For an introduction to this series, click here.
January 10, 2008
This final chapter of Peter's first epistle has a lot of simple instructions about how to conduct ourselves in the church and in life in general.
"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: 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; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory." (5:1-4)
This is an important instruction for pastors and church leaders. Church leaders are responsible to the Lord for the way they lead their congregation. Thankfully, most church leaders are aware of their responsibility and do a wonderful job. However there are those who violate these instructions from Peter. They domineer their congregations, demanding obedience in the smallest detail, not merely submission to the position. Sadly, others use their office for personal gain or simply for career advancement.
"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.' Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 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." (5:5-10)
We have briefly discussed the concept of elders in the first century church before. Let us just suffice it to say that the elder was viewed as an office in the church, so in context this is talking about following the leadership of the church, and not simply obeying people older than you, which is how most people take it today.
I have to admit: I have a hard time learning to cast all my anxieties on the Lord. I like to think of myself as an independent man, able to take care of my own problems. The Lord is showing me a lot right now about learning to depend upon Him. Some of you know, but I have been out of a job for about a week. It is so humiliating to beg around for a job. I think I am closer to finding a job, but still I am not sure. When you have no money, a lot of bad things happen, or at least they seem bad. The worst thing is when I have a lot of time to sit around and do nothing, and so I sit and stew about things. I know that I need to cast my cares on the Lord, but that is not easy. It is easier for me to hold on to them and worry about them.
The final warning in this passage is about resisting Satan. He is a real force in this world. A lot of people have this caricature of a ugly creature in a red suit running around poking people with his pitchfork. But Satan is much more subtle and smart than that. He hates all of us as God's special creation, and he is at work all the time creating all the havoc he can in God's plan. Sometimes he works through temptation to sin, and other times he works through punishment of believers. In both of these cases, Peter advises us to be strong in the Lord, who will enable us to overcome these testings.
"By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it. She who is at Babylon, who is likewise chosen, sends you greetings, and so does Mark, my son. Greet one another with the kiss of love. Peace to all of you who are in Christ." (5:12-14, ESV)
The meaning of "Babylon" in this final greeting is enigmatic. Most agree that this is a reference to the city of Rome. Tradition tells us that Peter became the leader of the church at Rome. We do not know much about the later ministry of Peter, since Luke's account in Acts follows Paul almost exclusively in the last half of the book. I just have a hard time with the fact that Peter proclaimed himself as an apostle to the Jews and then we supposedly find him a few years later in Rome, a city from which all Jews were kicked out. I don't know, maybe it is my own mind putting too many restrictions on historical figures.