1 Peter 5:1-6
Tending the Flock of God
Now as an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you 2to tend the flock of God that is in your charge, exercising the oversight, not under compulsion but willingly, as God would have you do it—not for sordid gain but eagerly. 3Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. 4And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. 5In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you must clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another, for
‘God opposes the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.’
6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.
The author here identifies himself, not as the Apostle Peter, but as an elder, and yet he also says that he is a witness to Christ’s sufferings. This does not, however, mean that he was there, but that he bears witness, to the actions of Christ on our behalf, as all Christians do. So, that really does not answer our question about the author of the letter.
In the United Methodist Church today, an elder is an ordained pastor in “full connection” – that means a pastor who has completed seminary, and completed the process for ordination, and is a part of an Annual Conference. (There are other pastors, who are licensed local pastors, student pastors, and supply pastors.) In other Protestant churches, an elder is a leader among the lay members of the church. (Presbyterians have “Ruling Elders” who are the governing body of the church; Baptists have lay elders who are ordained by the local church to serve as the ushers, leaders, and governance of the church.) But in the early church, as it developed toward the end of the first century, an elder was the leader, or pastor, of the church. The author then speaks directly to pastors.
Pastors are to tend the flock of God with which we have been charged, willingly exercising oversight. This should not be done to get rich (TV evangelists get rich; pastors in the actual work of leading a church do not!), but for the joy of meeting with Christ in times to come. I am reminded of Christ’s words to Peter, in John 21, when he asked Peter, “Do you love me?” and Peter said, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you,” and Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.”
In the same way, the author says, those who are younger should accept the leadership of the elders. In the ancient church, elders were the pastors or leaders, the “younger” were those who were the rest of the congregation.
All, both elders and younger, must be humble, not arrogant, in their dealings with one another. The author quotes Proverbs 3:34 as a scriptural example of the importance of humility. How smoothly the church would run if we all loved one another, supported and cared for one another, humbly and respectfully. That is really what the author is saying here.