Sermon for Sunday, January 25, 2009
Dr. Dan Doriani
1 Peter 5:1-5
By chapter 5, Peter has completed the main message and shared his burden for his church. He told them, and told us, that we are God's people, loved by God, loving him and loving each other. We are ransomed from a futile life by the life and the blood of Christ. His call and his example summon us to a holy life.
The phrase "a holy life" has changed meaning in recent years. It's come to mean "proud" or "spiritually snotty," as in "holier than thou." But in the Bible, "holy" simply means "set apart" – for God. For example, in biblical terms, an alcoholic would be "holy" – set apart – when he becomes sober and becomes faithful to his (her) recovery group. Drug addicts, criminals, power addicts, or anyone who makes a big change in lifestyle – for God's sake – is holy.
But there is a problem: When an alcoholic stops drinking, he may also stop going to bars. At some bars, alcohol is the center and if someone isn't drinking, it's tempting and it's miserable to be there. So he finds new activities and new friends. But his old friends may resent his departure.
Something like this happened with the first Christians. They left pagan ways, which included idolatry, drunkenness and debauchery. As a result, they became outsiders, aliens and exiles in their own town and culture.
The government also became suspicious of the disciples. They refused to worship the emperor; this looked subversive. So Peter warned his people that they are aliens and exiles in their own culture (1:1, 2:11). Therefore, they will face trials (1:6, 4:12) and persecution (2:18-21, 3:13-4:1, 12-19). They must be steadfast and entrust themselves to God, just as their Lord Jesus did.
In chapter 5, Peter starts a new theme. He speaks to elders, church leaders, for a reason: A church that lives under persecution could easily disintegrate under the pressure without strong leadership. Indeed that leadership will be the focus of pressures from inside, from members, and from outside, from a hostile empire. If you are a leader in business, in the home, or in the church, you must know that solid leadership is vital during a crisis.
Peter speaks elder to elder, but more, "as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed." His status as a witness of Jesus is the basis for his authority. He saw Jesus at the transfiguration, at his arrest and at the resurrection.
Yet this claim invites a question: Peter, didn't you contribute to Jesus' suffering? You fell asleep when he asked you to stand by him in Gethsemane, in his anguish as he contemplated his death. Then you denied that you even knew him at his trial. How does Peter dare to present himself as a fellow elder?
He dares because Jesus reinstated him. After Peter denied Jesus, he was arrested, crucified and slain. But on the third day he rose again. The disciples knew this as a fact before they understood it. After the resurrection, with nothing better to do, Peter and the other fisherman disciples returned to the Sea of Galilee. Jesus met Peter there (John 21:2-5).
Jesus asked him, "Simon, do you truly love me?" Fair enough. Peter had claimed that he loved Jesus more than anyone: "Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will" (Matthew 26:33). Yet Peter did fall away. Three times he denied Jesus until he finally swore an oath that he never knew Jesus.
Peter denied Jesus three times, so now Jesus questions him three times: "Do you love me?" Jesus isn't mocking Peter's failure. Rather, Peter denied Jesus three times, so Jesus asked three times, "Do you love me?" This allows Peter to declare three times "I love you, Lord, you know I love you." That in turn lets Jesus reinstate Peter three times: "Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep" (21:15-17). This is Peter's restoration
A fellow pastor likes to call this Peter's ordination exam. The questions differ from ours. Not "Do you promise to uphold the Presbyterian system? Do you affirm the main tenets of the Reformation and our church's catechism?" There are reasons to ask those questions today, but not that day.
Jesus also did not say "Have you learned your lessons? Learned to control your impulses?" He didn't say "Do you promise never to do that again?" or "How can I be sure you are sorry?"
Simply: Do you love me? That remains the great question Jesus asks every church leader. Why? Because we must abide in him or we can bear no fruit (John 15:1-8). This leads to two crucial points.
First, no Christian leader is truly qualified. No one deserves to lead the church. Jesus forgives us and appoints us. He qualifies us; we cannot qualify ourselves
Second, the greatest requirement for an elder is that he love Jesus. It's not the only factor, but it is the chief factor.
Love of Jesus can create a desire to lead and care for his people and that is necessary, too. Elders should be capable to teaching and leading. They should be tested and proven faithful for some time. They must have godly character. They must love and care for people inside and outside their church (hospitable). If they lead their own family well and have a good reputation with outsiders, if they hold firm to the faith with a clear conscience, they can lead. (1 Timothy 3:1-13, 5:17-19, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15, Acts 20:17-35, Hebrews 13:17).
1. The basis of Peter's leadership and exhortation
Peter is an elder - by the appointment of Jesus himself. The term he uses for himself is touching in its modesty. He is a "fellow-elder" – one among a group of elders, one among many who labor in the church. He does not mention his grand title – apostle. He stresses his equality with others, his empathy with their position, not his supremacy or even his authority.
Peter is also a witness of Jesus' suffering. He witnessed Jesus' life, teaching, miracles, arrest, trial and resurrection. How could he ever forget the power of Jesus or the way he suffered at the end?.
No, Peter didn't see everything with his own eyes; he fled before the crucifixion. What anguish he felt at that! But even there, he is a witness because he testified to Jesus' suffering. In that way, we are witnesses just as he is. We proclaim what we know from the eyewitness testimony of others. In this sense all elders are witnesses and fellows with the apostles.
Finally, Peter "will share in the glory [of Jesus] to be revealed,” just as all believers will share in it. So Peter stands beside all church elders. All witness to Jesus and wait to participate in Jesus' glory. From that position, he exhorts the elders of the church.
Peter isn't condescending to the elders by acting as if they're peers. Better: He is elevating all leaders to his level. All share in the pattern that Peter often states: We witness and share in the sufferings and the glory of Christ. Peter wasn't worthy of this, nor is anyone else. Yet the Lord can appoint us.
2. The manner of a godly leader (5:2-4)
Peter commands elders to "tend the flock of God that is your charge" (5:2). Peter is interested in the manner, the tone and motivation of the leader. He states three contrasts:
Elders serve "not under compulsion, but willingly".
They serve "not for shameful gain, but eagerly".
As they serve, they are "not domineering over those in [their] charge but [as] examples to the flock".
These traits of leaders speak to church leaders first, and then to everyone who hopes to lead sacrificially, as Jesus did. First, we lead tenderly as shepherds. The image is from an older world. In the agrarian world,everyone knew that sheep stray, get in trouble, and cannot extricate themselves from it. Unless they receive constant care and oversight, they perish. Today we might say God cares for people as a mother cares for her baby. The level of need is absolute.
In the Old Testament, God calls himself Israel's shepherd. In the New Testament, Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd (Psalm 23, John 10). The Lord feeds his sheep, seeks the lost, gathers the scattered and heals the wounded. Then he commissions men to become shepherds under Christ. What the Lord did for them, they do for others.
Leaders care "for the flock of God among you" (5:2). That is, we care for those who are right here with us. We care for our flock – not for the whole world. Yet Peter first says it's God's flock. The flock is under our care but it isn't our flock, it's God's.
That is comforting. We know that even if we falter, God is the chief shepherd and cares for his church. He will never forsake his people.
Let me speak to those who have been disappointed, even hurt, by the church. No local church lives up to the spiritual church of Christ. That church, the church God sees, is a glorious body that stretches across all lands and all centuries, leading to eternity.
Sadly, even in good churches, relationships are often shallow, the teaching is weak, the worship is dull and the people are sleepy. Far worse, sometimes the relationships are hurtful, the teaching is false, the worshippers are critics and the people are angry. All of us must strive to forgive others. We need God's grace even for our spiritual activities. Our prayers are frightened and selfish, our singing is lazy and we don't care for each other as we should.
But if you have been hurt, let down, even bored by the church, please know that the Lord is greater than any particular church, greater than any church on earth. Every church is entirely composed of flawed, broken sinners. Sinners will fail you, but the Lord will not fail you. He isn't false, hurtful or boring. When the church fails you, look past the humans. Look to the Lord of the church.
Pastors, elders, deacons, all church leaders need to learn the related lessons. First, we must do our best to represent the goodness, love, truth and compassion of the Lord. Second, remember that the church is his, not yours.
C. S. Lewis noted that humans often make funny claims to ownership. We talk about "my body" as if we created the pulsating energy within us. A child talks about "my house" but in what sense is it his? We use the word "my" for ownership but we fail to notice that "my" cannot possibly mean ownership most of the time. Think of the different uses of “my” in these phrases: my shoes, my dog, my co-worker, my wife, my father, my church, my country, my God. We cannot reduce all these relationship to ownership, as in "my boots" or "my teddy-bear."
For an unpleasant sort of child, "my teddy-bear" can mean "the bear I can tear to pieces if I like." But surely we cannot do what we like with "my friend" or "my God." At worst, "my God" means “the mighty being whose power I claim for my purposes." We might ask how much any human owns anything. Even "my shoes" are God's shoes in a way.
Everyone should have a home church; we can call it "my church". But the church is really the people
and the family of God. When we say "my church" we should mean the part of God's family that is my spiritual home - the one I love, warts and all, and the one that loves me, warts and all.
But just now the focus is on leaders; Peter has three principles for them:
Serve willingly, not grudgingly.
Elders must care for God's people willingly, not coldly or grudgingly. Now "willingly not grudgingly" is a good ideal for every calling. Yet we must be careful: we aren't always in the mood for everything we must do. Every calling has some drudgery and unpleasant tasks. There is a time to say "I must do my duty." Jesus certainly told the disciples to do their duty at times (Luke 17:3-10). Indeed, in a way all ministry is duty laid upon us by God, not chosen by us (1 Corinthians 9:16).
There is a time to get up and do our duty, whether we feel like it or not. But the main motive must never be duty, must never be compelled by social pressure, reputation, the expectations of neighbors. It must never be because you are afraid of disappointing someone, never for social status. It must not be because your father did it or your friend does it. Whatever we do, it should be willing and cheerful. "The Lord loves a cheerful giver" (2 Corinthians 9:7). Good cheer comes from the Lord and from within. It makes us get up in the morning.
We live in tension. Passion for work is good, but can lead to overwork, exhaustion. No one is immune. If you abuse yourself doing good deeds, you still abuse yourself. If we fail to sleep, rarely have fun, fail to tend relationships, never make time for self-renewal, we will falter – no matter how spiritual we are.
Serve eagerly, not for gain
Paul once told a church, "We work with you for your joy" (2 Corinthians 1:24). We just said our service should bring us joy, but we should also aim to give others joy. I love to teach on Wednesday nights, partly because I like the interaction, but also because I can see every eye and face, and see that you like the lively discussion, the give and take, the growth in skill as we find answers together.
I once lived near a man who was preparing to enter the ministry. He didn't seem to believe in Jesus or love the Bible or the church, so I asked why he planned to become a pastor. His answer: “Because it's a secure and respectable job that doesn't look too hard – especially if you buy your sermons from a service.” When I've spoken at church conferences, some leaders have admitted that status was a major motive for them. We discuss that possibility on day one of officer training. Status is the kind of gain leaders should not seek.
The reference to "gain" shows that Peter assumes some elders are getting paid. In New Testament times, many elders took so much time from their regular job that it was fair for the church to pay them. It paid more to those who worked longer and a few worked full-time for the church. Paul said it was right for the church to pay them (1 Timothy 5:17, 1 Corinthians 9:1-14). The problem is not payment. The problem is serving for the payment or for any form of personal gain.
It's one thing to make money, another to serve money. All of us should take care not to follow the money, to work simply because it pays more, to associate with people simply because they have more. We should pray, "Lord, show me if money motivates too many aspects of my life.” We need to say the same about popularity or reputation. They too are "gain."
Serve not by wielding power, but by setting an example
Finally, leaders shouldn't wield power. When Jesus said that Gentile rulers lord it over their subjects, he simply described the way of the world (Matthew 20:25). In ancient times, people measured status by the number of servants or slaves one possessed. Today, we still ask, "How many people report
to him?" How many take their orders? It's the way of the world. But Jesus says, "Not so with you" (20:26). Rather, "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant." That's what Jesus did – he gave his life for us.
Peter says godly leaders don't wield power, they set an example. We rarely intend to set an example. We try to live faithfully and we may become an example by accident. We should keep our eyes open for good examples.
Wilson ate supper before church dinners so he could mingle with everyone.
Lee makes most pastoral calls by phone because his people are scattered.
Willard showed me that it’s helpful to let a troubled person talk himself out – if time permits – before saying anything.
Phil showed me how to lead teenagers by relaxing and giving them responsibility.
3. The reward for leaders (5:4)
In all this, we strive to be good stewards of God's family. His people are his inheritance (5:3). It's a privilege to be God's agent.
The inauguration made me think about the secret service. Their work is tense and dangerous. It's not creative and agents hope they never need to use their highest skills. They need to be ready to sacrifice their life for the person they guard. Guarding the president must be the most challenging and dangerous task, yet I suppose most agents want to guard the president, not the Vice President or the relatives.
It should be the same with church leaders: the harder the better, and we do it for the Master's sake, not for pay, recognition, authority or any reward.
Yet if we are faithful, there is a reward: "When the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory." This isn't a royal crown of gold but the crown that is the victor's wreath in the Greek athletic festivals.
Jesus is the chief shepherd and we must give an account of our stewardship to him when he "appears" in all his glory to recreate all things. Then we will share his joy and an unfading crown of glory that reflects his glory. This is a common promise. (See 1 Corinthians 9:25, 2 Timothy 4:8, James 1:12, Revelation 2:10, 3:11, et. al).
4. A word for reluctant followers
After all this instruction for elders, Peter closes with a word for followers. The New International Version says "young men", but the original is simply "the younger" (English Standard Version, Revised Standard Version). Peter is generalizing. The younger – maybe especially young men – can find it difficult to submit to leaders. Peter has talked about submission before (2:13, 18; 3:1, 5, 22) and we have too, so let me put the accent elsewhere.
Peter quickly adds, "All of you clothe yourselves with humility to one another." More on this next week, but note that disciples will always be humble! We are confident in our worth because God created us in his image. And he set such value on us that he sent his Son to live and to die for us.
Yet every true disciple confesses that we are rebels and selfish to the bone. Incapable of self-reform, we trust in Christ and Christ alone to forgive and to restore us. You must believe that to be what Jesus would call a Christian.
That is why "God opposes the proud." David agrees: "Though the Lord is on high, he looks upon the lowly, but the proud he knows from afar" (Psalm 138:6). James said, "Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up" (James 4:10).
We put humility into practice when we yield to each other, and especially if we yield to our leaders. It's our nature to pick and choose what we like and dislike about our leaders. But there is a problem when we treat leaders and groups that way - choose what we do and don't like about a church or a leader.
To illustrate: Wilco is a band, led by writer Jeff Tweedy that one critic called peaceful on the outside, demented on the inside. Or visa versa. The band plays soft ballads with jazzy chords next to scorching guitar licks; laid-back country rock beside spazzed-out distortion that hides clear, simple melodies. The band changes styles radically between albums – fine. But they even change – radically - from the first to the second half of the same piece. Some think they aim to befuddle, even scandalize their fans.
As I listened, I think they even wrote a song about it, called "Side with the Seeds." It starts as a slow, tuneful song in a bluesy style, then picks up speed until two guitars race to a dissonant, exhausted coda. The lyrics lament that some "tree fans" side with the leaves and some side with the seeds. Well, that's just silly. How can one person side with leaves, another with seeds? Trees are both.
Yet people try to choose between the two inseparable sides of Wilco. Some love the laid back, country-jazzy Wilco. Others love the noisy, experimental Wilco. But they are both. Fans can't choose between the two sides of the band. The last lines state Tweedy's theme: "I'll side with you, if you side with me." We shouldn't choose the parts of people we do and do not like. We should be loyal to the whole person. That's true in marriage, where, to understate it, we don't always love every aspect of our spouse's character or way of life.
Good leaders are loyal to the whole church, even the people and policies they don't like. And wise followers yield to the church as a whole, even if a decision doesn't seem right. Jesus loves both sides of us, the beautiful and the pitiful. So we do for each other one by one, even in the church as a whole.
It is God's church. He appoints leaders and all should be willing to serve willingly, not grudgingly, to serve eagerly, not for gain. Leaders should lead and serve not by wielding power, but by setting an example. And all of us should be willing to submit to the leading of anyone who has rightful authority.
Beyond that, one last look at Peter himself. If he could be a leader, despite his terrible act of betrayal, what does that say about God's grace – his grace even for you and me?