1 Peter 5:1-14 – Elders
Therefore, as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of the Messiah and also a participant in the glory about to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you: 2 Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but freely, according to God’s will; not for the money but eagerly; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 In the same way, you younger men, be subject to the elders. And all of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because
God resists the proud
but gives grace to the humble.
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you.
8 Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. 9 Resist him and be firm in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are being experienced by your fellow believers throughout the world.
10 Now the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will personally restore, establish, strengthen, and support you after you have suffered a little. 11 The dominion belongs to Him forever. Amen.
12 I have written you this brief letter through Silvanus (I know him to be a faithful brother) to encourage you and to testify that this is the true grace of God. Take your stand in it! 13 The church in Babylon, also chosen, sends you greetings, as does Mark, my son. 14 Greet one another with a kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ. (HCSB)
As we conclude our study of 1 Peter, the focus is on leadership within the church. There are three possible reasons for Peter to address the elders specifically at the close of the letter.
- Leaders may face the majority of the persecution, at least at the beginning.
- It may be a reference to Ezekiel 9:6, where the judgment in God’s temple begins with the elders.
- It may be because elders are the leaders of God’s people.
All are reasonable possibilities, and it may be that all three are a correct understanding of the passage.
Now, let’s define what a biblical elder is, as the understanding has changed in the minds of many since the church was first established. The term “pastor,” which is often used for the leadership of a church, is not a biblical term. What we today understand as a pastor is the same as the “elder” that Peter is talking about here. The Greek term is presbyteroi and was used to denote leadership positions in churches found in the New Testament.
- Acts 11:30 They did this, sending it to the elders by means of Barnabas and Saul.
- Acts 15:2 But after Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, the church arranged for Paul and Barnabas and some others of them to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem concerning this controversy.
- Acts 15:4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them.
- Acts 15:6 Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter.
- Acts 21:18 The following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
- Acts 14:23When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
- 1 Timothy 5:17 The elders who are good leaders should be considered worthy of an ample honorarium, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.
Another thing to note about New Testament churches is that the term elder is always used in the plural. There was never one person in charge of a local congregation. I’m not suggesting you should leave your church if there is one pastor who is the sole authority figure. There are many other factors to consider in that decision. However, I am saying that a church modeled after the example in the Bible is led by a plurality of men who function like the term “elder” that Peter is using in this letter.
Now that we’ve defined what an elder is let’s look at the responsibilities of an elder.
- Elders are to shepherd God’s flock. This is a reminder that the congregation is not theirs, they belong to God, and God has placed the shepherd in a leading role.
- A primary task of shepherding is faithfully preaching the Word.
- Another task is raising new leaders within the congregation to carry on the work or plant a new church.
- To ensure the flock is discipled in accordance with Matthew 28:19-20.
- The term “overseeing” in Greek is the word episkopountes, signifying another role.
- From the context in this passage, the position of elder and overseer were the same in the New Testament church.
- This is not necessarily true for the modern church. An overseer could be in an official position or as a lay helper in an area of the church.
- They should never serve out of compulsion. If their heart is not in serving, they shouldn’t do it. Serving should be in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit and in line with God’s will.
- Serving should be a selfless act and not to try and become wealthy. There is always the danger that they could be tempted by the prospects of becoming wealthy through their ministry or even steal funds from the church. There are examples of the first in some megachurches and/or prosperity gospel churches. The New Testament has examples of false teachers driven by a love of money.
- 2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not like the many who market God’s message for profit. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God.
- 2 Cor 11:7-15 Or did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by taking pay from them to minister to you. 9 When I was present with you and in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my needs. I have kept myself, and will keep myself, from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be stopped in the regions of Achaia. 11 Why? Because I don’t love you? God knows I do! 12 But I will continue to do what I am doing, in order to deny the opportunity of those who want an opportunity to be regarded just as our equals in what they boast about. 13 For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder! For Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no great thing if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their destiny will be according to their works.
- 1 Timothy 6:5-10 and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is a great gain.7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. 9 But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
Throughout the Bible, the relationship of leaders to those under them is often described as a shepherd-like relationship.
- Psalm 23 – Yahweh’s relationship to David.
- Isaiah 40:11 – Yahweh to Israel.
- Jeremiah 23:1-4 – Israel’s corrupt shepherds will be replaced by faithful shepherds.
- Ezekiel 34:1-10 – Yahweh will rescue His people from selfish shepherds.
- Zechariah 11:4-17 – A caring shepherd is replaced by a worthless and uncaring shepherd.
- Matthew 9:35-38 – Jesus appoints new shepherds for His people.
- John 10:1-18 – Jesus is the good shepherd.
- John 21:15-17 – Peter is to be a shepherd.
Elders are to act as examples and not as heavy-handed rulers.
- Matthew 20:25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them.
- Mark 10:42 Jesus called them over and said to them, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and their men of high positions exercise power over them.
Followers of Jesus are to be servants and not heavy-handed rulers.
- Matthew 20:28just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.
- Mark 10:45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life —a ransom for many.
This verse ties back into verse one with the idea of suffering followed by glory. The implication is that those who serve faithfully will receive a great reward later. Peter calls Jesus “the chief Shepherd,” a term not used anywhere else in the New Testament or the Septuagint. By using this title, Peter reminds all ministry leaders that they are servants under Jesus. The “crown” could be an extra reward for being a faithful servant, or it could be eternal life. The other New Testament references of “crown” or in Greek stephanos talk about entrance into heaven, so we should interpret the term as signifying eternal life.
Although there are various interpretations of what Peter means by the term “younger,” in this case, the literal interpretation is the correct one. Younger people, in general, are more prone to act in a disobedient manner. At the same time, Peter is not condoning lemming-like obedience if the elders are not acting in a manner prescribed for them. However, Peter is saying that those who are under leadership should follow and submit to leaders without complaining or resisting the guidance of the leaders. This is critical to create a spirit of unity and harmony within each local church body. A vital component of this is by acting with humility. When each of us remembers that we are created beings and sinners, it is more difficult to complain about others. Pride, the opposite of humility, often gets in the way when we try and accomplish things in a group.
Peter uses terminology here, “mighty hand,” that is connected with God delivering Israel out of Egypt.
- Exodus 3:19 However, I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, unless he is forced by a strong hand.
- Exodus 32:11 But Moses interceded with the Lord his God: “Lord, why does Your anger burn against Your people You brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and a strong hand?
- Deuteronomy 4:34 Or has a god attempted to go and take a nation as his own out of another nation, by trials, signs, wonders, and war, by a strong hand and an outstretched arm, by great terrors, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes?
Just as Yahweh delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, He will also deliver the recipients of Peter’s letter. The image of God’s mighty hand emphasizes the power of God.
Depending on the translation you use, it may read “cast” or “casting” all your care(s) on Him. The second option is a better understanding of the original Greek as it explains how we humble ourselves under God’s strong hand. There is a double implication in the text. Believers humble themselves by casting their worries on God, while those who are prideful will continue to worry. Worry is a form of pride in that when believers are filled with anxiety; they believe they must solve their problems in their own strength. They only trust a little “g” god, themselves. When we cast our anxiety on God, we demonstrate trust in Yahweh.
As Peter draws to a close in the letter, he continues to encourage his readers. In addition, Peter tells them to always be on guard.
- Be serious.
- Be alert.
Peter also uses a lion as symbology for Satan.
- Roaring lion – used to strike fear into the hearts of God’s people. The roar is a metaphor for persecution to intimidate believers and cause them to abandon their faith.
- Devour – if Satan can cause believers to abandon their faith, then he has devoured them.
Consider the contrast between God and Satan.
- God cares for His children. Asks them to bring their worries to Him. Promises to protect them.
- Satan aims to bring terror to believers and tries to pile worry and fear on them.
Peter warns us that even though Satan is defeated, he is still a crazed enemy. However, if we don’t fear his bark (roar), we will never be devoured by his bite.
Peter continues his warning against Satan. In the previous verse, Peter warns us to be on our guard. In this verse, he encourages us to be proactive in resisting Satan. The Greek word for resist, antistete, is also used in an active tense in:
- Acts 13:8 But Elymas the sorcerer (this is the meaning of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith.
- Galatians 2:11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned.
- 2 Timothy 3:8 Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth, men who are corrupt in mind, worthless in regard to the faith.
- 2 Timothy 4:14-15 Alexander the coppersmith did great harm to me. The Lord will repay him according to his works. 15 Watch out for him yourself because he strongly opposed our words.
This verse also adds weight to the argument that the persecution that the readers were facing was not governed officially by the Roman government or the emperor. Instead, this was widespread discrimination and abuse suffered in the Greco-Roman world by Christians because of their allegiance to Jesus and refusal to participate in many of the normal societal activities.
These two verses conclude the body of the letter and summarize the main points of the letter.
Peter focuses on God’s strength as the means by which believers can persevere and obtain salvation. God’s grace impacts believers in the following ways:
All this occurs regardless of the believer’s circumstances, but they are especially beneficial during times of suffering.
Peter is also saying that before we attain glory, each of us will go through periods of trials and suffering. The phrase “suffered a little” should not be interpreted as a short period of our earthly existence, although it may. Instead, it should be compared to our eternal glory and residence in heaven. When viewed in that light, our earthly suffering, no matter how intense or long, is short in comparison.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18 Therefore we do not give up. Even though our outer person is being destroyed, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. 18 So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
God is the sovereign ruler over all of creation for all of time.
Silvanus is Silas who is mentioned often in the book of Acts as Paul’s partner in ministry and missionary journeys. Silvanus would deliver the letter and act as an interpreter if the recipients had questions as to the meaning of what was written. The phrase “to be a faithful brother” indicates that Peter had absolute trust in Silvanus’ ability to interpret and answer questions on his behalf.
Peter then gives one last encouragement for them to take their stand in the grace of God. Peter is also implying that failing to stand would indicate apostasy and judgment on the last day.
There are various interpretations of the church in Babylon. The one that makes the most sense from a contextual standpoint in Peter’s letter is that Babylon represents the church at large. All of us are foreigners/exiles while we are living in our physical body here on earth. Our true home is heaven, and once we die, or Jesus returns, our exile will end, and we will live in our true home.
The “Mark” referenced here is John Mark, who went with Paul on his first missionary journey. Peter is not Mark’s literal father. Peter is likely older, maybe much older, and feels affection towards Mark as a father would towards a son.
Although it would seem strange to many cultures today, in the Greco-Roman and Mediterranean world, greeting others with a kiss was common practice. This practice indicated respect and brotherly love for others and was devoid of any sexual overtones.
Finally, closing with a wish of peace was significant to the recipients of the letter. They were being tossed by persecution and discrimination. They were in need of the peace that only Jesus could provide.
- If you are in any type of leadership position within the church, make sure you are doing it for the right reason – according to God’s will?
- If you are in any type of leadership position, make sure you are doing it with the correct attitude?
- Not for any type of financial benefit.
- With a spirit of humility and not heavy-handedness.
- Setting a Christ-like example by serving as a leader.
- Regardless of whether you are in a leadership position or not, do you support those over you? We may not always agree with them, but as long as they are not in disagreement with Scripture, we have no biblical grounds to complain about their leadership. It is easy to get discouraged when the congregation is always complaining and nitpicking about leaders, and it is little wonder that the average life-span of an elder (pastor) in the Western church is just over three years due to burn-out.
- Do you approach spiritual warfare with a serious attitude? Western culture can picture Satan as a little red guy with a pitchfork or some similar picture. However, a proper understanding of him should drive us to consider his evil intent and desire to see us fail as a Christian. We should immerse ourselves in reading Scripture, prayer, an accountability partner, and Christian fellowship.
- Do we rest in God’s grace and the assurance that no matter what we go through, an amazing and indescribable eternity awaits us?