1 Peter 5:1-4
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ…
The work of the pastoral office is to be fulfilled also by the private members of the Church, according to their respective gifts and opportunities. So there are practical lessons here for them, as well as for the minister, it is to them the words are addressed, "Exhort one another daily," and "Bishoping, lest any man fail of the grace of God."
I. THE ELDERS OF THE CHURCH AND THEIR WORK. Church system is in itself worth nothing; its sole value consists in that it is a means of promoting the life of the Church and its mission to the world. But some system every Church must have; and it becomes us, in our reverence for inspired example, and our sense of the importance of the ends for which the Church exists, to endeavor to discover and adopt that system most in harmony with the Divine mind, as seen in the principles embodied in apostolic times. In the Acts of the Apostles and in the Epistles we find that the believers in any one place were called a "Church" - "what thou seest write in a book, and send unto the seven Churches which are in Asia." These Churches were so many separate societies, each governing itself according to Divine instruction, without acknowledging the authority of sister Churches. Even the appeal of the Church at Antioch to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem was made of their own accord, not of necessity; and they received in response, not a command, but a recommendation only. The apostles endeavored to bind these Churches together in Christian affection; witness the greetings in different Epistles from members of one fellowship to those of others. The only unity of early Christians was that of spiritual life and love; of external unity there is no trace. Now, in these Churches we find mention of two permanent officers - bishops and deacons. Timothy receives instruction as to the ordination of two classes of Church servants, called respectively bishops and deacons. Who, then, are the "elders" of whom we read? They were the same persons as the bishops. Paul, in writing to Titus, says, "For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest... ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee: if any be blameless... for a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God;" or in the passage before us. "The elders which are among you I exhort... feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof" (literally, Greek ἐπισκοποῦντες, bishoping). The two terms (as also, we believe, the term "angel," in Revelation 2.) are designations of the same office, and used interchangeably; we never find them together. Each Church apparently had its own bishop, or elder, and deacons. When you have taken from the list of the public servants of the early Church such names as those of "apostles," "prophets," "workers of miracles," none of whom were intended to be permanent, I think you will find but these two left besides the evangelists. The work of the elders.
1. To feed the flock of God. Just the words you would expect from Peter. They take us back to that early morning when his Master thrice bade him feed his sheep and lambs. To feed the flock is essentially the minister's task. The Word of truth is the great sanctifying agency in the hands of the Divine Spirit, and it is the minister's business so to present this that sanctification shall be the result. There never was greater need of plain practical Scripture teaching than now, when the pressure of business leaves, I fear, too little leisure for Scripture study. It should not be so, but so it is.
2. To take the oversight of the flock. "Let the eiders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor." God's Word shows that he regards the elders as the superintendents of the Churches committed to them, as the presidents of all the work of those Churches, and as having heavy responsibilities for their well-being. Of the Christian minister it is said, he shall "warn the unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak."
3. To be examples to the flock. A minister's personal spiritual life is the first essential in his work; he has to watch his character, lest it should be a shadow darkening his teaching. Many of you have your own smaller portions of the flock to feed and care for. Christian workers, remember that the shepherds of Christ's fold must, like the great Shepherd, always go first. If you want to work for Christ successfully, the best part of that work will be done in your closet, ministering Christ to yourself. The work can never be better than the worker; the power of a lesson depends on the teacher seen behind it.
II. THE SPIRIT IN WHICH THIS WORK IS TO BE WROUGHT.
1. It is to be wrought from personal fellowship with Christ. Peter here says that he was an elder, because he had seen Christ suffer, and was a partaker of his glory. How we shall teach and preach when we look at the sufferings of Jesus, and at his glorified face! We must live with our unseen Lord, and then work for his flock will be no more a constraint, but a joy.
2. In subordination to Christ. "Neither as being lords over God's heritage? It is "God's heritage;" it is the "flock of God;" and there is a "chief Shepherd." Christ has set shepherds over his people, but they are shepherds under him. The flock are never fed, or guided, or upheld, or restored by human ministry, but he does it. If the under-shepherds are not what they ought to be, Jesus remains, and the flock is his.
3. It is to be wrought with hope in Christ. "And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shah receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away." Whatever happiness awaits Christ's faithful servants in another world, whatever forms the unfading crown may take, this at least will not be wanting - the presence there of those who have been redeemed through their instrumentality. Christian worker, when the chief Shepherd shall appear, and you with him, the first wondering glance at the autumnal fields you sowed will be your overwhelming recompense.
III. THE BEARING OF THE CALL TO THIS WORK ON THE CHURCH. Christ has called some of the elders in his Church to feed and oversee his flock, What of that to the Church?
1. It reminds us of the dependence of the people on the ministry. "The perfecting of the saints, and the edifying of the body of Christ," are declared to be, in a very important sense, dependent on the ministry; then it must be a perilous thing to depreciate that ministry, to cast one's self off from it willingly. "Feed the flock of God," he says to the elders; then let the flock of God see that they are willing to be fed.
2. And this calls for the recognition by the people of the proper work of the ministry. It would be a great thing if the elders were able to lead in all the paths of life - in things political, things social, things literary, things scientific, things philanthropic; but spiritual work is essentially theirs, and if these lower things are attended to, the great thing will suffer; and, though the sheep may follow, they will be unfed.
3. The furtherance by the people of the work of the ministry. The Church can greatly help their minister to help them; they can let him know the help they need; they can speak freely of their spiritual difficulties; they can ask for prayer and sympathy, when other aid is unavailing; and in this way can give a joy as great as that they seek. - C.N.
Parallel VersesKJV: The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: