And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.1 Peter 5:4(NASB)
Sheep and shepherds play a vital role in Scripture. Sheep have to be guarded from enemy attacks, and guided by the shepherd, because the little flock in their care, often wander away, become fearful or blindly follow the rest of the sheep. The shepherd must not neglect those in his care. Rather, he must consider the needs of the sheep before his own. He must watch over them tenderly and search out lush pasture for them to eat, and calm pools of water where they can drink in peace and safety. He must ensure that he protects each one from the many prowling predators, and erect strong defences around the precious sheep-fold to ward off evil.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses were shepherds in Israel, and David was the shepherd-boy, who discovered, "the Lord is MY Shepherd", and became the great king, who shepherded God's people, Israel. Through his royal line was born the Lord Jesus Christ - the Good Shepherd of the sheep. Biblical prophets, priests, and kings were often regarded as shepherds of God's flock, and imposters were identified as idle shepherds, who would leave the flock defenceless when danger approached and refuse to care for God's people.
God the Father is beautifully portrayed in Scripture as the Shepherd of Israel, Who is mindful of the sheep of His pasture. He tends for them in green pastures, leads them beside still waters, gathers them when they are scattered, faithfully feeds them when they are hungry, diligently searches for them when they go astray and justifiably chastens them, when they wander from the path of righteousness.
The Old Testament is filled with references about good and faithful shepherds, who nurture the little flock of God, in their care. Even King Cyrus, a pagan Gentile, was identified as God's shepherd, because he was used to fulfil God's plan, when he decreed that Jerusalem would be rebuilt and the temple of God restored. But the Bible also speaks of evil shepherds, who abandon the sheep when danger comes - imposters who eat their flesh. There were many such wicked servants, who flayed the skin of God's little flock, broke their bones and chopped them in pieces for the pot!
Shepherds play an important role in the New Testament too. The incarnate Word was born in Bethlehem, in fulfilment of Scripture and visited by shepherds. Jesus came to shepherd His people Israel, and is universally identified as the Good Shepherd, Who gives His life for the sheep. He is the faithful Shepherd who knows His sheep and whose voice is recognised by them. Jesus is that great Shepherd of the sheep, Who was raised from the dead through the blood of the everlasting covenant and is also identified as the Door of the sheep-fold.
The apostle Peter further identified Jesus as the Chief of all Shepherds. He is the Preeminent Shepherd and Leader of all who are spiritually gifted to care for the Church of Christ. Peter was the disciple who was instructed by Jesus to "feed My sheep". He was to shepherd the little flock of God. Along with the other apostles and certain other, gifted men, Peter was assigned to care for Christ's little flock after His ascension into heaven. And all who are pastors and elders have this same important instruction, FEED my sheep, FEED my lambs, CARE for my Church, SHEPHERD the little flock of God in your care.
Peter may have been given Christ's instruction to 'FEED My sheep', but he passes on this responsibility to pastors and elders. "Therefore, I exhort the elders among you... to shepherd the flock of God, exercising oversight. Do not do it not under compulsion, but voluntarily - according to God's will. Don't do it not for dishonourable gain, but eagerly. Don't lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears," he tells them, "you will receive the unfading crown of glory." These church elders were to clothe themselves with humility toward one another, for God is against the proud but gives grace to the humble.
God is no man's debtor, and despite spiritually gifting all who are called to shepherd the flock of God, Peter reveals a wonderful truth that should rejoice the heart of those who are called to be pastors or elders, or those who Shepherd the Body of Christ, for His name's sake. When JESUS, the Supreme Shepherd returns in the clouds to take us to be with Himself, they will receive a glorious crown, rewarding them for their faithful efforts, that will never fade away. God is a generous Giver of all that is good and perfect in this life - and in the world to come, His gifts of grace are eternal and His generosity is never-ending and beyond our comprehension.
Unlike the runners in an earthy race who receive a fading wreath of leaves that quickly shrivels and dies, faithful men are to shepherd the flock of God under the authoritative guardianship of Christ. He is the Chief and Preeminent Shepherd of all God' people, Who will award each of His faithful under-shepherd, a glorious crown, a never-withering garland of glory, an eternal coronet of praise.
Whether this is only given to those who are under-shepherds in a Church fellowship, or whether it is a crown that may be awarded to all who have faithfully served the body of Christ, and cared for the people of God in the graciousness of their heart, under the guidance of the Spirit is not clear, but may we all in humility of heart carry out Christ's will faithfully and fervently, by caring for the Church of Christ, as we look for that glorious day when we will be with our Good and Faithful Shepherd, Who died and rose again so that we might live eternally.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for the faithful pastors and elders in our churches who humbly care for the people in their congregations, as they gently shepherd the flock of God in their charge. We pray for all those who have been called to be the under-shepherds of Your people, and pray that You would empower each one with the gifts and graces they need to minister to those You have placed in their charge. Keep them from developing an attitude of pride or superiority, and may they all rejoice with the saints in heaven, when they receive their crown of glory that will not pass away. Help each one to pattern their life on Christ, and may each one set a godly example to those in their care. This we ask in Jesus' name, AMEN.