As chapter five begins, Peter shifts from suffering as a Christian to the role of elders, or overseers. Take a look at this passage for yourself in 1 Peter 5:1-2.
It may seem a bit odd for Peter to shift to leadership here, but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. In a time and place where persecution for being a Christian was a very real possibility, and probably a reality, strong spiritual leadership and solid relationships with that leadership was a must. The concept of relationship as already been seen as a thread through this letter, in such places as 1:22, 3:8, and 4:8-11, among others. For Peter to revisit it here is really no surprise at all.
He begins chapter 5 by speaking to the elders. This could mean just those who are older, since he will address those who are younger in verse 5, but that is probably not the case. Verses 2-4 pointedly indicate that he is speaking to leadership here, and encouraging them to lead well. He probably was familiar with Paul’s writing on the topic of elders, from 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and 5:17-19, Titus 1:5-9, and maybe even Acts 14:23 and 20:17-18.
Peter appeals to them as a fellow elder, as a witness to Christ’s sufferings, and as one who will share in the glory to come. He clearly compares such men to himself, and gives encouragement from this position of authority, and as a fellow shepherd. As Gentiles, Peter’s readers would have been familiar with this imagery, even if not as vividly as a Jewish audience would have been. They may have had opportunity to read some of Paul’s letters which spoke of being God’s flock, and the need to be shepherded. But Peter clearly reminds them that the flock is not their own; it is God’s flock, and they are simply shepherds, overseers, and leaders.
With this in mind, Peter gives three contrasting statements to encourage them, two of which are in this passage, and the third will be seen in verse 3 next week.
Contrast 1 – Not because you must, but because you are willing.
These three contrasts are given to leaders here, but they are commands that have been given to all Christians, in order to act out of love for one another. This first distinction is one of willingness versus unwillingness or a begrudging attitude. This is very similar to the author of Hebrews statement in 13:17: “so that their work will be a joy, not a burden.” The first distinction is that elders keep the right attitude, and to do so willingly. Why? Because God wants them to do so.
Contrast 2 – Not greedy for money, but eager to serve.
Some elders may have held a paid position during the time of Peter and the early church. Some churches may have seen the need to pay an elder to serve, since he would give up a portion of his income to pursue church matters. Another possibility is that some leaders may have been tempted to mishandle church funds. Either way, Peter encourages them to avoid greed.
Contrast 3 – Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
We will look at this contrast in more detail next week, but it bears listing it here with the others to be seen together.
Again, it is worth noting that all the things Peter calls elders to here are all things that are applicable to all Christians, whether in leadership positions or not. And so the temptation to skip this section, thinking it may hold little of value for yourself personally, is to be avoided. Take heed of these instructions, and live in close, strong relationships with one another.
This is how God wants us to be.
Question: How do you view the leaders of your church? What can you learn about them, and about yourself, from these verses? You can leave a comment by clicking here.