Good morning, church. Please go with me to 1 Peter, chapter 5, and we’re starting in v.1. The passage for today is directed specifically at pastors, which, let’s be honest, is good for all of us. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll learn something.
This passage is not just for pastors, though. This letter, this book of 1 Peter we’ve been reading, if you remember from way back when we started 1 Peter, is addressed to several different churches, which means it was a circular letter, one that would have been sent with a messenger to be read to the gathered churches all through the region. Meaning, this is not just what Peter has to say to pastors, this is what Peter has to say to pastors in front of their entire congregation. These are things of which we all need to be conscious, things that are easy to forget, things of which we need to be reminded.
We’ve been in a series through 1 Peter for several weeks now, because Peter is a letter written to a scattered church facing difficult times, and this year we’ve all been scattered, and we’ve all faced difficult times. We need this letter right now, these encouragements. Above all else, Peter writes, keep loving one another earnestly, because love covers a multitude of sins, our love for each other, and God’s love for us—his love is enough to forgive you, to save you, to give you a life and joy you never thought was possible.
Most of the letter is about how to live the Christian life even when the people around you, and the systems of authority over you, fail you. This week is no different. Yes, pastors are in a position in the church that is granted authority, but so long as those pastors are sinful and broken people, that authority will be an unjust authority, like all the others we’ve talked about in this series. I and others in the church will fail you, offend you, not be there for you like we should be, and you’ll have to forgive the church and learn to continue loving each other earnestly in spite of our sin.
But this section is more hopeful than the others, because in Christ there is even hope for pastors. Read with me in 1 Peter 5, vs.1-5. […] This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Lord, God, I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free. Amen
The first thing I want to share with you this morning, Peter’s first reminder from our text today is this: the church belongs to God. The church belongs to God. And just to be clear, when I say church, I mean the people of God, not the building. The church belongs to God—that’s part of what’s meant by the word pastor to describe this position of elder, overseer. Pastor literally means shepherd. I’m here to shepherd, to lead you to places that are pleasant where you can eat and grow, to feed you regularly from the word of God so you’ll stay healthy. To keep you from anything or anyone that will kill you, and to make sure the flock is providing for the household and community.
This is a simple truth, that the church belongs to God—it’s so brief in v.2 you can miss it, “the flock of God,” but it’s a good reminder, an important reminder in the text. We forget so often, that the church belongs, not to the pastor, not even to the congregation, but to God. Shepherds never owned the herd. They were hired servants. Low servants, even, the kind of position you hoped you would one day get promoted out of—the word pastor was not originally a word of honor; originally it was a reminder of a low position in the congregation. The flock belongs to the lord of the house. The church belongs to God.
And like I said, this is a message to the pastor and congregants, both. When the pastor forgets that the church belongs to God, he may begin to see the church as a means of personal gain, and focus all of his efforts on church growth and giving, always trying to get noticed, to get to that next level. To shake the hand, to be the household name, the one who gets invited into the room where it happens.
When the pastor forgets that the church belongs to God, and people in the congregation have different opinions on what should be done, or how the ministry should look and operate, the pastor grows defensive and talks about submission to authority. He demands honor instead of lowering himself, longs to be seen, to be heard, to be revered. Listen, the pastor is not the head of the church. Christ is the head of the church, and we, together as a congregation are to follow his leading, wherever he goes. Pastors are servants, shepherds: leading, feeding, guarding, serving our master who owns, not only the herds, but the pastures themselves.
When a congregation forgets that the church belongs to God, they start acting like their faith is mediated. Instead of reading the Bible for themselves and seeking the Lord in prayer, they act as though they are dependent upon the pastor to understand scripture. They wait for the pastor to disciple the church rather than taking initiative, meeting together to confess sin, encourage, and pray for one another. When a congregation forgets that the church belongs to God, they begin to call upon the pastor or other leaders, rather than calling upon the Lord in prayer, to do the things God does in and among his church—to empower, to lead, to save and sanctify people, to bind people together in unity and community, to set out good works so that we might walk in them.
But when both the pastor and the people remember that the church belongs to God, together they pray and call upon God to lead and guide their actions. They orient themselves toward the gospel, confessing sin and receiving grace. They look for opportunities to disciple others, evangelize, and reach out in compassion to meet the needs they see in the people around them. They remember that each member, including the pastor, is a sinner saved by grace and in need of exhortation, forgiveness, and restoration—in need of friendship, help, and encouragement. When a church remembers that they belong to God, they will come together to worship God, listening for a word from the Holy Spirit, even if the pastor stumbles through his message.
Church, I pray that we would be a church who knows, through and through, that we belong to God, and no one, nothing else has a hold on us. We are his holy temple, his children, a family together, with only one Father. To God be the glory, to God be the power, and rule over us.
Two, the second point from the text today is this: When God gives you power, use it to lift others up. When God gives you power, use it to lift others up. Peter writes, “Shepherd the flock exercising oversight…not domineering over those in your charge, but being an example.”
If you can remember way back to chapter two when we were talking about living under an unjust governmental rule, you’ll remember that is the second time in this letter Peter has contrasted these two concepts or lording it over someone, domineering, verses exercising oversight and shepherding. There is meant to be a difference between the way the world uses power and authority and the way we use power and authority in the kingdom of God. Basically, he’s saying, not only does the church not belong to the pastor—also the church does not exist for the benefit of the pastor. The church exists to follow, to benefit, to glorify God.
A pastor who uses the people in his church, burns them out to grow the church, fleeces them, makes them promises of God’s blessing, asking them to tithe even in desperation, that pastor is like a shepherd who kills a lamb for each meal and feasts on the sheep he is meant to be guarding for the Lord of the house. What do you think the Lord will do to such a shepherd?
Pastors are not CEOs, and we are not judges or kings. We are shepherds, servants—pastors are due wages as workers, but the flock doesn’t belong to us, we aren’t meant to feast on it, and a large flock doesn’t increase our name and greatness. We are servants of the one to whom the flock belongs, and the church belongs to God. We have been given authority over the church, yes, we see that clearly in v.5 when Peter urges the congregation to submit to the elders of the church, but pastors are meant to hold our authority the way Christ held his authority when he did not consider his authority—his dominion, his throne—a thing to be grasped, and instead he “emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” That is our example for our use of authority, our use of power in the kingdom of God. When God gives you power, use it to lift others up.
[maybe swap this illustration for one about realizing I’m Anne-Elise’s pastor, too]
I had a friend reach out to me the other day and ask me if I would write him a letter of recommendation. This is a good friend of mine, someone I’ve confided in and spent lots of time with over the past seven years I’ve known him. He babysits AJ from time to time, and AJ knows him as the only adult who allows him to drink Mountain Dew. This friend offered to kill my upstairs neighbor’s cat for me once, because it was bringing fleas into the building. He was serious, too. He had a plan for how he was going to do it. We, as two adult men, had a real argument one time over who was better, Katy Perry or Taylor Swift. He’s a good friend, and someone whom I had the privilege of pastoring until I started here.
So naturally, I agreed to write the letter of recommendation for him, but the only problem was—the job I was recommending him for is a two-days car ride away. I don’t want my friend to move. In fact, as I mentioned last week, my body is young, but my personality is approximately 95 years old, and I don’t really like for things to change at all. It makes me grumpy. And I’m not going to lie, I was tempted a little bit less than glowing in this letter. Or maybe to try to talk him out of it, convince him to stay and wait for something to open up here. I probably could, as a former pastor and friend, he highly values my opinion. But in the end, I didn’t do any of that, because when God gives you any kind of authority, when you have power over someone, you’re meant to use it to lift others up. I wasn’t given the pastorate over this man to talk to him and convince him to stay or join in with us here at Vieux Carre. It was to train him up alongside my fellow pastors, and now it seems, to send him out for his own good and for the furtherance of the gospel among this nation and every other.
My role here, as a pastor, is not to lord it over you and give you orders, like I’m in charge of you. It’s not to use you like you’re a resource toward some end. I’ve seen ministries thrive and be praised on a national scale for growth and success when the individuals in those ministries are burning out and breaking down left and right, only to be replaced by new people when they leave, jaded and hurt by the church. That’s not what Christ has called us toward.
Every person in this room has been given some level of power and agency in the world, even if that power is only over your own life and choices. If you are a parent, you have power over your child. If you are in a relationship, you wield power over the other person who loves you and depends upon you; you’re able to hurt them, push their buttons, take advantage. If you are a member of this church, you have power to guide and direct what the church teaches, how we minister, how we spend our money, whom we employ. Will you use your power to domineer, Lord it over people? Be withholding, try to get your own way? Or will you use your power the way Jesus used his power, your authority the way he used his authority? To empty yourself, lower yourself, so that someone else would be lifted up.
Because, and this is the third point for today from our text: Always, the church should be working to restore the image of God in their people. Always, the church should be working to restore the image of God in their people.
In my preparation for this sermon, I had a really difficult time understanding v.2: “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you.” It’s that last part that tripped me up, if you were to translate it directly, it would just say, “not compulsorily, but voluntarily, according to God.” The translators struggle with it, too, they’re all over the place in how they translate the idea. I kept asking myself, what does he mean? According to God. What is it about God that corresponds to pastors exercising oversight voluntarily, of their own free will? I’ll try to explain my train of thought, but eventually I can to this: always, the church should be working to restore the image of God in their people.
Peter’s concern in this passage, over and over again, has to do with that word, willingly, eagerly, voluntarily. Pastors should only be pastors if they are eager and willing to put themselves to the task. And when they exercise oversight, they shouldn’t Lord it over people, but lead them in such a way that they are willing to follow you. He encourages congregants to submit willingly—over and over again, his concern is toward a free will for the people of God.
Over and over again in my conversations with people who are struggling with whether or not to give their lives to God, whether or not to be a part of a church, they will tell me they don’t want salvation, they don’t want to be part of the church because they want to be free to live their lives as they see fit. Over and over again, I tell people your desire to be free is good, but you’re going about it in exactly the wrong way. You’ll never be free until you are in Christ, until you are a part of his Church, because sin holds our will in bondage, to where even if we are completely unrestrained to pursue our desires, we would wind up in a hell of everything we ever wanted. It’s not until you give your life to Christ, it’s not until he changes your desires day by day, until you desire his kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven—until that day, you’ll never be free.
We were created in the image of God, with desires for joy and peace and love for each other, the lord, and creation, but sin broke that image and bound our will, forcing our desires inward, to where we only think about ourselves, our own way, and what we are able to gain.
We were created to live in a community, with love covering our sins, at peace with each other, the world undivided, with dominion and authority over the world, but authority we used for the sake of those around us, to build up and not tear down. Imagine the image of God shining brightly in each person, defining our community. That’s a world in which we’re free. That’s the world Christ is bringing ever nearer, and one in which we are allowed to participate even now. Always, the church should be working to restore the image of God to their people.
My invitation to you today is an invitation to be free. There is freedom in Christ. Freedom from the guilt that binds you. Freedom from and habits that bind you. Freedom from the sin that binds your will to where you forget the deeper things you long for—joy, peace, forgiveness, restoration back to rights.
I invite you into community and family here at our church. We belong to God, and he laid down his power over us to raise us up. Come talk with me, pray with me, or with others in the church, and be know what it means to be free.