Be Shepherds of God’s Flock
I Peter 5:2
As Peter wrote these words to his fellow elders, there is no doubt that his mind went back to an earlier time when he stood together on the shore of Galilee with the Lord. There, in his threefold answer to the Lord’s question “Do you love me?”, he was challenged to “feed my lambs,” “take care of my sheep” and “feed my sheep.” As Peter summarizes his ensuing ministry and provides direction for those in a similar ministry of shepherding, he focuses on three critical needs for the shepherd which he describes for us in I Peter 5:2-3. “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers-not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
The first of the requirements for those who would shepherd God’s flock is a willing spirit. Peter illustrates this with his words “not because you must, but because you are willing.” Have you ever been asked to participate in a ministry and were unwilling to do so? When I was in medical school, I was often asked to teach a junior high Sunday school class when I returned to my home church in Wichita on weekends. The students were unruly and uninterested and I soon became unwilling to teach them anymore. When I returned from Minnesota some years later to set up a medical practice in Wichita, I was again asked about my willingness to teach a Sunday school class. I immediately remembered my prior experience and promptly came up with an excuse for my lack of availability. The Lord had not yet worked in my life to produce what Peter describes as the first requirement for being a shepherd of God’s flock which is a willing spirit.
For those with a willing spirit, Peter outlines for them the further development of a shepherd by calling their attention to their motive. Is it “greedy for money, or eager to serve?” The New Testament relates to us examples of those who were willing, but with the wrong motive. “Unlike so many we do not peddle the word of God for profit.” (II Corinthians 2:17) “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry…the former preach Christ out of selfish ambition.” (Philippians 2:15,17) In our day, willingness may come from a desire for personal recognition and notoriety rather than from an attitude of serving others. To serve others we must put their needs above our own. I once heard someone remark that the best way to tell if you are a servant is by the attitude you have when you are treated like a servant!
For those who are willing to shepherd others and to do so with a servant’s heart, there is yet one more lesson to learn. This was brought home to me in a dramatic way some years ago as we were traveling in the Lake District in the northwest part of England. We had paused in our journey and watched a shepherd work with his sheep on a nearby hillside. All the sheep followed the shepherd with the exception of one that refused to budge from the middle of a deep hole covered with boulders. The sheep refused to come out despite all the shepherd and his dog were able to do. Finally the shepherd climbed down into the hole, carried the sheep out and put it safely on the grassy slope. The moment he turned his back, the sheep promptly jumped back in among the rocks! After pleading with the sheep for a few minutes to no avail, the shepherd then kicked the sheep in the hind end with all the force he could muster! I still chuckle to myself as I recall that scene. God calls us sheep for a good reason. We often climb back into the same holes from which He has just delivered us.
A shepherd of God’s flock, having a willing spirit and desiring to serve, usually knows what is best for the flock. He has the wisdom and experience and knows what the sheep ought to do in most of the situations in which they find themselves. Peter tells us that such a shepherd must guard himself from “lording it over those entrusted to you.” A shepherd is not to compel, to demand or to force behavior. (Such as kicking them in the hind end!) Peter says this should be replaced by “being examples to the flock.”
In his second letter to Timothy , Paul repeatedly characterizes the importance of shepherding by example as follows:
“Join with me.” (Verse 1:8)
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching.” (Verse 1:13)
“And the things you heard me say.” (Verse 2:2)
“ You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose,
faith, patience, love, endurance, persecution, sufferings.” (Verse 3:10)
We are all given opportunities to shepherd God’s flock. It may be in our family, our church, our neighborhoods or in our workplaces. May the Lord so work in us that we shepherd others with a willing spirit, manifesting a motive to serve them rather than ourselves and leading them by our example.
In Christ, Richard Spann