The Humble Elder
The younger Peter was not known for his humility. In his early days of ministry, he thought he knew better than Jesus. He questioned and argued with his sovereign. Once, Peter actually took his Lord aside and began to rebuke him. (Matthew 16:22) Some months later, he arrogantly exclaimed before Jesus how he would do better than the other disciples. Jesus predicted that all the disciples would fall away in the moment of trial. Peter proclaimed he would never do so. He was “The Rock.” He was proud of his faithfulness and perseverance. (Matthew 26:33)
However, over the years, Peter was humbled by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Meekness had worked its way out, and in one of his final letters, he encouraged humility in his fellow church elders. He wrote to his friends:
So 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: shepherd 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; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4)
The Humble Elder is a Fellow. Despite Peter’s apostolic ordination, exceptional schooling, unique experiences, decades-long tenure, and spiritual giftedness, he refused to present himself as the chief pontiff. In this letter, he presents himself as one of the brothers, one of the men, a mere presbyter like several of the fellows reading his letter. If Peter is not the “top-dog,” then how much less ought his readers to fight for control of the room.
The Humble Elder is a Laborer. The church overseer is not someone focused on title and honor. He is someone who wants a job; he wants work. The faithful elder is a shepherd who shepherds. He has great compassion for the sheep who are suffering, sinful, sorrowful and needy, and he is ready to roll up his sleeves and stay busy washing, feeding, discipling, grooming, and protecting those in the family.
The Humble Elder is Zealous. He is not externally compelled to serve. He is not moderately interested in fulfilling his tasks. No, he desires such work. He is eagerly willing to wear himself out for his friends. He doesn’t just work hard. He wants to work hard.
The Humble Elder is Sacrificial. Some may be willing to take such an office for benefits gained, but not the meek man of God. Sure, he knows “over the rainbow” there will be a glorious day of seeing Jesus and receiving the unfading crown of glory. However, he also knows, for the time being, he serves not for shameful gain. He too is prepared to share in the sufferings of Jesus Christ.
The Humble Elder is Submissive. The godly presbyter knows the flock is not his own. It has already been bought with a price. It belongs to the Chief Shepherd. The church is Christ’s prized possession and cherished bride. Therefore, the elder is neither concerned with his own will nor that of the congregation. Instead, the humble elder keeps his knees on the ground with his ear in the Word. He labors, serves, suffers, and leads as God would have him. He is a submissive servant before he is an ecclesiastical elder.
The Humble Elder is a Gracious. He is not one who barks orders and berates Christ’s sheep. He has no desire to keep people under his thumb. Instead, contrary to the world’s style of leadership, he is not domineering but encouraging. Like Christ, his yoke is easy; his burden is light; he too is gentle and lowly.
The Humble Elder is Exemplary. They lead from the front, and are models to the flock of humble reception of God’s laws, humble recognition of their fallenness, humble confession of their guilt, humble acceptance of gifted-righteousness, humble worship of their Savior, and humble love for both brothers and enemies.
The Humble Younger
Peter then carries on to express what humility should look like for those who ought to be under church leadership. He writes:
Likewise, 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 5:5)
The Humble Younger is Submissive. Understanding the lordship of Christ, understanding the stated will of Christ in building and organizing his church, understanding the Spirit who works in and through church leaders, and understanding the Spirit who inspires this particular Apostolic author, they choose their elders carefully and follow this up with subjecting themselves to their humble and servant-hearted leaders.
As church leaders, let us repent of our arrogance. Let us see our pride, laziness, indifference, apathy, self-interest, folly, harshness, and duplicity. Let us look to Christ, lament, confess our sins, rest in the Gospel, pray for Spirit-infused affection, and adjust our practice. Then, let us pray that we might be incredibly easy and encouraging servants to follow.
As disconnected worshipers, let us repent of our discounting God’s plan. Let us find the church family and church fathers we need — the same one who needs us.
As dishonorable worshipers, let us repent of not following the lead of our leaders. Peter has been very consistent throughout his letter. Citizens should submit themselves to their governors. Slaves, servants, and employees should do the same. Wives should follow the examples of their husbands. And all who are non-elder youngsters — men and women alike — should “be subject to their elders.”
Therefore, hearing the will of the Chief Shepherd, let’s all now humble ourselves — shepherds and sheep alike. This is the good and pleasing way!