1 Peter 5:1-4

1 Peter 5:1‑4  •  11 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Now the apostle turns to such as took the lead in governmental care among the saints, as he had already exhorted gifted persons (chap. iv. 10, 11), after urging the more general call to fervent love and ungrudging hospitality (8, 9).
“Elders [therefore] that [are] among you I exhort that [am] fellow-elder, and witness of the sufferings of Christ, that [am] also partaker of the glory about to be revealed: tend (or, shepherd) the flock of God that [is] among you, exercising oversight,1 not by necessity but willingly,2 not for base gain, but readily, nor as lording it over your allotments, but becoming models of the flock. And when the Chief-shepherd is manifested, ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory” (vers. 1-4).
As the apostle's heart may well have bounded in writing the early verses of chap. ii. which recalled the memorable passage in his life when the Savior gave him his new name, did it not also swell with deepest gratitude and lowly praise in now writing to elders as he recalled the grace that before his brethren reinstated the one who had thrice denied Him? Feed My lambs; tend (or, shepherd) My sheep; feed My sheep (John 21:15, 17, 1815So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. (John 21:15)
17He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep. 18Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. (John 21:17‑18)
). Yes, Peter was brought to feel and own that his love to the Savior of which he once boasted had so utterly failed, that only the Lord who knew all things could see it at the bottom of his self-confidence. Notwithstanding all, the Lord did know that he dearly loved Him! To him then and there He confided what was dearest to Himself, His lambs and His sheep, to tend and feed His flock. In like love he in his measure appeals to elders as a fellow-elder. Though apostle he takes common ground as far as this was possible, as grace gladly does to further its unselfish purpose. All service, as well as rule, is founded on love; and the love of the servant flows from that of the Savior. But self needs to be judged in its pride, vanity, and worthlessness, in order that love may be divine and true.
Men soon perverted service into lordship, though our Lord took pains to anticipate and warn of the danger, and to implant the principle of grace which is suited if held in faith to guard from it and form the heart according to God. So bold and inveterate was this evil that it followed the apostles themselves up to the last Passover and the Lord's Supper. “There was also a contention among them which is accounted the greater. And he said to them, The kings of the Gentiles have lordship over them; and they that have authority over them are called benefactors. But ye [shall be] not so; but he that is greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” Blessed Lord, Thou Thyself wert in the midst of them as He that serveth! then on earth, now in heaven, by-and-by in glory, not only in that day but forever. When the kingdom is given up, all things having been subdued, even then wilt Thou the Son be subject to Him that subjected all things to Thee, that God should be all in all! This will be perfection in all fullness, as it is Thy grace to make it good.
But what corruption in Christendom, a loud contradiction of Christianity, to turn the service of the Lord into worldly rank and means, to emulate the pride of life with claim of superiority over rival grandees, in the name of the Crucified One, who here had not where to lay His head, and laid down that it is enough for the disciple to be as his teacher, and bondman as his lord!
Nor was it only departure from scripture in worldliness; it is as plain ecclesiastically. For the accepted tradition among the ancient systems, Catholic and Protestant, is that to the bishop or overseer belongs the authority of ordination, consecration of persons and places, and excommunication. Now the written word is positive, that what is called ordination belonged solely to apostles, or an apostolic delegate, like Timothy or Titus, commissioned for definite action in a given time and place. Even when the church looked out God-fearing men for external or diaconal service, like the seven in Jerusalem, the apostles set them over this business (Acts 6:33Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. (Acts 6:3)). But the church in scripture never chose elders; nor did elders, but only an apostle or an envoy by his authority. Hence we read (in Acts 14:2323And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)) that the apostles Paul and Barnabas on their return to the gathered saints chose for them elders in every church. Is it needful to say that at a later day Timothy and Titus followed this model, when authorized to act similarly where Paul could not be? Their instructions are simple and clear, as we can see; and they were faithful. Even the competent advocates of Episcopacy acknowledged that in apostolic times there were elders in each local assembly, and that these elders were bishops, the distinction which is found in the second century being unknown in the first, not even a leader among equals. “The” bishop first appears in the letters of Ignatius, who (if not the inventor of that hitherto unknown official, nay in defiance of all scriptural facts and order) is the first to assume its existence and lofty position. His jurisdiction was limited to those in the city. The diocesan bishop later was another and considerable step away from scripture, as were other superior dignitaries, as the church lost its true character and sunk into, or rose in, the world, till the rivalry of the bishops of Rome and Constantinople became a struggle for primacy in honor of old or new Rome, as mistress of the earth, the office as set forth, in God's word being long forgotten and despised.3
For therein eldership is never confounded with gift, whether the χάρισμα of Rom. 12, 1 Cor. 12, and 1 Peter 4, or the δόμα of Eph. 4. For this depends on Christ as the giver, and the Holy Spirit as the power, and never required human choice or appointment, as elders did. The Lord gave them direct. Neither evangelists nor pastors and teachers admitted of intermediate action, any more than apostles or prophets (who constituted the foundation, and therefore were not continued). Apostolic succession is a mere romance, conceived in honor of the bishop when elevated, after the apostles were gone, into an oversight of the overseers, to say nothing of all others, and in fact a creator of them, and thus present that three-fold singularity of which so many have been and are enamored, the bishop, presbyters, and deacons, undergoing another transformation of presbyters into priests, a change still more opposed to Christianity and the church.
The claim to ordain like an apostle or his delegate would be soon made. To consecrate persons and places would and did follow ere long, although altogether foreign to the New Testament, and as clearly borrowed from the heathen rather than Judaism, which recognized but one sacred center. The title to excommunicate was a bold contradiction of the Lord's will and word in committing that solemn responsibility to the assembled saints judging in His name (1 Cor. 5). The apostle Peter dealt personally with a husband and a wife who were guilty of a hypocritical lie to which both had agreed. The apostle Paul could and did deliver blasphemers or other great offenders to Satan; but we may be assured that neither would usurp the function of the assembly in putting away from itself those members that were guilty after previous warning if persisting unrepentant in sins incompatible with His presence. And we have the latter enjoining on the assemblies distinct action in clearing the saints of what was thus done to their defilement and His dishonor. He (though at a distance) had reliable testimony and quite enough to judge the deed; but he insists on the necessity of their judging such evils as he indicates. “Purge out the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, even as ye are unleavened. For our passover hath been sacrificed, Christ; wherefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.... For what have I to do with judging those that are without? Do not ye judge those that are within, whereas those that are without God judgeth? Put away the wicked man from among yourselves,” Such is the Lord's commandment to the assembly, not to “the bishops,” not to the elders, not to the gifts, many as they were there, but to the entire church in Corinth. Who can deny it?
Elders then are here exhorted by him as fellow-elders; but one who was “witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also partaker of the glory about to be revealed.” It is a fitting and precise description of the facts, and exactly in keeping with his Epistle. He was truly one of “the apostles of the Lamb,” as we hear of them in Rev. 21:1414And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (Revelation 21:14). It has been well remarked, how distinct was the place which divine grace gave to Paul; for his it was in the sovereignty of God to be witness of the glory of Christ, and also partaker of His sufferings, beyond the lot of any other in both respects.
It was and is of all moment to regard “the flock” as God's; and all the more, because it is the habitual way even of excellent souls to forget this truth and assume that the sheep whom they feed and tend are their flocks. Such a thought betrays an unwitting denial of God's rights, and falsifies the relation of His sheep, and engenders erroneous interpretation of His word to the hurt of His servants themselves as well as of the saints. Take the common misuse of Heb. xiii. 17, implying that those that guide, or have the rule, have to give account of the souls who are exhorted to obey them, The truth is, that the guides are called to watch in their behalf as having to give account, not of the sheep, but of their own conduct toward them before the Lord. Again, the unity of the flock of God is undermined by not a few who talk without the least warrant of its consisting of many folds. The Lord on the contrary is showing in John x. not only that He quits the Jewish fold, and leads His sheep out, but that He has other sheep not of that fold, Gentile believers; both of whom were about to constitute the one flock, as He is the one Shepherd. There was to be no such thing henceforth as a fold, still less many folds, but His new flock. The one flock of Christ contains all Christians. The sheep might gather to His name here, there, and everywhere, with many an under-shepherd; but as He says, “They shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, one shepherd.” This is Christian truth.
“Tend the flock of God that [is] among you, exercising oversight, not by necessity but willingly, nor for base gain but readily.” It is not under law but grace, and the zeal of love brightened and cheered and strengthened by the crown of rejoicing in those tended, in the presence of the Lord Jesus at His coming, the contrast of base gain in this life.
Of another danger they are warned: “nor as lording it over your allotments, but becoming models of the flock.” If the property which flesh counts our own is not really so to the man of faith, but rather the goods of the Master entrusted to his stewardship, how much more have elders to beware of lording over the allotted charge as if it were theirs? No, they are to become models of the flock in the constant remembrance that it is God's flock, and that they must render account to the Lord how they guided His sheep, as well as of their own walk day by day.
Who then, said the Lord, is that faithful and wise steward whom his lord shall make ruler over his household to give portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say to you, He will make him ruler over all that he hath (Luke xii. 42-44). So the apostle speaks here: “When the chief-shepherd is manifested, ye shall receive the unfading crown of glory.” Alas! ere long the blessed hope faded from their hearts, and the work of oversight was changed into a title of earthly honor and emolument, and the position a lordly installation if not an enthronement; so that Peter, if allowed to see things as they are now, could not recognize the office, as it was according to God, under what it is become according to man in Christendom. Is this to exaggerate, or to say the truth in love? How deep the fall!