The major theme running through 1 Peter has been instructions for Christians, for the Church, under pressure. Peter has given instruction for how Christians should live in society, in their families, in the workplace and with each other. Now he turns to church as an organization.
One of the things that has shaped the Baptist denomination is its beliefs about Baptism and its role in the life of Christians. So impactful have these beliefs been they have given the denomination its name. One of those beliefs is that baptism must be done by emersion. A basis for this belief many have cited is that the Greek word used in the bible, baptizo, had the common Greek meaning of immersion. In fact, if a ship sank it was baptizo-ed.
So the argument goes something like this: we took a word and invested it with meaning it did not have to the original people who read or said it. When they heard it, it just meant dunked. We transliterated the word (rewrote it with our alphabet) and made it a term of art when we should have translated it. Not baptism (transliterated), just dunked (translated).
Why do I bring that up (no doubt you have asked yourself that question many times)? To ask this question: What if we have done that same thing, or its first cousin, other places in scripture? The case in point today in our current text is the word elder. In the Greek this word is presbyteros, it means the older of two. So, between my wife and I she is the presbyteros (we’ll soon see if she reads this). The root is presbus which just means elderly.
Many churches have made this word a title: Elders. One denomination is named with a transliteration of the Greek word. Presbyterian churches are governed by councils (presbyteries) of presbyters. A council of Elders. Is this correct, is Peter addressing officials in the church, or just old guys? We might also apply this term to diakanos (transliterated deacon) which means a servant or a table waiter.
My personal opinion is that the church was not intended to have “offices”, that different people are given different talents/gifts (pastor, teacher, administrator, prophet, etc.) and that these are to be used in the service of the Body of Christ to the glory of God. Titles and offices have little place in the Body.
Read how Peter instructs the old guys. He tells old guys (that’d be us in case you missed that point) to:
- Be like a shepherd to the Christians you find yourself around. What does a shepherd do? What does Jesus say the Good Shepherd does?
- Be a shepherd not because the sheep are assigned to you or because its your job or because you hold a position, but because you are willing to for the sake of Christ.
- Do not shepherd by fiat, but by example. The authority of old guys is based on moral suasion, not the power of command.
- Don’t fleece the flock. They belong to God, not to the old guys.
Then Peter turns around and tells the younger believers to submit to the old guys in the same ways that the old guys submit to them. Does this sound like something you’ve heard him say before? Does to me. The model here is not leader/follower, its mutual submission under the lordship of Christ. Old guys don’t have more authority, they have more responsibility. They have the responsibility to insure they do not lead the less mature astray.
Then, Peter reminds us to resist temptation. While God cares for us and lifts us up, Satan looks to consume us; Christ’s sheep are Satan’s prey. But he will not feed upon us because Christ has called us to eternal glory and will restore us after our suffering.
How about our bunch of Old Guys? Are we taking care of our responsibilities or are we looking for titles? Are we servants or are we trying to be rulers? Are we watching the flock for the benefit of its owner or for our own gain? Are we watching the flock at all?