Most men reading this are not elders (or pastors or deacons or priests or any other sort of official church leader), so the question confronting us about this text is this: So what? Why should we pay special attention to a passage about elders. The obvious answer is that it is in God’s Word, so it must matter. But there is a more pointed, personal reason to care about Peter’s words to elders.
Elders, those men who lead churches, lead your church. They are your leaders, your example. They are your friends. You are part of a single body of believers, peers as followers of Christ. And do not miss what Paul says in 1 Timothy 3: “If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work” (v.1). You may feel pulled toward church leadership right now, or you may in the future, and that is a good thing! So these are words for you as brothers of the elders, followers of the elders, and people who aspire to be elders.
In both 1 Peter 5 and 1 Timothy 3, the apostles lay out standards by which church leaders should live. These are “qualifications” in one sense, but foundationally they are standards for Christian character, standards to which every follower of Jesus should hold himself. We should all serve willingly, avoid greed, be above reproach, and be faithful husbands. Every Christian man should be hospitable, respectable, avoid excessive drinking, not be bullies, have an upstanding reputation in the community, avoid hypocrisy, and manage our households. These are measures of Christ-likeness, and in this way these are words for every man.
But church leaders are called to something unique. They must be able to teach. They must lead others and be an example. They shepherd God’s flock as they follow the Chief Shepherd. Peter makes clear that within the Church, leaders must be followers, submitting themselves to Christ intentionally and faithfully.
One characteristic is the banner over all the others and the foundation underneath them: humility. In 1 Peter 5:5 Peter commands, “All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” For those who are not elders this instruction enables us to learn and follow well. For leaders, it enables them to avoid a false sense of self-importance and the false mindset that God’s flock is their flock. To clothe ourselves in humility is constant and holistic, a perpetual awareness of who we are before God.
Humility ties every other qualification and characteristic of a godly man together. It enables them and empowers them—how else could we be hospitable, open to correction, generous, and caring? Our bent is toward pride and that undermines everything Peter and Paul command in these passages. But humility unifies. Humility creates leaders we want to follow, and followers who are a joy to lead. And humility honors God by exemplifying Christ most clearly, the truest calling of every believer.
Written by Barnabas Piper