Shepherd the flock of God that is among you…
In the immediately preceding passage Peter warned his readers about the inevitability of suffering should they stand for Christ. Now Peter turns his attention to those entrusted to giving spiritual oversight of these Christians in their various churches. And just as the life of a flock is dependent in many ways upon the shepherd so too the health of the church (“the flock of God”) depends upon the faithfulness of its overseers.
Addressing the elders of the churches directly, Peter identifies himself as a fellow elder. Of course Peter was an apostle as well. This expression of solidarity with the other elders would have made them aware of the fact that their ministry of oversight in the churches was an extension of the ministry of the apostles whom Jesus himself had appointed to lead his church. Indeed, the authority of the elders, while certainly different from that of the apostles, was nevertheless derived from the apostles upon whom Jesus was building his church.
There are key differences between elders and the apostles. The office of apostle was temporary having consisted of twelve men appointed directly by Jesus and imbued with supernatural power in order to confirm and establish the gospel of Christ. Apostles were also entrusted with the mysteries of God who through written revelation gave to the church what we know as the New Testament. The office of elder, on the other hand, is an ongoing office established by Jesus through the apostles. Individual churches are responsible to recognize and set apart those men whom the Lord is calling to service as elders. They are solemnly entrusted with the care, feeding, and protection of the flock of God. Elders possess no authority on their own but only that which derived from and limited by the Scriptures.
In this final section of his letter, Peter emphasizes the importance of faithful elders through whom the Lord Jesus cares for his church. By applying the language of oversight and shepherding Peter gives insight into the nature of the elders’ responsibilities. Those responsibilities are further underscored by use of the term “flock of God” to refer to the church. In the end the elders of the church will give account to Jesus the “Chief Shepherd” (vs. 4) whose return we look for with eager longing. Jesus is the ultimate Shepherd who, rather than using the sheep, laid down his life for them (John 10:11-15). Instead of enriching himself, the Chief Shepherd impoverished himself so that we might receive the spiritual riches of his great salvation (2 Corinthians 8:9).