1 Peter 5

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and the comfort of your Holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

BLESSED BE THE GOD AND FATHER of our Lord Jesus Christ!
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again
to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ
from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).

One of the notable trends in postmodern culture and even more so in woke culture is the increasing distrust of institutions, hierarchy, and leadership. Some groups advocate defunding the police because they no longer trust the integrity and impartiality of law enforcement agencies. On 6 January 2021 there was a riot at the Capitol because a group of protesters had lost faith in the electoral system and the institutions of government. Many now view news agencies and outlets as instruments of propaganda, manipulated by powerful self-interests to promote a self-serving misinterpretation of facts. History is being reinterpreted to topple our Founding Fathers from their pedestals and to recast them primarily as white, patriarchal oppressors. Challenges to power and authority at all levels abound: homes, schools, businesses, government. There is a real sense of anarchy bubbling up in postmodern Western society.

But, the dismantling of authority is not the solution to whatever problems there may be; chaos is not preferable to order. We see that clearly in Israel’s history. When Joshua died and there was no successor to provide strong, central leadership, the Hebrew tribal coalition fragmented, chaos ensued, the people did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the individual tribes were conquered by the indigenous peoples of the land. It was only when God raised up a strong leader — a judge — that the people were delivered. However suspicious we may be of authority and hierarchy, it remains necessary. That is true not only in the public sphere, but in the church, as well. It is to the nature of church leadership that Peter turns his attention as he draws his first letter to a close.

Shepherd the Flock of God

1 Peter 5:1–5 (ESV): 5 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.”

Notice that Peter simply begins addressing the elders in the church. He doesn’t explain or justify the existence of this “hierarchy;” that is simply assumed/given as the structure of the local church. This harkens back, in part, to the Jewish roots of the church; eldership was a familiar and venerable institution in Israel. Though it likely precedes this event, the eldership was given some formal structure and authority following the Exodus, when Moses’ father-in-law Jethro visited at Sinai.

Exodus 18:12–27 (ESV): 12 And Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God; and Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.

13 The next day Moses sat to judge the people, and the people stood around Moses from morning till evening. 14 When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he was doing for the people, he said, “What is this that you are doing for the people? Why do you sit alone, and all the people stand around you from morning till evening?” 15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God; 16 when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between one person and another, and I make them know the statutes of God and his laws.” 17 Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “What you are doing is not good. 18 You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. 19 Now obey my voice; I will give you advice, and God be with you! You shall represent the people before God and bring their cases to God, 20 and you shall warn them about the statutes and the laws, and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do. 21 Moreover, look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Every great matter they shall bring to you, but any small matter they shall decide themselves. So it will be easier for you, and they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this, God will direct you, you will be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.”

24 So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 Moses chose able men out of all Israel and made them heads over the people, chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. 26 And they judged the people at all times. Any hard case they brought to Moses, but any small matter they decided themselves. 27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went away to his own country.

Notice the characteristics of these elders: able men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe — good criteria for all public leaders! So, elders became a fixture in the culture of Israel: mature, trusted men capable of discernment and impartial judgment. This idea of leadership was retained in the church, so Peter can speak of the elders of the church without the need for extensive explanation. Of course, it was not just Peter who spoke of elders; Paul gave specific instructions to both his protégés Timothy and Titus on nature of eldership:

Titus 1:5–11 (ESV): 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.

How would you summarize the primary role/function of the elders in this passage from Paul? In their particular context in Crete, the elders are to teach, preserve, and defend sound doctrine.

Peter would, of course, agree with this rather authoritative role that Paul envisions for elders in Crete, but Peter has a different emphasis in his letter. That might be because he is writing to a largely Jewish church that has a tradition of elders. Here is a comparison between Paul and Peter’s vision for elders:

Paul: Teach, Preserve, Defend

Peter: Shepherd, Oversee, Mentor

I suspect there were particular challenges that a largely Gentile church in Crete faced in terms of order, discipline, morality, and doctrinal fidelity that perhaps Peter’s congregations didn’t struggle with. So, Peter’s vision of elders is arguably more pastoral than Paul’s. Let’s think a bit more about the role Peter envisions.

Shepherd: What does a shepherd do for his sheep?

Oversee: What is implied by the word “oversee” or in the task of oversight?

Mentor: Peter actually says “be an example.” I have presented that as mentorship. What is important about an example or a mentor?

How this ministry of eldership is motivated and performed is important. In fact, there are some disqualifying motivations/characteristics: compulsion, greed, abuse of power. These are all antithetical to pastoral ministry in the church, and each has caused untold trouble to the church throughout the ages.

Peter also has a word for the flock the elders shepherd: you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Peter uses chronological terms here — younger and elder — but to insist on that would be to misread Peter. He is thinking more in terms of spiritual maturity than in terms of age. Only those of spiritual maturity should be appointed as elders over the church so that those under their authority might know them to be trustworthy shepherds, overseers, and mentors. It is then proper for people of all ages to be subject to those spiritually mature elders. Though it’s proper, it is not always easy or natural. To be subject to anyone, even to someone who clearly merits our respect and cooperation, is difficult; it goes against our fallen nature. If it hard to be subject to God, how much more so to men and women like ourselves. It demands that virtue which is the source and summit of all other virtues: humility.

The Desert Fathers valued humility above all other virtues. This tale about the monk Macarius shows its importance:

Macarius was once returning to his cell from the marsh carrying palm leaves. The devil met him by the way, with a sickle, and wanted to run him through with it but he could not. The devil said, ‘Macarius, I suffer a lot of violence from you, for I can’t overcome you. For whatever you do, I do also. If you fast, I eat nothing; if you keep watch, I get no sleep. There is only one quality in which you surpass me.’ Macarius said to him, ‘What is that?’ The devil answered, ‘Your humility; that is why I cannot prevail against you.’

As an aside to this story, note how insidious the devil is. By complimenting Macarius on his humility he tempts the monk to pride, to the loss of humility! The devil has no power over the truly humble and will stop at nothing to attack that person’s humility.

Because humility is so important — and so difficult — it is worth spending some time thinking about this virtue. First, let’s note that humility is a uniquely Judeo-Christian virtue. The Greeks and Romans had no concept of humility as a virtue, as a character trait to be cultivated, to aspire to. Inferiors were humbled, were forced to be and expected to be humble. But not free men. There was no greatness in humility. The root of humility was in the Jewish Law and Prophets; the fruit of it ripened in the Gospels.

Let’s think about what Christian humility is by looking at what humility is not.

It is not thinking of yourself as worthless, though this is sometimes how humility is portrayed even in classical Christian literature. I think the biblical refutation of humility as worthlessness is found in Philippians 2, Paul’s discourse of Christ’s example of humility:

Philippians 2:1–11 (ESV): 2 So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2 complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s start here: Christ was not nothing; he was not worthless. To the contrary, he shared equality with God the Father, the greatest worth of all. The essence of his humility was this: he was willing to relinquish his rightful divine prerogatives for the good of others, to serve others in obedience to the will of God his Father. It think this gets near the heart of humility. It starts with a firm grasp of one’s identity as rooted in and given by God, and then it moves on to relationships: first to God and then to one’s neighbors. In fact, I wonder if Jesus’ Summary of the Law is not also a definition/description of humility:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself (BCP 2019, p. 106).

Because I am the beloved image bearer of God my Father, I can love him above all. Because my neighbor is the beloved image bearer of God our Father, I can love my neighbor as myself. There is no competition, no jockeying for position in humility; it is not based on scarcity, but rather on abundance. It can seek the good of the other with no fear that one’s own good will somehow be diminished. A humility like that must be rooted in a firm understanding of one’s own identity in Christ. So, Peter can insist that, in the church, elders are not domineering and those under their authority are not subversive. Each acts in humility toward the other, for the good of the other, for the good of oneself, and for the common good of the church. And what is the outcome of such relationships of mutual humility?

1 Peter 5:6–7 (ESV): 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.

As God the Father exalted Christ for his humility, so too will God exalt you for yours. So you need have no care, no anxiety, no fear of being overlook or forgotten; God cares for you.

The Roaring Lion
Do you remember the Desert Fathers’ story of Macarius and his great humility that we referred to earlier? The devil praises Macarius for his humility hoping thereby to tempt the saint to pride, to destroy his humility. Start cultivating the virtue of humility and you can be guaranteed the attention of the devil. And that is, I think, why Peter turns his attention to that reality at just this point in his letter.

1 Peter 5:8–11 (ESV): 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

We need to be aware — aware, but not afraid — of this stark reality: we have a spiritual adversary who wants nothing more than to destroy us as an act of rebellion against God. Baptism is enlistment in the hosts/army of God and engagement in a lifelong battle. The Rite of Baptism says as much:

N., receive the sign of the Cross as a token of your new life in Christ, in which you shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, to fight bravely under his banner against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and to continue as his faithful soldier and servant to the end of your days. Amen (BCP 2019, p. 169).

Peter tells us to resist the devil. How are we to do that — practically?

We are to be firm in the faith. And what does that entail?

Make certain you are immersed — daily — in the Word of God. Truth is a weapon.

Pray always. Make prayer a habit until is becomes as natural as breathing. Use the Daily Office, personal prayer, contemplative prayer, breath prayer — all kinds of prayer.

Utilize the Sacraments of the Church: first and most important the Eucharist, but also confession which brings temptation into the open and deprives it of its power.

Cultivate the virtues: faith, hope, love, humility, wisdom, courage, patience — all the Christian virtues.

Stay in community; resist the foolhardy temptation to “go it alone” spiritually. Even the desert monks typically lived and worshipped in community. Only the most spiritually mature were judged capable of becoming hermits.

Peter also mentions suffering again in this context. Suffering is a tool of the devil because it makes us doubt the sovereignty and love of God. It also makes us feel alone, isolated. And so Peter reminds his readers that the church throughout the world is experiencing the same type of suffering, a suffering which is temporary and which ultimately redounds to our good. In the proper time God will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” his faithful ones. It is really with that promise that Peter closes his letter, that and the reminder that God is sovereign, that his dominion is for ever and ever.

Final Greetings
All that remains in the letter is the closing, or the final greetings, with some familiar and important names. First there is the amanuensis Silvanus, the one who writes Peter’s dictated letter. Silvanus is another form of the name Silas, who was the traveling companion of Paul. Second, Peter mentions Mark, the one-time traveling companion of Paul who left him on the first journey and caused the rift between Paul and Barnabas. This is John Mark, a relative of Peter, and the one who penned the Gospel bearing his name, a Gospel that is considered Peter’s memoir. Peter notes that he writes from Babylon which is the common New Testament term for Rome.

Peter closes his letter — and I’ll close this class — with a blessing of peace:

Ειρήνη ύμΐν πασιν τοΐς έν χριστω.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

BLESSED BE THE GOD AND FATHER of our Lord Jesus Christ!
According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again
to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ
from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).


About johnaroop

I am a husband, father, retired teacher, lover of books and music and coffee and, as of 17 May 2015, by the grace of God and the will of his Church, an Anglican priest in the Anglican Church in North America, Anglican Diocese of the South. I serve as assisting priest at Apostles Anglican Church in Knoxville, TN, and as Canon Theologian for the Anglican Diocese of the South.
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