Church Life – 1 Peter 5:1-14
Read the Passage: 1 Peter 5:1-14
Church Leaders (5:1–4)
In view of the persecution facing his readers, in this passage Peter gives directions regarding proper church leadership. Peter employs the term “elders” in this passage, which is used interchangeably in the New Testament with the words “pastor” (or shepherd) and “bishop” (or overseer) to describe church leadership (cf. John 21:16; Acts 20:17, 28; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 5:2). By way of introduction and identification, Peter reminds his readers that he is a colleague (i.e., “fellow elder”) and apostolic witness (i.e., “witness of the sufferings of Christ”). Further, Peter notes that he is anticipating the return of Christ (i.e., “partaker of the glory that will be revealed”). Indeed, Peter was one of but a few believers who had beheld Jesus in His full glory at Christ’s transfiguration (cf. Matt. 17:1–8; 2 Pet. 1:16). Of course, all believers will see Jesus at His second coming.
In 1 Pet. 5:2–4 Peter discusses four things that related to proper church leadership: their state of mind, their motivation, their manner of service, and their reward. First, in regard to their state of mind, Peter notes that church leaders should serve “willingly” (1 Pet. 5:2). No one should be forced into leadership. Second, in regard to their motivation, Peter writes that it cannot be “for dishonest gain, but eagerly” (1 Pet. 5:2). The idea is that an elder should desire to lead (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1, 3). Third, in regard to their manner of service, Peter notes that leaders are not to lead by coercion, but by “example” (1 Pet. 5:3; cf. 1 Cor. 4:16; 11:1; Phil. 3:17; 4:9; 2 Tim. 1:13). Fourth, in regard to their reward, Peter reminded his readers that they were merely under-shepherds to Jesus, “the Chief Shepherd” of the flock of God (1 Pet. 5:4; cf. Matt. 26:31; John 10:11, 14; Heb. 13:20).
Church Members (5:5–11)
In this passage Peter addresses church members. Although he explicitly writes to “you younger people” (1 Pet. 5:5), this is likely to be understood as a contrast to “elders” in 1 Pet. 5:1. In the early church it was assumed that with age would come spiritual maturity, which would result in spiritual leadership. Here Peter commands the laity to “submit yourselves to your elders . . . all of you be submissive to one another” (1 Pet. 5:5; cf. Heb. 13:17). Peter then ties together the concepts of submission and humility as he quotes Prov. 3:34. Humility leads to submission, for they both entail placing another’s interests above one’s own. In this passage there are three to whom Peter writes we are to be submissive: (1) elders, (2) one another, and (3) God. While this may be difficult, especially if our leaders and colleagues are ungodly, we can be assured that it will eventually result in our exaltation, for God is sovereign and cares for us (cf. 1 Pet. 5:6–7).
In 1 Pet. 5:8–11 Peter gives some general exhortations to the Body of Christ that facilitate and accompany sanctification. Three specific imperatives that the apostle mentions are to be sober (or self-controlled), to be vigilant (or watchful), and to resist the devil. The idea here is that believers cannot take time off from their sanctification, for the devil is continually working to erode one’s spiritual growth. This comes about via various temptations, persecutions, discouragements, as well as accusations before God (cf. Job 1:6–12; Rev. 12:10). The way that believers fight the devil, of course, is through their sanctification that results from knowing the Scriptures (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3–5; Eph. 6:17). Indeed, this process is not easy and believers can expect much suffering in the present world—a theme Peter unpacked in 1 Pet. 3:13–4:19. Yet, such suffering is not unusual, nor is it to be shunned, for it is a path of sanctification.
Farewell Greetings (5:12–14)
In 1 Pet. 5:12–14 Peter wraps up his epistle with a general conclusion. Here he mentions Silvanus who likely wrote and delivered this letter. As we noted in our introduction to this book, this is likely the same man known as Silas elsewhere in Scripture, who was a prophet (cf. Acts 15:32) and a frequent traveling companion of the apostle Paul, notably on Paul’s second missionary journey (cf. Acts 15:40–18:5; 2 Cor. 1:19; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1). Peter also mentions Mark, who is likely John Mark, the cousin of Barnabas, the protégé of Peter, and the author of the Gospel of Mark (cf. Acts 12:12; Col. 4:10). Note that this is the same Mark who had failed Paul by returning to Jerusalem in the middle of Paul’s first missionary journey (cf. Acts 13:13; 15:38–39; Col. 4:10), yet was later restored (cf. 2 Tim. 4:11). The reference to Babylon at 1 Pet. 5:13 is likely a reference to the city of Rome (cf. 2 John 1, 13; Rev. 17–18).
- What is more difficult for you: right relationships with those outside the church, or right relationships with those within the church?
- Do you regularly pray for the pastors of your church? Are you willingly submissive to your church leadership?
- Why is it dangerous for church leaders to be motivated by financial gain? What motivates you in your area of ministry service?
- Have you experienced the results of suffering that Peter mentions in 1 Pet. 5:10: perfection, establishment, strength, and being settled?
- Do you find submission and/or humility to be challenging? Why or why not? What is Peter’s reference to “true grace of God in which you stand” (1 Pet. 5:12)?