With this study of 1 Peter, chapter five, we bring our study of the letter to a close. At first it seems that Peter has shifted his focus here in the final chapter. He begins in verses 1-4 by teaching about the responsibility of elders. Then in verse five he addresses the younger church members. And none of that has anything to do with the theme of suffering that Peter has been working on throughout this third part of the letter. But notice that Peter comes back to the theme of suffering in verses 6-11. So in Peter’s mind his discussion of the role of elders fits that context. In other words, his instructions to the elders are instructions that are important for them when their community is under persecution.
By elders Peter didn’t simply mean the old people. He was addressing those who held the office of elder in the churches to which the letter was being sent. The Christian office of elder has a Jewish background. You will recall that fairly early in the life of the new nation of Israel, the governing became too much for Moses to handle. Thus the Lord founded the office of elder by telling Moses to appoint seventy elders (chosen from elders in age and wisdom) to help him govern the people. By the first century AD when Peter wrote this letter, the Jews had elders as an office governing every town and synagogue.
Since all of the earliest Christians were Jews, they naturally followed the Jewish model of governance. Therefore the Christians appointed elders to govern their communities. Elders generally were older in age as well, but not every older person would have held the office of elder, so one has to keep that distinction in mind.
In Acts 14 we see Paul and Barnabas, during Paul’s first missionary journey, following this practice of appointing elders in Christian communities. He and Barnabas founded Christian communities in several towns, primarily in the Roman province of Galatia. They easily could have continued East and returned to Antioch via Paul’s hometown of Tarsus. But instead they decided to revisit the places where they had founded churches to strengthen and encourage the new little Christian communities. Since they recognized that church communities need organized leadership to be effective, they appointed elders in every church (14:23).
In Titus 1:5 we see Paul providing for the same kind of leadership for the churches of Crete. Thus we see that in New Testament times, the office of elder was a local church office.
In Acts 20:28 we learn that the office of elder and overseer were the same. Paul had summoned the elders of the Ephesian church, and he said to them, “Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his Son.” Notice that Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders are very similar to those of Peter to the elders among his recipients. But the point I am making now is that Paul thought of the office of those elders as an office of oversight. So elder and overseer were the same office. That’s important, because the term translated “overseer” became the word used for the later office of bishop. The Greek word for “overseer” or “bishop” is episkopos. That is the Greek word from which we get our English word “episcopal.” The Episcopalian Church is called that, because their clerical leaders are bishops.
Now coming back to 1 Peter, I think it’s interesting that Peter identified himself here as a fellow-elder. You will recall that he identified himself in the salutation of the letter as an apostle. Apparently Peter, in addition to being an apostle, held the office of elder in a local church, probably the Jerusalem church.
Peter also says two additional things about himself in verse one. First, he declares himself “a witness of the sufferings of Jesus.” We know, of course, that he was not present at the cross. But he was present at the trial. And second, Peter declares himself to be “one who shares in the glory to be revealed.” Since it was something he already was experiencing in the present, he may have had in mind the fact that he witnessed Jesus’ resurrection and transfiguration. And of course he was looking forward to the second coming.
Next, in verse 2-3, we find Peter’s exhortation to the elders. It consists of one instructive command. They were to shepherd God’s flock by exercising oversight. Thus Peter saw the shepherding role as the primary role of elders. An elder has responsibility to look after the welfare of the people in his or her church, especially their spiritual welfare. Of course Peter had a particular reason to think that way. You will remember that when Jesus restored Peter to favor after Peter’s three-fold denial, Jesus told Peter three times to feed his sheep or lambs (Jn. 21:15-17).
Now then, Peter told them to approach the task in three ways. First, they were to do it “not under compulsion but willingly,” as God would have them do it. None of us should be doing the work of ministry because we have to, because it is our job. It is a calling from God, and we ought to approach it willingly, with joy and awe.
Second, Peter told the elders they should approach their ministry not for gain, meaning not for what they could get out of it, but eagerly. I firmly believe that prominent ministers and TV evangelists are going to be stunned when they see their works judged in the end time. And I don’t say that from a superior point of view. The difference between them and me is that I will not be surprised if much of what I have done is burned up. Many of them will be surprised at how much of their works are burned up in judgment. They really seem to think that they are special agents of God to our time. And they see the rich lifestyle they lead as deserved. Billy Graham is a refreshing exception.
Third, Peter told the elders not to lord it over those in the flock [literally their portion or lot], but rather to set the right kind of example for them. Of course that’s easier said than done. There is a fine line between being a good leader and lording it over people. But the Holy Spirit is available to enable us to walk that line successfully.
If the elders take this three-fold approach to their ministries, Peter promised they would win a “crown of glory” when “the chief shepherd,” Jesus, appears. That is a wonderful promise, even if the crown of glory is a small one. And notice that the glory of those crowns never will fade away.
Now then, in verse five Peter turned to the young men in the churches, though it is difficult to know exactly what he meant. The first part of the verse reads, literally, “In the same way, younger men submit yourselves to older men.” The NIV translates it that way: “Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.” But remember, the word “older man” is the word Peter used for those who hold the office of elder. So the NRSV translates it, “In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders.”
Thus you can see that we have two interpretations of Peter’s words. The NIV translators decided that Peter meant to contrast younger men with older men; whereas the NRSV translators decided that Peter meant to contrast non-elders with elders. The context allows for either interpretation. And both would have been true. The important part of the verse is the second part, which declares, “And all of you must cloth yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another.” Yes, the young should respect those who are older, and non-elders should respect the authority of elders, but all must be humble. Peter put an exclamation point on the statement by quoting Prov. 3:34: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
In verses 6-11, Peter uses the message of Prov. 3:34 as a springboard into a final series of exhortations for everyone to whom he was writing. Notice once again the “therefore” in verse six. Therefore, based on all that I have told you, do certain things, the first one of which is “humble yourselves . . . under the mighty hand of God.” Peter’s idea here is that God knows better than we do what is best. To humble ourselves under his mighty hand means to trust his ways and guidance, so that our destiny will be secure. God will exalt us in due time.
Then second, “Cast all your anxiety on him.” This was not a new teaching. We find it in Ps. 55:22: “Cast your burden on the Lord.” And we heard similar things from Jesus, who said in the context of his explanation of the heavenly Father’s care of birds and lilies, “do not worry about your life” (Mt. 6:25), and “do not worry about tomorrow” (Mt. 6:34). As Peter tells us, God cares for us, and so we can trust him.
Third “Discipline yourselves,” or as the NIV translates it, “Be self-controlled.” Of course self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. But it still takes effort on our part. We have a responsibility to keep ourselves under control.
Fourth, “keep alert” or watchful.” The devil is like a roaring lion that seeks to devour us. Therefore we not only must keep ourselves under control, we also must stay alert. That is, we have a part to play in our security.
Fifth, “resist him,” that is, the devil. Peter undoubtedly remembered how the devil had overcome him at one time. And so he issues a warning to his recipients. So we can say about all of these last three items that we must do our part. To cast all of our cares on God doesn’t mean we do nothing. Barclay gives a famous quotation from Lord Cromwell. Cromwell’s advice to his troops before a battle was : “Trust in God, and keep your powder dry.” Barclay himself summarizes the situation in simple terms, “Trust and effort go hand in hand.”
Finally, sixth, be “steadfast in your faith , for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” Peter knew from experience that persecution tests one’s faith severely, and so he exhorts them to maintain their faith in the midst of it. But he encourages them by declaring at the end of the paragraph: “after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself, as the NRSV translates, restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” The NIV translates the same clause, “will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” Those two differing translations indicate the difficulty of getting the Greek words Peter used into English.
Verses 12-14 are concluding remarks. In verse 12 Peter indicates that he used Silvanus, or Silas, as his secretary for the writing of the letter. Then in verse 13 Peter sends greetings from the church in “Babylon,” probably meaning the church at Rome, and from Mark. This would be John Mark, the content of whose Gospel supposedly came from Peter. Peter calls Mark his son, but Mark wasn’t the blood son of Peter; he was his son in the Lord.