1 Peter 5

When Christians are passing through times of persecution and suffering, so much depends upon there being a right and happy condition amongst themselves. The Apostle Peter, therefore, supplements his warnings as to the persecution with some words of admonition addressed respectively to the elder and the younger amongst the disciples. Between such friction may easily develop, as we know right well.

The tendency to develop friction has always existed but never more so than now, inasmuch as the rapidity with which world changes have occurred has never been as pronounced as in the last few decades. The consequence of this is that great changes in thought and habits and outlook have supervened within the limits of a single generation; and hence children look upon their parents as behind the times and their grandparents as thoroughly antique, and the older people look upon the younger as revolutionary in their ideas. If verses 1-7 of our chapter be observed and obeyed, all friction would cease and harmony reign inside the Church of God whatever conditions prevail without.

Peter addresses himself first to the elders as being the more responsible. These were men recognized as holding the office of an elder, and not mercy Christian men advanced in years. He claims a right to exhort them as being an elder and more than an elder-a witness of Christ's sufferings. To those sufferings he could render testimony since he had seen them, having been with Him in the days of His flesh. Once he thought that he could easily share in those sufferings, even to prison and death, and we all know the painful breakdown in which his self-confidence involved him. If, however, he then failed, the Lord in His grace indicated to him that he should partake in some measure before his course was finished (see, John 21: 18, 19). Here he simply speaks of himself as a partaker of the coming glories as the fruit of grace.

His one exhortation to the elders is, "Feed," or "Shepherd the flock of God." The Holy Ghost thus gives exactly the same injunction to the elders by the lips of Paul in Acts 20: 28, and by the pen of Peter here. The elders should extend towards their younger brethren all the care which a shepherd takes of his sheep. Nothing but the outflow of divine love in their hearts will produce the watchful oversight which such care demands, and it is well for the younger believers to see in the care of their older brethren an expression of the love of Christ the Chief Shepherd, which He will richly reward at His appearing.

It is most important that the "elder" should exert his spiritual authority in the right way and spirit, hence the three things stipulated in verses 2 and 3. He is to take up his service willingly, readily, and as himself a model to the flock. The Holy Ghost who inspired these words foresaw what a tendency there would be to take up such work, either from compulsion, or for love of gain, or for desire for power and influence. How much these words were needed is borne witness to by church history, which tells us how the simple "elders" or "bishops" of apostolic days were gradually magnified into "princes of the church," who forded it over God's people as though they were their own possessions. It is, indeed, remarkable with verse 3 before us, that anyone professing to be a Christian "bishop" should call himself, or suffer himself to be called, "lord."

Those of us who rank amongst the younger believers, have to pay special attention to verse 5. The elder may indeed be willing and ready in the exercise of oversight, and also may himself carry out what he enjoins on others, so as to be an example himself; all will be in vain if the younger are not prepared to listen to him and be subject. We beg every young Christian to remember that though there may be much advance in certain branches of human discovery and knowledge, so that the older generation may in these things easily fall behind the times, there is no such advance in the revealed truth of God. Consequently, spiritual maturity is still only to be gained as the fruit of years well spent in the school of God-and by that we mean, the study of His Word, supplemented by Christian life, experience and service. The younger Christian may indeed have superior zeal, energy, endurance, and possibly superior mental equipment, even so he will more effectually serve his Master if he is subject to the mature and wise guidance of the "elder," who may be in most other respects decidedly his inferior.

All this will be easy if the humble spirit prevails. All are to be clothed with humility in their dealings with each other. The person of humble mind is not uppish, and hence does not readily come into collision with others. Better still, he does not come into collision with God; for God sets Himself against the proud, whilst He gives grace to the humble. The mighty hand of God is upon His people in the way of training, and often in very painful dealings, as was the case in the persecutions of these early Christians, yet under it we are to bow and in due time we shall be exalted. Meanwhile, we are to cast all the cares, which this painful state of things might produce, upon Him in the full assurance that He cares for us.

Although as believers we are privileged to take all our trials, even our persecutions, as connected with "the mighty hand of God," yet we are not to overlook the fact that the devil has a hand in them. The case of Job in the Old Testament illustrates this, and the fact is recognised here. In the persecution of saints the devil moves about as a roaring lion, aiming thereby at breaking down our faith. If faith be a mere matter of mental enlightenment, mere head-conviction and not heart-trust, it fails and he devours us. We are therefore to be sober and watchful. We must recognize that the devil is our adversary, and that he is to be resisted in the energy of a live faith which cleaves to the faith made known to us in Christ, remembering also, that if we taste suffering we are only sharing what is the common lot of our brethren in the world.

The "But" that opens verse 10 lifts us in the most glorious way out of the murky atmosphere of the world with its persecutions and trials and the power of Satan. We are suddenly transported in thought into the presence of "the God of all grace." Are we conscious of needing grace in an infinite variety of ways? Well, He is the God of all grace. The powers of the world and the devil may be against us, but He has called us unto His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, and nothing shall frustrate His purpose. He will permit us to suffer for a little while, but even that He will overrule. He will, as it were, take up the suffering and use it as material which He weaves into the pattern and design of His own choice as regards our characters and lives; and thus make it contributory to the perfecting, the establishing, the strengthening, the settlement of our souls.

As to His purpose for us, He has called us to His eternal glory. As to His disciplinary ways with us, He overrules even the activities of the adversary against us, for our spiritual perfecting and establishment. Grace, all grace, shines out in both His purposes and His ways. Who would not ascribe glory and dominion to the ages of ages to such an One as this?

The last three verses give us Peter's closing words. It is interesting to find Silvanus (or, Silas) and Mark mentioned, both of them brethren who had intimate relations with the Apostle Paul, since the latter part of verse 12 is evidently an allusion to the Apostle Paul's labours.

These scattered Jewish Christians had been evangelised, be it remembered, by Paul and his companions. If they stood in grace it was the fruit of his labours, and the grace in which they stood had been opened out to them through his ministry. Now Peter is led to write to them, in fulfilment of his commission as Apostle to the Jews, testifying as to the grace of God, and thus confirming that the grace in which they stood was the "true grace of God." When we remember how once at Antioch, Peter and Paul came into pretty sharp collision over questions concerning law and grace, and how Paul had to exclaim, "I do not frustrate the grace of God" (Gal. 2: 21), for Peter was committing himself to a line of action which threatened to do this very thing, we can rejoice in noting how thoroughly now they are in accord. We find a similar happy spirit of accord at the close of the second epistle (2 Peter 3: 15, 16).

Let us never forget that we stand in grace- the true grace of God. All our relations with God are on the basis of grace. He began with us in grace at our conversion to Himself. He continues with us on the footing of grace through all the vicissitudes of our Christian life and service. With grace He will end-only, there is no end-for we shall enter His eternal glory as called to it and brought into it by the "God of all grace," as verse 10 has told us.

We are not so likely to overlook the start and the finish as we are the course between. It is now, amidst the failures and difficulties of our pilgrimage that we need an abiding sense of the grace that carries us through, the grace in which we stand. Soon, as we sometimes sing,

"Grace all the work shall crown,

Through everlasting days;

It lays in heaven the topmost stone,

And well deserves the praise."