“The elders which are among you I exhort . . . Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1–3, AV)
The very first evening when I attended the United States Army Ranger School in 1973, I sat in an orientation. The company First Sargent, in no uncertain terms, reminded us as to why we were there. We all understood the gravity of the situation, knowing that the Vietnam Conflict was still underway. We knew that, in all likelihood, we would be sent to Vietnam and assigned in the infantry. The First Sargent reminded us that we were in the Ranger course to be prepared for combat.
Often, we need reminders. Pastors need reminders also. We need reminders as to our calling and the motivation for that calling. Here, Peter exhorted pastors, reminding them of their calling. Why was this necessary? The reason is that we pastors can be subtly influenced by the world system that can mix up our motives for serving. Unfortunately, to the peril of congregations, there are many are in the pastorate today whose focus has been tainted by the flesh and this world system.
Peter wrote this to the “elders,” presbuterous, which in this context refers to pastors, those having a responsibility for the “flock of God.” He tells them to “Feed the flock.” The verb “Feed,” poimaino, is better translated as “shepherd” as in other versions such as the ESV, because it broadens the understanding of the work. To shepherd includes not only feeding, but many other aspects of care. Yes, we are to nourish the parishioners with the word of God, but we also have a responsibility for pastoral care, prayer, and protection.
However, there are many subtle traps into which the pastor may step. Those that are carefully hidden in the surrounding culture, but are very real. Peter warns us of these. First, he tells the pastor not to engage in this work “by constraint,” referring to some sort of imposed obligation. He stated that the pastor should do this work “willingly,” unforced, voluntarily. The pastor is to serve because of his love for God and the flock of God. This should be his only compulsion.
Second, Peter told the pastors that they should not serve “for filthy lucre.” The pastor’s goal cannot be for monetary gain. He is not to be greedy. Congregations must not indenture their pastors to live in poverty as the Scripture forbids this (1 Tim 5:18). Yet, Pastors should not have a love for money either. Jesus said that one cannot serve two masters, they cannot serve both God and money (Matt 6:24). Unfortunately, many pastors see the ministry as an occupation and have forgotten it as a calling, If a person is in the pastorate just to make money, that person is on dangerous ground. Peter tells the pastor that instead of serving money, they are to serve “of a ready mind.” This phrase, translated from prothumos, carries with it the idea of serving willingly with passion.
Last, the pastor is not to lord it over the flock. The sheep are not to be beaten. The people of God are not to be dominated by the pastor. He is to be an example of Christlikeness to the congregation. This example is of one who sacrificially loves the parishioners, and willingly and passionately does what is necessary to bless them and bring them in to conformity with God’s most glorious purposes. The Pastor that has this heart will be a blessing to the flock of God and will see spiritual growth in the lives of those in his charge. Pay heed to this noble reminder.