The Bible is God’s revelation to all mankind. Within the Bible’s message, though, there are some instructions which are given to specific groups of people. The opening verses of the final division of the book of 1 Peter is such a passage, as it gives instruction and exhortation for church elders (5:1-4):
(1) The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. (2) Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; (3) nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;(4) and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
What do we learn from this text about those who serve as elders in God’s church?
Elders – men in need of exhortation (5:1). When we think about which members of God’s family need to be admonished, encouraged, or supported, let us not forget about the elders. Yes, they are our leaders, and we would expect leaders to be strong. Yet, they are humans, too, and like all of us, from time to time they need to be on the receiving end of our exhortation.
Elders – shepherds of God’s flock (5:2). “The flock of God” refers to the church. The Lord purchased the church/flock with His own blood (Acts 20:28), so it belongs to Him, not the elders. However, in the affairs of the church, the elders do play an extremely significant role: they are its shepherds. Shepherds are those who watch after, care for, provide for, and protect the flock. The verb “shepherd/tend/feed” (5:2) is from the Greek word “ /poimain ” [Thayer word no. 4165], while the noun form of “shepherd” is the word “ /poim n” [Thayer word no. 4166]. That noun is the same Greek word that is translated as “pastors” in Ephesians 4:11. Because the elders serve as shepherds, they are pastors. In New Testament lingo, the pastors of a church are its elders, not preachers.
Elders – overseers (5:2). These men are not passive. They serve as overseers, a verb form from the Greek word “ /episkope ” [Thayer word no. 1983], which goes with the noun form “ / episkopos” [Thayer word no. 1985]. An “episkopos” is a bishop/overseer, meaning those who see to it that the right things are done by the right people in the right way. Serving as an elder is serious business! In God’s arrangement, shepherding and overseeing God’s flock is not a one-person activity, but involves a plurality of men, called “the eldership” (1 Timothy 4:14). The message of 1 Peter 5:1,2 makes it clear that that elders, shepherds/pastors, and overseers/bishops are the same men.
Elders – willing servers (5:2). Rather than giving in to pressure from other saints to serve as spiritual shepherds, these brothers take on this role “willingly” and “eagerly.” “If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work” (1 Timothy 3:1). If the desire and willingness to work in this capacity is missing, then one is not ready to serve as an elder.
Elders – not lords (5:3). Yes, the eldership watches for the souls under their care and the members are to be submissive to their shepherds (Hebrews 13:17), but elders are not to look at themselves as dictators who have the right to boss people around. Domineering brothers who attempt to “rule with an iron fist” are terribly mistaken in their attitude and approach to shepherding.
Elders – examples to the flock (5:3). These are men of good behavior, blameless, self-controlled, and holy (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7). They lead not only by the delegated authority which they receive from the Lord, but also by their Christ-like example. They are to conduct themselves in such a way that their speech, attitude, and conduct serve as a good model for other Christians to imitate. Godly examples are powerful!
Elders – under the Chief Shepherd (5:4). The Chief Shepherd is Jesus, also known as “that great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). Here is the reminder for all brothers who serve as elders: yes, the elders are over God’s flock, but at the same time they are under the authority of King Jesus. Though some overseers may be more active and assertive than others, no mere human should be designated as a congregations top/head pastor.
Elders – they will be rewarded (5:4). If elders serve their Lord faithfully, He will reward them with “the crown of glory that does not fade away.” If they feel that their efforts are feeble and often go unappreciated by other saints, let the shepherds among us take heart in knowing that the Lord is not unmindful of their labor of love (Hebrews 6:10). In the darkest hours, do not lose heart, my brothers. Be encouraged in knowing that God sees your toil, that He hears your prayers, and that brothers and sisters appreciate your efforts to help them get to heaven.
— Roger D. Campbell