Strangers Like Me: A Study of 1 Peter
Advice to Elders
1 Peter 5:1-5
Peter has some specific instructions to the elders today. These pastors all over Asia Minor are experiencing persecution. I’m sure the members of these churches were going to them for advice and encouragement. These pastors were probably overwhelmed with the needs of the people. Imagine for a moment what it’s like to be a pastor of a congregation in China, Iran, or some other place where there is constant and regular fear of not only persecution but also death. I read just this week of a church in southeast China that was shut down by the government. The church had been operating since 1950. On June 30 the pastor and his wife tried to enter the building but were told that the building could no longer be used for religious purposes. A fine was also issued of $36,000, and a wall of officers prevented the pastor and his wife from entering the building. We aren’t given a lot of specifics regarding what type of persecution these pastors in Asia Minor were experiencing, but think of the encouragement pastors in persecuted areas would have needed in Peter’s day. So Peter writes to encourage them and to help them stay faithful to the calling that God has placed on their lives. Even when persecution comes upon your flock, you are still called to pastor them. And Peter’s instructions today focus on his words to these elders scattered all over Asia Minor. And the first thing he tells them is:
Take Care of Your People:
"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" — 1 Peter 5:2
Peter can give this advice to them because he considers himself a fellow elder as well. So he is writing as one pastor to a group of pastors. He can show empathy with his audience because he genuinely cares about the churches because he is a pastor as well.
These elders have been entrusted with their congregations, and their primary duty is to shepherd those people. The image of sheep and shepherd is found throughout Scripture. We know that sheep are vulnerable to attacks without their shepherd and that they tend to wander from the flock without their shepherd. So elders and pastors are needed to both protect their people, but also to make sure they don’t stray away from the faith.
From what would these congregations need protection? I’m sure there were false teachers roaming around trying to convince these people that following after Jesus is not the best way to live your life. There were so many philosophical schools out there that people were following. They could have been telling them to look at all of the trouble that has happened to you as a result of following after Jesus. I can offer you a better way.
These pastors also needed to make sure that their people didn’t wander from the faith. Many people wonder away from the faith during times of suffering. They are not able to reconcile a loving God with their pain. These elders needed to make sure their people understood that suffering and following after Jesus go hand in hand.
The pastors that Peter is writing to felt the burden of pastoring, and it is a burden. These pastors were taking care of people in areas where it was dangerous to be a pastor. They were putting their families in danger. Peter was saying, "don’t just do your job because you know you are supposed to, but do it willingly."
These pastors should provide oversight not because they are forced to or even obligated to but willingly. Here’s the tension of being a pastor. It is, in fact, my job to shepherd the flock, but it’s also something that I should desire to do. Does this mean that every single activity throughout my day is done with a great attitude and joy? Of course not, some responsibilities and tasks must get done at my job just like at your job. But generally speaking, I love what I do. I love preaching on Sundays; I love visiting people in the hospital. I love teaching my small group. I love figuring out ways to move people deeper in their walk with Christ. And on most days, I like to think I do it willingly.
Then Peter reminds them don’t be a shepherd for business purposes. Even though we know elders got compensated for their work, Peter wanted to make sure they understood that it’s not about the money. It’s about shepherding the flock and taking care of the people. If this was a problem in Peter’s day, imagine how difficult this is for pastors today. We are soaked to the bone in a world that places wealth as the essential thing in life, and if pastors, including myself, are not careful it can easily be about moving up the career ladder to make as much money as possible. But that is not what it is about. That goes for everyone in the room as well. Young people in the room I beg you don’t pick your career based on the amount of money you can make. Pick a job where you can glorify God in your work.
Lead, Don’t Dictate:
"not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." — 1 Peter 5:3
Pastors and elders should not have the mentality of it’s my way or the highway. Generally speaking, that is not the type of attitude that people want to follow. Peter is saying you don’t exercise your authority over the congregation in a superior way.
Let’s go back to the sheep and shepherd mentality for a second. When the shepherd is trying to round up all of his sheep, he doesn’t begin running at them and shouting at them. And even if he does decide to do that, he might be able to move a good portion of the sheep back home, but there will always be a few that veer off from the group. A good shepherd is one who cares about ALL of the sheep, which means as he moves the sheep closer and closer to home, he might have to go back and wait on the stragglers. He might have to push a few of the ones behind to get them caught up to the rest of the group. That requires patience. That requires communicating in a way that says, “I want this for you” not “Do this because I said so.” There is a massive difference between those two statements. Saying “I want this for you” communicates I love you enough that I want to see this for you. But “Do this because I said so” makes it more about power and control.
Using your authority in a superior way won’t work, but when elders are examples to their flocks that makes a difference. Talk is cheap. I think we all know that. I desire to be the type of elder that Peter is talking about here. I don’t want to be known for saying one thing and living out another. I want people to follow me because they see the way I live my life, and hopefully, that type of life reflects the life that Christ has called me to live.
Peter also challenges these elders to be examples because Jesus was the example to Peter. Jesus said I came to serve not to be served and give my life as a ransom for many. It was never about the pomp and circumstance for Jesus. It was always about serving other people. He came to serve others and die. He is our example of leadership.
Anticipate the Crown:
"And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." — 1 Peter 5:4
It’s not about the money, it’s not about the prestige, but rather it’s about knowing that when Jesus returns, they will receive the crown of glory. Every elder that Peter is writing to also has a shepherd, and he is the chief shepherd. A shepherd’s job is ultimately to be faithful to the chief shepherd and make sure that he shepherds his sheep in a way that pleases the chief shepherd.
In order to be the most effective shepherd I can be as a pastor, I have to make sure that I am following after the chief shepherd and spending time with him daily. Pastors can struggle with this because sometimes the work of the church makes it seem like we are spending time with God, but that is a dangerous way to think. My time with the Lord every day is not the time that I spend working on my sermon. Preparing for a sermon while beneficial to me in my walk with God is still a part of my job. Elders and pastors need to spend some time with God with no strings attached. Not because it helps them get ready for a sermon or makes them a better pastor but because it’s ultimately good for their soul.
The danger for pastors and elders is to think that because God gives them success as they preach or because God grows their church that must mean they are close to God themselves, but that is a lie. Many pastors and elders are intelligent enough and gifted enough to grow churches and preach good sermons, but their hearts are far from the Lord. There is no direct correlation between the health and success of a church and the heart of its leader. Some Godly men spend more than enough time with God and their churches never become “mega-churches,” and conversely there are pastors and elders who spend very little time taking care of their souls and their churches explode.
The goal is not the size of the church even though we all want to have our churches full of people, but the unfading crown of glory. There is no reward guaranteed for doing the faithful work of being an elder other than the unfading crown of glory. A crown is a sign of special honor, and this particular crown for elders will not fade away. The crown of glory is a metaphor for heavenly life. But the heavenly life is not just reserved for pastors and elders but is reserved for everyone who is in Christ. Anyone who professes faith in Christ and believes that Jesus paid the penalty for their sin because of what he did on the cross will receive an unfading crown of glory.
Be Humble, Church:
"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.” — 1 Peter 5:5
Peter concludes the passage by shifting his conversation away from the elders to those who are younger. He is telling these younger people to subject themselves to the elder's direction. What does Peter mean by younger people here? Does he mean everyone in the church who is not an elder? If that were the case, why wouldn’t he say submit to the older people? Some think younger means younger clergy in the church. Some think younger means precisely what it says—the younger people of the church who needed to subject themselves to the elders. Based on my study, it seems most likely that Peter means what he says here. He is talking to younger people in the congregation who are struggling with following the elders. Generally speaking, younger generations are always a little more skeptical of being told what to do. Let’s be honest, none of us, for the most part, like being told what to do. We all think we know what is best.
Tom Schreiner in his commentary, points out that Peter is not saying that these younger people should do whatever the elders say no matter what. So don’t read that into the text. There is no blind allegiance to church leadership if church leadership leads you in a direction that goes counter to the Word of God. The text is also not suggesting that these elders can do whatever they want without being held accountable to the congregation.
Peter then shifts his focus away from the relationship between the elders and the younger people to advise the church as a whole. He tells the churches that they should clothe themselves with humility in your relationships with one another. This sounds easy on paper, but in practice, this can be difficult. In our fallen nature, we always want to come out as the one looking better in our interactions with others. We want to be the one who wins the argument. You’ve probably heard the phrase humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking about yourself less. What would our church look like if we always thought about others before we thought about ourselves? I’d challenge you to reflect on that question. How quick are we to make decisions or be involved in ministries because it benefits or suits us? How often do we arrive on a Sunday thinking, "how can I serve other people while I’m here?" These are some convicting questions to ask.
Peter references a verse from Proverbs 3:34, which is found both here and also in James 4:6. This proverb goes against the way we are prone to think on our own, especially as American Christians. We have been trained and taught to be as self-sufficient as possible. Individuality is the most prized possession in our country today. We primarily make decisions based on ourselves. But this proverb teaches us that God opposes those who are proud but gives grace to those who are humble. I want to reemphasize how incredibly difficult it is for us to be humble. But humility is essential to our relationship with God. If we are to submit to God truly, then we must acknowledge that his ways are better than our ways, and this requires us to daily kill pride in our life. You and I do not know what is best for our lives, but God does. We must humble ourselves before him in every area of our lives.
How fitting that today’s passage talks about the role of both an elder and the congregation. As we pray and seek God’s direction towards our next pastor, we should want these characteristics in our next pastor. But as we as a congregation, anticipate and wait for the next pastor we have a role as well. We are called to be humble, and to acknowledge that this is not our church but Jesus Christ’s church. Therefore, when we don’t see eye to eye with one another, we can swallow our pride and remember that my preference, my comfort, my priorities might not always align with Jesus’s priorities, and therefore I submit to His leadership. I believe there are people in this room today who cannot let go of control of their own lives. It’s scary to relinquish control, but Jesus demands that of us because he relinquished control to his Father when he died on the cross for us. Do you have a relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you trying to earn salvation through the way you live your life? It’s impossible. Trust and receive Jesus today, and be a part of this congregation as we do community together in Christ.