example of humbly serving one another that was unforgettable.

Second, Peter gives them a more direct reason to humble themselves toward one other. He quotes Proverbs 3:34 which says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Therefore, elders should behave humbly toward the members of the church and the members should behave humbly toward the elders. Both are tempted to arrogance but in different ways.

The elders can be tempted to arrogance, to think too highly of themselves because they have been appointed as those who oversee others. But they must remember that just like husbands and wives are equal in God’s sight yet have different functions in the family, so elders and members are equal in God’s sight yet have different functions in the church.

The members can also be tempted to arrogance, to think that they don’t need elders to oversee them, to rebel against the elders, to live independent of the oversight of the elders. However, they should remember that God has appointed elders to serve as shepherds to oversee his flock. Therefore, to rebel against the elders is to rebel against God himself.

The definition of humility according to one commentator is “recognizing one’s complete dependence on God and is expressed by the acceptance of one’s role and position in God’s economy. With such humility one is freed from attempts to gain more power or prestige. Instead, humility expresses itself in the willingness to serve others even beyond one’s self-interest.”

(Karen H. Jobes. 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament) (p. 309). Kindle Edition.)

Let’s close by looking once again at Christ’s example in Paul’s letter to the Philippians (2:3-11 ESV). 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,  10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,  11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

When the Chief Shepherd comes again to receive us to himself, let us be found behaving humbly toward one another, in obedience to God, so that so that we might receive a share in his glory.

Click here for the series of twenty-three sermons on the entire book of 1 Peter.

Categories: 1 Peter, 1st Peter: The Church in the World, 2012, Sermons

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