Strangers And Aliens (22c): Serving The Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1–5)

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: 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; 3not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 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.” (1 Peter 5:1–5; ESV) 1Πρεσβυτέρους οὖν ἐν ὑμῖν παρακαλῶ ὁ συμπρεσβύτερος καὶ μάρτυς τῶν τοῦ Χριστοῦ παθημάτων, ὁ καὶ τῆς μελλούσης ἀποκαλύπτεσθαι δόξης κοινωνός· 2ποιμάνατε τὸ ἐν ὑμῖν ποίμνιον τοῦ θεοῦ [ἐπισκοποῦντες] μὴ ἀναγκαστῶς ἀλλὰ ἑκουσίως κατὰ θεόν, μηδὲ αἰσχροκερδῶς ἀλλὰ προθύμως, 3μηδ᾿ ὡς κατακυριεύοντες τῶν κλήρων ἀλλὰ τύποι γινόμενοι τοῦ ποιμνίου· 4καὶ φανερωθέντος τοῦ ἀρχιποίμενος κομιεῖσθε τὸν ἀμαράντινον τῆς δόξης στέφανον. 5Ὁμοίως, νεώτεροι, ὑποτάγητε πρεσβυτέροις· πάντες δὲ ἀλλήλοις τὴν ταπεινοφροσύνην ἐγκομβώσασθε, ὅτι [ὁ] θεὸς ὑπερηφάνοις ἀντιτάσσεται, ταπεινοῖς δὲ δίδωσιν χάριν.

v.5: Submitting to the Elders and To Each Other
Years ago, when I was living in the UK, we faced an odd and difficult situation. I had reason to call the police to ask them to check on the welfare of a woman living in the ground-floor flat below us. When the cops arrived I noticed that one of them was a petite female and that both of them were unarmed. I warned them that the fellow that would be encountering was a large fellow, intoxicated, and ex-military. The female cop gave me a quizzical look and I looked on with astonishment as, in a few moments, the two cops emerged with the offending fellow in hand, who was going along quietly and even without handcuffs. The situation did not go as I expected. At that moment I realized that I came to the situation informed by a different set of cultural expectations formed in a different setting. About a decade before this incident, in the USA, I had occasion to cal the cops to deal with some US Marines blowing off steam on the weekend. The two cops that came to deal with the situation were probably each 6′ 4″ and both were armed with with a variety of weapons. Two different culture, two different assumptions about the nature of authority and our relation to it. Americans are not a submissive people and further we do not live in an age that values authority.

Peter here calls Christians to recognize authority and to submit (ὑποτάγητε) to it. This is a counter-cultural message. Upon coming to verse 5 we face two questions immediately: 1) is this the end of a passage or the beginning of a new one; 2) How does Peter use the noun elders (πρεσβυτέροις), to refer to an office or does he use it generically, to refer to older people? The way we answer the second question influences the way we answer the first.

In favor of the specific translation, “the elders,” is the long tradition of English translations that take this approach beginning with Tyndale. The Geneva Bible, the New American Standard, and the English Standard Version all take this approach but in favor of the generic understanding one finds Calvin, the Authorized/King James Version, the Revised Version, and the NIV, which says, “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.”

If Peter is speaking generically, then v. 5 should be grouped with those that follow. If it is speaking of the office of elder, then it belongs with what precedes. On one hand, v. 4 seems like a sort of concluding exhortation and doxology, after which Peter turns to exhortation based on what has been established. Further, that Peter invokes the ages of those involved might suggest that he is thinking generically. On the other hand, since he has been speaking specifically of the office of elder and its conduct, it would seem natural to understand it in that light. It is truly difficult to know which way to go.

Perhaps this is one of those places where it is not essential to pick a side? Either sense is edifying and both have good arguments to commend them. We can say with certainty that Peter here exhorts younger believers to submit to older believers. In a sense it does not matter whether those older believers hold special office since, ordinarily, one who holds the office of presbyter would be older than younger believers.

In our youth-obsessed culture (with how many advertisements  for ostensible “age-reversing” products are we bombarded daily?) it is a good reminder that Christians may not despise the older. It is plain foolishness for younger Christians to ignore the wisdom who have been making the Christian pilgrimage to the heavenly city longer than they. Our older brothers and sisters have experience in the Christian life that younger believers ordinarily do not have. They have been reading the Word longer. They have struggled in prayer, with doubt, and temptation longer than we have. Speaking experientially, they have also known the grace (favor) of God longer than we. Why would we not listen to them and learn from them? Why we would we not submit to them, whether or not they hold special office?

More generally, Peter exhorts all (πάντες) of us to put on (ἐγκομβώσασθε) humility (ταπεινοφροσύνην) or lowliness of mind toward one another (ἀλλήλοις ). The root of the word that Peter uses here is used in Matthew 18:4, “Whoever humbles (ταπεινώσει) himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Paul uses the noun, which Peter uses here, to describe his ministry (Acts 20:19). It is one the virtues to which Christians are called in Ephesians 4:2 and in Philippians 2:3 (and Col 3:12), in imitation of Christ. There are false versions of humility, e.g., the false asceticism condemned by Paul in Colossians 2:18, 23. The humility to which Peter calls us here is the same that he mentioned in 3:8.

We owe this Christ-like humility to one another by virtue of the grace (divine favor) that we have received for Christ’s sake alone and by virtue of the status of our brothers and sisters as those in whom the image of God is being restored. Its antithesis is that arrogance (pride) that says, “I am not going to submit to you,” not because the other is wrong or sinful but because of another’s person or status. In Christ, social status, economic status, background, race or ethnicity is nothing. God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34). The humility of which Peter speaks is concrete, it is practical and it is, as Calvin says, beautiful: “no ornament is more beautiful or more becoming, than when we submit one to another.” (John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles, trans. John Owen (repr. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 148.

In union with Christ and following Paul, we submit to our elders and to one another, which is a way of dying to self and living to Christ, because (ὅτι) God resists (ἀντιτάσσεται) the proud (ὑπερηφάνοις) but gives grace to the humble. Like James (4:6) Peter paraphrases Proverbs 3:34 from the LXX, replacing Lord (κύριος—the BHS has יְ֭הוָה) with God (θεὸς). The sin of pride, to which Peter refers here, was condemned by our Lord in Mark 7:22. It is one of the sins that comes out of the heart, which defiles. Paul lists pride as one of the evidences of human depravity (Rom 1:30). It is a mark of the “last days” (2 Tim 3:2).

Peter here is issuing a warning against pride and an exhortation to Christ-like humility, manifested by submission to elders and others, because of a pattern in God’s providence rather than establishing a cause in us for God’s favor. It is the case that God favors the humble and opposes the proud. It is not the case that God sees our humility and responds to it with favor. Were that the case, then no one would be saved since we are all given, by nature, after the fall, to pride and not to humility. Calvin rightly says,

We are to imagine that God has two hands; the one, which like a hammer beats down and breaks in pieces those who raise up themselves; and the other, which raises up the humble who willingly let down themselves, and is like a firm prop to sustain them. Were we really convinced of this, and had it deeply fixed in our minds, who of us would dare by pride to urge war with God? (ibid., 148).

Peter addresses humility at greater length in the following verses, to which we turn our attention next.

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  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

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