1 Peter 5 May 28, 2017

[Download the handout.]
[Go to the beginning of this study series.]

This chapter begins with what appears to be a brand-new topic:  the role of elders.  We began our discussion with the question, “Why?”  Was this simply the next item in Peter’s checklist of topics?  Or more likely, how did it fit into the flow of his letter?  Why did he draw his epistle to a close on this subject?

One of the goals of this brief series was to use a different English translation each week in order to expose our group to the variety of versions available to us.  This week’s handout was drawn from the New King James Version.[1]  Curiously, that translation omits the word “Therefore” (oun, οὖν) which is in the original text.[2]  (This example shows the value of using multiple translations[3] to get a more well-rounded view of the original.  Occasionally translators may sacrifice detail for more fluid English.)  The “therefore” (or “so” in ESV, or “and now” in NLT) clearly links this new topic to what came before.

What came before was a phrase that troubled our group last week:  “Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Peter 4:19).  Perhaps Peter’s original readers were troubled as well.  “Therefore” Peter immediately addresses the leadership of the church, the elders, to remind them of their roles:  shepherds and overseers who are willing and eager to care for the church, especially for those who are suffering.

One member of our group drew attention to the word “entrusted” (v. 3).  The leaders of the church (first or twenty-first century) have a trust or a charge or a responsibility.  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews makes an even bolder statement about church leaders:  “they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account” (Hebrews 13:17).  Elders are to be actively and intentionally involved in the lives of the congregation, particularly in times of suffering and persecution as Peter has described throughout this letter.  If one recent author is correct that churches are “largely ineffective in combating the forces of cultural decline,”[4] elders and pastors and other leaders would do well to consider and implement practical applications of Peter’s words today.  Leaders must consider how to help believers when “Christians who hold to the biblical teaching about sex and marriage have the same status in culture, and increasingly in law, as racists.”[5]

Our discussion also considered how Peter addresses the response to elders by “younger people” (v. 5), perhaps everyone who is not an elder (officially or chronologically).  Submission and humility are the keys that the apostle provides.  Submission and humility are extended to one another as well as to elders.  Submission and humility (especially in the context of suffering) form a common theme through this letter and through the entire New Testament.  One person in our group posed the question, “Can you make yourself humble?”  The consensus was, “probably not.”  Self-made humility is something of an oxymoron, a self-contradiction:  “Look how humble I have made myself!”

Genuine humility is not a goal but a by-product.  The humble person “will not be thinking about humility:  he will not be thinking about himself at all.”[6]  Or, in the words of Rick Warren (often mistakenly attributed to C. S. Lewis[7]), “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”[8]  But it seems that Warren also is not quite on point when he continues, “Humility is thinking more of others.”  That other-centered thinking, too, is a by-product.  Peter points to the ultimate “formula” for humility, “under the mighty hand of God” (v. 6).  The more we see of the greatness and beauty and delightfulness (Psalm 27:4) of God’s character, the more we will have confidence in Him, and the less we will feel the need to bolster our own standing before Him or before others.  Our joy and satisfaction and fulfillment will be in Him and in our relationship to the Trinity, not in the opinions or actions of others toward us.  Lewis describes the result:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily.[9]

May the elders of the church shepherd us to know God deeply, and may that growing relationship with Him produce that kind of humility.

[1] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+peter+5&version=NKJV

[2] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20peter%205&version=NKJV;SBLGNT

[3] https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1%20peter%205&version=NASB;SBLGNT

[4] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York:  Penguin Random House LLC, 2017), Kindle location 55.  Reading Dreher’s book would be a good place for church leaders to start.

[5] Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option:  A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (New York:  Penguin Random House LLC, 2017), 3; Kindle location 78.  You can read excerpts from Dreher’s book in the March 2017 issue of Christianity Today magazine:

[6] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  HarperCollins, 2000), 127; Kindle edition, location 1658.

[7] http://www.bloggingtheologically.com/2015/12/11/what-cs-lewis-wrote-is-better-than-what-he-didnt/

[8] Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan:  Zondervan, 2002), 148.

[9] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  HarperCollins, 2000), 127; Kindle edition, location 1658.

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