1 Peter 5:4, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
In the previous verses, Peter has given the elders their charge as well as explaining the heart and manner in which to carry out their task. He also called them to not be motivated by shameful gain and to not be domineering over those in their charge. For more explanation, you can read my previous article here.
In 1 Peter 5:4, Peter shifts from the calling and heart of the biblical shepherding, to the reward for faithful shepherding. As mentioned in the previous article, Peter has explained how gain, whether it be monetary or status, is a wrong motivation for being an elder. However, not all motivations are wrong. Peter, in verse 4, gives us two right, biblical motivations for elders. He writes, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” Let’s break this text into two parts.
The Chief Shepherd
If we read over these verses too fast, we will miss the beauty of those words: “And when the chief Shepherd appears.” Peter doesn’t say if. He says when. Our chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, has promised that he will return. The very closing words of Scripture testify to this as Jesus says, “Surely I am coming soon.” And all Christians everywhere today echo John’s response, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Rev. 22:20).
The anticipated return of our King, the chief Shepherd, is a means of present perseverance in and motivation for faithfully shepherding the flock. In terms of rewards, there is no greater reward for those serving as an elder, or any Christian for that matter, than the appearing of our Lord! Christ Himself is our reward. Elder, even if you were given no crown, Christ is all the reward you could ever want. The chief Shepherd who laid his life down for the sheep, including you, elder, will return to bring us home. May this truth alone give any struggling elder the grace and motivation needed to labor for the joy of Christ’s church. May those serving as elder today teach the flock God has entrusted to you to continually fix their eyes on Him. Remind the Lord’s people of his coming! And remind yourself that the church you shepherd ultimately belongs to the chief Shepherd. It’s His bride! So, labor in the strength that he provides. Love, care for, feed, and tend to those Christ obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28)
Brothers serving as elders, please hear me: The appearing of our chief Shepherd will make all the hardships of ministry worthwhile! In fact, the burdens and trials faced in pastoral ministry are preparing for you an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). All the hospital visits, the funerals performed of dear saints gone to be with the Lord, the counseling sessions, the late-night phone calls, the disgruntled church member, the long yet glorious and laborious hours and days of sermon preparation, the pain of seeing friends leave the ministry, the tearful, yet joyful departure of fellow elders gone out to plant other churches, the sending out of dear brothers and sisters to the mission field. The culmination of it all will be the return of our Lord, for he will come to gather His people and bring us home to himself. So go on shepherding and encouraging the flock, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23-25)
The Unfading Crown of Glory
And yet, when Christ returns, he will bring another reward to those who have shepherded his people. This is Peter’s encouragement to them: “you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” A crown of glory is not exclusively given to elders, for we see in 1 Cor. 9:25 and James 1:12 that others, namely those who remain steadfast, will also be rewarded a crown. However, that in no way minimizes the glory of this great promise in reward. Rather, it displays the rich generosity and lavishing grace of our God! We may not know exactly what this crown will look like, but we do know it will be unfading. It is will never perishable.
Both rewards, the chief Shepherd and the crown of glory are unfading and eternal. Therefore, pastor, do not labor motivated by that which fades away. Labor in light of the risen, coming King Jesus and the crown he has prepared for you. The crown of glory awaiting elders is a future reward meant to encourage and spur pastors on in the ministry. Yet, the beauty of the crown of glory is not our own exaltation, but that you will be able to lay that crown at His feet in glad adoration of and gratefulness for our great God and Savior Jesus Christ!
This passage serves as a charge and an encouragement to both those currently in and aspiring to be in pastoral ministry. In 1 Peter 5:1-4, Peter, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has laid out a clear charge God lays upon elders, the way he intends for that charge to be carried out, and the reward for faithfully shepherding. It is a testimony to the grace of God and his love for his bride that he has gifted and appointed men to shepherd his people as they wait for his return. Pastors, run the race and shepherd the flock with your gaze upon Christ, longing for his return! Church, love, pray for and encourage those who the Lord has graciously called to shepherd and care for your souls. And may both elders and those in their care remember the chief Shepherd’s promise, “Surely I am coming soon.”