The Crown of Unfading Glory
Robert Wurtz II
“The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” (1 Peter 5:1–4 NKJV)
Our passage is a series of precise instructions set forth by the Holy Spirit to elders within the churches. During the New Testament era, “elders” was a function in the churches that was always in the plural regarding oversight, unlike today, when typically a single pastor performs this function. So we can say, based on the current construct, that this passage applies to pastors.
Peter characterizes the instructions using “exhort” from the Greek parakaleo, meaning to call to one’s side. Depending on the translation, he first tells them to “shepherd the flock” or “feed the flock” from the Greek word poimanate, which involves the duties of a shepherd. The late Greek scholar A.T. Robertson translates it “tend,” and it’s in the imperative. Jesus used this exact word when restoring and commissioning Peter by the Sea of Galilee in John 21:16. Jesus told Peter in effect, “If you love me, you will tend and feed my sheep.” Peter likely had that event in mind here and passed the urgency and care to all elders. Paul also used the word poimanate speaking to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (Acts 20:28).
A true shepherd cares for all the people and diligently watches over them. The NKJV translates episkopeo ( epi over skopeo see) as “serving as overseers,” but this is not strong enough. The idea is better conveyed when the writer to the Hebrews warns of evil and fornicators entering and defiling the church in Hebrews 12:15, where the KJV translates episkopeo as “looking diligently.” A shepherd must guard the flock with unceasing vigilance from “ferocious wolves” (false prophets, fornicators, and other dangerous characters) that force their way in to ravage them (Acts 20:29). Shepherds are accountable to God to keep watch over the souls in their care that have been purchased with Christ’s blood (Hebrews 13:17).
Peter then adds, “not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly.” Understand that a hired hand is not the same as a shepherd (lit. not a shepherd). Jesus explains this in the parable of the Good Shepherd.
“He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:12–13 ESV)
A hired hand (KJV hireling) does the job primarily for the money and wouldn’t do it at their own expense and without compensation. They will run away from danger rather than confront it and protect the flock. This danger could be anything from a false prophet to a fornicator. A true shepherd does not tolerate destructive behavior and will, as did Paul, turn the offending party over to Satan if they don’t repent (1 Corinthians 5:5). Why? Because false teachers and fornicators stumble people in the faith. Paul, a good shepherd, was angered by behavior that caused people to stumble. He asked, “Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?” (2 Corinthians 11:29b ESV) A hired hand tolerates such behavior.
Peter makes another distinction, and it’s between a shepherd and a lord. Undoubtedly he needed to make this point because some were trying to be “lords over God’s heritage.” This concept of lording it over people is first found in the explicit teachings of Jesus in Matthew 20:25-27 and Mark 10:42-44 and likely was in Peter’s mind as he penned these words. What did Jesus plainly teach?
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant.” (Matthew 20:25–26 ESV)
Compare Matthew 20:25-26 with what Peter said, “(…) serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you.” He basically paraphrased Jesus. Gentile power structures are set up in a hierarchy from greatest to least like a corporate organizational chart. Yet, if Jesus had used ten megaphones, people would still ignore Him. Why? Because some people, like Satan, are power-hungry and love “to lord it over” His people rather than making themselves of no reputation and leading them as servants. How often does He need to say, “It shall not be so among you” before He gains obedience?
We then read, nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. The word “example” means a pattern or “to pattern after.” So a shepherd must be an example of Jesus Christ in all areas of life for the people to follow. Notice the contrast here. There are those who “lord it over” and those who “lead by example.” It is impossible to be both. Jesus led with His voice, and if someone decided to quit following Him, He let them go (John 6:66-68). One who “lords it over” seeks to control people to do their own will rather than lead them to follow Christ.
Finally, “(…) and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” This crown is reserved for those faithful to obey God’s word regarding their responsibilities as a shepherd. Hired hands don’t get the crown of glory as they were paid workers who mainly cared for the money and already received their reward. The overlords wanted to be crowned as a lord on the earth, and they won’t get it either. The crown of unfading glory is reserved for faithful shepherds, as Jesus, Peter, and Paul described them.