It’s not enough for us to understand the responsibilities and requirements for shepherds. We also need to know how Jesus wants His sheep to respond. But before we look at 1 Peter 5:5, remember two things. First, remember that even elders are sheep. So what follows applies to every one of us, including the elders. In fact, I would suggest to you that a man is not fit to be an elder unless and until he demonstrates a willingness to respond this way in relationship to the elders and the church as a whole.
Second, remember that every sheep needs a shepherd. If you’re in the room and you’re not a church member, I’d encourage you to ask yourself how you intend to do these two things without clearly identifying with a local church. If you’re moving towards membership either here or somewhere else, praise God. But if you’re not, or if you don’t see the need for church membership consider these words from Charles Spurgeon:
“I believe that every Christian ought to be joined to some visible church; that is his plain duty, according to the Scriptures. God’s people are not dogs, else they might go about one by one; but they are sheep, and therefore they should be in flocks. If I meet a man, all by himself, snapping at everybody, — I may be called uncharitable, but I should hardly think that he was a sheep, I should be afraid that he was a dog. But when I see a man who consorts with his fellow-men, feeds with them, takes delight in their company, and with them draws near to the Great Shepherd of souls, I say to myself, ‘I think he must be one of the sheep, for that is the way in which that animal always acts.’ So, beloved, you should go in flocks or companies; that is to say, you should be joined to some Christian church.”[i]
So what should every church member’s response be to his/her elders?
Submit to the Elders
First, members should submit to the elders. Or, for those of us who are elders, we’re called to submit to one another. Look at verse 5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. “Wait a minute!” Somebody might respond. “I’m not younger! I don’t have to submit to the elders!” This may feel like the local church equivalent of the senior citizen discount! Not so fast. First of all, we know that other Scriptures clearly call on all church members to submit to their elders. Like Hebrews 13:17, which we read earlier, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls.” So why does Peter single out those who are young? It could be that he’s using the word “younger” as a stand-in for all other church members.[ii] Or, perhaps, he’s specifically mentioning the younger, not because they’re the only ones who must submit but because it’s usually harder for them to submit.[iii] Either way, the application is the same. Church member, your response to faithful elders is to submit to their leadership.
Now before you get all bent out of shape, church member, let’s remember what submission means. Submitting to your elders doesn’t mean you submit in everything. Your job is to follow the elders as they follow Jesus. If we lead you to do anything clearly contrary to God’s Word, you shouldn’t submit.
Submitting to your elders doesn’t mean you blindly follow. It’s perfectly fine to respectfully question our leadership. In fact, we welcome that! I’ve lost track of how many times a decision I’ve made as a pastor has been improved by someone lovingly pushing back.
Submitting to your elders doesn’t mean you agree on everything. You may disagree with any number of decisions we make as elders. But as long as those disagreements don’t arise to second or first-level disagreements you should be willing to follow even when you disagree. John Piper explains it this way: "A church should have a bent toward trusting its leaders; you should have a disposition to be supportive in your attitudes and actions toward their goals and directions; you should want to imitate their faith; and you should have a happy inclination to comply with their instructions."[iv]
Because Jesus loved us too much to leave us like sheep without a shepherd, we should respond to those shepherds with an attitude of submission.
Serve Alongside the Elders
Look again at verse 5, Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” Why does Peter talk about humility here? Because pride is what gets in the way of submission. But notice, Peter doesn’t tell us to clothe ourselves with humility towards the elders, but towards one another. I think Peter’s saying this because a church that’s truly humble towards one another is a church that’s perfectly situated to serve alongside the elders as they shepherd the flock.
Think about it: your job as a church member is more than mere attendance. It’s more than giving, more than serving on a team, more than working in the nursery. Your job as a church member is to help your fellow members follow Jesus. PBC member, the most important way you can bless your elders is by rolling up your sleeves and get busy alongside us as we help one another follow Jesus together. And the biggest obstacle to you and I doing that is pride.
Think about it. Why don’t we share our burdens with one another? Because we’re too proud to admit that we need help, or we’re too proud to receive it. Why don’t we confess our sins to one another? Because we’re too proud to admit that we’ve sinned, or that we’ve sinned recently, or that we’re still struggling with sin now. Why don’t we confront one another in love? Because we’re too proud to get the log out of our own eye before we pluck the splinter out of our brother’s eye. Why don’t we get involved in one another’s lives as we should? Because we’re too proud to let people see who we really are when the masks are off. Why don’t we ask questions to find out how our brothers and sisters are doing? Because we’re too proud to listen to someone’s voice other than our own. So if you want to serve alongside your elders, clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’
Because Jesus loved us too much to leave us like sheep without a shepherd, we should respond to those shepherds by rolling up our sleeves and serving alongside them.
[i] C.H. Spurgeon, “The Head and the Body” (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, August 6, 1882), https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-head-and-the-body/.
[ii] Karen H. Jobes, 1 Peter, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 307.
[iii] Thomas R. Schreiner, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, New American Commentary (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), 236–38.
[iv] John Piper, Obey Your Joyful Leaders, Part 2 (Bethlehem Baptist Church, 1997), https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/obey-your-joyful-leaders-part-2.