The Sheep and Their Shepherds

“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV)

The Good Sheep

I would guess there is a lot more critique of shepherding than “sheeping.” You have likely heard the old adage of the critical church family who each Sunday has the pastor for lunch—his reputation, his sermon, and their perception of his faults.

Did you know the biblical shoe fits on the other foot too? Or in this case, hoof? Sheep have responsibilities as biblically mandated as shepherds do. We’d better understand this role too.

  • “We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12)
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
  • Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.” (1 Peter 5:5)

Sheep are to follow their shepherds

 This is Sheep 101. The Hebrews passage describes the manner of following as obeying and submitting. Is the wool on the back of your neck rising? Does that verse make you a little hot under the wooly collar? Words like obey and submit can rub us the wrong way. What does it mean?

This is part of God’s work in us. Naturally, we want to be independent and free from oversight or responsibility. But when we believe in Jesus, we submit to his rule in our lives. We come under his lordship and leadership. We come into his flock. And there we discover that submitting to the chief Shepherd means coming under the leadership of his deputy shepherds. This is a challenge because it’s much easier to submit to the God-man than it is to a fellow man. In fact, the more we get to know them, the more like us they seem to be—imperfect. In need of the same gospel. How do we “obey and submit” to under-shepherds?

Look at the rest of verse 5: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5) It takes humility to be a good shepherd and it takes humility to be a good and biblical sheep. All of it comes back to the glory of Christ. The shepherd takes his responsibilities seriously because he will give an account to Jesus for his labors and is responsible for sheep that Jesus loved and died for. Sheep are people who show their submission to the rule of Jesus by honoring and following Jesus’ under-shepherds. This takes humility because everyone knows the under-shepherds are sinners in need of God’s grace too. So when a shepherd makes a mistake, makes a wrong turn, or shows his humanity, gospel humility is applied as we hope humble gospel grace is applied to our failures as sheep.

Shepherds humble themselves by serving the sheep and sheep humble themselves by following the shepherds. Gospel humility makes this work without it become toxic or political.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2015 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address ( on the copied resource.

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