21. The Leader and Suffering (1 Peter 5:1-7)
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
Of all the Lord’s disciples, who would have thought Peter would pen the words of our text to the leaders of the churches? Peter argued with, and even rebuked, the Lord when He spoke of His coming suffering and death (Matthew 16:22). He argued with the other disciples about who was the greatest and who would be greatest in the coming kingdom (Mark 9:33-34; 10:41; Luke 9:46; 22:24). Peter, like all of his fellow-disciples, was unwilling to take the place of a servant at their Passover celebration and neither was he immediately willing for His Lord to do so (John 13:6-9).
When I read the first seven verses of 1 Peter 5, I cannot help but chuckle when I remember who is writing these words. Neither can I avoid the strong sense that Peter is a changed man whose view of leadership has been radically transformed. Peter’s perspective on leadership is now that of his Lord. In these verses addressed primarily to elders, we see a very clear link to the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels, a teaching Peter came to embrace for himself and now is teaching others.
When Peter exhorts elders to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:2), we are reminded of Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21:15-17. When Peter instructs church leaders not to “lord it over” those under their care (1 Peter 5:3), we are reminded of our Lord’s words in Matthew 20:25-28. And when Peter urges all of his readers to “clothe yourselves with humility,” we can hardly miss the allusion to the example and teaching of our Lord in John 13 when He clothed Himself with a towel as a servant and washed the disciples’ feet.
Peter is a changed man from the Peter of the Gospels. And his teaching is vastly different from what we would have expected of him from the Gospel accounts. His teaching is also very different from much that is taught about leadership today, even in Christian circles.
Peter’s words are not just to elders nor even to leaders. These are words addressed to all. We should all listen carefully, looking to the Holy Spirit to make their meaning and application clear in our minds—and also in our lives.
The Structure of the Text
The commands Peter sets down by the use of four imperatives indicates the structure and argument of our text:
(1) Elders, take charge! (verses 1-4 [“shepherd the flock,” verse 2]).
(2) Younger men, follow! (verse 5a [“be subject,” verse 5a])
(3) All, humble yourselves! (verses 5b-7 [“cloth yourselves with humility;” “Humble yourselves”]).
The main section concerns the leadership of the elders in their local congregations. A very brief word of instruction is then given to the younger men. The elders are instructed by God to take charge, and the duty of the younger men is to obey, to follow their leadership. Then in verses 5b-7, Peter focuses on the attitude or mindset which should characterize both leaders and followers—a humble spirit, which prompts leaders to lead lovingly and sacrificially and followers to graciously submit to and support their leaders.
Who Are Elders, And What Do They Do?
The existence of elders as spiritual leaders goes back to Israel’s Old Testament times when 70 elders were appointed and divinely empowered to assist Moses in leading the people of God (see Numbers 11:16-30). They persisted throughout Israel’s history (see Deuteronomy 25:7; 1 Kings 20:8; 21:11; 2 Kings 6:32; Ezra 10:8) and into New Testament times, where they are mentioned in conjunction with the chief priests, scribes, and Pharisees (see Matthew 16:21; 21:23; 26:3, 57; 27:1, 3; Acts 4:5; 6:12; 24:1). Elders also played a role in secular rule as well.
Elders emerged as the highest human authority in the New Testament church, assisted by deacons (see Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9; James 5:14). Elders of the church first appear in Acts 11:30, where the monies collected for the poor in Judea were sent to the elders. In Acts 14:23, we are told that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in the churches founded on their first missionary journey. In Acts 15, the apostles and elders of the church met in Jerusalem at what became known as the Jerusalem Council to clarify the gospel as it related to Gentile converts. Throughout the New Testament, the church is ruled by a plurality of elders with no central “head” of the church other than her Lord Jesus Christ. When Peter addresses the elders in our text, he is addressing those who have been divinely appointed and entrusted with the spiritual leadership of the church.
Why Elders (and other Christian leaders) Suffer
One must assume Peter’s exhortations to the elders and younger men in our text are related to his teaching on suffering in the immediately preceding verses. What is the relationship between leadership and suffering? Peter does not directly answer this question, but from other biblical texts we find a close relationship between leadership and suffering. Consider the following reasons elders suffer:
(1) Sinful natures rebel against God and thus resist God’s leaders, who act in His behalf (see Exodus 16:7-8; 17:2).
(2) Elders are not necessarily appointed democratically nor do they rule democratically (see Numbers 16:1-50). Ultimately, elders are divinely appointed (Acts 20:28), and thus accountable, to God (Hebrews 13:17). The elders therefore do not “represent” the church congregation as elected officials are supposed to represent their constituency. The elders represent God and are to act according to the directives of His Word, which may mean their decisions are not always popular.
(3) Because they lead, elders get the blame when things seem to go wrong. Things are considered wrong when commitment, self-denial, or rebuke are required, or when suffering or adversity are encountered. Israel grumbled and complained at every little difficulty and grasped for every chance to indulge themselves (see Exodus 16:1-12; 17:1-7; 1 Corinthians 9:24-10:13).
(4) Christian leaders appear to be weak, ineffective, and certainly unimpressive, because God chooses the foolish things to confound the wise (Acts 4:13-14; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; 3:18-23), because of the methods they employ or refuse to employ (e.g. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 4:2, 10-11), and because of their convictions (e.g. 1 Corinthians 9; compare 2 Corinthians 11:7). They also do not commend themselves (2 Corinthians 3:1f.; 5:12; 10:12, 18; 12:11). How ironic that suffering is the badge of a true apostle, and yet it is what causes many to reject their apostleship for smooth-talking, easy-living false leaders (see 2 Corinthians 10-12; Philippians 1:12ff.).
(5) We all, to one extent or another, are to bear the burdens of others (Galatians 6:2), but leaders seem to bear a greater part of the burden (2 Corinthians 11:28-29; see also Romans 12:15).
(6) The corrective and disciplinary responsibilities of elders (and others) require as much privacy as possible, which means that all facts behind any action are not a matter of public knowledge. Misunderstanding and criticism may therefore result (see Matthew 18:15-20).
The First Command: Take Charge!
1 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
Peter lays down in verse 1 the basis for his exhortation in the verses that follow. Allow me to point out three observations from verse 1 to prepare us for what follows. First, the “therefore” of verse 1 links Peter’s words to what has immediately preceded. His exhortation to elders is related to the theme of suffering for Christ’s sake. Second, Peter’s authority as an apostle is evident as he refers to himself as a “witness of the sufferings of Christ” (see also Acts 1:8, 21-22; 1 Corinthians 9:1). The word “witness” sometimes takes on the sense of “martyr,” which is virtually a transliteration of the original term (see Acts 22:20; Revelation 2:13; 17:6). Third, in light of his apostolic authority, Peter is remarkably humble, for instead of merely stressing his authority over them he also emphasizes his association with them as a “fellow-elder,” who “exhorts” them rather than issuing a decree. How much easier it is to embrace these words, spoken by the “new Peter,” rather than the power-seeking Peter of the Gospels.
Peter’s first command of our text is found in verse 2: “Shepherd the flock of God among you … ”
This is the principle command which is given as an imperative. The secondary command is “exercising oversight,” which is a participle.148 The imagery of shepherding often includes different functions, such as leading or ruling (see Matthew 2:6), feeding (see John 21:15-17) and guarding (see John 10:27-30).
Here the emphasis seems to fall on ruling or “exercising oversight.” It should not be difficult to see why this emphasis is found here. One can teach privately, but it is difficult to lead privately. Leadership is a public and visible task. In times of persecution, those who are leaders make themselves vulnerable to attack by being visible in leadership. Peter therefore urges them not to shrink back but rather to step forward and carry out their God-given calling in faith.
As Peter indicates, shepherding necessitates the exercise of an elder’s God-given authority which is not easy in times of persecution. We know that power corrupts, even those Christians in positions of authority. This is why our Lord strongly rebukes the scribes and Pharisees concerning their abuses of leadership in Matthew 23. Peter therefore clarifies how elders should exercise authority by contrasting the fleshly temptations leaders face with the spiritual characteristics of leadership which were evident in our Lord and which should be exemplified by elders and all others who exercise authority.
Spiritual leadership should not be “under compulsion” but voluntary (verse 2). A nearly identical contrast is seen in Paul’s letter to Philemon, the owner of Onesimus, a runaway slave brought to faith by Paul’s ministry and now being sent home to his master. Paul would love to have Onesimus stay with him, but he does not wish to compel Philemon to act graciously. Paul writes to Philemon:
12 And I have sent him back to you in person, that is, [sending] my very heart, 13 whom I wished to keep with me, that in your behalf he might minister to me in my imprisonment for the gospel; 14 but without your consent I did not want to do anything, that your goodness should not be as it were by compulsion, but of your own free will (Philemon 1:12-14, emphasis mine).
It is not that compulsion is always wrong, for Paul acts “by compulsion” in carrying out his calling as an apostle:
16 For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16, emphasis mine).
Paul felt compelled to preach the gospel for this is what he was called to do. He could do nothing else. But he did have freedom regarding the way he was supported, and so he had a greater privilege in giving up his right to be supported in ministry.
In our text, Peter does not seem to be referring to the inner compulsion of which Paul spoke but of an external compulsion or pressure applied by others. Peter seems to be urging elders not to reluctantly take up their task and the authority which accompanies it, but to exercise authority willingly, enthusiastically. Who wants a reluctant leader in times of crisis? Who wants a reluctant warrior in time of battle (see Deuteronomy 24:5; Judges 7:3)?
If the first contrast deals with an elder’s willingness to lead, the second contrast has to do with a man’s motivation for taking leadership. Some men may be strongly motivated to lead but for the wrong reasons. This is the way it was with the scribes and Pharisees:
5 “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels [of their garments.] 6 And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi” (Matthew 23:5-7).
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation” (Matthew 23:14; see also Luke 16:14).
Power gives a person the advantage over another. It is easy for one to abuse their power and use it for selfish gain. No wonder John the Baptist said to the tax collectors and soldiers who came to him,
12 And [some] tax-gatherers also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than what you have been ordered to.” 14 And [some] soldiers were questioning him, saying, “And [what about] us, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse [anyone] falsely, and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:12-14).
It is no wonder Paul instructed that elders be men free from an addiction to money (1 Timothy 3:8; Titus 1:7).
The elder is to exercise his God-given authority not so as to pursue sordid gain but rather to sacrificially give himself in serving as a leader for the edification and growth of others. They are to lead “with eagerness.” A sense of the meaning of this expression may be gained by comparing Paul’s use of a closely related term:
11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, [to see] whether these things were so (Acts 17:11, emphasis mine).
11 But now finish doing it also; that just as [there was] the readiness to desire it, so [there may be] also the completion of it by your ability. 12 For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what [a man] has, not according to what he does not have (2 Corinthians 8:11-12, emphasis mine).
In both cases, it seems the “readiness” or “eagerness” is a zeal that is sacrificial and without any thought or calculation of self-gain. When many of the Jews in other synagogues heard Paul, they recognized that his teaching threatened their practices and position. They therefore reacted strongly, seeking to silence his preaching. The saints in Thessalonica listened eagerly, with open hearts and minds, to see if he was speaking the truth in accordance with the Scriptures. If the truth meant they had to change, so be it.
The Macedonian saints were poor, and yet they begged Paul for the privilege of giving to those in greater need. They did not give with a calculating spirit, thinking their giving would assure them of greater financial gain. They gave sacrificially, knowing their eagerness and enthusiasm would result in a diminished lifestyle but glad to pay this small price. They were eager to live out the spirit of the Gospel.
The eagerness of a godly elder is the readiness to serve others sacrificially and not the eagerness of greed.
The third contrast concerns the manner with which one exercises authority over others. Peter’s words reflect the teaching of his Master:
42 And calling them to Himself, Jesus said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. 43 But it is not so among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant; 44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45, emphasis mine).
2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:2-3, emphasis mine).
The elders are to “rule” the flock, as undershepherds of our Lord. Those who “lord it over” the flock are those who have come to look on the flock as their possession and upon themselves as “lords.” They are to be shepherds, not lords. It is His flock, not theirs. In the Old Testament, the expression, “lord it over” is used to describe the way in which a victorious nation rules over its defeated foe (see Numbers 21:24; 32:22; Psalm 10:5 [9:26 in the Septuagint]). It describes the reign of men over creation (Genesis 1:28). In Psalm 119:133 (Septuagint), it is used to depict the despotic rule of sin over a man. In Acts 19:16, Luke employs this term to describe the subduing of the sons of Sceva by an evil spirit. While the exact words are not employed in these texts, they illustrate the kind of “rule” Peter condemns:
4 “And they tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves are unwilling to move them with [so much as] a finger … 13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 14 [“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, even while for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you shall receive greater condemnation]” (Matthew 23:4, 13-14).
19 For you, being [so] wise, bear with the foolish gladly. 20 For you bear with anyone if he enslaves you, if he devours you, if he takes advantage of you, if he exalts himself, if he hits you in the face. 21 To [my] shame I [must] say that we have been weak [by comparison.] But in whatever respect anyone [else] is bold (I speak in foolishness), I am just as bold myself (2 Corinthians 11:19-21).
Contrast this kind of “rule” with that of Paul:
5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed—God is witness—6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing [mother] tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. 9 For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, [how] working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. 10 You are witnesses, and [so is] God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; 11 just as you know how we [were] exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father [would] his own children, 12 so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thessalonians 2:5-12).
The “good shepherd” “lays down his life for the sheep” (see John 10:11, 15). The evil shepherd’s abuse the sheep, and rather than feeding them, they feed on them:
1 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD, “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? 3 You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat [sheep] without feeding the flock. 4 Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them. 5 And they were scattered for lack of a shepherd, and they became food for every beast of the field and were scattered. 6 My flock wandered through all the mountains and on every high hill, and My flock was scattered over all the surface of the earth; and there was no one to search or seek [for them]”’“ (Ezekiel 34:1-6).
When elders shepherd the flock, they are to use their authority in obedience to the Good Shepherd and for the good of the sheep. They are not to use their authority to abuse the sheep.
In contrast to the abusive use of authority to control the sheep, elders are to show themselves to be examples to the flock. To play out the shepherd imagery here, they are not to stand behind the sheep, driving them forward, but to go before the sheep, leading the way.
Sometimes this truth is taken to extremes. Some saints think the elders must be the example for every ministry in the church. They expect to see an elder visibly taking leadership in every aspect of the programs of the church. I do not think this is what Peter is talking about. I understand Peter to be exhorting those who are elders to strive to be examples of leadership. A gifted teacher should be an example of teaching; one gifted to encourage should serve as an example of encouragement. An elder should exemplify servant leadership. He should be an example to all who lead, to church leaders, parents, husbands, and others.
The scribes and Pharisees sought to gain authority and power by “seating themselves in the chair of Moses” (Matthew 23:2), but they lacked true authority (see Matthew 7:28-29). There is a certain authority which comes from adding godly practice to godly principle. This authority was absent in the scribes and Pharisees (see Matthew 23:3).
Evil shepherds seek to further their own interests and use the sheep to bring about selfish gain. They look for their rewards now and think of them in temporal and material terms. Those who would shepherd the flock of God must do so with the same mindset every Christian is called to embrace:
13 Therefore, gird your minds for action, keep sober [in spirit,] fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13).
4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:4).
The first thing Peter says about rewards is to remind these shepherds Who the Chief Shepherd is and that He is the One who ultimately shepherds the flock and them. It is He before whom elders must stand and give account (Hebrews 13:17) and He who will reward them for their faithfulness (see also 1 Corinthians 3:10-17).
He is the Chief Shepherd, the “Great Shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20) and the “Shepherd and Guardian of our souls” (1 Peter 2:25). The sheep are His sheep. The shepherds are His sheep. The sheep are not the possession of earthly shepherds but the flock God has placed under their care for a time (1 Peter 5:3).
Jesus Christ is (not) was the “Great Shepherd of the sheep.” This is very important. If Jesus is the Great Shepherd, then surely we should shepherd as He does. How often I hear Christians (and even Christian leaders) speak of Jesus as the “model Shepherd” during the time of His earthly ministry. Our text seems to indicate our Lord continues to be the “Great Shepherd” and the “Good Shepherd.” In part, He shepherds through earthly shepherds. But He also continues to shepherd His flock from heaven.
I make this point of our Lord’s on-going shepherding for a reason. A great deal of emphasis is placed on shepherding these days, and much of the emphasis falls upon a personal and intimate relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. There is an element of truth here I do not wish to deny. But having acknowledged the personal relationship element of shepherding, let me also remind you of these words of our Lord to Mary, who wanted the personal human relationship with our Lord she had enjoyed to continue:
15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren, and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God’” (John 20:15-17, emphasis mine).
When Jesus spoke to His disciples about His death and departure, they were deeply saddened. In John 13-17, Jesus indicated to His disciples it was better for Him to depart from them and terminate His physical relationship with them so a deeper, more intimate relationship could be entered into through the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Intimacy with Christ does not require His physical presence. His shepherding of us does not require His physical presence. And, unpopular as it may be, I do not think an elder always needs to be physically present to shepherd the flock. If “prayer and the ministry of the Word” are the primary tasks of the elders (see Acts 6:4), surely they must have some time of seclusion for study, meditation, preparation, and prayer.
Our reward as shepherds does not come in this life but in the next. It is then the Chief Shepherd will award us with the “unfading crown of glory.” I am not certain this reward is only a leader’s reward; I am inclined to believe it is the reward of every faithful saint, the sharing in the glory of our Lord for all eternity (see 1 Peter 1:7-8; 4:11, 13; 5:1, 10). Our eternal rewards are not based upon the gifts or office God has given us in this life but in our faithfulness in carrying out whatever task He has given each of us:
2 In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy. 3 But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by [any] human court; in fact, I do not even examine myself. 4 For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. 5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, [but wait] until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of [men’s] hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God (1 Corinthians 4:2-5).
The Second Command:
“Younger men, submit to your elders!”
5a You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders.
The second imperative is short and sweet. There is no question as to its meaning. The younger men are to submit to their elders. But why so short? Why does Peter devote four verses to the elders but only half a verse to the younger men? Several explanations seem to apply. First, little more needs to be said. The duty of younger men to submit to their divinely appointed leaders needs little qualification or defense. Second, much has already been said on the subject of submission (2:13-3:7) which applies to this command in chapter 5 to submit.
Another question may come to your mind as you read Peter’s instruction to the younger men: “Why are only the younger men addressed?” First, the younger men are likely those who are most inclined to second guess the leadership and go their own way. Youth often fails to appreciate the wisdom of those older and wiser in the faith. Second, women are not addressed because it is assumed that if they are in submission to their husbands, who are in submission to the elders, the leadership of the elders will be followed.
The Third Command: “Everyone, be humble!”
5b And all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.
The key to unity and harmony in the church, the key to godly leadership and submissive obedience, is humility. Paul makes this clear early in his epistle to the Philippians:
1 If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, 2 make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. 3 Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; 4 do not [merely] look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, [and] being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:1-8).
Peter calls for humility toward God and toward men. Twice in these verses he commands us to be humble. He bases his call for humility on a principle drawn from a passage in Proverbs 3:34 as cited from the Septuagint,149 the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Compare Peter’s citation from the Septuagint with the translation of the Hebrew text as found in the NASB:
34 Though He scoffs at the scoffers, Yet He gives grace to the afflicted (Proverbs 3:34, NASB).
5b God is opposed to the proud, But gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5b, following the Septuagint)
I find it interesting to note the difference between these two renderings of Proverbs 3:34. The Hebrew text has “scoffers;” the Septuagint and Peter, “proud.” The Hebrew text has “afflicted;” the Septuagint and Peter, “humble.” I believe these differences are not as great as they may appear. Affliction often humbles men, causing them to rely on God and not on themselves (see Psalm 73; 119:67, 75, 92; Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23). It is the proud who scoff at the things of God and His people (Proverbs 21:24). Affliction turns the saint toward God in humble dependence.
In humility, leaders exercise their God-given authority self-sacrificially, laying down their lives for the sheep. In humility, younger men follow the leadership of their elders. Both submit themselves to God in humble dependence, looking to Him for their eternal reward at the proper time. Each casts their cares upon Him who is the Great Shepherd. The elders cast their shepherding cares on Him, knowing their task is impossible in merely human strength. The younger men cast their cares upon God, looking to Him for their strength and reward as they submit to their leaders.
We cast our cares upon Him because we know He cares for us. He cares more for us than we care about ourselves. Our “cares” are the touchstones of faith and obedience. Our “cares” are the things we really care about, the things which are important to us. How easy it is to profess adherence to doctrines and creeds (as important as they are) and yet fail to cast our cares on Him. What we worry and fret about is what we feel to be most important. What we worry and fret about is what we don’t wish to commit to Him because we trust ourselves more than we trust God. In times of suffering, persecution, and affliction, what greater assurance and comfort is there than knowing not only that God is good and He is sovereign (in control), but that He cares for us?
This text shows us that Peter’s understanding of leadership has radically changed from the time he first followed the Lord Jesus. But I am not so sure our thinking has changed. We think a leader is one who is confident, self-assured and assertive. Peter tells us a leader is humble and a servant of others. He accepts the task of “being ahead” (leading) without the ambition to “get ahead” in so doing.
Even Christians tend to measure leaders in terms of their success, but the Scriptures measure them in terms of their faithfulness in the midst of suffering. Success is not the test of leadership; suffering is. When we introduce a Christian speaker, we tell the audience of their educational achievements, their success in ministry (usually measured in numbers), and their acceptance by men. Peter will have none of this. And neither should we.
Even when we seek to recruit leaders, we appeal to men on a human level, according to human pride and ambition. We want them to think of leadership as an honor rather than a means of expressing humility. We speak to them about feeling fulfilled rather than of emptying themselves in service to others. How desperately we need to embrace Peter’s view of leadership.
This text brings us face to face with choices. Peter has set down three primary commands. Elders are to shepherd the flock by exercising leadership in a way vastly different from the way unbelievers lead. Younger men are not to be characterized by independence and rebellion but by submission to the elders. Saints are not to be self-seeking, self-serving, and self-sufficient but humble in their relationship to God and to men.
All three commands indicate we must think and act in a way dramatically different from unbelievers. Each of these commands confronts us with a choice, to obey or to disobey. Peter challenges us to commitment and to action. What will your choice be?
148 As indicated earlier in this series, I understand Peter to indicate primary commands by the imperative and subordinate commands by the use of the participle. Thus, “shepherd the flock” is the principle command, while “exercising oversight” is the secondary command. The same distinction can be seen in the “Great Commission” of Matthew 28:18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go (participle) therefore and make disciples (imperative) of all the nations, baptizing (participle) them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching (participle) them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).