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Shepherd the flock of God

Sermon passage: (1 Peter 5:1-4) Spoken on: September 28, 2014
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev Enoch Keong
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: 1,2 Peter & Jude

Tags: 1 Peter, 彼 得 前 书

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About Rev Enoch Keong: Rev. Keong is currently serving as a pastor in the youth and young adult ministries, as well as the John zone pastor in Jubilee Church.

Shepherd the flock of God
Text: 1 Pe 5:1-4

Having to unpack this portion of scripture with a Singaporean congregation and at this very point in time, I fancy that the passage might have a greater degree of relevance if it is addressing the Pioneers instead of the Elders. But elders are the ones that Peter seeks to address.

In case we tend to skip over this passage because it is targeted at elders, then let’s be sure that the term ‘elders’ does not refer in particular to someone who is senior in terms of age. Neither does it refer to church leaders who hold the title “Elder”, which we have in Presbyterian and other Christian denominations. We can be quite sure of this because the church that Peter wrote to was fairly young, and former leadership structures were unlikely to already be in place.

This being the case, the word ‘elders’ in this passage would not have been a term referring to certain office or title, but a word describing Christians who performed leadership functions. Individuals, who tended to the health of the church, looked into the area of spiritual growth and cared for the sheep; such were probably the ones whom Peters addressed as elders. And since Peter’s concern was the shepherding functions and not church structure or official titles, then we may say that Peter’s word in this morning’s passage is for everyone who seeks to lead and guide God’s flock with Christian values and principles.

So, if we are pastors, elders or deacons, Peter is certainly speaking to us. If we are ministry heads, cell-group leaders, worship leaders or Sunday school teachers, likewise, Peter is speaking to us. For us who are fathers and mothers, praying hard to raise God fearing children, Peter is calling us to consider his words. If we are the ‘gor gor’ and ‘jie jie’, entrusted with the task to encourage our siblings and cousins to love God, Peter wants to give us here the basic idea on how to go about doing it.

When comes to leadership, we who live in a technological era want ideas - the more the better - and not a basic idea. But I believe Peter finds one particular idea to be of greatest importance. Hence, he chose not to write on skills, methodology, techniques and appeal, much as these are important aspects of leadership, but focused on just one basic idea that is critical for producing the necessary character, or nature, of Christian leaders. The way in which Peter presents his idea is by having traces of it sprinkled all over the few verse read this morning. What we will do in next few minutes is to assemble these traces and crystalize what he has installed for us.

When we read the verses, we will soon find that there are pairs of descriptive words that seem to counter each other to achieve one effect, that is, to put things into a proper perspective. We do this all the time. For example, when we tell the mee pok man that we want chili in our noodle, but not too spicy, we are trying to put things into proper perspective.

As for Peter, he begins by addressing the addressees as elders, a title that has the tendency of suggesting that the person holding it is one-up in some sense as compared to others. But before anyone should go on thinking in such a manner, Peter quickly slips in a self-description, fellow-elder, to put things into proper perspective. Peter had already introduced himself as an apostle in the very opening line of the letter, this self-reintroduction is therefore to clarify that he who led churches (probably many more in number compared to these elders whom he wrote to) as an apostle, a zone elder or regional supervisor is in no way one-up, but at the same level as they were. What Peter does herein is a gesture that suggests mutuality, humility, the readiness to give up one’s privileged position and the lowering of oneself to identify with others, instead of flaunting or making use of the glamour, power and authority that is naturally attached with the position.

But before we respond to Peter’s action by saying, “Ya, that’s just a Christian thing to do”, let’s not forget that Peter was the cocky loudhailer who once made a loud promise to Jesus by saying, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” (Lk 22.33). Mutuality? Humility? Don’t quite see that in Peter’s natural self. Where did he get these ideas from?

Anyway, as we read on, we will find that for every description that connotes honor, glory or to use a more casual phrasing – one-up, there is another description that conveys a sense of mutuality and humility. “Partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” is paired with “(fellow-)witness of the sufferings of Christ”. “Exercising oversight” is paired with “shepherd the flock”, which goes to say that leaders are not called to be a command centres, but ‘get your hands dirty workers’. Next, “domineering over”, which can be a way to lead, is countered by “being examples to the flock.” And lastly, “crown of glory” is paired with “(Christ) the Chief Shepherd”.

We mentioned a minute ago that mutuality and humility did not quite happen in the natural Peter, so where did he get the ideas for these verses? Further, remember what the apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 2? He mentioned that there was an occasion when he had to chide Peter. The reason being Peter had stopped eating with Gentiles once representatives from the Jewish headquarter came to Galatia. Why did Peter do such a thing? It must have been because he was so very concerned with clinging to and staying in the class to which he belonged. To identify with the ‘other types’, not for Peter. In other words, mutuality and humility were not qualities that Peter already posses, even though Jesus had risen from the dead and had given to his followers the Holy Spirit.

Why am I bringing this up? Because I think many of us may be in situations not unlike Peter at that point in time. Just as Peter we have in us the Holy Spirit. Just as Peter we are holding some forms of leadership responsibilities. Just as Peter we are discharging these responsibilities, more often than not, with our natural inclinations. And just as Peter whom I believe admitted his fault when Paul chided him, we recognize that often times, we ourselves are not in fact seeking to please God in the way in which we lead; perhaps due of our ego, fears, laziness, or otherwise.

But, after that point in time, the bible tells of a transformed Peter; one whose thinking, ministries and lifestyle were in accordance to what he preaches. His sense of elitism has been replaced with mutuality, his haughtiness with humility, and mutuality and humility are characteristics of Christ. In other words, his natural self has undergone transformation and his actions now convey a greater degree of Christlikeness.

Friends, in showing us a transformed Peter, the bible is also saying that we, as leaders or otherwise, need to and can experience transformation. Or more correctly, continuous transformation. Peter experienced the reality of it, and he now calls for a transformation of our hearts, lives, imaginations and priority, from whatever, toward one that reflects the characteristics of Christ. So, in short, Peter’s basic idea with regard to leadership is this: leaders be like the Lord. Or to borrow Paul’s rhetoric: for Christian, to lead God’s flock is Christ; to follow God’s Son is gain.

How would such an idea take shape in practice? Peter says in verses 2 the 3 that leaders are to exercise oversight by being caring shepherds to the sheep. And they are firstly to do it not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have them. I find one of my own home spun meditation on spirituality coincides rather nicely with what Peter is saying here. It goes something like this: not many of us are genius cognitively, but we can all be genius spiritually, and willingness is the key. I say this because the little theology I have tells me that spiritual service is never quite about proving ourselves being capable, but God being able; and willingness will kick start some ‘God in action tomorrows’. I for one, often step into new areas of spiritual service with fear and trembling, the most recent example would be agreeing to take up the challenge of the youth ministry. It is not just something quite new to me, it is also fitting into Uncle Daniel’s shoes, ok? But, I tell myself, God is able.

Peter, in mentioning willingness, is focusing on the question of whether to take up leadership at all. Friends, if we sense God calling us into some form of leadership involvement, and people in our Christian community are affirmative, then let us first check if we have a willing heart, or we will pray for willingness if otherwise. What does willingness in ministry involve? To me, it includes being willing to trust God; to learn, fumble and grow as a leader; to enter the hearts and worlds of the sheep, in order to lead them to love God and his ways; and to entrust to God the needed success and result. But first and foremost, the willingness to abide in Him.

Secondly, Peter says the work of shepherding is to be done not for shameful gain, but eagerly. Friends, I believe all of us do find it distasteful when someone assumes Christian leadership for the sake of money. Yet, aren’t there vices that are more sinister than this? Vices which when turned in crimes would deserve greater punishments? Then, why did Peter single out monetary gain? I believe the reason is this, whereas many vices are capable of producing sinners and criminals; money, as a form of lure into vice is capable of producing sinners, criminals, and worshippers. Worshippers of its own, of course. Jesus said in Matthew 6, that a person either pledges allegiance to God or to money, and there can be no two way about it. So, when money is the thing that a leader goes for, then God will be God no more in that leader’s life; the life giving God replaced by a wealth giving deity. “Human existence is at stake in one’s attitude to possessions,” says a bible commentator, and he is quite right.

So, Peter is saying here, “Leaders, don’t change your God?” And may we add to this by saying, “also don't dismiss him for power, control, privileges, success, or anyTHING else.” But shepherd the flock eagerly, as in being in readiness to follow as the Chief Shepherd leads.

The third and final pair reads, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” This one sounds all too familiar, but it stresses the importance of the gospel being the centre of Christian leadership. What is the gospel? To me, it is about man being redeemed by the blood of Christ and enabled to grow into Christlikeness, and that the we can by and by say ‘bye bye’ to ungodliness, live transformed lives, and be a true blessing to people. And what have Christian leaders to do in all these? To pattern after The Pattern, so that the sheep may have a pattern to pattern after The Pattern. Guess the standard Christian lingo is still better. So here it goes: Christian leaders are to live a life that imitates Christ, and be examples for the flock to grow into Christlikeness.

When we take this understanding seriously, then some things would have to go and others would have to be in place. For us as followers, the leaders and their works stay, but the pedestals that either ourselves, or our culture or tradition has set up for them to stand upon must go. We respect leaders for who they are and what they do, we admire them for gifting that God has given them, but we should never have this idea that they are of a different class, or a different breed. Because when that’s the case, then we won’t readily consider them as patterns for ourselves, and the gospel work breaks down. For us as leaders, our concern is in essence simpler and single, we keep looking to the chief shepherd, and no matter how things turn out, we would have at least done our part as patterns by fixating consistently at the Good Lord. For this I have to say, “amen?”

In closing, I confess I have said nothing novel or fresh this morning. All that have been said is, to lead a person, a team, a group, a church, an organization, is to be Christ to them. Leaders amongst us, is this our conviction? Does this understanding strike us more often than not? In God’s image we are made, but in whose image do we intend to affect and form whomever we lead? That’s the question in which we may reflect upon this morning.