1 Peter 5 v 1 – End
Perhaps in the UK, where we suffer relatively little persecution, it is more likely to be lay people who are given the hardest time for being a Christian, but in places where the church is persecuted most, pastors often suffer most. Maybe that is why Peter turns his attention next to the elders, before addressing the church more generally. Perhaps too, if “it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God” (4:17), then we might well expect that in the first place God is concerned to see godly leaders.
Peter has often spoken in this letter of the pattern of suffering now and glory to come (eg 4:13), and that is the pattern of Gospel ministry, the pattern too of Peter’s own life. In calling himself a “fellow elder”, Peter is showing the humility he wants to mark them all. Being a “witness of Christ’s sufferings” could refer to Peter being an eye-witness, but the sense is more that he bears witness (as the elders too should do) to Christ’s sufferings in preaching the Gospel of Christ crucified. The task of the elder is explained further in v.2: to be a shepherd of “God’s flock” (remembering whose they are), feeding and protecting them, and “watching over them”. Elders refers not only to clergy, but to all those with pastoral responsibility – fellowship group leaders, parents, children’s work leaders etc.
Three contrasts are then given to show how they should go about their ministry. (i) Not out of a sense of joyless obligation, but willingly. (ii) Not motivated by greed – ie for what we get out of it for ourselves (which need not refer simply to financial gain), but rather “eager to serve”. (iii) Not being domineering, but leading by example.
Peter promises no earthly reward, but the greatest reward imaginable when Christ returns.
Just as being a shepherd is more about service than status, so all God’s flock (whatever our role) should be marked by humility. (i) Humility towards leaders – “young men” are prone to be arrogant, critical, impatient with authority, but the phrase could possibly refer to anyone who is not an elder. All should submit to those in pastoral leadership over them, without grumbling or complaining.
(ii) Humility towards one another (v.5b). “Clothe” implies it is not natural to us, it is something we must put on. It has the sense of “tie round like an apron” and it reminds of Jesus on Maundy Thursday, suggesting practical service. Peter is not so much telling us to feel humble, or to pray for humility, as to act humbly. The reason given in the quotation from Proverbs should be compelling – who would want God against them? And who would not want to know God’s grace?
(iii) Humility towards God. It has been said that we will never see ourselves as we really are until we see God as He really is. The “mighty hand of God” speaks of his sovereign power, but also of his saving grace, because the Old Testament often says that it is with his mighty hand that he redeems his people. Verses 6 and 7 are really one sentence: v.7 explaining how we show our humility before God – by praying, admitting that we aren’t big enough to cope, but trusting both His power and His love. If the humble person is a prayerful person, what does that imply about the prayer-less person?
Again the theme is suffering now (vv.8,9) and glory to follow (vv.10,11), the suffering now being seen to come not simply from a hostile world but from the devil – an enemy who is real and dangerous. That we are told to resist him implies that we needn’t cower in fear as though we cannot hope to stand against him – for he is a defeated foe and power belongs to God (v.11) – but nevertheless we must be spiritually alert and vigilant, standing firm in our faith. We can sometimes think no one else has quite the same battles / temptations / doubts / difficulties that we do, but we should remember that we are not alone. And remember that there is all the grace we need now and eternal glory to come. There may be a measure of restoration in this life, but even if not we can be sure that suffering is only “for a little while”.
Used with the permission of St Ebbe’s, Oxford