Ready and Waiting: Peter’s Understanding of a Christian Way of Life
I Peter 5:1-11
Let me call upon the seniors among you, as a fellow senior myself, one who has been a witness to Christ’s suffering, as well as being one who shares [with you] the status of those who wait for what is yet to be unveiled. You should shepherd the flock which is God’s and do it not by pressure-tactics but voluntarily, just as God has done Himself. Not with dog-eat-dog competitiveness, but with the eager intention of helping, not with an approach that presumes you are boss over your patch, but rather by creating an example for the entire flock to follow, so that when the Chief Shepherd Himself appears you will be crowned, the brilliance of your true status will be perpetually displayed.
And to you who are younger, in a similar attitude [of willing, eager service] submit yourselves [mutually] to those who are more senior. So that, with you all presenting yourselves to each other in humility you will experience mutual submission, since God is truly on the offensive against the high and mighty attitude and instead lavishes [His] grace upon those who are lowly [in spirit].
So then, keep yourselves humble, take a lowly position under the all-powerful hand of God so that, just at the right time, he may lift you up. Unload all your anxieties upon Him because He has made whatever it is that concerns you His business.
Stay alert; keep watch. Your prosecuting enemy rages up and down like a lion seeking to devour whom he may, and therefore is to be decisively resisted in the same faith [by which you unloaded all your anxieties] knowing that the same kind of trouble is being confronted by your fellows the world over.
Now may the God of all grace, He who has called you to henceforth share in Christ’s status, will, after these little troubles, renovate, plant, empower and secure you. To Him from henceforth be all the power! So be it!
The letter presents Peter’s straight-forward instructions. Clearly the community to whom Peter was writing was not at that point strictly defined in any organisational sense. It is composed of house-servants, spread out over a wide geographic region, and includes those who are marriage partners, those who are older and younger. There is a recognition of the responsibilities and communal authority of people who have been around longer than those who have been around for less time. We don’t know what they were doing together in any detailed sense, and whether and how they met together on any regular basis, if at all. But they were now made new, open from their hearts to each other. Peter also reiterates a view that derives from Jesus’ own comments about authority as service.
You know how it is with those people who carry on ruling the nations. They lord it over each other and their great ones act in a tyrannical way. This is not how things should stand between yourselves. On the contrary, if any one would wish to be of high standing, that person must be your servant; if he wishes to have priority it must be as a slave. This is how things are done with the Son of Man who has now turned up not to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom paid on behalf of a multitude of people (Matthew 20:25-28 Adapted from Heinz Cassirer God’s New Covenant).
As we have discussed previously, the discussion of those who are older and those who are younger, relates to Peter’s address at Pentecost and concerns another “line item” of fulfillment in the prophecy of Joel:
I shall pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, the younger shall see visions, and those older shall dream dreams…
He continues to remind his readers that they, as believers in Christ Jesus, the ones on whom the Spirit has been poured out, are the ones who by their lives fulfill what has been foretold by the prophets. This discussion of the older and the younger, equally participating in God’s new covenantal community, that indeed they fulfil what Malachi had foretold about God’s great work before the final day of judgement,
… turning the hearts of the parents to their children and the hearts of the children to their parents (Malachi 4:6).
We now also read this in the context of the final chapter of John’s gospel where Jesus calls upon Peter to serve as a shepherd, to “feed my sheep”, to “shepherd my lambs”, to “feed my lambs” (John 21:15-17). Does this not suggest that Jesus was calling upon Peter to exercise his responsibility in a way that recognises the flock’s generations? “The flock which is God’s” is in need of ongoing nurture and is made up of those who are older (sheep) and younger (lambs). They need to be cared for and the caring needs to be dispensed with sacrificial love and a deeply friendly approach both to the Lord and to the flock. But for such growth to be promoted in the flock, the Chief Shepherd first of all confirmed Himself as Friend to this fellow, Simon son of John. What Jesus was wanting to know was whether Peter loved Him, whether Peter considered himself to be a friend of the Chief Shepherd. It is when that friendship of love is established that those who will subsequently be responsible to the Chief Shepherd Himself will be able to truly submit themselves to each other, mutually. The entire flock must be nurtured, that is Jesus’ concern. And that will mean special attention to the youngest and most fragile, in order that they may grow into their full stature as members of the community. Eventually they will, when older, become “elders” who must also, in turn, contribute to the shepherding of the younger.
The Chief Shepherd has come once and will one day return. In the meantime His work is carried on by those who are privileged to do so. This is the ongoing nurturing responsibility for the people of God, those who have, by Divine action, been made safe by the work of Christ Jesus. God’s plans for His image-bearers include their ongoing growth and development, generation to generation.
Peter once more encourages those who are reading his letter to look forward to the time when it will all come together in the completion of God’s purposes. By living with such anticipation, they will maintain their own ongoing viability as an active serving community of faith. And that is how, in the meantime, before His return, the work will go on, and the task of older members of the flock made plain. As well, the task of younger members is to grow into fully mature members is also affirmed. The way of life is described as an ongoing unveiling as they heed the Good Shepherd’s voice – earlier on in his letter Peter had referred to this ongoing unfolding of God’s purposes in terms of the life of grass, of plants.
Give yourselves earnestly to the loving of one another without any hidden reservations, all because you have been re-born, not by seed which fails, but by that which is unfailing, the living word of God that endures on and on. Indeed [this is as it is written] all flesh is as grass, all its reputation is from its flower; the grass dries out and the flower falls. But what the Lord speaks endures now and henceforth (1:22-25).
Here the message is the same even though the metaphor seems to have changed from that of plant (grass) to animal (sheep) life. [Earlier the metaphor of the Lamb and the flock relates to the stone and the temple of the Lord]. He returns to the floral image by reminding us of the perpetual and unfading [άμαράντινον – amaranthus, perpetuity] crown and does so by referring to what he has already explained as the purpose for his letter:
an inheritance which shall sustain its value, its integrity and its perpetual brilliance, especially ear-marked in the heavens for you (1:4).
So what is being reiterated and further elaborated here concerns the task of growing together in generation to generation terms. By faith in the Son of God, they (we) are to adopt the same humble demeanour which characterised Jesus Christ Himself, unloading all anxieties onto their Heavenly Father (Matthew 6: 25-34). The Lord God Himself has made it known that the concerns of His people are His concerns. And it is with that attitude that they will stay alert, resist the prowling tempter who would love nothing more than to see God’s children put on the wrack, or roasted on the spit. Peter has learned to be ready and [with perhaps some feint reference to the age-old story of Job in his suffering] anticipates this cruel resistance to godly living, thereby commending an alert and watchful attitude. We are all in it together, he says. No reason to think you are alone in your suffering.
It is to Jesus Christ that all power belongs and Peter concludes with a blessing that reminds his readers, and us, who they and we are and of the ongoing call to truly get in line with what God is purposely making them and us to be, the co-heirs of His Kingly rule in Jesus Christ. The Lord Himself is busy bringing His creation to its fulfillment and in this self-same process He is busy correcting, renovating, maintaining, securing, strengthening and establishing the lives of His people.
Their concerns are truly His concerns. That is why they can live lives that are “ready and waiting!” This is a perpetual calling. It is not going away. Not now. Not ever.