Shepherding the Flock of God

1 Peter

Shepherding the Flock of God

September 11th, 1960 @ 10:50 AM

The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

1 Peter 5:1-4

9-11-60     10:50 a.m.



We are preaching through the Bible, now coming to the fifth chapter of 1 Peter.  And this is what Simon Peter wrote in the first four verses of that chapter:


The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder –

refers to himself as a pastor, we would call him –

who am also a pastor, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;

Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.

And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

[1 Peter 5:1-4]


The title of the sermon is – and the sermon is not an exegetical sermon, it’s not an exposition; it’s a message taken out of this month that I’ve been away – the title of the sermon is Shepherding the Flock of God.

The word for "shepherd" is poimen; the verbal form of the substantive is poimainō.  Now it’s translated here with two different words: "Feed the flock of God" [1 Peter 5:2]; then down here in the fourth verse, it’s translated, "And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear" [1 Peter 5:4].  They are both the same word, though one of them is translated "feed," and the other is translated, the substantival form, it’s translated "Shepherd."  Both of them are the same word.  So when Simon Peter wrote this admonition, "Poimainō, shepherd the flock of God, and when the great poimen, Shepherd, shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory" [1 Peter 5:4].

This brings to our hearts the admonition that Paul wrote to the elders, to the pastors of the Ephesian church.  Your Scripture lesson this morning, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers, to feed," and there it is again, "to shepherd the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood" [Acts 20:28].  You have the same sentiment in Paul:  "Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it . . . that He might present it to Himself a glorious church" [Ephesians 5:25-27].  Shepherding the flock of God, brings to our hearts the Lord Jesus, when He spoke the parable of the good shepherd:  leaving the ninety and nine out in the wilderness to find the one that was lost [Matthew 18:11-14].  It brings to our hearts – and doubtless Simon Peter wrote this epistle so much out of the experience of his life – brings to our hearts the admonition of the Savior to Simon, when He said, "Simon son of Jonas, lovest Thou Me more than these?"  And with the sweep of His hands, He included the old fishing business, and the old nets, and the old boat, and the old life, and the old world, "Lovest Thou Me more than these?"  Simon Peter said, "Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee."  And Jesus said, "Feed My flock" [John 21:15-17]; there’s that word again.  "Shepherd My flock, tend My sheep, feed, shepherd, tend, care for the flock of God.  And when the Chief Shepherd shall appear" [1 Peter 5:4]; isn’t it wonderful that a pastor can think of himself in the same office as that of the Lord?  The pastor and undershepherd, "and when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory" [1 Peter 5:4].  Shepherding the flock of God, that immediately is the admonition and the appeal of the Spirit of the Lord to the pastor and his congregation; to the church staff and all of these who work with them; to the deacons and the official board; and our church family; and to the disciples of Christ who love and honor God through His church.  "Feed, care for, shepherd My people."

Last week, as most of you know, I preached through a spiritual life conference that the chief of chaplains had arranged for the chaplains of the Air Force and for spiritual airmen, whom the chaplains might choose to bring with them.  There were a thousand eighty-seven at the meeting.  On Sunday morning – I preached every night – on Sunday morning the chief of chaplains, the Protestant, General Robert Preston Taylor brought the message.  I’m asking him to come here to our church.  If it’s all right with you, and he could, I’d love to ask him for Sunday morning on Stewardship Day, the Sunday before Thanksgiving at this hour.  He told me he would fly from Washington D.C. to Dallas to be our guest; and I hope he can arrange it to come on that day.  That would be something special for you.  I don’t think I ever saw a man that had the admiration of his fellow airmen, and fellow chaplains, and fellow soldiers, and fellow defense men as General Taylor.  There are only two generals in the chaplaincy; and he’s one of them.  He’s tall and fine looking.  He was introduced first as from Texas; and the Texas airmen took the roof off the house when they said that.  And I joined in the refrain.  Oh, I’m glad to be in Texas.  And then he was introduced as a graduate of Baylor University.  And oh, I stood up six inches higher when he was introduced from Baylor.  And then he was introduced as a Th.D. graduate, a doctor graduate of our Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary here in Texas.  And I stood up six inches higher still.  Ah, that man!  I had known him before, when I used to preach through the Home Mission Week at Ridgecrest, North Carolina, when we’d have our chaplains, Southern Baptist chaplains’ meetings there.  Once in a while, General Taylor would come.  So I said, "If you don’t mind, I want to come to your room, or you come to mine, and I just want to talk to you."  So he came to my room that evening, and we stayed there until the wee hours of the morning.  That fellow, and he’s typical of a true servant of Christ.

He was in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor brought to our nation its greatest grief and its greatest sorrow.  He was with forty thousand men who were captured by the Japanese.  He was on the death march of Bataan.  There were twenty-six chaplains who were captured.  There were only two of them who survived:  General Taylor and one other.  Then as I encouraged him, he followed through the story of his ministry in those three and a half years as a war prisoner.  First of all, those twenty-six chaplains of which he was one, then he described how as the days and the years multiplied the men wasted away.  "No day," he’d say, "but that they would bury at least one hundred fifty of our American boys."  And he said, "Someday we’d bury five hundred at a time."  He said, "Many a time I saw my fellow chaplains up and down the wards, ministering to those boys, reading to them God’s Book, kneeling by their sides in prayer, comforting and encouraging them in the faith."  And then he said, "The next day I’d not only bury the men to whom they ministered, but I’d bury the chaplain also."  Carried on a ship to Manchuria, twenty-six hundred of them in the ship; only two hundred of them survived.  He weighed, he said, less than ninety pounds when he arrived at the prison of war camp in Manchuria.  Out in the China Seas – eighteen hundred of those boys, in what they call a "hell ship," a captive ship being transported to other areas – an American bomb, not knowing the men were on the ship, American bomb falls; the ship sinks.  Only four of the men survived on a raft, and he said, "The two chaplains who were on the ship, with one hand held to the spar of the ship, and with the other hand encouraged the men in their hour of death."  Ah, it makes a civilian pastor feel that he lives in waste and in luxury, that he’s soft, that he doesn’t know the word of sacrifice and commitment.  And the most astonishing thing, as the chaplain would describe the waste and the death among those American men, he said, "I never heard a murmur, I never heard a complaint, as those men faced – as they marched, as they went on to an inevitable destruction – always with a good heart and with a good spirit."  This is the blood of America.  "Shepherd, care for, tend My sheep" [John 21:15-17; Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-4].

Now, in the conference, being an open meeting, other people could come who so desired, and did.  I received a letter from a woman.  She said, "My husband and I are driving two hundred miles to attend these services.  My husband is a lost man," she said, "He’s a wicked man.  He curses and he drinks, and I cannot bear it any longer.  And unless something happens, I’m breaking up our home."  They’d been married I don’t know how many years; the man is sixty-seven years old.  She said, "He has great admiration for you.  And he’s coming to hear you preach.  He’ll be there Friday night and Saturday night, and I’m praying, O Lord I’m praying."  I want you to know, when Saturday night came, after the service was over, that man came with his wife; he just cried like a child, like light showers of rain falling from his face.  He had found the Lord.  He had been saved.  They were going back that two hundred miles home new people, and he a new man.

That night also they had a reception for General Taylor, and I was in attendance, happy, glad that I could be in that number.  And when the reception was over, I walked to the front of the auditorium and to the side, and as I walked down the side, an airman came out of the dark of the building, and waited for me to catch step with him.  He said, "After listening to you tonight, I didn’t go to my room, I didn’t go out; I stayed in the auditorium, and I’ve been on my knees ever since.  And I’ve been fighting a battle in my heart, and I have won it for God.  I’ve won it for God.  I’ve been saved.  I’ve been saved."  I resolved, I resolved, I was going to give an invitation; they had never done it at these conferences.  I said in my heart, "Next night when I preach, I’m going to give an invitation."  So the next night which was Sunday night, last Sunday night, when I preached, I gave an invitation.  I had the presiding chaplains stand there at the front, while I made the appeal.  And it was blessed of God.  There were airmen saved, there were airmen who gave their lives in a new way to God.  It was a great service.

I want you to know there was a violent reaction to what I had done.  The liturgical chaplains were greatly offended and insulted that I had given an invitation.  And they looked upon it as a cheap, melodramatic display of emotion, shallow and meaningless.  Each day of the meeting, we had a panel discussion.  They had there three civilians to speak:  one a great and learned theological professor from one of the great Presbyterian seminaries of America; the second man is the executive secretary of the Protestant Council of New York City; and then the third was your pastor.  So it all came out, it all came out at the panel that we had.  They just bluntly and openly brought it to the fore.  "For the first time, this preacher has given an invitation," and it was violently opposed by the liturgical chaplains.  So I was asked to defend it.  And I did the best that I could.  You know how I feel about it.  To me the raison d’etre, the reason to be is to make an appeal.  The reason for preaching the gospel is to ask a man to come to Christ.  Like a man selling an insurance policy, all of the reasons and all of the things you can tell him; and then when you’ve done your best to persuade him, then you don’t ask him to sign on the dotted line, you don’t ask him to take the policy.  The very heart of the message to me is, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that He liveth, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" [Romans 10:9],"Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven" [Matthew 10:32].  I did the best I could to defend what I had done.  I didn’t convince any of those liturgical men.  "It was a cheap, melodramatic, emotional display; the first time it had ever been done" and I want you to know that afternoon I never was so blue and discouraged in my life.

I just went around like,has any one of you ever seen that jinx of a character in "Little Abner," his name is [Btfsplk]?  And wherever he walks, there’s a little cloud that drips rain over him?  Did you ever see that character?  Or like Hamlet, who said, "The times are out of joint, oh cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right."  It just seems to me that I get into one thing after another, all the time.  I’ve got to the place where I greet every new year with this: oh, lawzee!  What’s a-comin’ now?  I don’t plan those things.  I don’t even expect those things, and away they come like a flood.

Well, I was just as blue and discouraged all that afternoon, last Monday afternoon, as you ever saw anybody in your life.  So I went to the service to preach Monday night, and sat down on the front for the time to begin.  And while I was seated there, with this blessed Book in my hand, the chief from Washington, who presided over the conference, came and sat down by me.  And this is what he said: he said, "Preacher, I know, I’ve heard it all."  But he said, "Listen, we knew what you were like before we invited you."  And he said, "We knew what you would do.  I guess in war you call that a calculated risk."  And then the chief said, he said, "Man, we would have been disappointed had you not done it!"  He said, "We never asked them; we asked you!"  Now he said, "Preacher, you stand up there tonight, and you do like Criswell does.  And when you get through preaching, you give an invitation and see what God does."  Bless your heart, when I got through preaching that night and gave the invitation, it was for everybody.  And those chaplains were down there at the front, liturgical or not.  And airmen and their wives and their families were down there at the front.  And when Dr. Francis went with me to the airport, when I came back to Dallas, he said to me, "I’ve been doing this for years and years, and I’ve been all over this world with this chaplains group and these spiritual life conferences.  And I never saw anything like I saw last night."  He said, "That was a new thing to me; I never saw it like that before."

O Lord, Lord, that there might be in the Christian faith that seeking note, that there might be in every pulpit of the land that appeal for Christ.  Oh, "Be ye reconciled unto God" [2 Corinthians 5:20],"Turn ye, turn ye, for why will ye die?" [Ezekiel 33:11] . . . "Come, come unto Me" [Matthew 11:28], saith the Lord . . . "And the Spirit and the bride say, Come.  And let him that heareth say, Come.  Let him that is athirst come" [Revelation 22:17].  Come, come to Jesus, come to the Lord, come; that seeking, shepherdly note in the very heart and soul of the Christian faith.

Our time is going by, and I’ve just begun.  I want to speak for a moment before I have to close, about implementing that appeal, about a deep, deep, downright, honest-to-goodness, earnest, serious commitment in our souls toward implementing, toward making a reality that shepherdly appeal.  Tending, caring for the flock of God.  Those airmen can tell the craziest stories.  This is a new experience to me.  Now if you’ve been with them a long time, why, you expect it; but oh, my!  One of them was this: a guy was illustrating the insincerity of some people, they really don’t mean it.  And this is the story he told.  He said there came a gigolo to the induction officer at the induction center, and he said to him, "I want to get in the army.  I want to go on to the front.  I want to fight, fight, fight!  I want to be wounded!  I want to get back and be sent to a field hospital!  I want to be patched up!  I want to be sent up to the front!  I want to fight, fight, fight!  I want to get wounded again!  I want to be sent to a field hospital!  I want to get patched up again!  I want to be sent up to the front!  I want to fight, fight, fight!"  And the induction officer looked at him in amazement and said, "Man, you’re crazy, you’re crazy."  And the gigolo said, "Write it down, write it down, write it down."  They’re full of them; they don’t ever stop.

Ah, I have seen people who are paying the price.  I had a long recounting to tell you of a little, little, tiny Southern Baptist church that I preached to in California, the Valley Baptist Church.  Went out to eat dinner with the pastor and his wife, and she said, "The reason we’re here is on account of you.  The reason I’m a Christian is on account of you.  The reason I am married to this preacher is on account of you."  And I wish I could tell you that story; the most unusual turn of fortune, how God blesses a testimony when you don’t even know you’re giving it.  And I went into the little church to preach for them, to encourage them in the way.  Why, over here they have Adult One; I thought, "What in the earth?"  So I opened the door for Adult One; they had five chairs in the little office, and that was Adult One department.  And all around, it was very small, very little, very tiny; but there in a new work and a new ministry, they were building the church of Jesus.  And she’s a nurse.  And the church doesn’t pay them enough to live on, so they both work hard; then when they run out of money she will nurse for a while, until they catch up and take care of the children and clothe the children.  And then she gives up the nursing and goes to help her husband, building up the little church, there in a country, in a place, where thousands and thousands of people don’t have a testimony of our Southern Baptist witness.  And they’re making an effort for God.  And you can’t help but love and admire the devotion of a couple like that.

I, may I conclude?  I read a book while I was gone about Texas, about our Rangers.  Oh, when you read those things, when you read those things, you just wonder, as you walk over the soil of this Lone Star State, I wonder if it was here, or was it there, that one of those men laid down his life, carving out of the wilderness of the pine woods, carving out of the wilderness of the prairies, carving out of the wilderness of the border this glorious empire state of Texas.  I remember one where it says in that book, as the fellow Rangers stood by the grave of one of those fallen men, he said, "It seems to me that Texas is built upon the shoulders of dead Rangers.  Little mounds of earth all over the state, washed by the rains, cried over by the winds, and remembered by no one."  Those things have a repercussion in my own soul; for my people on both sides, father and mother, came to this state in the 1820s and 30s, and helped to build our glorious empire.  And then of course, I think of those men who laid the foundations for our Christian faith.  Fruits and Flowers in the Wilderness, by Morrell, an accounting of indescribable sacrifice as they poured their lives out to build our Baptist institutions and to found these Baptist churches, and among them, this little struggling congregation that failed; so poor, so small, first it failed.  Then they organized it again.  And after years and after years, it began to flourish, until it becomes the glorious flower unto God that you see today.  How many tears have been shed?  How much blood has been poured out?  How much sacrifice has been poured into this holy, holy place?  Why, every time you think of it, you feel like taking off your hat and bowing your head in reverential deference.  And every time you come through the door, you feel as though this surely is God’s house and the gate to heaven.  This is none other than the Lord’s dwelling place.  And our future, oh, building it upon the shoulders of these who paid, who’ve sacrificed, who’ve died, and they sustain us in their work in days passed, in the foundation deep and lasting that they’ve laid.  And upon it, stone at a time, soul at a time, we’re building up the temple of God.

Bless us, bless us, O Lord in heaven, as joining hands together we work, and we pray, and we seek, and we visit, and we teach, and we sing, and we worship in this incomparable pilgrimage from this life to the life that is to come, from this world to that upper and better world where Jesus lives and where someday we shall see Him face to face [Revelation 22:3-5].

"Shepherd the flock of God, and when He, the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive the crown of glory" [1 Peter 5:2-4].  The Lord has opened the door.  With great and illimitable faith, we are entering in.

Now Lee Roy, while we sing the song, the throng in this balcony round up to that last seat, somebody you give his heart to Jesus.  Down a stairwell, at the front or the back, on either side, would you come?  Would you come?  In the throng of people on this lower floor, somebody you, into the aisle, a family you into the aisle, down to the front, "Pastor, today I give my heart to Christ."  Or, "Today, we’re placing our lives in the circumference of the love and fellowship of this precious congregation."  By confession of faith, or by letter, or by baptism, however God shall say the word, would you come?  And would you make it now?  While we stand and while we sing.