A Message to the “Elders”- 1 Peter 5:1

In this passage, Peter writes to a church which is undergoing persecution (1 Peter 4:12-19), and he here gives instruction to the church as to how to live in the midst of the inevitable “suffering” which will take place when the church functions as a faithful and true witness of its Lord. He begins, in verse one, with instructions to the “elders”, the Greek presbuteros here, a word used to refer to those in positions of leadership in any group. Peter appeals to them as a “witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who will also share in the glory to be revealed”. By using the word “witness” here, Peter does not mean merely one who personally saw the sufferings of Jesus Christ, but as one who “shares in” those sufferings. This can be seen in his use of the term koinonos, to share in, in the second part of his comparison. What he tells us here is that those who “participate” in Christ’s sufferings will also participate in the glory to be revealed. So what does he mean here by “sufferings”? We must look back to 1 Peter 4:14, in which Peter tells the church that “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you”. The Greek word “insulted” here is oneidizo, to revile, reproach or insult. The suffering Peter refers to here, then, is not referring primarily to beatings or torture, but to insults, reviling, mocking, scorning, etc. Those who live for the name of Christ will be insulted and reviled by the culture around them, just as Jesus was insulted and reviled by the culture around Him. As a “witness” of Christ’s sufferings, Peter also experienced this type of treatment, and he tells us here that all who live their lives as a witness of Christ’s sufferings, who live for the name of Christ, will undergo this type of treatment as well. So what Peter’s appeal to the “elders” (leaders) of the church amounts to is an appeal to lead the church to live for the name of Christ, and to shepherd their flock through the inevitable reviling, insults and mocking which will come to those who are faithful witnesses of Christ. Peter had previously given them instruction as to how to respond to this “insult”, not with “insult, but with blessing” (1 Peter 3:9). They are to, by both encouragement and example, lead their “flock” to “not live the rest of their earthly life for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2). They also have been told that those who live this way will be seen as “strange” and the culture will “heap abuse upon them” (1 Peter 4:4), and as leaders who live as a faithful witness, they will also undergo this type of treatment. Many leaders, both then and now, have been tempted to lead the church in a manner which makes the church acceptable to the culture, thinking that the church must be “relevant”, that it must be run according to business principles rather than biblical principles. According to Peter here, the goal of the leaders of the church is not to increase attendance, raise more funds, or become more accepted by the culture, but to lead their flock into becoming those who live for the “name of Christ” and become a “faithful witness of His sufferings”. Leaders who do so are promised a reward, not the reward of fame, fortune or praise from the culture, but of a “share in the glory to be revealed”. It is our prayer that all church leaders would hear and take heed to Peter’s message here, and shepherd their flocks toward the goal of sharing in the glory to be revealed, a glory that will last, rather than the fleeting glory of fame, fortune and praise from the culture.

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