Summary: This passage gives us insight into the life of church leaders.
This passage gives us insight into the life of church leaders. Having instructed the churches on how to respond to persecution, Peter now addresses the church leaders. He first establishes the basis by which he instructs the elders. He then exhorts them to be shepherds with a three-fold admonition. Finally, he encourages them with reward.
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder. Though Peter is actually an apostle, as he introduced himself at the beginning of his letter, it is not difficult to understand why he uses the term elder. He is doing what good leaders do, identifying himself with those under him. It is a simple way of communicating that “we are in this together.”
What Peter held in common with the elders was the responsibility entrusted to them by God to watch over his church. Together they provided oversight. Though the apostles did have a greater sense of authority, it seemed to be shared as much as possible with the elders. The first great decision made regarding what was appropriate church practice was made by a council of apostles and elders (see Acts 15). Indeed, the primary distinction between apostles and elders was not over authority, but that the apostles traveled about as ambassadors for Christ, while the elders watched over their respective churches.
Peter further identifies himself as a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed. Being a witness is what distinguishes Peter as an apostle. Before his ascension, Jesus had told the disciples, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses (Acts 1:8). Each time Peter has opportunity to speak from Pentecost on, he refers to himself and the apostles as witnesses of Christ’s sufferings and/or his resurrection. The Apostle John states in the opening of his first epistle, That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched…(1 John 1:1).
Interestingly enough, most of the times when Peter refers to the apostles as being witnesses, he specifically refers to witnessing Christ’s resurrection. Here, he refers to his sufferings. The context makes evident why. He has been writing about the sufferings of the Christians, including how they are participating in the sufferings of Christ (13). He is impressing upon the leaders that he is not some young minister giving second hand information. He is one of the Twelve.
But he is also one who like them will share in the glory to be revealed. Suffering is not the last word of the gospel. Glory is the last word. They share the same hope of which he will speak more in a moment.
The Three-Fold Admonition
Peter next gives a charge to the elders, including a three-fold admonition on how to carry it out. 2 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers.
The picture of shepherds is an apt image for elders. Just as shepherds watch over their flock of sheep, so elders are to watch over the their flock of people. The phrase serving as overseers reinforces Peter’s intention.
What are the elders to oversee? For one, they are to oversee the provisions for the flock. In Ezekiel 34:14, God says regarding his flock of Israel, I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. The elders are to see that their people are feeding well. Thus, they oversee the teaching of the Word of God from which their people are being fed. They are to assure that the Word is being taught faithfully in the church, and that it is wholesome teaching, which builds up each individual and the whole body.
They are to see that their flock is feeding in rich pastures of prayer and fellowship. The church is to be a place where people are strengthened in the faith and growing in maturity. Thus, along with good teaching, there is to be prayer and fellowship that encourage the people who gather.
The elders are to oversee the needs of the flock. In Ezekiel 34:16, God goes on to say, I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. When someone is grieving, when someone is facing troubles, the elders see that care is provided. Most often they will directly minister to the person in need; they may also arrange for others to minister, particularly the deacons. But whatever the case, they are responsible to see care given within the church.