The Marks Of An Elder- 1 Peter 5:1-5

In the final chapter of his first epistle, Peter concludes his message to the church by reminding them that everything exists for the glory of God and that they will share in that glory for all eternity. He begins, in verse one, with an appeal to the “elders among you”. His use of the term elders here is clarified by the context of the passage, with elders here referring to those who have displayed a mature Christian faith. Peter refers to himself as a “fellow elder”, then tells them the “marks” of an elder, how they can determine who is an elder and who is not. And what marks a believer as an “elder” here? An elder is a “witness of Christ’s sufferings”. Now when we see the word “witness”, we generally think of an eyewitness, as someone who has seen Christ’s sufferings, but Peter employs a different usage of the term witness here, referring here to one who shares (participates) in Christ’s sufferings, which will also be clarified shortly. Peter then tells us that those who share in Christ’s sufferings will also share in His glory. This, then, is established to be the identifying mark of one who is mature in their faith, an understanding and living out of the fact that the cross comes before the crown. Those who are truly elders are those who understand that Christ endured suffering in order to be fully glorified, and those who would truly share in His glory would share in His sufferings as well. The teaching that the crown comes without the cross, that we live in “victory” without any kind of sacrifice, reveals not maturity but immaturity. Peter tells the church here that those who teach this kind of doctrine are not mature, but immature, and not to be entrusted with positions of leadership and influence in the church. Elders are to be “shepherds”, entrusted by God to “oversee” the flock. The use of the terms shepherd and overseer here give us the primary role of elders within the church, and it is to provide protection for and guidance of the less mature. They are to do so by being “examples”, for Christian leaders are to lead by being examples, not by giving orders or making proclamations, by modeling, not intimidating. Leadership within the church is not to be administered as it is in the world, not through threats and intimidation. Those who operate in leadership in the government or the workplace can threaten those who do not comply with some sort of “punishment”, with the loss of a job or a jail sentence or fine. Leaders in the church are in no position to make these “threats”, and must employ a different method of leadership. They must lead by example, they must lead as “under shepherds”, following the example of the Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Those who do so will receive a reward, here referred as the ” crown of glory”. The verb “receive” here is in the future tense, showing us that the true reward for church leadership will be received not now, but in eternity. The term crown here makes reference to authority, but in line with Peter’s thought here, we will “lay our crowns at His feet” (Revelation 4:10), with any authority we have being fully submitted to Christ’s authority, which is precisely what Peter is calling those in authority in the church to here and now. Peter then closes this section of his letter by addressing the primary danger which those in church leadership will have to avoid, the danger of pride, the danger of their position going to their heads. He does so by adminishing them to “clothe themselves with humility”, literally to be “low-minded”, for “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”. Does this mean, then, that we can “earn” grace? Certainly not, for grace, by its very nature is a gift, and what Peter sets forth here is the biblical principle that those who are ” low-minded” position themselves to receive grace, while those who are “high-minded” position themselves not to (more on that in our next post). What Peter is really telling us, then, is that God helps those who can’t help themselves, who realize that “apart from Me(Jesus), you can do nothing”, and that they “can do all things through Christ”. It is those who express and live out this attitude who are to be leaders in the church, who understand that the cross comes before the crown, who truly display the marks of an elder and will properly “shepherd” the flock to which Christ has entrusted them.

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