We can see from this text that there is one primary exhortation that Peter gives. “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you”. As the Lord Jesus Himself re-commissioned Peter after his denials calling him to “Feed My Sheep/Lambs”, so Peter now desires that these elders be faithful to the calling of the Lord on their lives as under-shepherds. The word “shepherd” is poimaino and “involves much more than bosko (1006), to feed. It implies the whole office of the shepherd, guiding, guarding, folding of the flock as well as leading to nourishment (Mt. 2:6; Lk. 17:7; Jn. 21:16; Acts 20:28; 1 Cor. 9:7; 1 Peter 5:2; Jude 1:12; Rev. 2:27)” (Lexical Aids to the New Testament in The Hebrew/Greek Key Word Study Bible, ed. Spiros Zodhiates, #4165, p. 1750).
As mentioned in this definition the shepherding ministry to which the elders are called is a complete and balanced ministry. The elder must carefully and diligently use his God-given skill to both guide and guard God’s flock. Certainly the shepherd must lay down his own life so as to protect God’s sheep from the ferocious wolves that would no doubt come (cf. Acts 20:25-31). Yet he must also provide nourishment from day to day. The shepherd’s task is often tireless and thankless.
The care of pastors for their flock will be proportional to their care for the Lord. By the Lake of Galilee Jesus had examined Peter about his love for him. Only as he confessed his love for Christ was Peter charged to shepherd the flock of Christ. Love for Christ will kindle compassion for Christ’s scattered sheep, the little ones for whom he died.
Love for the Lord will motivate elders to imitate the care of the Good Shepherd. God directed his people as a flock, leading them through the wilderness. So too, Jesus leads his sheep going before them. The elder-shepherd is not a cowboy, driving his flock like cattle. He leads them as a shepherd would, walking on ahead (Clowney, Edmund. The Message of 1 Peter, The Bible Speaks Today Series. Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, Ill, 1988. pp. 200-01).
“The flock of God which is among you”
He calls these elders to look to “the flock of God”. The word “flock” communicates the idea of a little flock/gathering, and this flock includes sheep and lambs, male and female, black and white, etc. There doesn’t seem to be any certain category or “focus group” in this flock. This is a reference to the local church as to the universal church. God has a plan and purpose for His Church in its local manifestation. The only qualification for this flock is that it is God’s flock! What great motivation for the shepherd! I try to be careful with someone else’s tools when I use them. I am extra cautious with other people’s children as I attempt to follow their instructions and wishes. How much more should I be with God’s flock. And please note “which is among you”. At the very least this phrase implies a closeness or proximity to the flock. These elders, it is assumed, are among the flock not apart from it. This was no cyber-church, not a satellite-church with associate members. Shepherds simply must spend time with the flock.
“Serving as overseers”
There is quite an interesting use of the participle here for in this one Greek word (episkopountes) is communicated not only what an elder does but what he is. He is an “overseer” and he does oversee. That means that he is an observer of the flock of God. He carefully examines the condition and needs of the flock (cf. Heb. 12:15). Once again we cannot ignore the fact that the shepherd must be intimately involved in the lives of the sheep. The human mindset is that an “overseer” disconnectedly sits behind his desk and shouts orders to the peons below him. Unfortunately that mindset is raping the church of Jesus Christ today. Elders function more as C.E.O.’s than they do under-shepherds. Church boards assemble to discuss the business of the church while the sheep are being plundered by wolves in sheep’s clothing. Buildings are built and budgets are met but the sheep are dying. We attend leadership conferences and read our leadership books and lead our leadership seminars patterning ministry after the latest self-help fad or marketing technique but neglect God’s Word. The purpose may be driving but the people are dying!
Now there are some inherent dangers that must be pointed out. So Peter gives three instructions regarding this overseeing ministry:
Do no serve by compulsion but voluntarily.
The danger is clear: it is possible for someone to serve in this capacity because they are compelled to do so against their will. There is to be no grudging service in the shepherding ministry. The calling to spiritual eldership is to be taken very seriously and not to be treated as an inconvenience. Spiritual leadership is to be taken on seriously and gladly with a joyful and willful heart and accomplished in the power of the Spirit of God. “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good thing…” (1 Tim. 3:1).
Why is this a danger of which we are to be aware? When a man serves out of compulsion his whole heart is not in the work. Rather he becomes like the hireling who is only there when things are going well but at the first sight or sign of danger flees from the flock leaving them to the sharp fangs of the approaching wolf. But when a man serves out of God-given desire, there are few things that can bring him to the point of ultimate discouragement.
Do not serve for the sake of dishonest gain but eagerly.
There is also the danger that a spiritual elder faces for undeserved financial benefit. That cannot be the cause of our service. The elders are to be taken care of in accord with their ministry, however they are not to set their sights on wealth—especially when it is gained through under-handed or manipulative ways. Rather it is to be a result of a decision of the will not influenced by material gain. Clowney writes, “False shepherds are condemned for taking from the flock to feed themselves rather than giving of themselves to feed the flock” (p. 201).
It is also conceivable that Peter has more in mind here than simply greed for materialistic gain. Zodhiates says that this term, “may also refer to gaining popularity by adulterating the gospel to attract more people to the congregation, and showing special favors and consideration to the rich and the influential in order to gain personal advantage and profit” (Zodhiates, Spiros, The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament. AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1992, #147, p. 100).
This danger is of great importance for the very lives of the sheep depend on the reliability and compassion of the shepherd. When he is easily bought or bribed by either fame or fortune his concern is not for the sheep but for their wool or meat!
Do not serve as being lord but as being examples.
The word used here is a participle referring to one who attitude and action is that of being in dominion over or in control of others (cf. Matt. 20:25). Let us not be in the mould of Diotrephes (3 John 9) but in the mould of Jesus! Clowney was correct in his observation when he wrote,
Peter writes this whole letter as an apostle of Jesus Christ (1:1). From start to finish he speaks for his Lord. He addresses the elders so that they too, may minister as servants of the Lord Jesus. He is concerned with their motives more than with their methods. Peter knows that their relation to Jesus Christ will shape they way they care for his people (p. 206).
The flock has been “entrusted” to the local church elders. It is as if they are his inheritance from the Lord. This one truth should keep every elder from trying to be the dictatorial master of the flock. How foolish it is of a child to act as if he is the head of his father’s house and to think of himself as the Lord over his father’s possessions and master over his father’s servants. Yet that is exactly what the self-glory-seeking elder does.
Instead of trying to control the flock so that we receive the glory, we must “be examples”—lit. “a stamp” or “a mold”(cf. John 13:15; Phil. 3:17; 2 Thess. 3:9; 1 Tim. 4:12; Titus 2:7). Let us lead by being examples so that as the sheep follow us they end up following Christ. Paul instructed another elder in the same way—“be an example in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity”(1 Tim. 4:12). This is the real role of the shepherd—leading the flock in God-honoring, Christ-centered, Spirit-empowered, Bible-saturated speech. Leading the flock in holy and righteous conduct, not with hot-headed, self-centered, sin-filled, flesh-pleasing living. Leading the flock not in a wandering or wavering lack of commitment. (cf. Heb. 13:7, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”) Finally the elder must be leading the flock in purity and not wicked lewdness and dirty immorality. The elder should be able to repeat the words of Paul to their local congregation, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”