Yesterday’s post was based on 1 Peter 5:1-5 and explained two of three duties of church shepherds. Today, we will look at the third duty as well as the reward that awaits those who are faithful.
3. Not lording it over, but proving to be examples – Third, spiritual oversight is to be exercised in a spirit of humility and servanthood. The phrase “not lording it over” is sometimes translated “domineering,” and means “forcefully ruling over.” Leaders who lord it over others strive to gain dominion by subduing those beneath them in order to exercise complete control. This is the character trait made famous by Diotrephes, who loved to “be first among them” (3 John 9). Jesus warns against this worldly form of leadership: “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’” (Matt. 20:25–28).
Faithful shepherds care for the flock that is “allotted” to their charge (1 Peter 5:3). In other words, it is the flock portioned out by God to their care. This emphasizes both sovereignty and stewardship. Like the Ephesian elders, church shepherds must take care of “the church of God” (Acts 20:28). To realize that they do not care for their own churches but for the church that God purchased for Himself with the blood of His Son is sobering and raises enormous implications for how we expect them to “do church.”
Rather than practicing tyrannical leadership, church shepherds are to be proving themselves to be examples. The word “example” refers to a pattern. Kenneth Wuest says it means “a print left as an impression after a blow.” Combined with the present participle translated “proving,” the text literally reads, “You yourselves constantly be becoming a pattern for others to follow.” In other words, the spiritual leader is to be the kind of person after whom believers can trace their lives. Paul exhorts Titus, “In all things show yourself to be an example of good deeds, with purity in doctrine, dignified” (Titus 2:7). Paul not only taught this, but also he modeled practical godliness to the extent that he could write to the Philippians, “Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us” (Phil. 3:17).
To a great extent, the growth of God’s flock depends upon the example of its shepherds. Oswald Sanders writes, “Water rises no higher than its source,” and, “It is a general principle that we can influence and lead others only so far as we ourselves have gone. The person most likely to be successful is one who leads not by merely pointing the way but by having trodden it himself. We are leaders to the extent that we inspire others to follow us.” The shepherd’s walk must match his talk for his ministry to experience God’s fullest blessing. John Stott writes, “We cannot hide what we are. Indeed, what we are speaks as plainly as what we say. When these two voices blend, the impact of the message is doubled. But when they contradict each other, even the positive witness of the one is negated by the other.” Shepherds must take heed to the exhortation: “Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:12).
One reward – Pastor-elders who are faithful in shepherding and overseeing God’s flock can look forward to a reward when “the Chief Shepherd” appears (1 Peter 5:4). This title could be translated “Master Shepherd,” which emphasizes the accountability of earthly shepherds to Christ, their Master. The word “appears” does not mean to become temporarily visible, but to be manifested in His true character. So when Christ manifests Himself in all His glory, His faithful undershepherds will receive the “unfading crown of glory,” a reward that “will not fade away” (1 Peter 1:4), an eternal crown. The prize that Jesus will give to His faithful undershepherds will not be like the one given at the Olympic games, which was made of flowers that quickly withered; instead, their reward will last forever.
The faithful pastor will realize that his toil is not in vain when he keeps this eternal perspective. Though he may never receive due honor from the sheep he so faithfully serves in this life, his work will not go unnoticed or unrewarded by the Lord Jesus Christ. The reward he receives will far outweigh the sacrificial service he has offered to the church in the name of the One who gave His blood to purchase her. Sadly, as A. B. Simpson recognizes, “Often the crowd does not recognize a leader until he has gone, and then they build a monument for him with the stones they threw at him in life.” Though this may be the case for too many ministers, the faithful church shepherd will receive his just reward at the Second Coming of Christ. He will hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matt. 25:23). No greater compensation can be received. No greater commendation should be sought.
[Adapted from Counsel Your Flock, 2009]