I Peter 5:1 – 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:
Peter now goes on to instruct the elders of the church to be faithful and good shepherds of God’s flock.
What is an elder?
Elder is a title which denotes a person of authority, who is entitled to respect and reverence. In patriarchal societies such as the Jews, they were men of extensive influence in the nation and they took an active role in public affairs.
These men were, as the title suggests, old or at least older. They were men of common sense who had lived long enough to obtain great wisdom in how to deal with problems, conduct business, build relationships, serve God and wisely oversee their own affairs. Their practical understanding of everyday life qualified them to be leaders in the nation.
Early in the history of the Jews, God instructed Moses to appoint 70 elders to assist him in governing the nation.
Numbers 11:16-17 – And the LORD said unto Moses, Gather unto me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people, and officers over them… and I will take some of the spirit which is upon you, and will put it upon them; and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you bear it not yourself alone.
The office of Jewish ‘eldership’ began during the time of Moses, and it was never lost. It continued from generation to generation even during the exile, and it was still a recognized office in the nation during the time of Jesus. Unfortunately, at the time of Christ many of these men were caught up in religious tradition and rejected Jesus as the Messiah:
Matthew 16:21 – From that time forth began Jesus to show unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
When the New Testament church came into being, it also instituted the position of elder (likely based on the aforementioned Jewish custom). In New Testament writings, elders are also referred to as pastors, bishops, shepherds, overseers, leaders or rulers. They share good council and wisdom, lead by example and perform functions of the church such as teaching, preaching, baptizing and communion.
The apostle Paul outlines the qualifications of an elder in several of his epistles, including Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Timothy 3:1-5.
Notice in this verse (5:1) that Peter humbly identifies himself as an elder, even though he was an apostle of Jesus. He does not exalt himself above other preachers or teachers; when he admonishes other elders to tend the flock, he is putting himself in the same position. He provides an excellent example of true leadership – being a servant of all.
And again, as in chapter 4, Peter links righteous suffering on earth with glory in heaven.
I Peter 5:2-3 – 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.
Our translation says that spiritual leaders are to ‘shepherd’ the flock of God, but the King James offers a better translation – ‘feed’ the flock. The command to perform this duty was given to Peter by Jesus himself, and it obviously made a lasting impression upon him:
John 21:15 – So when they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love me more than these? He said unto him, Yea, Lord; you know that I love you. He said unto him, Feed my lambs.
Essentially, the elders/pastors/leaders are to exercise oversight, or faithfully tend to the spiritual lives of their congregants just as a shepherd would faithfully feed and care for his sheep. It is good for leaders to remember that the head shepherd is Jesus; they are really subordinate shepherds. They should take great care with the responsibilities entrusted to them for one day they will give an account of their actions to Jesus.
Peter is very specific about how are their duties to be carried out:
- Leaders are to perform their duties willingly, not under compulsion. A job is simply gainful employment. You don’t have to love your job. You don’t necessarily have to do your best work. Your mind can be somewhere else while you perform your duties. And you can walk away from it at any time, especially if you get a better offer. After all, it’s just a job.
On the other hand, a calling is different. It is something born inside of you; it is something that you willingly expend all your effort to do, even when it is difficult. It occupies your heart and mind. It gets most of your time and attention, regardless of how much it pays. You can’t abandon your calling, because it is a part of who you are.
Pastoring a church should never be just a job. It is a true calling from God. As such, the duties of the spiritual leader should be cheerfully and willingly performed out of love. This is true in every generation, so on the surface it seems strange that the apostle would mention it.
Peter’s admonition makes more sense when we understand that for the elders of that day, there was a very real danger that they might lose their lives, their property or both for service to the church. There was a very real temptation to justify their work a job rather than a calling, especially if persecution broke out.
But Peter reminds them that if/when persecution broke out, they were not to abandon the flock as a hired hand performing a job, but remain faithful to the call that God has put on their lives as shepherds.
- Leaders are to perform their duties eagerly, not for shameful gain. It seems clear that in the early church the pastorate was a paid position. If not, then monetary gain could not have been a motive for becoming a pastor.
Pastors are hard working people who should certainly be paid. And contrary to what some people believe, there is no spiritual or biblical law that says pastors have to be poor. If your church can afford to pay the pastor well, it should. However, money should never be the motivation for ministry.
The immoral souls of men are priceless; they have been purchased by the blood of Christ. The care of these souls is a sacred and solemn responsibility given to the pastor by God. Faithful pastors will be rewarded by God in eternity, regardless of how they are paid on earth.
- Leaders are to perform their duties by example, not domineering over those in their charge. Long before this, Jesus had revealed to his disciples that the greatest among them was the one who served:
Luke 22:25 – And he said unto them, the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But you shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that does serve.
So again, pastors and leaders are to remember that they are not the ultimate authority. The flock they shepherd belongs to God, and it must be lovingly tended according to his statutes. They serve their congregations, not rule them as dictators.
Remember the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day? They put grievous religious burdens upon the people but never raised a single finger to assist or bear these burdens themselves (Matthew 23:4). Unlike those Pharisees, church pastors/elders are to lead by example.
They must not only give instruction for mortification of the flesh, righteous suffering, generosity, holy living, patience and the like, but they must practice these things themselves. By their example, they lead in the ways of righteousness, give strength to their flock, and build up trust among the brothers. As the old saying goes, they must practice what they preach. They are subject to the same spiritual laws as their flock.
What a different world it would be if we ALL led by example!
I Peter 5:4 – And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
This verse tells us a couple of really wonderful things. First, Jesus WILL return! The world constantly mocks the Christian community for their belief in the rapture and second coming, but one day it will happen! The trumpet will sound, the dead in Christ will be raised, we who are alive will meet them in the air, and Jesus will escort his bride to her new home in heaven (I Thessalonians 4:15-17)!
Second, there will be a reckoning for those who carry the title of elder or pastor. They will give an account of how they performed their office. Those who have been faithful in their duties shall receive a crown of glory that will never fade away.
Pastors have a difficult calling and often carry a heavy load. Over time, they could easily become weary or faint. The coming of Christ and the reward he brings are a source of hope for those who constantly minister in the trenches of life.
However, you too can be a source of hope for your pastor. Give them words of encouragement. Pray for them. Help bear some of the burdens of the church. And by all means, thank them! If you appreciate your pastor, be sure to take time and tell them so!
As a side note, this might be a good time to remind ourselves that it isn’t just elders/pastors who will give an account to God. In the parable of the talents Jesus reveals that all of us have been given gifts and talents, and all of us will one day give an account of how we used them. Don’t you want Jesus to look you in the eye one day and say, ‘well done, good and faithful servant’? If so, then put your talents to work!
I Peter 5:5 – 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.”
Having exhorted the elders/pastors, Peter now instructs the younger people. In this case, ‘younger’ actually means ‘inferior’. It may refer to age, generation, experience, spiritual maturity or simply those who do not hold an office of authority. ‘Younger’ members of the flock are to give respect and honor to their pastor, because the pastor is watching out for their spiritual well being.
Hebrews 13:17 – Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.
And everyone, regardless of age or rank, is to exercise a humble spirit when dealing with one another. Remember, brotherly love is to be present in the church at all times. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to bear one another’s burdens, encourage the weak, pray for the sick, give good council, enjoy fellowship and even reprove if necessary. If these actions take place outside of a spirit of humility, it can open the door for unnecessary evils such as pride, scorn or a judgmental spirit.
- Humility promotes unity within the body, while pride promotes dissention.
- Humility promotes peace within the body, while pride promotes conflict and turmoil (drama).
- Humility promotes an environment where people can step out in faith to minister or use their talents for God, while pride promotes an environment where people are afraid to do anything.
I Peter 5:6 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,
True humility is when we humble ourselves. To be crushed by others or by circumstances brings humiliation; not humbleness.
We should willingly humble ourselves under the hand of our Heavenly Father and the circumstances he has allowed into our lives. Why should we do that?
Because our God is mighty, loving, perfect, generous and good. He has our eternal good in mind and he knows what is best for us. Only he can see the end from the beginning. Plus, he has promised to bring to perfection everything that concerns us:
Psalm 138:8 – The LORD will perfect that which concerns me: your mercy, O LORD, endures forever…
Think about that for a second. We can be sure that whatever our circumstances, they have a purpose and will result in our good and God’s glory. We can trust God with all aspects of our lives – our children, our jobs, our future, our possessions, our goals, dreams, etc. He holds them all within his hands, and he has promised to bring to perfection everything that concerns us.
Furthermore, in God’s economy, submission and humility are the pathways that lead to glory and exaltation. As we tread those paths we are preparing ourselves for elevation in God’s kingdom. When the time is right, God will promote us to a place of greater influence and responsibility.
What constitutes the ‘right time’? That may be a little hard to define. The right time may be when we have arrived at a certain level of maturity in our lives. The right time may be when we will have the most influence on our culture. The right time may be when God brings many circumstances together to accomplish his will/purpose.
One thing is certain – we must be patient and wait on God to exalt us. Only he knows when the time is right. If we try to rush ahead of God, we will end up causing great harm to ourselves and our testimony before the world.
And if you start to feel a bit rebellious because it is taking longer than you think it should, remember this: a wise man once commented that if we do not humble ourselves under God’s grace, he will humble us under his judgment!
I Peter 5:7- … casting all your anxieties on him because he cares for you.
One of the reasons we are reluctant to exercise a humble and submissive spirit is because we don’t want others to perceive us as weak. We think that if we stop fighting for every single advantage or edge in life, that others will rise above us and control us or take advantage of us. So we are in a constant, relentless battle to always maintain an edge over others or at least keep our guard up. This attitude will often result in anxiety – a state of restlessness, agitation or torment over future/uncertain things and events, which adversely affect both the mind and the body.
Anxiety reveals something about us. It shows that we distrust God’s providence and his care of us. It shows that we hold onto the foolish belief that we can somehow manage to do better for ourselves than God can.
But for the Christian, there is hope. Our religion is not just an empty doctrine providing some vague hope for a better existence in eternity. God is actively involved in the lives of his children right now, giving peace, comfort, wisdom, provision, joy and endurance for living life on earth, even in the midst of trials and tribulations.
Unlike those in the world, Christians have the option of casting all of their anxieties and worries upon God, and living in a state of peace. How incredibly wonderful is that?
The first step in doing that is to know and understand that God cares for you.
Psalm 55:22 – Cast your burden upon the LORD, and he shall sustain you: he shall never permit the righteous to be moved.
Despite what some unbelievers would have you think, God is not an unfeeling, unseeing being who formed the earth, created mankind and then walked away. In fact, the opposite is true. God is actively involved in the affairs of this world and he watches over his children.
He knows when we sit down and when we rise. He knows the number of hairs on our heads. He knows what we are going to say before the words are on our lips. He knows what we need. He knows our likes and dislikes. He sees every tear/heartache, every shout of joy, every defeat and every victory.
In other words, whatever concerns YOU whether it is spiritual or temporal, whether it is something great or small, God concerns himself with it too. If it affects you, it is on God’s radar!
So don’t be afraid to commit yourself to humility and service, using common sense. If you begin to fear for your future, go straight to the throne of God through prayer and worship. Release your fears and anxieties to him.
Now, don’t be surprised if you wake up in the middle of the night with those fears going through your mind. The enemy will try to push those fears and anxieties right back on you.
If that happens, begin to speak out the word of God because that makes the devil run and hide. Begin to quote scriptures that speak of God’s providence and love for you. Begin to sing/praise/worship God, and those anxieties will flee!
Let me offer you some encouragement:
You really, really need to be an active part of a local church. God has put pastors, elders and other church leaders in place within the local body of Christ to serve you. They are there to encourage, instruct, assist and advise. You need what they have to offer.
Likewise, the local church needs you! You have gifts and talents that will benefit the others in your local church. Don’t deprive them of your gifts and don’t deprive yourself of the opportunity to minister to others.
I strongly encourage you to find a church and plant yourself there.
Let me offer you some relief and some strength:
You don’t have to spend every second of every day worried about the future or the uncertainties of life. If you are willing, you can cast your anxieties on God, and live in peace knowing that he will take care of you. Not only that, but God walks with you through both the peaks and valleys of life. His grace is sufficient for you and his strength is made perfect in your weakness. So when things are good, rejoice with him! When you feel inadequate, lean on him. He will give you the strength you need until the very day he calls you home!