1 Peter 5:5 (NIV)
In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.
I’m not a Biblical scholar, but in context, I think this verse is referring to those who are appointed as elders in the church rather than those who are elderly. In verses 2 and 3 of this same chapter, Peter tells the elders: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
So what does/can this passage mean for us today?
I’ve attended several churches in my life, and it’s been my observation that the way that church members think about the elders fall into a few general categories (these are my observations, and not endorsed by anyone else – let them be food for thought, not ammunition):
- Elders as Allstate – They’re the “good hands” people – watching over you in case something bad happens. And like your insurance, you’re glad you have it, but you hope you never need it. You might could name them all if you thought about it (or had a bulletin handy).
- Elders as Customer Service – They’re the complaint department. They’re who you go to when you don’t like something – anything, really. Song leaders picking bad songs? Tell the elders. Auditorium temperature not what you want? Oh, elders….
- Elders as Shepherds – They’re there to guide you in the way you should go. Veering off course? They help lead you back. Injured sheep in the flock? They’ll pray for and with you, visit you, anoint you with oil. You view them as servants who are willing to do whatever they can for their flock.
Those are simplified descriptions, for sure, but it’s likely that which category you fall into also determines how you see your role – which is the message of this verse. Are you a client? A customer? Or a sheep? And if the Bible tells us to submit to our elders, to clothe ourselves in humility toward one another, is our role making us obedient to that calling?
And what would keep us from being obedient to the calling of humility and submission? I think the answer is in the statement that follows: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” PRIDE. Pride is what would keep us from being submissive and humble. Submission and humility don’t come naturally to any of us. It is human nature to want to be in charge, to resist being told what to do, to want recognition. But that is not how we are called to be.
Ask yourself these questions: Are you submissive to the elders in the church? Do you follow their leadership even when they do something you don’t like? Do you pray for them? Do you seek opportunities to undermine their authority? Do you try to find flaws or sin in them? What about your relationships with others in the church? Do you treat others with humble love? Do you look down on struggling Christians? Do you judge people because they sin differently (“worse”) than you?
Pray that God will reveal any weaknesses or strongholds in your life. Pray to have a more humble attitude. Pray for a heart that is willing to serve. Oh, and pray for your elders.