The End of the Way
The path of suffering, both for Christ and for His followers, ends in glory. Peter has a special word for his fellow elders, to whom was committed the care of the flock of God, and who were, as we know, specially exposed to the assaults of the enemy.
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away”—1 Peter 5:1-4.
Note the expression, “the elders which are among you.” There is no suggestion here of a clerical order ruling arbitrarily over the laity. These elders were mature, godly men, upon whom rested the responsibility of watching over the souls of believers, as those for whom they must give an account (Hebrews 13:17). Peter links himself with them, “who am also an elder,” or “who am a co-prebyster.” If Peter was ever a pope he never knew it! He took his place as one with his elder-brethren in sharing the ministry for the edification of the saints, even though he was one of the original twelve, and so a witness of the sufferings of Christ; and he was yet to be partaker of the glory that shall be revealed at the Lord’s second advent.
He admonishes the elders to feed, not fleece, “the flock of God which is among you.” They were to feed the people by ministering the truth of God as made known in His holy Word. What a grievous thing it is when men, professing to be servants of Christ, set before the sheep and lambs of his flock, unscriptural teachings which cannot edify but only mislead!
Not as pressed unwillingly into a service which was a hard, unwelcome task, were these elders to take the oversight; nor yet for what money was to be gained thereby, but as serving the Lord with all readiness of mind. Neither were they to become ecclesiastical lords, dominating over God’s heritage. Think of the hierarchy that has been developed in the professing body with its priests, lord-bishops, cardinals known as princes of the church, and all the other dignitaries who rule as with an iron hand those under their jurisdiction! Could anything be more opposed to what Peter teaches here? Yet some call him the first pope!
Whatever authority the elders have springs from the lives of godliness and subjection to the Lord. They are to be examples to the flock; those whom the sheep of Christ may safely follow.
Their reward will be sure when they reach the end of the way. Then they shall give account of their service to the Chief Shepherd at His glorious appearing, and His own blessed hands will bestow upon each faithful under-shepherd an unfading victor’s wreath of glory—the token of His pleasure in the service they have done as unto Him.
Grace Operative on the Journey
We have seen that throughout this epistle, Peter dwells on the grace of God as that which enables the believer to triumph in all circumstances. He stresses this most definitely in the concluding section of this epistle.
“Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time: casting all your care upon Him; for He careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: whom resist stedfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. By Silvanus, a faithful brother unto you, as I suppose, I have written briefly, exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son. Greet you one another with a kiss of charity. Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen”—verses 5-14.
It is as we walk in subjection to Him who is meek and lowly in heart that we can appreciate the preciousness of that grace which He gives to the humble. Pride is a barrier to all spiritual progress. In the Christian company it should have no place. None should even be puffed up against others. All are to be submissive one to another, not only the younger to the elder as is befitting, but each to his brethren, and all clothed with humility; for God sets Himself against the proud and haughty, but ministers all needed grace to enable the meek to overcome, no matter what difficulties they are called upon to face.
Verse 6—“Humble yourselves therefore…that He may exalt you in due time.” We are to take the lowly place of unquestioning submission to the will of God now, knowing on the authority of His Word that in the day of manifestation He will take note of all we have endured for His name’s sake, and He will then give abundant reward.
Verse 7—“He careth for you.” It is of all-importance to realize that God’s heart is ever toward His own. He is no indifferent spectator of our suffering. He feels for us in all our afflictions and bids us cast every care upon Him, assured that He is concerned about all we have to endure. Weymouth has rendered the last part of this verse, “It matters to God about you.” How precious to realize this!
Verse 8—“Your adversary the devil,…walketh about.” Satan is a real being, a malignant personality, the bitter enemy of God and man. But when we refuse to give place to the Devil, standing firmly at the cross, he flees from us, and his power is broken.
Verse 9—“Whom resist.” We are to stand against all the Devil’s suggestions, “stedfast in the faith,” battling for the truth committed to us. Nor are we alone in this. Our brethren everywhere have the same enemy to face.
Verse 10—“After that ye have suffered a while.” We grow by suffering. Only thus can God’s plan of conformity to Christ be carried out. But all is ordered of Him. He will not permit one trial too many. When His purpose is fulfilled we shall be perfected and stablished in His grace.
Verse 11—“To Him be glory and dominion for ever and ever.” The victory will be His at last. All evil will be put down; Satan will be shut up in his eternal prison house. Suffering then will be only a memory, and God will be glorified in all His saints, and His dominion established over all the universe.
In verse 12, Peter mentions the name of his amanuensis, Silvanus, whom he regarded as a faithful brother to them and to himself. He may be the same Silas, or Silvanus, who accompanied Paul on his second missionary journey; or he may have been another of the same, not uncommon, name. The theme of the entire epistle is here declared to be “the true grace of God wherein ye stand.” As intimated in our introduction, while these words are much like those of Paul’s in Romans 5:2, “this grace wherein we stand,” the meaning is different. Paul writes of our standing in grace which enables us to stand in the hour of trial, neither giving place to the devil, nor disheartened by suffering and persecution. There are abundant sources of grace from which we may draw freely for strength to meet every emergency as we pursue our pilgrim way.
This letter was written at Babylon, which Romanists claim was pagan Rome, but it seems more likely it was as the Nestorian church has held from the beginning—Babylon on the Euphrates, where many Jews dwelt to whom Peter ministered; or as the Coptic church holds, with apparently less evidence, a new Babylon in Egypt, near to the present city of Cairo. Wherever it was, the church there joined Peter in salutations to the scattered Christians throughout Asia Minor. Mark, too, participated in this. He is identical with the John Mark who was the companion for a time of Paul and Barnabas, and who, though unfaithful at first, became accredited later to Paul’s own satisfaction (2 Timothy 4:11). According to some very early writers, Mark accompanied Peter in later years and wrote his Gospel in collaboration with the venerable apostle, under the Holy Spirit’s guidance.
The epistle closes with a benediction quite different from those which bring Paul’s letters to an end. Paul always wrote of grace: Peter bids the saints greet one another with a kiss of love, and prays that peace may be with all that are in Christ Jesus. These three final words are significant. We ordinarily think of them as characteristic of Paul’s writings. He uses the expressions “in Christ” and “in Christ Jesus” with great frequency. Peter joins with Paul in speaking of the saints in this blessed relationship. They are no longer in the flesh or in Adam; they are new by new birth and the gift of the indwelling Spirit in Christ Jesus, and so a new creation.