1 The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: 2 Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; 3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.
This short essay will begin with the elder, and what this word means to the Christian community, then move to the actual verses being studied, once we have an idea as to the role of the elder, especially as illustrated in scripture.
Strong's Concordance 4245
G4245 presbuterov presbuteros pres-boo'-ter-os
comparative of presbus (elderly); TDNT-6:651,931; adj
AV-elder 64, old man 1, eldest 1, elder woman 1; 67
1) elder, of age,
1a) the elder of two people
1b) advanced in life, an elder, a senior
2) a term of rank or office
2a) among the Jews
2a1) members of the great council or Sanhedrin (because in early times the rulers of the people, judges, etc., were selected from elderly men)
2a2) of those who in separate cities managed public affairs and administered justice
2b) among the Christians, those who presided over the assemblies ( or churches) The NT uses the term bishop, elders, and presbyters interchangeably
2c) the twenty four members of the heavenly Sanhedrin or court seated on thrones around the throne of God.
1 This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; 3 not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; 4 one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence 5 (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you-- 6 if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. 7 For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, 8 but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, 9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict. 10 For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, 11 whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. 12 One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons." 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth. 15 To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him ,being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work.
1 But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: 2 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; 3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things-- 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
These certainly make Paul's list in Galatians five a little easy to grasp and run with: If we serve God, be guided in our everyday lives by the Hoy Spirit, and let His power work within us, we should see the fruit of the Spirit being evident. If we, though the Holy Spirit, as if we try in our own strength we will fail every time, we live according to the above passages, the fruit of the Spirit will be abundantly evident:
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control.
What we see in this list will be the end result as it were of what the word 'holy' means in an amplified version. 'Be Holy' is Peter's catch cry, along with 'expect suffering', and finally - 'there is a reward', but I get ahead of myself here. Being Holy is the expected walk of all Christians, when walking in the Spirit, faithful to God, and Peter unwraps the concept in these passages from Timothy, Titus, and in its less direct way in this book itself, and spells it out succinctly for the elders, in how he wants them to be for the flock, that needs shepherding.
It is worth noting at this point that there is nothing in the word that says we should accept less from any brother (or sister for that matter), no diminishing of standards with time, or standing within the Church.
But who is the 'elder'? At this point, as we begin to explore what the elder did, and who they were within the scriptures, we need to remember the role of Timothy in the Church, as an anchoring point: 1 Timothy 4: 12 Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. As you read the following vignettes of eldership throughout the Bible, keep looking back at Timothy as that reference, and the younger reader may keep Timothy's age in mind if you doubt that the verses connect to you and your lifestyle.
The Bible appears (doing a computer search) to have 219 occurrences of the word elders, many relating to the older brother, or members of a group rather than this context.
16 "Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, 'The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, "I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt;
13 'Now if the whole congregation of Israel sins unintentionally, and the thing is hidden from the eyes of the assembly, and they have done something against any of the commandments of the LORD in anything which should not be done, and are guilty; 14 'when the sin which they have committed becomes known, then the assembly shall offer a young bull for the sin, and bring it before the tabernacle of meeting. 15 'And the elders of the congregation shall lay their hands on the head of the bull before the LORD. Then the bull shall be killed before the LORD.
7 "Remember the days of old, Consider the years of many generations. Ask your father, and he will show you; Your elders, and they will tell you: 8 When the Most High divided their inheritance to the nations, When He separated the sons of Adam, He set the boundaries of the peoples According to the number of the children of Israel.
9 Joshua therefore sent them out; and they went to lie in ambush, and stayed between Bethel and Ai, on the west side of Ai; but Joshua lodged that night among the people. 10 Then Joshua rose up early in the morning and mustered the people, and went up, he and the elders of Israel, before the people to Ai.
2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, "Sit down here." So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the close relative, "Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, sold the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 "And I thought to inform you, saying, 'Buy it back in the presence of the inhabitants and the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; . "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it." 7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging, to confirm anything: one man took off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was a confirmation in Israel. 8 Therefore the close relative said to Boaz, "Buy it for yourself." So he took off his sandal. 9 And Boaz said to the elders and all the people, "You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, from the hand of Naomi.
4 Now because they were years older than he, Elihu had waited to speak to Job.
31 Oh, that men would give thanks to the LORD for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men! 32 Let them exalt Him also in the assembly of the people, And praise Him in the company of the elders.
10 Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies. 11 The heart of her husband safely trusts her; So he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good and not evil All the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, And willingly works with her hands. 14 She is like the merchant ships, She brings her food from afar. 15 She also rises while it is yet night, And provides food for her household, And a portion for her maidservants. 16 She considers a field and buys it; From her profits she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, And strengthens her arms. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is good, And her lamp does not go out by night. 19 She stretches out her hands to the distaff, And her hand holds the spindle. 20 She extends her hand to the poor, Yes, she reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid of snow for her household, For all her household is clothed with scarlet. 22 She makes tapestry for herself; Her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the gates, When he sits among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them, And supplies sashes for the merchants. 25 Strength and honor are her clothing; She shall rejoice in time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, And on her tongue is the law of kindness. 27 She watches over the ways of her household, And does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her blessed; Her husband also, and he praises her: 29 "Many daughters have done well, But you excel them all." 30 Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. 31 Give her of the fruit of her hands, And let her own works praise her in the gates.
13 The LORD stands up to plead, And stands to judge the people. 14 The LORD will enter into judgment With the elders of His people And His princes: "For you have eaten up the vineyard; The plunder of the poor is in your houses. 15 What do you mean by crushing My people And grinding the faces of the poor?" Says the Lord GOD of hosts.
9 holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict
26 Disaster will come upon disaster, And rumor will be upon rumor. Then they will seek a vision from a prophet; But the law will perish from the priest, And counsel from the elders.
21 From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised the third day.
5 And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, 6 as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. 7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, "By what power or by what name have you done this?" 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: 9 "If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, 10 "let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. 11 "This is the 'stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.' 12 "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." 23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.
17 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages."
1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.
4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.10 the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne,
Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song,
What a list of roles and responsibilities! We are reminded through the scriptures that sometimes so-called elders may go off the rails, become part of the darkness, rather than walk in light. (If this occurs, one must question the commitment of that so-called elder to Christ, or whether his actions were an act, to fit in with the group, the conversion, like seed sown on hard, rocky ground, or amongst thorns). The non-elder as it were must always be discerning, that is, cross referencing the elders actions and speech with the standards given to us in the Bible. Elders are often the older brothers of an assembly, and in today's world, cannot be equated to the elder title that Peter and the other apostle's held. Not as I said earlier that this means the job of, the actions of and the life of those in this position should be downplayed or downgraded. All related to this stands, including the examples of elders on the wrong side of the track as it were, in sin and damnation.
Now we have some idea of who the elders are in the Church, we can start by first asking - how does Peter address the elders?
Here Peter begins his exhortation with his own rank - no higher than their own, not as an older elder, a disciple elder, an apostle elder, rather, with an opening that belies a peer approach. This is the same man we heard a little earlier from in Acts, when he was teaching the rulers, elders and scribes. He was the leader of the Church at that time, and was still held in that esteem, therefore holding great responsibility for the flock. Peter adds to this opening statement:
"and a witness of the sufferings of Christ,"
Peter reminds the audience that he was one with Christ Himself at his crucifixion. This statement brings back two specifics. Peter was the one who betrayed his Lord on three occasions before the crucifixion, and all would know this through the gospel being preached, so he is stating in a way that he, Peter, understands human weakness, yet he is now an elder, thereby representing one restored to glory as it were by the Lord himself, and given a senior role, despite his previous fall. The grace of God is revealed in this simple statement. However, these qualification puts these words into the context that Peter wants his audience to understand - I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed. Peter reveals to the reader that he, at once at odds with Christ, not only personally understands the suffering Christ went through, that he himself was one with them. Suffering was also part of his lot as an apostle and elder, and one may add, with full knowledge of what he would die from, crucifixion, as well. This was in the same statement that offered hope, a positive outcome for those who held to the exhortation through mentioning in the same sentence the transfiguration ('also a partaker of the glory') that he witnessed, and from it gained insight into what will be revealed, both in death, and in Christ's return, as can be seen in the Gospel:
28 Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. 30 And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.
Peter regularly uses his own personal experience to temper his writing, even if it revealed a weakness, along with something far better, comparing man's frailty with God's glory. Peter in this opening statement is saying - I have seen great suffering, I failed at that time, I was given a second chance by the Lord himself, and now, I too am elder amongst you, but, there is something far better than this, I have seen Christ raised, the two go together, but the latter is glory revealed, reached through suffering, achieved through holding fast to the faith in a world that will hate you.
Peter's first concrete instruction to the elders take us straight back to the Lord's commands to him, when he was restoring him after the resurrection as see in John 21:15-19:
Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Feed My lambs." 16 He said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" He said to Him, "Yes, Lord; You know that I love You." He said to him, "Tend My sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?" Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, "Do you love Me?" And he said to Him, "Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You." Jesus said to him, "Feed My sheep. 18 "Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish." 19 This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me."
Peter's readers of the time may have known this story well. We however, have the advantage of having the New Testament as a whole, so we know the story well!! They would have heard it from others who had been there as well, and from this source - John. There can be no mistaking Peter's message to the elders. He reminds them of his place with Jesus, subtlety reminding them of his own failure, his restoration to where he can say to them - I as an elder with you, he offers them the hope in the glory revealed, then takes them directly to yet another incidence in his own life, that if being told to shepherd the flock. Peter knows that his life on earth is limited, and the work had to be carried on. The mantle he was given needed to be shared out. The elders needed to take it upon themselves to do this. This was part of the reason for the exhortation, the people in their suffering needed shepherds, shepherds there for the flock in whatever Satan tried to deliver as we saw in chapter 4.
Peter then moves forward, with a warning:
verse 2 "serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly"
However, within these four verses are a continual reminder of what not to do as well. It is almost as if Peter could see the men, the elders puffing up, 'Peter is telling us to be shepherds of the flock, just as he was told - we are at his level, we are there.'! Maybe, this is too harsh, but the message is certainly there, be an overseer for the right reason, and that reason is not for personal gain.
Peter begins by using the word overseer (bishop in Timothy, overseer in Titus) and it is worthwhile briefly diverting to see what both words mean in their root Greek. The following is the definition from Strong's Concordance as referenced below.
G1984 πισκοπή [episkope /ep is kop ay/] n f. From G1980; TDNT 2:606; TDNTA 244; GK 2175; Four occurrences; AV translates as "visitation" twice, "bishoprick" once, and "office of a bishop" once. 1 investigation, inspection, visitation. 1a that act by which God looks into and searches out the ways, deeds character, of men, in order to adjudge them their lot accordingly, whether joyous or sad. 1b oversight. 1b1 overseership, office, charge, the office of an elder. 1b2 the overseer or presiding officers of a Christian church.
G1985 πίσκοπος [episkopos /ep is kop os/] n m. From G1909 and G4649 (in the sense of 1983); TDNT 2:608; TDNTA 244; GK 2176; Seven occurrences; AV translates as "bishop" six times, and "overseer" once. 1 an overseer. 1a a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly, any curator, guardian or superintendent. 1b the superintendent, elder, or overseer of a Christian church.
So, back with what Peter is exhorting the elders, and we see that it is in the same vein as above, so this must be an important point, for Peter to repeat with similar emphasis on the topic:
not for dishonest gain but eagerly; here we see Peter with a perfect understanding of the human heart, power, greed, coercion, doing something for something, rather than out of love for the brother and sister in Christ.
Peter therefore, is giving the context of their work - and their attitude, to ensure that the elders knew what their role was, and how they needed to approach it. There was no room for self, or personal gain in the job he had for them. To make his point this is emphasized, yet again:
3 nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock;
No room for self importance. You can feel that inflated feeling hissing out, deflating, back to earth, a job to do. To ensure he makes his point Peter has returned to the old human failing, as we have seen throughout this book, pride versus the need to be humbly serving, returning to the great theme and instruction of the book I will repeat here to you dear listener again: 1 Peter 1:16
"Be holy, for I am holy." And 22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, 23 having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever,
How can one be examples to the flock? but through hearing and applying the words written earlier in the letter, words they have only just been reading. In this light we might like to return to another previous passage - chapter 2:4 and be reminded further of what Peter has been saying in this letter Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.15..as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Peter finishes his message to this group, the elders, with a further hint of the reward to come, something Peter has done consistently throughout the letter, here in verse: 4 and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Other examples can be found including in the previous chapter: 4: 12 Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. With this, he also bolsters their courage by reminding them they are not alone, there is a Chief Shepherd, they do not have to be in control, Jesus is in control - as chief.
Peter starts this final chapter in the context of what we read last week in chapter 4 '16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter. 17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 Now "If the righteous one is scarcely saved, Where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?" 19 Therefore let those who suffer according to the will of God commit their souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator.'
These are sober words that makes one sit up, take notice, and reach out to God, for it would be only through faith in Him, and power through the Holy Spirit that one can prevail. He tells us all that suffering for Christ is something we need to willingly bear, then Peter turns and hits the elders with this tough passage about their responsibility for the flock, to help the flock to cope with this suffering.
Peter exhorts the elders to be leaders in this suffering, eager, willingly, in all holiness, being shepherds to the people, and shows them the grace and promise of a reward in heaven, one of the crowns given to faithful believers mentioned in the Bible - the crown of glory. These go with the "crown of rejoicing" in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, the "crown of righteousness" of 2 Timothy 4:8, the "crown of life" in James 1:12 and Revelation 2:10, and the "imperishable crown" of 1 Corinthians 9:25, "a beautiful crown" of Ezekiel 16:12.
One can see throughout these passages in the book of Peter that he mixes his own experience of being one of Christ's disciples, his own failures, his restoration at the hand of Him who alone can save. He writes in subtle tones, his suffering and suffering he knows is to come, with what God has given him at that time. He takes his own leadership and shepherding of the flock, and hands the mantle on to the elders, for them to take on this responsibility. We can know, with our retrospective knowledge that yes, even someone who denies his Lord, once repentant and restored, can be shepherd to the flock, therefore, even you, despite your weaknesses, here clearly spelt out as pathways to avoid - greed, lording it over others and etc, can be shepherds of the flock.
Woven into this exhortation is the common theme of being holy, that of God's grace and justice, as with the crown, in the context of reminding them that they, as we, have a Chief Shepherd, the Lord Himself. Having a chief shepherd places all into context - we do the will of he who is over us, the jobs the Chief Shepherd gives us to do, much in the same way as we do the jobs our bosses entrust to us. However, we are under the wing of the one and only God, through the Lord Jesus Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit Himself, dwelling in our hearts, speaking to us. So I will finish with the statement repeated seven times in Revelations: "He who has an ear, let him hear."