1 Peter 5:1-14
From Holly: I notice that this chapter begins with another “therefore”. I think that this reflects back to what Peter just finished saying previously—the life of a truster in Christ’s sacrifice for sin who seeks to please God instead of the citizens of this world’s system is going to be hard. Because of this truth, Peter calls those who are in positions of leadership among his readers to be shepherds to those under their care. Godly Shepherds put the care of the sheep ahead of their own needs and desires. Peter is comparing this attitude to that of the “shepherds” of Israel spoken of in Ezekiel 34:4, “You do not strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring back the stray or seek the lost. Instead, you have ruled over them with force and cruelty.” Godly shepherds lead by example, rather than a “do as I say, not as I do” leadership.
I understand this section of scripture (verses 1-6) to be a rough outline of the hierarchy that God has set up. Last time we spoke of this in relation to husbands and wives; here he is speaking of it in relationship to leaders versus “followers” and the young versus the elders among the local church congregations. While this hierarchy has a military connotation (and we are in a spiritual battle, so it is an appropriate application), Peter wants to make sure that those in positions of responsibility are not taking advantage of their status, but are truly following the example of the Chief Shepherd: caring for the people for whom they have been made responsible out of love, walking along side them in those hard times in order to encourage them to keep on going, protecting those possibly weak and vulnerable to attack by the enemy, and reminding them of the glory that Christ will share with us when He returns as King. When he talks about “younger ones”, and “elders” or “older ones”, Peter is not so much speaking about the physical ages of the persons, but their spiritual ages. “Submit” here is the same word as used in chapter 3 concerning the hierarchy in the family. This submission requires us to be humble, not to count ourselves more highly than we ought (Romans 12:3), but to recognize God’s authority over our lives, and to willingly place ourselves under those whom He has placed in our lives to help us grow in our faith (our believing/trusting).
Verse 5 is a quote from Proverbs 3:34. Verse 6 is interesting. At first glance, it appears that Peter is saying that because God opposes the proud (the arrogant or haughty) but gives grace (His unmerited favor, His gift of salvation received with gratitude) to the humble (the lowly), we should submit to God so that He might lift us up to a position of higher responsibility at the appropriate time (presumably when you have reached the point of readiness to take it on). However, the word “lift up” or “exalt” is translated from a word that means (here in 1 Peter) “spiritual uplifting” and “revival”. “In due time” or “at the appropriate time” refers to “the characteristics of a period” that are “exemplified in the use of the term with regard to the fulfillment of prophecy.” Thus, instead of continuing the thoughts begun in verses 1-5, regarding submitting to God’s hierarchy, it seems that this verse goes back to the subject of suffering. Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand, submit to sharing in Christ’s suffering, knowing that God will revive our spirits (lift our spirits) when all prophecy is fulfilled. Think of not only the relief that the struggle is over, but the joy over seeing the kingdom ushered in by the King! The joy over being in His presence! Talk about uplifting and reviving our tired spirits!
Meanwhile, Peter reminds us in verse 7, we are to throw our worries on Him. This word is translated from a word that means “to draw in different directions, distract,” hence signifies “that which causes this, a care, especially an anxious care.” Psalm 55:22 reflects this thought, “Cast your burden on ADONAI [the LORD], and He will sustain you. He will never let the righteous be shaken.” The Psalmist is comparing the condition of the righteous person to that of the bloody and deceitful men who pretended to be his friends yet stabbed him in the back. Yet another form of persecution, and definitely a “distraction” that would add to the burden already carried by one who is suffering for Christ. Just like the Psalmist brought this pain to the LORD, and left it with Him, and reaffirmed his trust in Him, we are to entrust all the hurts, concerns and anxieties that we seem to collect in this life to the LORD and re-commit ourselves to trusting Him.
Peter then tells us to “be sensible” and to “watch” (be vigilant) because our “adversary the devil prowls around ‘like’ a roaring lion, searching for someone to devour.” I notice that he doesn’t say that the devil IS a roaring, dangerous lion seeking someone whom he can devour. I think this is because while our enemy sounds scary and makes us think that he can destroy us, Christ Jesus has all authority over him. Therefore, in Christ, we have the victory over him. Thus, we can stand up against him in Christ’s power, firmly trusting Christ to bring us safely and successfully—blameless (1 Thessalonians 3:12-13)—to the finish line, His appearing.
For some reason, I had never linked the “roaring lion” with the persecution of trusters around the world, but this time as I read this section of Scripture, I see that Peter does link the two subjects together. This takes this word picture to a new level in my mind. Instead of a lion in its natural habitat, maybe hungrily awaiting the feast that the lionesses (the hunters in a pride) would bring home, I now picture captive lions in an amphitheater—purposely left hungry by their captures so they would be most inclined to devour Christ-trusters during the “games”. While our suffering may threaten our very lives, we can stand firmly on the fact that our souls cannot be removed from the palm of God’s hands. Our physical bodies may die, but our spirits are already eternally alive in Christ. We are safe in Him, no matter how scary the outlook is. We are assured of a home in heaven. Therefore, we CAN face even the threat of physical death without “caving” in fear. We also have the assurance that the suffering, the persecution, that we face is no different than what other trusters in Christ have and are are experiencing around the world. If they can face it boldly by Christ’s power, so can we.
Peter points out in Verse 10 that all suffering (and this includes not just persecution, but also temptation and testing) is limited by God. This remind me of 1 Corinthians 10:13. I think that God controls both the length of any adversity we face as well as the amount of it. It is only “for a season”, not forever, and when it is finished, God promises to “restore, support, strengthen, and establish” us. This is the goal of suffering, temptations and testings. They allow God to see what we are still lacking so He can supply it and make us stronger in our trusting. I think that God uses persecutions in the same way. Remember, He works ALL things together for our good (Romans 8:28). Verse 11 makes me think of Psalm 96:7, “Ascribe o Adonai, O families of peoples. Ascribe to Adonai glory and strength.” Infer or credit glory and power to the LORD. All power, forever. He never lacks enough power to fulfill His promises nor does He ever run out of it.
Verse 12-14: What does Peter mean “true” grace of God? The word “true” comes from a Greek word that means primarily “‘unconcealed, manifest’:; hence, actual, ‘true to fact’” and is used here of things that are “conforming to reality”. Most people know only part of the meaning of “grace”—“unmerited favor”. However, the meaning is much more than that. It does mean the undeserved gift given freely, but it is not a completed definition until that gift is received with gratitude. I think that unmerited favor alone can be twisted into the kind of doctrine we see today in America where “trusters” think that God is like a wonderful vending machine. Nothing bad will ever happen because they have God’s favor upon them. But this kind of false “grace” doesn’t require anything from a person, whereas true grace requires the kind of gratitude that changes a person’s life from one of self-pleasing to one of God-pleasing. True grace will cause a person to share Christ’s suffering, to face persecution—still assured of the reality of that undeserved gift that he or she has received from God through Christ.
Verse 13: What does Peter mean when he mentions Christ’s chosen community in “Babylon” sends greetings? I think, and most commentaries I have read seem to bear this out, that it is a code word used to speak of Rome. Rome is the center from which persecution is coming to these trusters in Christ. Perhaps Peter, wanting to shield those in that local body of trusters, is using an euphemism instead of the true name of their city of residence. Babylon had been a dominant city in the past, and the name had come to symbolize the center of world power and cultural influence. Thus, the name would make his readers think of Rome, which was in his time the center of the world’s power.
So, what does this chapter mean for us today? I think that the first thing is that we are called to (lovingly and for the sake of maintaining our unity in Christ) submit ourselves to God’s hierarchy. In whatever position of responsibility we hold, our goal should be to encourage and help each other to grow more firmly anchored in our trust of Christ. We are in a sense God’s hands and feet, and I think that He uses us to encourage and strengthen each other so we can stand firm in our trusting Him in the face of persecution and suffering. Finally, while we have not experienced persecution like trusters have in other parts of the world, I think it is coming. We need to have a realistic understanding of God’s grace so we don’t find ourselves swept away by doubts spawned by suffering when we were expecting a bed of de-thorned roses. When Paul said (2 Corinthians 12:9) that God’s grace is sufficient, he was dealing with “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan, to torment and harass me”. That is true grace, an undeserved gift given in the midst of trials, not given as a promise of avoiding them.
Devotional reading to be shared on August 19thth: Jonah 1:1-17