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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Peter 5

 

 

Verses 1-4

Chapter 16

HOW TO TEND THE FLOCK

1 Peter 5:1-4

ST. PETER’S last lesson was full of consolation. He showed that it was from God’s hand that judgments were sent upon His people to purify them and prepare them for His appearing. With this thought in their minds, he would have the converts rejoice in their discipline, confident in the faithfulness of Him who was trying them. He follows this general message to the Churches with a solemn charge to their teachers. They are specially responsible for the welfare of the brethren. On them it rests by the holiness of their lives and the spirit in which they labor to win men to the faith. "The elders therefore among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Tend the flock of God which is among you. Therefore"-because I know that the blessed purpose of trial is not always manifest, and because the hope of the believer needs to be constantly pointed to the faithfulness of God-I exhort you to tend zealously those over whom you are put in charge. "Elders" was the name given at first to the whole body of Christian teachers. No doubt they were chosen at the beginning from the older members of the community when the Apostles established Churches in their missionary journeys. "They appointed for them elders in every Church"; [Acts 14:23] and it was the elders of the Church of Ephesus that Paul sent for to Miletus. [Acts 20:17] And St. Peter here contrasts them very pointedly with those of younger years, whom he addresses afterwards. But after it became an official title the sense of seniority would drop away from the word.

It is clear from this passage that in St. Peter’s time they were identical with those who were afterwards named bishops. For the word, which follows presently in the text and is rendered "exercising the oversight" is literally "doing the work of bishop, or overseer." And in the passage already alluded to [Acts 20:15-28] those who at first are called elders are subsequently named bishops: "The Holy Ghost hath made you bishops to feed the Church of God" (R.V.). As the Church grew certain places would become prominent as centers of Christian life, and to the elders therein the oversight of other Churches would be given; and thus the overseer or bishop would grow to be distinct from the other presbyters, and his title be assigned to the more important office. This had not come about when St. Peter wrote.

The humility which he is soon about to commend to the whole body the Apostle manifests by placing himself on the level of those to whom he speaks: "I, who am a fellow-elder, exhort you." He has strong claims to be heard, claims which can never be theirs. He has been a witness of the sufferings of Christ. He might have made mention of his apostleship; he might have told of the thrice-repeated commission which soon supplies the matter of his exhortation. He will rather be counted an equal, a fellow-laborer with themselves. Some have thought that even when he calls himself a witness of Christ’s sufferings he is not so much referring to what he saw of the life and death of Jesus, as to the testimony which he has borne to his Master since the Pentecostal outpouring and the share which he has had of sufferings for Christ’s sake. If this be so, he would here too be reckoning himself even as they, as he clearly intends to do in the words which follow, where he calls himself a sharer, as they all are, in the glory to which they look forward. Thus in all things they are his brethren: in the ministry, in their affliction, and in their hope of glory to be revealed.

He opens his solemn charge with words which are the echo of Christ’s own: "Feed My sheep"; "Feed My lambs." Every word pictures the responsibility of those to whom the trust is committed. These brethren are God’s flock. Psalmists and prophets had been guided of old to use the figure; they speak of God’s people as "the sheep of His pasture." But our Lord consecrated it still more when He called Himself "the good Shepherd, that giveth His life for the sheep." The word tells much of the character of those to whom it is applied.

How prone they are to wander and stray, how helpless, how ill furnished with means of defense against perils. It tells, too, that they are easy to be led. But that is not all a blessing, for though docile, they are often heedless, ready to follow any leader without thought of consequences. But they are God’s flock. This adds to the dignity of the elder’s office, but adds also to the gravity of the trust, a trust to be entered on with fear and trembling. For the flock is precious to Christ, and should be precious to His shepherds. To let them perish for want of tending is treachery to the Master who has sent men to His work. And how much that tending means. To feed them is not all, though that is much. To provide such nurture as will help their growth in grace there is a food store in God’s word, but not every lesson there suits every several need. There must be thoughtful choice of lessons. The elders of old were, and God’s shepherds now are, called to give much care how they minister, lest by their oversight or neglect- "The hungry sheep look up, but are not fed."

But tending speaks of watchfulness. The shepherd must yield his account when the chief Shepherd shall appear. Those who are watchmen over God’s flock must have an eye to quarters whence dangers may come, must mark the signs of them and be ready with safeguards. And the sheep themselves must be strengthened to endure and conquer when they are assailed; they cannot be kept out of harm’s way always. Christ did not pray for His own little flock of disciples that they should be taken out of the world, only kept from the evil. Then all that betokens good must be cherished among them. For even troy germs of goodness the Spirit will sanctify, and help the watchful elder, by his tending, to rear till they flourish and abound.

To this general precept St. Peter adds three defining clauses, which tell us how the elder’s duty may be rightly discharged, and against what perils and temptations he will need to strive: "exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according unto God." How would the oversight of an elder come to be exercised of constraint in the time of St. Peter? Those to whom he writes had been appointed to their office by apostolic authority, it may have been by St. Paul himself: and while an Apostle was present to inspire them enthusiasm for the new teaching would be at its height: many would be drawn to the service of Christ who would appear to the missionaries well fitted to be entrusted with such solemn charge and ministry. But even an Apostle cannot read men’s hearts, and it was when the Apostles departed that the Churches would enter on their trial. Then the fitness of the elders would be put to the test. Could they maintain in the churches the earnestness which had been awakened? Could they in their daily walk sustain the apostolic character, and help forward the cause both by word and life? Christianity would be unlike every other movement whose officers are human if there were not many failures and much weakness here and there; and if the ministrations of elders grew less acceptable and less fruitful, they would be offered with ever-diminishing earnestness, and the services, full of life at the outset, would prove irksome from disappointment, and in the end be discharged only as a work of necessity.

And every subsequent age of the Church has endorsed the wisdom of St. Paul’s caution, "Lay hands hastily on no man." Fervid zeal may grow cool, and inaptitude for the work become apparent. Nor are those in whom it is found always solely responsible for a mistaken vocation. As St. Paul’s words should make those vigilant whose office it is to send forth men to sacred ministries, so St. Peter’s warning should check any undue urging of men to offer themselves. It is a sight to move men to sorrow, and God to displeasure, when the shepherd’s work is perfunctory, not done willingly, according to God.

In some texts the last three words are not represented, nor are they found in our Authorized Version. But they have abundant authority, and so fully declare the spirit in which all pastoral work should be done that they might well be repeated emphatically with each of these three clauses. To labor "according to God," "as ever in the great Taskmaster’s eye," is so needful that the words may be commended to the elders as a constant motto. And not only as in His sight should the work be done, but with an endeavor after the standard which is set before us in Christ. We are to stoop as He stooped that we may raise those who cannot raise themselves; to be compassionate to the penitent, breaking no bruised reed, quenching no spark in the smoking flax. The pastor’s words should be St. Paul’s, "We are your servants for Jesus’ sake, his action that of the shepherd in the parable: When he findeth it, he layeth it on his shoulders rejoicing." Such joy comes only to willing workers.

"Not yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind." We do not usually think of the Church in the apostolic age as offering any temptation to the covetous. The disciples were poor men, and there is little trace of riches in the opening chapters of the Acts. St. Paul, too, constantly declined to be a burden to the flock, as though he felt it right to spare the brethren. The lessons of the New Testament on this subject are very plain. When our Lord sent forth His seventy disciples, He sent them as "laborers worthy of their hire"; [Luke 10:7] and St. Paul declares it to be the Lord’s ordinance that they which proclaim the Gospel should live of the Gospel. [1 Corinthians 9:14] To serve with a ready mind is to seek nothing beyond this. But it is clear both from St. Paul’s language [1 Timothy 1:7] and from this verse that there existed temptations to greed, and that some were overcome thereby. It is worthy of note, however, that those who are given up to this covetousness are constantly branded with false teaching. They are thus described by both the Apostles. They teach things which they ought not, [Titus 1:2] and with feigned words make merchandise of the flock. [2 Peter 2:3] The spirit of self-seeking and base gain (which is the literal sense of St. Peter’s word) is so alien to the spirit of the Gospel that we cannot conceive a faithful and true shepherd using other language than that of St. Paul: "We seek not yours, but you."

"Neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock." This too, is a special peril at all times for those who are called to preside in spiritual offices. The interests committed to their trust are so surpassingly momentous that they must often speak with authority, and the Church’s history furnishes examples of men who would make themselves lords where Christ alone should be Lord. Against this temptation He has supplied the safeguard for all who will use it. "My sheep," He says, "hear My voice." And the faithful tenders of His flock must ever ask themselves in their service, is this the voice of Christ? The question will be in their hearts as they give counsel to those who need and seek it, what would Christ have said to this man or to that? The same sort of question will bring to the test their public ministrations, and will make that most prominent in them, which He intended to be so. Thus will be introduced into all they do a due proportion and subordination, and many a subject of disquiet in the Churches will thereby sink almost into insignificance. At the same time the constant reference to their own Lord will keep them in mind that they are His servants for the flock of God. While he warns the elders against the assumption of lordship over their charges, the Apostle adds a precept which, if it be followed, will abate all tendency to seek such lordship. For it brings to the mind of those set over the flock that they too are but sheep, like the rest, and are appointed not to dominate, but to help their brethren.. "Making yourselves ensamples to the flock." Christ’s rule for the good shepherd is, "He goeth before them, and the sheep follow him". [John 10:4] The weak take in teaching rather from what they see than from what they hear. The teacher must be a living witness to the word, a proof of its truth and power. If he be not this, all his teaching is of little value. The simplest teacher who lives out his lessons in his life becomes a mighty power; he gains the true, the lawful lordship, and "Truth from his lips prevails with double sway."

The Apostles knew well the weight and influence of holy examples. Hence St. Paul appeals continually to the lives of himself and his fellow-workers. We labor, he says, "to make ourselves an ensample unto you that ye should imitate us"; [2 Thessalonians 3:9] Timothy he exhorts, "Be thou an ensample to them that believe," [1 Timothy 4:12] and Titus, "In all things showing thyself an ensample of good works". [Titus 2:7] Nothing can withstand the eloquence of him who can dare to appeal to his brethren, as the Apostle does, "Be ye imitators together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample," [Philippians 3:17] and "Be ye imitators of me, even as I also am of Christ". [1 Corinthians 11:1] Such pattern shepherds have been the admiration of every age. Chaucer, among his pilgrims, describes the good parson thus:-

"The lore of Christ and His Apostles twelve He taught, and first he followed it himself."

Such are the lives of shepherds who remember that they are even as their flocks: frail and full of evil tendencies, and needing to come continually, in humble supplication, to the source of strength and light, and to be ever watchful over their own lives. These men seek no lordship; there comes to them a nobler power, and the allegiance they win is self-tendered.

"And when the chief Shepherd shall be manifested, ye shall receive the crown of glory that fadeth not away." For their consolation the Apostle sets before the elders their Judge in His self-chosen character. He is the chief Shepherd. Judge He must also be-when He is manifested; but while He must pass sentence on their work, He will understand and weigh the many hindrances, both within and without, against which they have had to fight. Of human weakness, error, sin, such as beset us, He had no share; but He knows whereof we are made, and will not ask from any of us a service beyond our powers. Nay, His Spirit chooses for us, would we but mark it, the work in which we can serve Him most fitly. And He has borne the contradiction of sinners against Himself. In judging His servants, then, He will take account of the willfulness of ears that would not hear and of eyes that would not see, of the waywardness that chose darkness rather than light, ignorance rather than Divine knowledge, death rather than life.

Therefore His feeble but faithful servants may with humble minds welcome His appearing. He comes as Judge. "Ye shall receive." It is a word descriptive of the Divine award at the last. Here it marks the bestowal of a reward, but elsewhere [2 Peter 2:13] the Apostle uses it for the payment to sinners of the hire of wrongdoing. But the Judge is full of mercy. Of one sinner’s feeble efforts He said, "She hath done what she could. Her sins are forgiven." And another who had labored to be faithful He welcomed to His presence: "Enter into the joy of thy Lord." To share that joy, to partake of His glory, to be made like Him by beholding His presence-this will be the faithful servant’s prize, a crown of amaranth, unwithering, eternal.


Verses 5-7

Chapter 17

BE CLOTHED WITH HUMILITY

1 Peter 5:5-7

HAVING admonished the shepherds, the Apostle now turns to the flock, and his words recall the exhortations, which he has given several times before. In 1 Peter 2:13 he taught Christian subjects the duty of submission, even should it be their lot to live under heathen rulers. A few verses further on in the same chapter he repeated this teaching to Christian slaves with heathen masters, and the third chapter opens with advice of the same character to the wives who were married to heathen husbands. And now once more, with his favorite verb "be subject," he opens his counsel to the Churches on their duty to those set over them. The relation between the elders and their flock will not be as strained, or not strained after the same manner, as between Christians and heathens in the other cases, but the same principle is to govern the behavior of those who hold the subject position. The duly appointed teachers are to be accepted as powers ordained of God, and their rule and guidance followed with submission.

"Likewise, ye younger, be subject unto the elder." He teaches that as there is a duty of the elders to the younger, so there is a reciprocal duty, which, in like manner and with the same thoroughness, must be discharged by the younger to the elders. In those early days the congregation could fitly be spoken of as "the younger." Naturally the teachers would be chosen from those who had been the first converts. The rest of the body would consist not only of those younger in years, but younger in the acceptance of the faith, younger in the knowledge of the doctrines of Christ, younger in Christian experience. And if the Churches were to be a power among their heathen surroundings, it must be by their unity in spirit and faith; and this could only be secured by a loyal and ready following of those who were chosen to instruct them.

But lest there may be any undue straining of the claim to submission, there follows immediately a precept to make it general: "Yea, all of you gird yourselves with humility, to serve one another." Thus will be realized the true idea of the Christian body, where each member should help all, and be helped of all, the rest, eye and hand, head and feet, each having their office, and each ministering therein as parts of the one body. This idea of general humility was altogether unknown to the world before Christ’s coming. The word, therefore, is one coined for Christian use: lowliness of mind, a frame wherein each deems others better than himself. And with it the Apostle has coupled another word for "gird yourselves," which is well fitted to be so placed. It is found nowhere else, and is full of that graphic character of which he is so fond. The noun from which it is derived signifies "an outer garment," mainly used by household servants and slaves, to cover their other clothing and keep it from being spoiled. It appears to have been bound round the waist by a girdle. The word is a complete picture. St. Peter sees in humility a robe which shall encompass the whole life of the believer, keeping off all that might sully or defile it; and into the sense of the word comes the lowly estate of those by whom the garment in question was worn. It was connected entirely with the humblest duties. Hence its appropriateness when joined with "serve one another."

And one cannot in studying this striking word of the Apostle but be carried in thought to that scene described by St. John where Jesus "took a towel and girded Himself" [John 13:4] to wash the feet of His disciples. St. Peter gained much instruction from that washing, and he has not forgotten the lesson when he desires to confirm the brethren in Christian humility. "I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you," was the Lord’s injunction; and this the Apostle delivers to the Churches. And verily Christ spake of Himself more truly than of any other when He described the master’s treatment of his watchful servants: "He shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them." [Luke 12:37] Such has been the Lord’s humiliation, who took upon Him our flesh, and now bids us to His banquet, where, through His Spirit, He is ever waiting to bless those who draw near.

How this exhortation to humility in dealing with one another is connected with the verse [Proverbs 3:34] by which the Apostle supports it does not perhaps immediately appear. "For God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." But a little reflection on the characteristics of pride towards men soon makes us conscious that it is very closely united with pride towards God. The Pharisee who despises the publican, and thanks God in words that he is not such a one, feels in his heart no thankfulness nor care for God at all. His own acts have made him the pattern of goodness which he conceives himself to be. And we discover the like in every other exhibition of this spirit. The term ( υπερηφανοι) by which these haughty ones are described indicates a desire to be conspicuous, to stand apart from and above their fellows. They are self-centered, and look down upon the rest of the world, and forget their dependence upon God.

St. Peter in his quotation has followed the Septuagint. In the Hebrew the first half of the verse is, "He scorneth the scorners." And this is the manner of God’s dealing. He pays men with their own coin. Jacob’s deceit was punished in kind by the frequent deceptions of his children, so that at last he could hardly credit their report that Joseph is still alive. David was scourged for his offenses exactly according to his own sin. But the word which the Apostle has drawn from the Septuagint is also of solemn import. It declares a state of war between God and man. God resisteth the proud; literally, He setteth Himself in array against them. And their overthrow is sure. They that strive with the Lord shall be broken to pieces. The Psalmist rejoices over the contrary lot: "The Lord is on my side: I will not fear. What can man do unto me?". [Psalms 118:6] He had realized the feebleness of human strength, even for man to rely on, much more if it stand in opposition to God. "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put any confidence in man," be it in ourselves or in others, so out of his distress he called upon the Lord. It is the sense of need which makes men humble; and to humbled souls God’s blessing comes: "He answered me, and set me in a large place."

And as though He would mark humility as the chief grace to prepare men for His kingdom, the Lord’s first words in His sermon on the mount are a blessing on the lowly-minded: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"-not shall be, but is theirs even now. God’s favor to the humble is a present gift. How the sense of this swells the thanksgivings of Hannah and the Virgin Mary! And to teach the lesson to His disciples, when they were far from humility and were anxious only to know which of them should be above the rest in what they still dreamt of as an earthly kingdom, He took a little child and set him before them, as the pattern to which His true followers must conform. This childlike virtue gives admission to the kingdom of heaven; its possessors have the kingdom of God within them.

And St. Peter feeds the flock as he himself was fed. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time." The Apostle may be referring in these words to the trials which were upon the converts when he wrote to them. These he would have them look upon as God’s discipline, as a cause for joy rather than sorrow. Christian humility will not rebel against fatherly, merciful correction. How the good man bows before the hand of God we see in Moses when God refused to let him go over into Canaan: "I besought the Lord, saying, O Lord God, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness and Thy strong hand…Let me go over, I pray Thee, and see the good land that is beyond Jordan. But the Lord was wroth with me for your sakes, and hearkened not unto me". [Deuteronomy 3:23-26] And so the meek prophet, who knew that his withdrawal was for the people’s sake, having sung, "Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like unto thee, a people saved by the Lord?" [Deuteronomy 33:29] went up unto Mount Nebo and died there, when his eye was not dim, nor his natural force abated. Hence his praise: "There hath not arisen a prophet since in Israel like unto Moses." Humility was his dying lesson.

But as the Apostle has just been speaking of the duty owed to the eiders as teachers, it is perhaps better to apply the words of the exhortation in that sense. Those who were set over the Churches were so set in the Lord. For the time they represented His hand, the hand of care and guidance to those who were submissive. In honoring them, the younger were honoring God: Thus the lesson would be, Bend your hearts to the instruction which He imparts through their words; yield your will to His will, and order your life to be in harmony with His providence; live thus that He may exalt you. For the hand which may seem heavy now will be mighty to raise you in due time. And that time He knows. It is His time, not yours. If it tarry, wait for it. It will surely come; it will not tarry, when the Divine discipline has done its work.

"Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He careth for you." When men do this the due time has come. Till this stage is reached there can be no true humility. But how slow men are in reaching it! We are willing to bring to God a little here and there of our sorrow and our feebleness, but would fain still carry a part of the load ourselves. Human pride it is which cannot stoop to owe everything to God; want of faith, too, both in the Divine power and the Divine love, though our tongues may not confess it. What a powerful homily on this verse is the conduct of the youthful David when he went forth against the Philistine! "The Lord," he says to Saul, "that delivered me out of the paw of the lion and out of the paw of the bear, He will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine." And when the king offered his own coat of mail, though tempted thereby, he put the armor away, saying, "I cannot go with these, for I have not proved them." He knew that God had given him skill with the humbler weapons, and it was God’s battle in which he was to engage. So with his stones and his sling he went forth, telling the defiant challenger, "I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts." The action is a comment on the Psalmist’s words, "Commit thy way unto the Lord, trust also in Him, and He shall bring it to pass". [Psalms 37:5]

But neither the young hero by his example, nor the Apostle in his exhortation, teaches a spirit of careless indifference and neglect of means. David chose him five smooth stones out of the brook. These he could use. With these God had delivered him aforetime. And in every condition men are bound to use the best means they know to ensure success, and the Christian will pour out his prayers for guidance and foresight in temporal concerns. That done, the counsel of Christ, on which St. Peter’s exhortation is grounded, is, "Be not overanxious: your heavenly Father knoweth your needs." And he who has grown humble under the mighty hand of God in trials has learnt that the same hand is mighty to save: "He careth for you." When this perfect trust is placed in God, the load is lifted. It is, as the Psalmist says literally, rolled upon the Lord. [Psalms 55:22] How salutary this teaching for both the elders and the congregations among these Christians of the dispersion, and how full the promise of help and blessing. The teachers had been placed in the midst of difficulties and charged with a mighty responsibility; but robed in the garment of humility, casting aside all self-trust, coming only in the name of the Lord, the burden would be raised by the almighty arms and made convenient to their powers. And to the younger the same lowly spirit, loving thoughts toward those who cared for their souls, would be fruitful in blessing. For the same God who resisteth the proud showers His grace upon the humble. It falls on them as the dew of Hermon, which cometh down upon the mountains of Zion. Unto them Christ has proclaimed His foremost blessing; has promised, and is giving, the kingdom of heaven to humble souls, and will give them life for evermore.


Verses 8-14

Chapter 18

THROUGH PERILS TO VICTORY

1 Peter 5:8-14

NOT only had these Asian Christians to suffer from the opposition and calumnies of the heathen and from the estrangement of former friends: there were perils within the Churches themselves. There were weak brethren, who fell away when trials came, and infected others with their despondency; there were false brethren, with whom faith was a mere consent of the understanding, and not the spring of a holy, spiritual life. These spake of the liberty of Christ as though it were an emancipation from all moral restraints. Such dangers asked for firmness both in the elders and their hearers. To withstand them there must be a constant growth in Christian experience, whereby the faithful might wax steadfast, and attain to the strength and stature of the fullness of Christ. These dangers became more manifest before St. Peter wrote his second letter, where we find them described in dark colors.

Here to the converts, exposed to the assaults of these temptations, he enjoins the same wellordered frame of mind which before [1 Peter 1:13] he commended to them as they looked forward to the hope in store for them, and also [1 Peter 4:7] in their prayers, that their petitions might be such as suited with the approaching end of all things. "Be sober," he says again, and combines therewith an exhortation which without sobriety is impossible: "Be watchful." If the mind be unbalanced, there can be no keeping of a true guard against such dangers as were around these struggling believers. And it is impossible not to connect such an exhortation from his lips with those words of Christ, which one Evangelist says were expressly addressed to St. Peter, "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation". [Mark 14:37-38] He who had received this admonition was conscious that, as in his own case, so with these his converts, the spirit might be willing, but the flesh was weak, and the enemy mighty.

"Your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour." In the days of Job, when God asked of Satan, "Whence comest thou?" his answer was, "From going to and fro in the earth and from walking up and down in it". [Job 1:7] Of this Old Testament language the Apostle here makes partial use in his description of the enemy of mankind. He walketh about in the earth, which is his province, for he is called the prince of this world [John 12:31] and the god of this world. [2 Corinthians 4:4] And the Greek word αντιδικος "adversary," which St. Peter uses as a translation of the Hebrew "Satan," is well chosen, for it describes not an ordinary enemy, but one who acts as an opponent would in a court of law. Such was Satan from the first, an accuser. In Job’s case he accused the Patriarch to his God: "Doth Job serve God for naught?" "Put forth Thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, or touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse Thee to Thy face." In earlier days he appears as the accuser of God Himself: "Ye shall not surely die, for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil". [Genesis 3:4-5] And with suchlike suggestions he assails the faithful continually, speaking either to their unguarded hearts, or by the words of his servants, of whom he has no lack. St. Paul dreaded his power for the Thessalonian converts: "I sent that I might know your faith, lest by any means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor should be in vain". [1 Thessalonians 3:5] And St. Peter’s words are dictated by the same fear; he has the same wish to keep the flock steadfast in their faith. To them Satan’s whisperings would be after this sort: "You are forgotten of God"; "Love could never leave you so long in trial." Or his agents would say in scorn, "How can you talk of freedom, when your life is one long torment? What is the profit of faith, when it gives you no liberty?" And such questions are perilous to feeble minds. The Apostle marks the great danger by a comparison which Ezekiel [Ezekiel 22:25] had used before him, speaking of the tempter as a roaring lion, ever hungry for his prey. There is but one weapon which can vanquish him. "This is the victory that hath overcome the world, even our faith". [1 John 5:4] St. Peter’s lesson is the same as St. John’s.

"Whom withstand steadfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world." The steadfast faith must be the firm foundation of God; and the same thoughts, which St. Paul commends as a correction of those who have erred concerning the truth, are those most fit to be urged upon St. Peter’s converts to render them steadfast. "The Lord knoweth them that are His," [2 Timothy 2:19] and with the Lord to know is to care for and to save. And "let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness." This is the perfect law, the law of true liberty, and he who continueth therein, being not a hearer that forgetteth, but a doer that worketh, shall be blessed in his doing. Thus resting on God and thus ruling himself, he shall be kept from the snares of the enemy, and having withstood in the evil day, shall still be made able to stand. And to such steadfastness the brethren are to be moved by the knowledge that others are in the same affliction. How shall such knowledge minister support? The mere knowledge that others bear a like burden does not strengthen our own shoulders: to hear of others’ pains will not relieve our own. Not so. But just as it is a power in warfare when men see their leader before them, facing the same perils, hear his voice cheering them by his courage, inspiring them with his hope; just as it is a support to brave men to find brave brethren at their side in the conflict, animated by the same spirit, marching forward to the same victory, so is it in the Christian struggle. All Christians are to be steadfast, the elders like the leaders of an army, the younger like the soldiers who follow, that, moving with one spirit against the foe, feeling that each is like-minded with all the rest, while all are equally conscious of the importance of victory, they may grasp hands as they go forward, and be heartened thereby, being sure that in the danger they will have helpers at their side. And that he may give the more emphasis to this idea of unity, in which, though the suffering is common to all, yet the hope is also common, and the victory is promised to all, the Apostle does not speak of the converts as a multitude of brethren, but uses a noun in the singular number, naming them (as the margin of the Revised Version indicates) "a brotherhood" ( αδελφοτης). And when they regarded themselves as "a brotherhood in the world," the thought would have its comforting as well as its painful aspect. The world, as Scripture speaks of it, is void of faith. Hence the believer, while he lives in it, is amid jarring surroundings, and is sure to suffer. "In the world ye shall have tribulation." But it is not to last forever, nor for long. "The world passeth away, but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever." And though the brotherhood in the world must suffer, yet there is that other brotherhood beyond; and there the suffering will not be remembered for the glory that shall be revealed in us. "And the God of all grace, who called you unto His eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall Himself perfect, stablish, strengthen you." Being now about to sum up the great work of Christian advancement, in, which from first to last the power is bestowed by God, St. Peter finds no title more fitting to express the Divine love than "the God of all grace." The invitation to become partakers of the glory which Christ has won by His sufferings, won that He may bestow it upon men, was God’s free call. Our sufferings, the discipline which the Father employs to purge and purify us, are to last but a little while. Then those whom He has called He will also justify, and those whom He justifies He will in the end glorify. Thus St. Paul [Romans 8:30] describes the operations of Divine grace. St. Peter, with the same lesson, uses words more after his own graphic manner. He gives us a picture of God’s work in its several stages. First God will complete in all its parts the work which He has begun. He will make it so that He can pronounce it very good, as He did when the worlds were perfected in the first creation, [Hebrews 11:3] making His people to be so perfected that they may be as their Master. [Luke 6:40] Then He will sustain and support that which He has brought to its best estate. There shall not be, as in the first creation, any falling away. New gifts shall be bestowed by the Holy Spirit, through the ministration of the word. It was for such a purpose that St. Paul longed to visit the Roman Church, that he might impart unto them some spiritual gift, to the end that they might be established. And what has been perfected and established shall also by the same grace be made strong, that it may endure and withstand all assaults.

In many ancient texts a fourth verb is given, which the Authorized Version renders "settle." It signifies "to set on a firm foundation," and it is of the figurative character which marks St. Peter’s language, and, besides this, is not uncommon in the New Testament. {Matthew 7:25,, Luke 6:48,, Hebrews 1:10, etc.} But the verbs immediately preceding have no direct reference to a building, and the addition arises probably from a marginal note, made to illustrate the text and by some later scribe incorporated with it. The whole passage brings to mind Christ’s injunction to the Apostle, "When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren."

"To Him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen." A fitting doxology to follow the Apostle’s enumeration of the riches of Divine grace. He who feels that every gift he has is from above will with ready thankfulness welcome God’s rule, and seek to submit himself thereto, making it the law of his life here, as he hopes it will be hereafter.

"By Silvanus, our faithful brother, as I account him, I have written unto you briefly." Silvanus was that Silas who accompanied St. Paul in his second missionary journey through the districts of Phrygia and Galatia, [Acts 16:6] to which St. Peter addresses his letter. To send it by the hand of one known and esteemed among these Churches for his former labors and for his friendship with the great Apostle of the Gentiles would secure acceptance for it, while the bearer would testify to the unity of the doctrine preached by the two Apostles. He who had been a faithful brother to St. Paul was so also to St. Peter, and was by him commended to the Churches. For the expression, "I account him," implies no doubt or question in the Apostle’s own mind. It is the utterance of a matured opinion. The verb ( λογοζομαι) is that which St. Paul uses: "I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us". [Romans 8:18] To St. Paul something of the future glory had been shown, and he had felt abundance of present suffering. He had taken account of both sides, and could speak with certainty. The brevity of St. Peter’s letter could be supplemented by the words of his messenger. For Silas himself was a prophet, [Acts 15:32] and fitted to exhort and confirm the brethren.

"Exhorting, and testifying that this is the true grace of God: stand ye fast therein." The grace in its several stages has just been summarized: the calling, the perfecting, stablishing, strengthening; and the whole letter is occupied in showing that at every advance God puts His servants to the test. But the Apostle knows that the agents of the adversary are busily scattering the tares of doubt and disbelief where God had sown His good seed. The wrestling is not against flesh and blood alone, but against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual host of wickedness. Hence the form of his exhortation: "Stand fast."

"She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Mark my son. Salute one another with a kiss of love." It is most natural to refer these words to a Church, and not to any individual. Some have interpreted them as an allusion to St. Peter’s wife, whom, as we know from St. Paul, [1 Corinthians 9:5] he sometimes had as a companion in his travels. But there is a degree of inappropriateness in speaking of a single person as elect along with these various Churches of Asia, whereas the Church in Babylon might fitly have such a distinction. It is unnecessary, too, to explain Babylon (as some have done) as intended for Rome. There was no conceivable reason in St. Peter’s day why, when he was writing to lands under Roman dominion, if he meant to speak of the city in Italy, he should not call it by its real name. The Mark here named was most probably the John whose surname was Mark, [Acts 12:12] whose mother was a friend of St. Peter’s from the earliest days of his apostolic labors. He, too, had been a companion of St. Paul for a time, and made another link between the two great Apostles. St. Peter calls him "son" because it is likely that both the mother and her son were won to the new teaching by him, and he employs the term of affection just as St. Paul does of Timothy, his convert. [1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 1:2] The salutation by a kiss is frequently mentioned. It is called "a holy kiss" [Romans 16:16;, 1 Corinthians 16:20;, 2 Corinthians 13:12;, 1 Thessalonians 5:26] in St. Paul’s language. We find from Justin Martyr that it had come to be used in his day as part of the ceremonial preceding the Holy Communion. It was to be a token of perfect love, according to the name which St. Peter here gives it. An evil construction was soon put upon it by the enemies of the faith; and after a long history it fell into disuse, even in the East, where such manner of salutation is more common than in the West. In his final words the Apostle has embodied the benediction of which the kiss was meant to be the symbol.

"Peace be unto you all that are in Christ." This is the bond which unites believers into one fellowship. To be in Christ is to be of the brotherhood which has been so significantly marked just before for its unity. And in these last clauses we have examples of the force of the tie. Individuals are brought by it into close communion; as Peter himself with Silas and with Mark, whom he speaks of in terms of family love. To the Churches Silas is commended as a brother in the faith, which faith establishes a bond of strength between the distant Churches which have been called into it together. Well might the heathen, wonderstruck, exclaim, "See how these Christians love one another!" And the Apostle’s own words mark the all-embracing character of the love: "all that are in Christ." They are all brethren, children of the common Father, inheritors of the same promises, pilgrims on the same journey, sustained by the same hope, servants of the same Lord, and strengthened, guided, and enlightened by the one Spirit, who is promised to abide with Christ’s Church for ever.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Peter 5:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-peter-5.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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