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: 2 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; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 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.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.– 1 Peter 5:1-7 ESV
Peter turns his attention to the leadership who serve the local congregations within the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These men were overseers of their churches and had responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the congregations under their care. They are sometimes referred to as shepherds, who have a God-given responsibility to care for the flock entrusted to them by God. That’s exactly how Peter addresses them when he calls them to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). It is the same thing Paul said to the elders in Ephesus. But Paul would give further insight into the nature of the shepherd/flock relationship. “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). The sheep belong to God. And notice that Paul points out that the flock were purchased “with His own blood”, referring to the death of Jesus, but clearly indicating His deity. Jesus, the God-man, gave His life, so that those who call themselves children of God could enjoy freedom from sin and death. But those very same sheep have been placed under the care and supervision of elders. And these elders were expected to be men of integrity and spiritual maturity. Paul provided Timothy with a detailed description of their qualifying characteristics.
2 So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. 3 He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. 4 He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. 5 For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT
Peter himself was an elder and understood well the responsibility that came with the title. That’s why he charges his fellow elders to “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you” (1 Peter 5:2 NLT). And he clarifies exactly what he means by “care for.” The Greek word Peter uses is poimainō, and it literally means “to feed.” Just as literal sheep need physical nourishment to sustain life, so the sheep of God require spiritual sustenance. An elder must see to it that the sheep under his care are being fed the Word of God and receiving instruction in the ways of God. Which is why Paul told Timothy that an elder “must be able to teach.” And his care for the flock must be something he does willingly, not under some sense of compulsion or duty, and not for what he can get out of it. The role of elder doesn’t come with a paycheck and, more often than not, will not be accompanied by a lot of recognition, reward or thankfulness from the sheep. As Peter points out, the motive behind being an elder is service to God.
Peter feels compelled to point out that an elder, who is ultimately serving God, is to never see his position as one of master over his servants. He is not a lord and the people within his congregation are not his subjects. He is to view himself as a servant, not only of God, but of the people of God. The role of elder is not about power and authority, but about caring for the needs of others. And an elder must never lose sight of the fact that he answers to a higher authority, the Great Shepherd or Jesus Christ. And Peter reminds his fellow elders that, one day, Jesus is coming back, and at that time, they “will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor” (1 Peter 5:4 NLT). Elders don’t get their reward in this life, but in the life to come. This probably does not refer to a literal crown and is most likely not indicating that elders get a specific kind of crown for their service. The apostle Paul wrote, “And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT). We all get the same reward. The key is that we be faithful to whatever assignment given to us by God to perform in this life. The point is, that our reward is in the life to come, not in this one.
Finally, Peter addresses the younger generation within his audience. He specifically calls them to humble themselves under the leadership of the elders who have God-given responsibility for their care. Submitting to authority of any kind is difficult for all of us. We are inherently autonomous creatures, prone to want to run our own lives and live according to our own wills. But God has placed within the body of Christ a system of authority and structure to ensure that the body works well and spiritual maturity actually take place.
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood… – Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT
This will require humility, and not only from the younger generation. Which is why Peter adds, “all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). There is a sense in which we must be willing to humble ourselves before every other individual within the body of Christ. Paul admonished the Ephesians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). He told the Philippian believers, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). It would be next to impossible for an elder to shepherd non-submissive sheep. Headstrong sheep who have a mind of their own will be difficult to direct. So there is to be a mutual cooperation going on within the body of Christ that makes it possible for some to lead and others to willingly follow. There is to be a marked lack of competition and conflict within Christ’s church. There is no place for jealousy or envy. No one is to covet the role of another. No one is to think they are somehow better than another, just because of their particular God-given role. We are in this together.
Quoting Proverbs 3:34, Peter writes, ““God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The prideful do not receive the grace of God. They stand opposed to God. Which is why James quoted this same proverb, then added, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NLT). Pride is antithetical to the Christ-like life. There was no pride in Jesus. He exhibited no arrogance or sense of entitlement. In fact, Paul wrote:
6 Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave[c]
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
8 he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT
And Paul says we are to have the same attitude Jesus had. An attitude of willing, submissive humility to God. It is that kind of attitude that makes the body of Christ work. Without it, there will be conflict, competition, envy, jealousy, disorder, and dysfunctionality. So, Peter encourages us to humble ourselves under God’s might hand, submitting fully to His plan for the church and for our lives within it. We are to trust Him for the future, knowing that at the right time, He will lift us up and exalt us. We are not to look for glory in this life, but in the life to come. Our reward is not temporal, but eternal. And in the meantime, we can take all our troubles and cares to Him, knowing He loves us and has His best in store for us. So elders have a God-given job to do and they are to shepherd like it. The people of God have the example of Christ to follow and they are to humbly submit like Him. All for the glory of God and the good of His people.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.