Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 September 17, 2017
“To Elders and to Those Younger”
Text: 1 Peter 5:1-5
The Holy Spirit, through Peter, now begins to wind down 1 Peter; we have just one chapter, with its fourteen verses, left. The main facts that this letter announce now stand established. First, we are not Home. We are aliens, pilgrims, exiles, strangers, and the like—and, as such, we are away from our home country. Second, we will suffer from time to time for wearing Christ’s Name. After all, the servant is not above his Master—and if the Master suffered (and indeed He did), then we shall suffer to some extent also. We have, in this final chapter, some concluding exhortations for God’s people. Today, as the chapter opens, we see God’s exhortation to those who are elders—and, by extension, to those entrusted with spiritual authority in the life of God’s Church. We also see God’s exhortation to those who are younger—and by extension, to those under the spiritual authority vested in elders. Let us hear what God says to us in His written Word, the Bible.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
Peter, through the Spirit, makes his appeal to his readers then and now in a manner most agreeable to Jesus Himself. He refers to himself as a fellow elder to the elders in the churches of Asia Minor to whom he writes. He could have invoked his apostleship, and all the weighty authority that entails, to press his point. Yet Peter eschews that invocation in favor of an appeal to the elders as a fellow elder—an equal, and not necessarily a first among equals. Peter also calls himself a witness: a witness of Christ’s sufferings, to be sure, but also of His miracles and His teaching. In fact, Peter is party to many of Jesus’ remarks recorded in Scripture. No doubt Peter is an eyewitness and ear-witness to Jesus. Peter also is a sharer, or fellow partaker, in the glory to be revealed at Jesus’ coming. Again, Peter stands before his fellow elders as one among many, and of equal standing with each. Now, as an old man and veteran Christian leader, he exhorts his readers.
Peter first exhorts the elders of God’s people in Christ—and to them he issues the clear majority of his instruction (1-4). The thrust of Peter’s Spirit-led instruction is clear too: Shepherd the flock of God. The elders must exercise proper oversight of God’s covenant people in Christ. Peter further teaches the elders by a series of contrasts. First, the elders must not serve under compulsion. They must not feel themselves compelled by institutions such as government or the Church itself. Nor must they feel themselves compelled to serve by the pressure of people—such as family or friends—to serve the flock of God, the Church. Rather, God’s called elders serve willingly, and not under external duress of any sort.
Second, the elders must not serve for shameful gain. True, and alas, some shepherd God’s flock chiefly for financial reasons. They serve primarily with the view, “What’s in it for me?” They hope to realize financial gain (directly or indirectly), elevated status and esteem, perceived leisure or pace of life, or something else. Rather than this, God’s elders are to serve the flock eagerly, with initiative and cheer—and with further view to the glory of God and to the good of His people.
Third, the elders must not domineer. Those who serve to shepherd Christ’s flock must not present themselves a la Diotrephes, who loves to be first (3 John 9). He must not act toward the flock—or toward his fellow under-shepherds—like what has been called in Presbyterian circles the boss elder or the buck elder. He, if he is in fact the pastor of a local congregation, must not act in autocratic, dictatorial ways. Rather, Christian shepherds must be examples to the flock. They are to be morally upright, and they are to serve the Church—not lording their position over Christ’s people.
The Lord, in His Word, appends a promise to His under-shepherds—namely, that they will receive the unfading crown of glory when the Chief Shepherd appears. What a glorious promise to those under call as servant-leaders in Christ’s Church. True, the leaf withers, and the flower fades, but the Word of our God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8); so also does this unfading crown last forever.
Peter, after exhorting the elders in Christ’s Church, exhort the younger Christians. These exhortations are two. First, the Spirit calls younger Christians, through Peter, “Be subject to the elders.” The younger yield subjection to the elders in view of the elders’ ages, of their positions of responsibility, and insofar as their rule conforms to the Word of God. Second, God calls all of us, in this section to younger Christians, to clothe ourselves with humility. James, the half-brother of Jesus, writing to the Church at large, writes, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The Lord, throughout Scripture, enjoins and praises humility. He never speaks thus concerning pride or the proud. Let us, then, whether younger or older, resist pride and display humility—and these by God’s grace.
Consider again the exhortations to elders—both to those of many years and especially those who serve in the office of elder. If you be an elder, or if you may one day be called to such, then the exhortations frame who you are and inform what you do and how to do it. The Biblical portrait of an elder may not conform exactly to other leadership positions in our culture—chief executive officers, presidents, and the like—but our culture would do well to emulate Biblical leadership, and the Church of the living God will thrive as we display it. If, on the other hand, you are not, nor shall ever be, an elder, the these exhortations inform what you are looking for in an elder—whether teaching elder (i.e., pastor) or ruling elder, as in our order. You want spiritual leaders who conform to what is enjoined in today’s text—and shun what is rebuked in it. Then those of younger years, and those outside that office, rally more readily to Godly leadership in the Church. Let us seek, by God’s grace, to discharge our duties in our respective stations—and may God be glorified in the same.