The Grace of Humility, The Comfort of Certainty

Humility in Church Relations – 5:1-5

How those that hold the office of Elder, a position of authority show humility

1   Peter identifies himself – Verse 1

  • Fellow Elder – As an apostle Peter exerted teaching authority over all the churches as he provided, by divine inspiration, instruction both in doctrine and practice that would serve as a standard of truth for all the churches throughout all the years until the day of Christ. He also served, however, as the teaching leader of a local church.
  • Witness of the sufferings of Christ, which those he addresses have not witnessed. Peter was present in the garden of Gethsemane, at the arrest, at the trial, at the crucifixion. His perplexity at all these events was replaced by understanding and certainty as he came to understand, by the promised teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, that Jesus indeed was the Christ, and that all these sufferings had been predicted as fundamental to the work of the Messiah, and that his suffering and resurrection were necessary if the promised redemption were to take place. Review 1:10-12, 18-21, 2:4-8, 21-25, 3:18-22, 4:13.
  • One that shares in the glory to be revealed, which those he addresses will share. Though those he addresses did not see the sufferings of Christ, yet they will share his glory; having not seen his sufferings, they nevertheless participate in them. They are comforted that because their sufferings at one level mirror those of Christ, they will be embraced in the glory of his reward at the Father’s right hand.

2.  An admonition to elders to their pastoral as well as Episcopal responsibility. Verse 2a

  • In these two verses Peters use the three words that refer to the teaching minister of a local church, pastor, elder, bishop. These are not distinct offices, but different nuances of function of the same office. Paul refers to this teaching office as “pastor” or shepherd in Ephesians 4:11. He refers to it as Elder in Titus 1: 5ff. In Acts 20: 17-28 Paul called the elders of the church in Ephesus to him and reminded them that they were shepherds (28). Paul employed the same verb and noun when referring to the role of shepherd and flock (also using the word church for the flock) that Peter employed in our text for the day. In the Acts passage, Paul reminded the elders that their office included being overseers (episkopous). In 1 Timothy 3, he uses the word bishop, overseer, when giving qualifications for this same office.
  • The word elder indicates the gravity, soberness, and maturity required for the position. Shepherd, or pastor, requires tenderness, patience, perseverance, and concentration. Bishop requires a willingness to give admonition, exhortation, correction, reproof and to lead in the necessity of discipline. As teacher, the office requires knowledge of Scripture, doctrine, aptness in communication, and the art of persuasiveness in matters of truth. Remember Peter has referred to Jesus as “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (2:25).
  1. – The manner in which these responsibilities are to be completed – Peter contrasts the privilege and grace of these aspects of one’s calling to possible perversion of the opportunity. Verses 2b, 3
  • Not under compulsion, but willingly – That which drives the minister of the gospel is not the pressure of external considerations—what will people think?, I want to avoid the anger of such and such a family, the deacons are keeping tabs on me—but an internal persuasion of the glory of gospel ministry—we serve an excellent Savior, the preeminent Lord, and we aim to please Him.
  • Not in accord with the expectation of a certain level of remuneration, as if we would expend only such energy as we think the level of remuneration would warrant; but eagerly in light of the eternal benefits that accrue to all as a result of the truths involved in such a ministry.
  • Not perverting the duty of oversight into an occasion of domineering, (as if sheep can be driven) but by leading through example.
  1. That which motivates one to perform the task of elder has nothing to do with earthly power, wealth, or prestige, but everything to do with the glory to be revealed when the “Chief Shepherd” appears. The eternal character of this glory is emphasized in that it is called an “unfading crown of glory.” Peter circles back to his earlier admonitions when he compares the tested genuineness of faith to the tested purity of earthly gold. The former is more precious than the latter, is more lasting than the latter, for even tested and purified gold eventually will be destroyed. Genuine faith, however, gains for us an “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Humble submission, a virtue at all levels of church relations

  1. Submission to elders – 5 This admonition indicates that the Elders were indeed older and more experienced men. The tendency of youth is to disregard the viewpoint of an older generation as passé and irrelevant. They “younger,” however, in the matter of those specified duties and gifts of the elders, will benefit both now and to eternity by a posture of subjection. This same dynamic probably is behind the instruction in Hebrews, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
  1. Humble regard for all that are Christ’s sheep
  • Peter uses an image that means our entire manner of presenting ourselves to one another should be with a sense of humility – “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” Though we hold different offices and possess different gifts, none can live as if he has no need of the graces that God has given another. We must learn the blessed and beautiful symmetry of living with a proper regard for order as well as “considering others better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:1-4).
  • If God’s blessings result in personal pride, we will find that God will oppose us, and use a variety of means to correct us, so that we do what he calls for next, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.”

Showing humility through trust in God 6-11

6, 7 – Since grace and humility go hand in glove, our posture before God must always be one of humility—a complete submission to his wise providence in our lives with a firm confidence that what he does in pursuit of his own glory is also for our good, his covenant people.

  1. Though the Old Testament records deep frustration on the part of saints when suffering and severe discipline came, those that minister on this side of the cross have more revelation concerning the purpose of God with his people and also the example of Christ as the suffering servant. In the process of suffering and imprisonment the apostles never ask “Why O Lord?’ for their knowledge of the purpose of suffering as well as the certainty of it in this age is much clearer.
  2. The writer of Lamentations ends his deep and dolorous lament with the disturbing and enervating doubt, “Unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us.” Habakkuk is befuddled by the apparent moral inequality in the peoples that he uses for discipline and punishment. The demonstrated truth that God is a faithful covenant keeper set alongside the vigor and prolongation of his discipline of them did not cause an attitude of apostasy from God, but led them to struggle earnestly to find a place for emotional and conscientious resolution.
  3. Subsequent to the ministry of Christ, his once-for-all death for the people of his eternal covenant, and his resurrection with the promise of return brought about a security and confidence in the ultimate purpose of God. While some dark clouds dimmed the vision for Old Testament believers (though not their full persuasion of the goodness and wisdom of God), Paul can say, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). “I am sure,” he concludes, “that neither death nor life [etc] will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” With the same confidence Peter stresses a humble submission to the mighty hand of God (as shown before, he viewed their suffering as taking its course under the will of their sovereign covenant keeping God [4:19]), because “he cares for you.”

8, 9 – One element of the suffering of Christians is the continued stratagem of Satan. Though Satan already is defeated and has hell reserved for him, for the present he is allowed by God to radicalize his evil intentions. This will result in the fuller display of God’s superior wisdom and power. Peter knew this well, for Satan had asked to sift him like wheat, a request that God granted for his own purposes, but Christ’s intercession secured the outcome of Peter’s faithfulness in the end (Luke 22:31-34).

  1. With what attitude do we approach this time of “already-not yet.” We must be sober-minded and watchful. Until Christ rescued us, we were the property of Satan, under his dominion, following his will, and blinded to the glory of God by his deceitful schemes. He will not lose his former subjects happily but will scheme to destroy. Thus don’t be flippant about the devil’s wiles, but be sober in watching for the variety of ways that he would seek to lead one to act inconsistently with the gospel.
  2. Satan prowls seeking some evidence of weakness, some opportunity to pounce. He is like a roaring lion, hungry for prey. The weak, unprepared, and inattentive are most likely to be ripped apart. Paul pictures Satan as shooting fiery darts (Ephesians 6:16). He is aggressive, hostile, and angry.
  3. Resist Him, with the support of three things:
  • Being firm in your faith – Foster a growing awareness of the glory and power and promise of the truths of the gospel and their unfailing nature.
  • Know that your case is not unique, but is consistent with what gospel-believers experience throughout the world. The knowledge of God’s purpose in having his people scattered abroad, not necessarily under the security of a protective political system, plus an understanding of the general antagonism between the world and the people of God (1 John 2:15-17) should make us secure even through opposition. When we are opposed, as Peter has been emphasizing, this is normal.
  • The third encouragement to resist the devil comes from the reality of the all-conquering purpose of God, seen in the next point.

10, 11 – God Himself will bring to culmination this suffering after he has accomplished his purpose.

  1. Peter reiterates the point that we should recognize that suffering, even if it lasts till death is, comparatively speaking, “a little while” (1:6). Paul referred to present sufferings as “slight momentary afflictions” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
  2. Peter also indicates that God will end it after he has accomplished his purpose in it. In 1:6 he used the phrase “if necessary” to indicate God’s sovereignty over suffering as well as his perfect wisdom in his distribution of it.
  3. God’s purpose toward his people in this suffering is consistent with his grace and with his call to eternal glory in Christ. We are to contrast the “little while” of suffering in the passing-away world to the unchanging riches of eternal glory that are certain in Christ.
  4. Note the positive actions that the “God of all grace” takes on our behalf to rescue us from our tottering on the precipice of satanic attack and the distress of suffering.
  • God restores – The word is used in Mark 1:19 of mending nets; used in Galatians 6:1 of restoring a brother from a fault of the flesh. In this instance, God himself mends us and restores us.
  • God confirms – This word was used for Jesus “setting” his face toward Jerusalem in Luke 9:51 and in Luke 22:32 for Peter’s task of establishing his brethren. It means to fix firmly, to establish.
  • God strengthens – This word is used only here, but refers to the perpetual, though often hidden and virtually indiscernible operation of the divine indwelling that causes perseverance of all his saints in every age. This is a particularly expanded blessing of the New Covenant, but not absent from the elect in any age (Psalm 51:1012; Psalm 37). Remember, “It is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).
  • God establishes – as on a foundation; God will place us on a firm footing that cannot be moved, a sure foundation; suffering will result in our perception of the unshakeable certainty of God’s purpose in redemption and his lovingkindness toward us in Christ.
  1. A doxology attributing eternal dominion to the Father; This is a shorter version of, but in substance the same as, the doxology to Christ in 4:11. None of those that oppose the gospel and its followers will have any dominion at last. Only God will rule, his purpose shall stand his people will be preserved. “The way of the wicked shall perish.”

Peter’s final words – Verses 12-14

Up to this point the amenuensis had been Silvanus (Silas), whom Peter regarded as a faithful brother. The New Testament has many apostolic commendations of Christian disciples as well as warnings about certain men to avoid. See Colossians 4:7-9 as an example of the first and 3 John 9,10 as an example of the latter.

Peter again claims the letter’s content to be his own. He indicates the common apostolic confidence in the truthful character of what he has written, not just as an accurate account of events, but as an explanation of the operations of the grace of God. “This is the true grace of God.” He reiterates its character and importance by the imperative, “Stand firm in it.”

The co-chosen lady that Peter mentions could very well be his wife that Paul said Peter took with him (1 Corinthians 9:5); others see Peter’s language as a way of referring to the church, but it seems awkward to me. It is possible that Babylon is real Babylon in Mesopotamia, but unlikely, for few if any Jews were there, and Peter would have no compelling reason to make it a center for missionary labors. Nor do we know of a church there. Other considerations point to Rome as the probable reference, especially with the presence of both Silas and Mark. This reference shows that Mark had been fully restored as indicated in Colossians 4:10 by Paul’s desire for him to come to Rome to help him. This gives credence to the tradition that Mark’s gospel comes largely from the narrative of Peter.

The kiss of love meant an affectionate but modest greeting. Its abuse led to its modification and finally abandonment.

Even though Peter writes to encourage Christians during a time of trial and suffering, his final words remind them of the reality of reconciliation with God and the most profound peace that exists. A God of wrath to many, He is a God of peace through the blood of the eternal covenant (Hebrews 13:20).


Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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