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Continuing his theme of submission Peter now applies the principle of submission to elders. While he does not directly say ‘elders be submissive to ...’ his next command, which is to young men, begins with the words ‘in the same way be submissive ....’. He is clearly applying to the young men the same principle that he has just applied to the ‘elders’. Then he says ‘all of you, clothe yourselves with humility ...’

If it seems strange to us that ‘elders’ are not exempt from this principle of submission, we should remember that Jesus Christ applied it to himself – ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’ [Mark 10:45], and taught that ‘the greatest among you will be your servant’ [Matthew 23:11].

Peter uses several roles/titles to refer to ‘elders’:

He addresses them as ‘elders’ (presbuteros), and identifies himself as ‘a fellow elder’. The Greek word is the usual word for an older man, but in the New Testament it is also used to refer to those appointed to the role of ‘elder’ in the Church.

He instructs them to ‘be shepherds’ of God’s people under their care. The Greek word, poimaino, means to look after as a shepherd does his sheep – to feed, to care for, to protect. The related noun, poimen, shepherd, is also translated ‘pastor’ (see Ephesians 4:11).

In caring for God’s flock, they are to ‘serve as overseers’. The word used here, episkopeo, means to watch over diligently.

Although they are in a position of authority over and responsibility for the local community of God’s people, this does not make them immune from the principle of submission. For these elders/pastors/overseers Peter identifies a number of elements of submission that will mean putting the will of God and the well-being of the Christian community before their own agenda.

They are to serve as shepherds. This immediately loads them with a doubly heavy responsibility.

It is heavy because Jesus Christ has both taught and demonstrated that he, the good Shepherd, lays down his life for his sheep [John 10]. That kind of serving is the ultimate in submission.

It is also a heavy responsibility because the ‘flock’ is not their own, it is God’s. They do not have this role because it will gain something for them; rather they are in this role for the good of God’s people. God has entrusted these people to their care.

They are to serve as overseers.

Peter says this should not be approached as a duty – ‘because you must’ – but as something that they really want to do – ‘because you are willing as God wants you to be’. It must be from the heart – first of all with a heart for God, and secondly with a heart for God’s people.

It also, Peter says, must not be with a view to financial gain, but be done with a simple eagerness to serve.

Nor must it be done with an attitude of power and authority from a position beyond correction – ‘not lording it over those entrusted to you’. Rather, the elders are to lead by example as they live among the people they serve and care for.

It is significant that Peter mentions directly two of the three things that most commonly wreck the ministry and life of Christian pastors – the pursuit of power and the pursuit money. Peter warns against the serving God and the serving God’s people that somewhere along the line transitions into serving our own quest for power and significance and/or serving our personal desire for money.

The third life and ministry wrecker, which Peter does not mention, is sexual sin, which again is serving self – not God, and not God’s people. It is the expression of a heart controlled by its own illegitimate passion rather than being passionate for God and for the well-being of his people.

Each of these portrays the very opposite of the example of Christ. Thus Peter has surrounded these instructions to elders with references to Jesus Christ:

Peter calls himself ‘a witness of Christ’s sufferings’. Because Peter was an eye-witness of Christ he knows what submission looks like. It looks like Jesus – walking incognito among his people. It looks like Jesus – serving. It looks like Jesus – scorned and rejected. It looks like Jesus – laying down his life for our sins.

Peter points ahead to ‘when the Chief Shepherd appears’, reminding them that as shepherds their role model is Jesus.

Although addressed to elders, these instructions are relevant to anyone who serves God by serving in any kind of leadership position in a local church.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018