Act with Humility

Explore the Bible Series

April 29, 2007

 

Lesson Passage: I Peter 5:1-14

 

Introduction: Many would agree that American evangelicals find themselves in the midst of a crisis of leadership.  Stories of pastoral abuse and misconduct choke the airwaves and print media, and one wonders how many pastors, broken under the enormous weight of ministerial leadership, stories that often remain untold.  Southern Baptists, in particular, have expressed concern about the awful toll taken by this crisis.  Simon Peter, a wise and experienced elder, gave invaluable counsel to the churches of Asia Minor, counsel that the contemporary church desperately needs.

 

Sometimes the leadership crisis manifests itself in the misdeeds of pastors.  Again, it seems like a new story of pastoral misconduct surfaces with frightening regularity.  The disgraceful child abuse tragedy in the Roman Catholic Church and the attendant cover-ups have horrified the country.  A few months ago, evangelicals grieved over the drug-related homosexual activities of a prominent Colorado pastor, a man who served as an advisor to the president of the United States.  In the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, we have witnessed drug and sexual abuse cases, and the press has covered the criminal trial of a prominent pastor who engaged in numerous extramarital affairs and drug use.  These problems bring unwanted public attention to the Christian community, but what of the countless situations where members get bullied or mislead by overbearing, abusive pastors?  These stories, of course, do not often get told.  Christian television networks teem with ministers who mistreat their congregations by demanding an extravagant life-style that distorts the gospel and takes advantage of the poor and vulnerable.

 

Other situations give evidence that the crisis in leadership may not, in some cases, center on the leaders; rather, the problems arise among the “followship.”  Few church members understand the tremendous pressures that bear down on their ministers.  Pastors are human beings, and they struggle with the same kinds of problems that trouble people in the pews.  Elders preside over a voluntary organization that requires these men to provide leadership in the context of maintaining satisfaction and consensus in the local congregation.    Many times these men are, as Henri Nouwen observed, “wounded healers.”  Nothing wounds a pastor’s heart more than the persistent disrespect of his church family or the flock’s refusal to follow the leadership of the man God has sent to direct the affairs of the church. Churches, at times, abuse their pastors, and, sadly, they often refuse to acknowledge the unspeakable damage they have done to the Lord’s servants.

 

Thankfully, these heartbreaking situations are not inevitable or irreversible.  The Bible gives invaluable counsel to churches in crisis, and the Lord’s people, with the help of the Holy Spirit, can bring healing to seemingly hopeless circumstances.  Please, dear brothers and sisters, listen carefully to the words of the Apostle peter, and, where necessary, set right the wrongs of the past, wrongs that impede the peace and power of the church.

Lesson Outline:

 

I.                   Counsel and Comfort for Elders (5:1-4)

A.    Peter’s credentials for giving this counsel (v. 1):  This author was no fly-by-night, self-appointed church expert.  There’s blood, sweat, and tears mixed with these words.  He had experienced the exhilaration and monumental challenges of church leadership.  Furthermore, he had made some mistakes, and these failures had taught him some valuable lessons about leadership.  This chapter begins with Peter outlining three factors that equipped him for counseling the churches of Asia Minor.

1.      “I who am a fellow elder”: elders were not intenerate missionaries; therefore, peter recalled his settled ministry in Jerusalem and, perhaps, in Rome as well. These were not the detached ruminations of inexperienced novice.  Unfortunately, it often seems that the greatest “experts” in pastoral ministry are those who have no experience with these matters at all.  Peter did not fall in that category.

2.      “a witness of the sufferings of Christ”:  Why did Peter include this phrase?  Certainly, he wanted to assert his apostolic authority, but I wonder if he had another motive.  The Gospels make clear that Peter betrayed the Lord, and it certainly appears that the failed disciple did not, in fact, observe the death of Jesus on the cross.  Perhaps Peter, in this subtle manner, wanted to remind his readers of his own humanity by recalling the circumstances of his greatest failure.  The apostle did not approach this topic with haughty superiority; rather he addressed his fellow elders with the brokenness and humility of one who knew what it was to fail desperately.

3.      “a partaker of the glory that will be revealed”: As an experienced pastor, Peter knew better than to look for his rewards in this life; instead, he set his hope on the glory that would come with the end of the age.

B.     Help for elders (vv. 2-4): Pastors must shepherd the flock of God.  Note, the flock belongs to God, and ministers simply serve as stewards of the Lord’s inheritance.

1.      “serving as overseers”: Elders must provide general oversight for the congregation. Peter did not distinguish between “spiritual” and “pragmatic” concerns.  In the church context, all issues relate to spiritual realities. 

2.      “not by compulsion, but willingly”: The pastor’s heart should joyously rise to the work.  He must delight in his God-appointed labors. Too many broken, crushed men simply go through the motions of pastoral leadership, and God is not honored where men merely plod through their work.  Hebrews Thirteen makes clear that the congregation should safeguard the joyous spirit of her ministers.

3.      “not for dishonest gain”: Even in Peter’s day churches faced the possibility of greedy pastors who took advantage of their position. I marvel at the ‘health and wealth” phenomenon in our day, especially in light of passages like this in the New Testament.  Of course, churches must not use this phrase as a justification for failing to properly provide for the practical needs of the pastor.

4.      “nor as being lords over those entrusted to you”: Some men are drawn to the pastorate by an inordinate desire for power. Such men often intrude into the lives of their parishioners and, in doing so, harm the flock and dishonor Christ.  In my judgment, some aspects of fundamentalism have fostered this abusive model for leadership.  The Bible is not weapon for unscrupulous men to bludgeon their people into senseless compliance.  One of the goals of appropriate pastoral leadership focuses on fostering healthy Christian growth rather than assuming a paternalistic posture that keeps church members in a persistent child-like state.  An elder who follows these guidelines will receive a crown of glory at the return of Christ.

 

II.                Directives for Church Members (vv. 5-11)

A.    “submit yourselves to your elders”(vv. 5-6): In this case, the phrase “you younger people” should probably be understood figuratively, much s we would understand “elder.”  The primary meaning of these words, in this context, does not refer to chronological age. The text makes clear that we must understand this command in the context of mutual submission in the church.  Peter strengthened his command by paraphrasing Proverbs 3:34.

B.     “humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God” (vv. 6-7): Submission, properly understood, grows from godly humility.  Those who submit themselves to God, the Lord will honor and exalt in due time.  Humble people realize their own insufficiency in dealing with the great trials of life; therefore, they will instinctively cast their burdens on the Lord. 

C.     “Be sober, be vigilant” (vv. 8-11):  Christians must remain ever vigilant because of the strength and spite of their mortal enemy.  The analogy of the lion denotes the ravenous, vicious nature of Satan.  In addition to sober vigilance, the saint must resist Satan, steadfast in the faith.  By the Lord’s grace, the Lord will perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle his people.

 

Conclusion of the Epistle (v. 12-14):  Peter credited Silvanus with helping with the writing of the epistle.  He sent greetings from the elect of “Babylon” (probably a reference to Rome) and from John Mark.