God’s Grace & Suffering, part 4

Peter moves from the individual to the Church collectively. God’s grace is sufficient for the entire body of Christ. In 1 Peter 5.1-11, Peter assumes his shepherding role and explains that threats exist on the physical level and the spiritual level.

Suffering as a Church (1-11)

The church the world over is suffering so put on humility & the God of all grace will strengthen you.

1So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:

So I…you: So or “then” or “therefore” connects this with the previous section. When times of persecution come, leaders & followers in the church must respond appropriately. Elders would be the leaders in the church. Since judgment was set to begin with God’s family, perhaps the leaders would be targeted first (cf. Eze 9.6). The word itself denotes an older man. For these elders Peter has an urgent request (exhort).

Two arguments we make from this text is 1) there should be a plurality of “elders” in each congregation (i.e. more than one) & 2) the elders who serve must be “among” or in the church they serve (i.e. an elder has jurisdiction only over the single congregation he is a member of). All evidence indicates that elders were widespread in the early church; in Jerusalem, Philippi, Asia Minor, & Crete.

As a fellow elder: Rather than pulling rank & appealing to his apostleship, Peter instead addresses the elders as an equal, a “co-elder” (Gk sumpresbuteros) who, like them, serves the “chief Shepherd” (v.4).

A witness of the sufferings of Christ: Peter was an eyewitness to Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, to His arrest, to His scourging, to His crucifixion. He saw the soul crushing grief as well as the brutal gore of Christ’s sufferings (pl.).

It is no wonder Peter appeals to “the sufferings of Christ” here; much of the book has dealt with suffering, both Christ’s & the Christian’s (1.11; 2.19-24; 3.14, 16-18; 4.1-2, 12-19). Suffering is linked with leadership because if shepherds are to pattern their service after the model of the chief Shepherd, Christ, it will mean sharing in His suffering. Contextually, these Christians are experiencing or are preparing to experience suffering through persecution. The temptation would be to avoid persecution, send out the rank & file members while the leaders sit back away from the fray. Or to use contemporary leadership language, the leaders may be tempted to eat last at the table of suffering. While “leaders eat last,” they should be the first to taste persecution. Christ shows as much by His willingness to drink the cup of suffering on our behalf. A good shepherd today is not merely one who makes good decisions, but one willing to endure the first brush with suffering.

As well as…revealed: Two ways this could be understood: 1) Peter has seen the glory of Christ as he followed Him during His ministry (e.g. Luke 9.28ff); 2) Peter anticipates the glories of heaven. The latter seems more likely since Peter is exhorting these elders on the basis of common experience & hope.

2shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;

Shepherd…among you: the flock of God (or “God’s flock”) is a clear reminder to these elders that the church belongs to God. “It is God’s church, and they are given the privilege and responsibility of shepherding it” (NAC). The call to shepherd is a call to lead & provide for the congregation. It includes guidance, care, & help. Among you indicates proximity, i.e. these men are in the churches.

Elders are to feed the flock, not fleece the flock. John Gill draws the sharp distinction:

[Feed] not with every wind of doctrine, which blows up the pride of human nature, and swells men with vain conceits of themselves; nor with the chaff of human doctrines; nor with trifling and speculative notions; but with knowledge and understanding of divine and evangelical truths, with the words of faith and sound doctrine, with the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ; with the Gospel of the grace of God, which contains milk for babes, and meat for strong men; and with a crucified Christ himself, who is the bread of life, and whose flesh is meat indeed, and his blood drink indeed; by directing them to his person, blood, and righteousness, to live by faith on; by preaching the doctrines of peace and pardon by his blood, atonement and satisfaction by his sacrifice, and justification by his righteousness, and complete salvation by his obedience and death. (Gill on 1 Peter 5.2)

Exercising oversight: Gk episkopountes, from which we get our word “Bishop.” Once more highlighted is the care of the flock as the elder looks after the church. Help & service are also involved.

Not…have you: The 1st of three (3) contrasts—do not shepherd out of some sense of obligation; shepherd willingly, cheerfully, out of a heart & soul desire. The latter is God’s will for elders.

Not…but eagerly: The 2nd of three (3) contrasts—do not shepherd from a position of greed or obtaining money by extortion or embezzlement; rather, shepherd eagerly, which is another of way of saying the elder must serve of their own free will.

In the span of two verses, Peter links elder, shepherd, and overseer to the same office or role in the church. There were not pastors & elders & bishops, all separate classes from one another. They were, and should continue to be, one in the same role in the church. When Paul summoned the elders from Ephesus (Acts 20.17), he addressed them as “overseers” (v.28). This is the typical interchangeability of the words in the New Testament.

3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Not…to the flock: The 3rd of three (3) contrasts—do not shepherd in a harsh, authoritarian manner; rather, elders pattern their lives after the model of Christ & so serve as examples in the church. Do not boss others around; model the good character of Christ.

Ultimately, leadership deserves its follower-ship and vice versa. The high call of God is for elders to set the example which the flock is to follow. Gill explains elders are to:

set an example to believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity; and be patterns of good works to them, and recommend the doctrines they preach, and the duties they urge, by their own lives and conversations; and particularly should be ensamples to the saints, in liberality and beneficence, in lenity and gentleness, in meekness and humility, in opposition to the vices before warned against (Gill on 1 Peter 5.3).

Too often elders are instead dictatorial and autocratic, tyrannical despots who run roughshod over the flock. The make power plays and appeal to “the authority of the elders” for justification of such moves. Peter, a fellow elder inspired of the Holy Spirit, says that what is needed by elders is not a spirit of domination, but a spirit willing to follow the hard after the model of Christ. The appeal to authority to be made is an appeal to Christ’s authority since He is the only one has any because He has all authority (Matthew 28.18). His is a model not of supremacy, but of suffering. It is not about being a manager; it is about following the Master.

4And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

And when…appears: Jesus as Chief Shepherd is head who directs the activities of all other shepherds. Jesus is the one in charge of the shepherds (i.e. elders) of the local church. When He appears points to His final coming when He will judge everyone & reward the faithful.

Calling Jesus “Chief Shepherd” should remind all leaders that they are servants, not sovereigns. Shepherds serve under the authority of the Chief Shepherd. Christ owns His church, it belongs to Him & not the elders. They must faithfully love & serve God’s people, but they must never lose sight of their Master who is the true owner of the flock – the Lord Jesus Christ.

You will…of glory: Faithful shepherds will be given a victor’s crown (Gk stephanon). This was the crown given to athletes who were victorious in competition or generals who were victorious in battle. These crowns, composed of flowers or leaves, would wither & fade; however, the crown given by God is unfading, that is, immortal. Rather than being composed of leaves or flowers, the crown Christ confers is of glory, no doubt the same “glory …to be revealed”  spoken of in v.1.

Being an elder in the Lord’s Church offers no promise of an earthly reward. In fact, it is a temporary servant role. Now, will there be times when shepherds are rewarded for their service? Absolutely. However, there is no guarantee of this & generally speaking being in leadership is thankless work. Peter instead points leaders beyond this life to the promise of a heavenly reward for serving in a distinguished manner. While the work of elders may be largely forgotten with the passing of time, it is not forgotten by God or Christ. Shepherds across time & space will one day stand before Christ & their faithfulness will be rewarded.

5Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Likewise: or “In the same way” (NIV, NET). Peter shifts audiences though not general subjects.

You who…the elders: The younger here are young people in the church who, perhaps more so than the older people of the church, tend to be more independent in their thinking or are more rebellious in their youth. These are commanded to be subject or submit to the elders. If the more rebellious are commanded to submit then the less or non-rebellious members would likewise by extension be urged to be subject to the leaders (i.e. elders).

Clothes yourselves…one another: Peter addresses all of you or all the members of the congregation. From relations in the church leadership structure Peter moves interpersonal relationships in the church. Peter commands these Christians to clothe yourselves (Gk enkombosasthe) as one would put on an apron or tie a towel around the waist (see John 13.4). Everyone is to be clothed with humility. Humility is a lowly mind toward one another. This is where we count others’ needs as more important than our own (cf. Philippians 2.3-4).

“Humility is the oil that allows relationships in the church to run smoothly and lovingly” (NAC). Unfortunately, humility is a characteristic which American Christianity has lost sight of & sorely needs. The lack of humility & the presence of pride is the cause of many church problems. We think too highly of ourselves. The reality is that any good we do or any achievement we attain is because of God & therefore in humility we give God glory.

On the other side of the spectrum is humility’s ugly distortion: worthlessness or unworthiness. This is thinking too lowly of ourselves. Many psychological problems result from people thinking too little or themselves. This is to actually overlook the good that God is working in us. It means we ignore the constant work of sanctification which His Holy Spirit is doing in our lives. If pride accentuates the abilities of self & ignores giving glory to God, in a similar way self-abasement/shame devalues the work of God in self & likewise fails to give glory to God for that.

True humility is thinking rightly about ourselves. It neither loses sight of God’s working in us nor does it fail to give glory God for what He has done & is doing. Rather, true humility sees the work of God in us & gives God all the glory for that.

For “God…the humble”: Peter quotes Proverbs 3.34 (from LXX). For is explanatory—Christians must clothe themselves in humility because God is at war with the proud while the humble He gifts with His unearned favor. Why such a reaction from God? It boils down to trust; “God delights in being trusted” (Grudem 194). The proud do not trust Him because they need nothing. The humble can only but trust God for His favor & everything.

It must be noted that it does not say God is opposed to pride, though I am confident that the sin of pride, like any sin, is repugnant to holy God. It says, “God opposes the proud,” i.e. the proud person. In a similar way, it is to humble people that God gives grace. Both of these verbs are present tense, i.e. God is continually set against proud people and He continually gives grace to humble people. It is with difficulty that we separate the sin from the sinner and the virtue from the virtuous.

6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,

Humble yourselves…hand of God: To be humble is a landscaping term which meant to level off a certain piece of land (e.g. Isaiah 40.3 LXX). It came to mean to think rightly of self (level off yourself), esp. in relation to God. Here Peter is calling Christians to humble themselves (in a lowly spirit) to the power & will of God. Christians are to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God. This is a common OT picture expressing God’s power and authority (the hand being that by which deeds are done). Peter uses it to put God rightly in the mind of these Christians. The invitation is to recognize God’s sovereignty & ability to deliver Christians from every foe, esp. Satan (v.8). Also, the hand of God was connected with God’s goodness toward His people when faced with difficult circumstances & enemies (e.g. Ezra 8.22, 31).

It is a principle firmly rooted in the Bible – “humility comes before honor” (Proverbs 15.33b). It was a constant theme in Jesus’ teaching (see Luke 14.7-11, esp. v.11). The road to honor treads over the pathway of humility. We must decrease if He would increase us. To be filled with His grace we must empty our hearts of pride.

So that…exalt you: Christians were looked upon as undignified people who were spoken evil against (2.12). However, those who think rightly of self in relation to God, God gives a high status or dignity. Peter may have Proverbs 15.33b (“humility comes before honor”) or the teaching of Jesus that those who humble themselves will be exalted (Luke 18.14b; cf. Matthew 23.12).

“At the proper time” or “in due time” (NIV) is God’s time. We often do not know when that is. Is it a day? A week? A month? A year? Years? However long it turns out to be is the right time because it is according to God’s time. Yet we are an instant message society. We want things now. Instant information. Instant access to content. We are living in Generation Now. Have a pain? Pop a pill. Want some food? There’s an app for that. The challenge is to engage the slow, long work of enduring for the sake of humility the things of this life. Things that have deep meaning and that last take time to achieve.

7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Casting…on Him: cf. Psalm 55.22. Part of the humbling process is the Christian casting all his/her anxiety on God. To hold on to worry, then, is an example of pride. By casting our cares, anxieties, worries on God Christians recognize Who really has the power to change or affect situations. When Christians cling to worries & cares they become trapped in the faulty thinking that they must solve all their problems on their own. To experience the sustaining grace of God Christians must learn to unburden themselves of the anxieties of this world & their lives.

“Worry is a form of pride. Worry constitutes pride since it denies the care of a sovereign God. The antidote to worry is believing in and resting in God’s care for believers.”[1] We tend to get trapped in the faulty thinking that it is up to us to fix our own problems in our own strength. What God wants from us is for us to take our burden of worry & turn it over to His care & sovereign power. We are powerless, weak, & in need of divine help. There is one who is big enough, powerful enough to help.

[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2003), 238–239.

Because He cares for you: Perhaps these Christians had begun to doubt whether God really cared about them since they were enduring such terrible suffering &  persecution. Perhaps their perception of God was distorted & they viewed Him as indifferent or disinterested in their pain. Peter reminds them that God’s all-seeing eye is on these Christians, ever mindful of their plight.

It seems to be our default position to doubt whether or not God really cares about us. More often than we’d like to admit, we are more like the disciples in the boat on the sea of Galilee asking Jesus, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4.38) Peter reminds us that “He cares for you!” See how much the Father loves you! He is keenly aware of YOU. While you’re so busy being concerned about everything around you, God is concerned with you. We are always on His mind.

8Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Be sober-minded: or “self-controlled” (NIV). Christians are to be in control of their thought processes & thus not be in danger of irrational thought. Pictured here is a self-restrained person. Peter is calling for His brethren to be calm, collected, & pensive.

Christians need to be serious thinkers about God, life, suffering, & our adversary. Indeed, just as the term suggests, we ought to be free from anything which would cloud our judgment & reasoning. Any intoxicant which threatens our sobriety should be avoided. It is our enemy who wants to behave in a thoughtless way. He wants to get us to stop thinking or, short of that, get us to disengage serious thought patterns. When we are under the influence of intoxicants, “Your eyes will see strange things, and your heart utter perverse things” (Proverbs 23.33). This is descriptive of what Satan wants to do with us: terrify us in mind. Instead, under the influence of the Spirit of God, we pursue wisdom, holiness, & goodness. Our thought patterns are focused on the comfort of the Father & the deliverance He brings.

Be watchful: Or “alert” (NIV). This was a favorite expression of Jesus in talking about the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Matt 24.42; Mk 13.35, 37). Be wide awake and alert. Jesus used the same word for when He and the disciples went to Gethsemane to pray (Mk 14.38).

Christians need to be awake and alert lest we fall into temptation and sin and so forsake Christ. We need to be alert or awake because the devil is constantly on the prowl. Just as the devil was responsible for the suffering & persecution in the 1st century, so he continues to be responsible for the persecution the world over today. He continues his diabolical work even today. There remains open hostility between the devil & the children of God.

Your adversary…to devour: The devil is the great adversary (or enemy, NIV) of the church. The devil is continuously hostile toward Christians. He is ultimately responsible for the persecution & suffering the church endures. Open hostility is the devil standing policy against God’s people (see Revelation 12.17). Peter likens the devil to a roaring lion. This is an intimidation tactic whereby the devil seeks to induce fear & cause Christians to abandon the faith. A Christian who leaves the fold of God for the fold of Satan is one whom the devil is said to devour.

Note the stark contrast between God & the devil: God “cares” for us so much that we can unburden our souls, giving Him all that troubles us. The devil, on the other hand, seeks to cause the anxiety & fear in us. God promises to protect us; the devil is devoted to destroying us.

Lions roar to communicate their in charge of their territory. So Satan, who has become the false ruler of the fallen world, roars to signal his current dominance over the world. But one day, the Lion of the tribe of Judah will come & silence the meowing of this diabolical lion. He will establish His pride.

Brown (3:338-349) includes a lengthy discussion of the adversary, noting the devil is…

  1. A subtle adversary: His temptations are tailor made for us
  2. An active adversary: He is always looking for an opportunity to cause us to fall
  3. A cruel adversary: He is satisfied with causing pain & affliction
  4. A powerful adversary: He is “the strong man” which Christ binds

9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.

Resist him…your faith: Some see Peter’s potential knowledge of the epistle James since he uses the same term to describe the Christian’s war against the devil. While it could that Peter knew James epistle, it could just be the common way Christians spoke of engaging the enemy. Resist is a term of action. Christians actively engage against the foe. Passivity will lead to defeat. By our resistance to the devil Christians will remain firm in [their] faith. Firm is a foundational term & indicates that Christians are not to be moved.

How does a Christian resist the devil? Peter does not specify how we are to do this, only mentioning that we are to do it. Perhaps Paul’s discussion of the whole armor of God in Ephesians 6.10ff informs out practice on this; similar terms are used there in describing our conflict with the spiritual forces of darkness. The war we wage is done so with the vanguard of the Lord ever before us (Rev 19.11ff). Christ goes before us in righteousness and “makes war.” We follow after He who sits upon the white horse.

Knowing…the world: The brotherhood which we are to love (2.17) throughout the world are experiencing the same kind of affliction from the enemy. These Christians in Asia Minor are not the only Christians suffering for their faith. Christian siblings the world over face suffering. This shows that what these Christians are enduring is not unusual. The sufferings here could be the inward temptations from the evil one or the outward trials brought by unbelieving people.

Then knowledge that our brethren the world over are facing the same trials is intended to bring comfort. The temptations & trials we face are “common to man.” Thus, there is nothing new under the sun. However, the degree to which Christians suffer varies. In fact, for American Christians, the trials we face compared to the trials faced by our brethren elsewhere in the world are actually lighter by comparison. When affliction comes we need to be careful that we do not have a “woe-is-me” attitude, as though we are the only ones suffering or that ours is the worst imaginable suffering. We need to keep in mind that no one has suffered like the Lord’s Jesus Christ. His suffering pales all other suffering of the brotherhood. Yet, through suffering, we come to know Him. Per crucem ad lucem. “Through the cross, into the light.” Suffering before glory.

10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

And after…little while: Peter says the suffering is for “a little while.” Implies the suffering goes away, but does not say that the suffering ever ends.

The God of all grace: Peter calls Him the “God of all grace,” the same kind of grace which He equips the church with (4.10) & bestows upon the humble (5.5). Every kind of grace; every needed grace; every means of grace – God supplies it. Peter will list four (4) graces shortly.

Who has…in Christ: While the sufferings last only a little while, God’s call is to glory which endures forever. The contrast between the sufferings & the Sovereign is intentional (cf. 2 Cor 4.17).

Will Himself restore: The idea of fixing something. Same word used of the apostles while still fishermen “mending” their nets after fishing all night (Matt 4.21). So here Peter, one of those fishermen who was mending the nets, knows that Christians strain & fray under the constant pressure of suffering/persecution. And it is God Himself who will mend, repair, fix us when the night is over.

Confirm: To make firm, no longer weak. Same word Jesus used for Peter (Lk 22.32). Peter would be weak and deny Jesus. But he would be the one, once he turned back, who would “strengthen” his brethren. Peter remembers His Master’s words and is doing just that in this letter. It is a call to be strong, confirmed in the Lord.

Strengthen: Only here in the NT, it means to strengthen. God sends the Christian new (bodily) strength. Like going to the gym and working out hard, getting a good burn, muscles hurt and ache, but your stronger after. God reinvigorates the Christian.

Establish you: This is a builder’s term and was used to describe a firm foundation. God grounds the Christian, lays/constructs a foundation which is firm, solid. Following a tumultuous time that suffering can bring, Christians need the firm foundation only God can give.

Ours is a glorious calling in Christ. Ours is a calling which leads to eternal glory in Christ. Both the act of calling, that to which we are called, & He who calls us are in view. God work on our behalf (the latter half of the verse) are rooted in our gracious calling. By grace He begins a good work within us & by grace He will complete it. In addition, God is the God of all grace. There is no limit to His grace. No wonder Paul writes about “the immeasurable riches of His grace” (Eph 2.7). Further, the God of all grace has grace for all. Including each of us. Since His grace reaches me & you, the doubts & fear which rise up can be and are driven away by the knowledge that all God’s grace is for us & it is sufficient for us.

11To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

To Him…Amen: Peter concludes this section with a brief doxology emphasizing God’s sovereignty. God’s dominion (Gk kratos) is His power to rule or control. It is an eternal rule. Amen, the typical conclusion of a doxology, means “so be it,” indicating Peter’s desire for God’s rule to come on earth as it is in heaven.

Here is yet another comforting fact – God’s eternal power to rule & control all things is toward us. We are on the side of the Almighty and therefore we are on the victorious side.