The final chapter of Peter’s first letter to suffering saints begins with an exhortation to the elders within the local churches that received this letter. We notice “the elders” and observe that Scripture most often assumes a plurality of spiritual leaders within the local church. It is God’s plan for His local church to include more than one “overseer,” “elder,” or “shepherd” among the local body of believers.
Now you really need to consider the context of this letter. According to 1:1, Peter is writing to spiritual pilgrims—literally, “aliens” or people who are wandering about in this world as though they really don’t fit in. They are believers in Christ (1:5). They are going through various difficult trials (1:6-7). Furthermore, the people may even have been given over to striving with words. Chapter two may indicate that even malicious words were exchanged between the believers (cf. 2:1-3). They were living under one of the most cruel and deranged of all the Roman Emperors—Nero.
So here is Peter speaking to the elders of these local churches within this context. And we notice that Peter is compelled by the Holy Spirit to “exhort” these elders. The word “exhort” means “to call along side of for the purpose of encouragement.” It brings to mind the picture of the diligent head coach who calls his team to the sideline in the middle of an important game. He calls a time out and wants his team right there by his side and while they are there he will exhort them, challenge them, and provide them with help so that they all can function the way that they are supposed to function on the field. That is Peter at this moment. He calls us all to the side for encouragement and challenge and while we are here he is going to provide us with practical help so that we can all function in the manner in which we are to function in God’s church.
Peter’s Motivation to Exhort the Elders (5:1).
What motivated Peter to actually take the time to speak to the elders of the local church? Wasn’t there something more pressing on Peter’s heart? Wouldn’t it be more important to speak to the entire church family instead of signaling out one group? These churches were suffering, times were hard, and here is Peter talking to the elders of the church regarding their role and responsibility within the local church. For it is in times such as these that leaders, true God-sent, spiritual leaders must come to the front and lead God’s people. Moses did not come to leadership in Israel until the children of Israel were crying out in the midst of their suffering in Egypt. Throughout the book of Judges we read phrases like, “But when the children of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for them…” (cf. Judges 3:15; 6:7; 10:10, etc). Spiritual leaders play an important part in God’s plan for His Church no matter what the historical, ethnic, economic, social, or political context.
“I who am a fellow elder”
Peter exhorts these elders as a fellow elder. He knows what it is like to minister in the way and manner in which they ministered. He can speak to them as one having experience. And so he is moved to write to those who are in the same boat as he. He uses the word sumpresbuteros—“fellow elder”. Zodhiates says, “Peter reminds the elders of the dignity of their office that they might not forget their duties” (Zodhiates, Spiros, The Complete Word Study New Testament Dictionary. AMG Publishers, Chattanooga, TN, 1992, p. 1330).
There is a great reminder here for all elders. You are working in the same field as those men of God who have gone on before you. You are on the same team as the likes of Moses, David, Paul, John, Peter, and Jesus!
“A witness of the sufferings of Christ”
Peter exhorts these elders as an Apostle. He writes of his Apostolic authority and is thus moved to write to these who were under his authority. The word “witness” refers to someone who has not only seen something firsthand but who also tells about what has been seen. That is what Peter had done throughout his ministry. In fact, the Greek word for “witness” (martus) became so connected with the ministry of Christian believers who were testifying for Christ that they were called martyrs when they were killed because of their testimony for Christ. His faithfulness to his Lord motivated Peter to take this time to speak to his fellow elders.
“A partaker of the glory that will be revealed”
Peter exhorts these elders as a brother in Christ. Perhaps his mind went back to that day over thirty years before when he and James and John were also called aside by their Lord. He led them up on a mountain and there before their very eyes was transfigured. The glory of the Lord was clear and manifest that day. As he remembered that day he began to anticipate seeing the Lord in all of His glory once again and thus he is moved to write to these dear fellow laborers as an Apostle yes, but as a brother in Christ more so!