“Respect your elders!” was a continual rebuke I heard from my uncle during my childhood. Although then I couldn’t define the word respect by any dictionary standard, I had a good working knowledge of what it meant to respect my elders. Judging by my actions that preceded my uncle’s rebuke, I knew that respect had something to do with not talking back or sassing, interrupting, contradicting, complaining or rolling my eyes, or any other non-verbal vocal expression of frustration. Somewhere within that list was a safe-guard against the wrath of my uncle.
In 1 Peter 5, we have similar instruction on authority and submission. Ironically, it is written by Peter who had his own struggles with authority. More than once Peter rebuked the Lord Himself (Matt. 16:22; John 13:9). We can only imagine what expressions of frustration Peter exhibited during that breakfast by the sea moments before Jesus restored him (John 21:15–19). But would this be the last of Peter’s rebellious tendencies? In Acts 10:14, we see him refusing to follow a command from Jesus. Even after that, Paul rebuked Peter to remind him of the significance of that vision (Gal. 2:11).
One might argue that with a track record like that, Peter has no right to teach us about authority and submission. And, yes, based on his performance, he has no right. But with the other apostles, he was commissioned by the authority of Christ (Matt 28:18).
Peter was quite aware of his own weaknesses, and he experienced firsthand how a shepherd is to take care of his sheep. Who better to instruct elders in their high calling as shepherds than one who knows the Chief Shepherd? Peter was concerned with the actions and motivations of fellow elders as they shepherded the flock of God. His exhortation was simple: Lead by example with willingness and eagerness. (5:2–3). He saw this modeled perfectly in the life of Christ.
In the following verses, Peter shifts his attention from the shepherds to the sheep. To the younger ones especially, he tells them to be submissive to their elders, and to be “clothed with humility” (5:5). Citing Proverbs 3:34, Peter reminds us of God’s policy on pride. The proud are resisted, and the humble are given grace.
Therefore, let us resist him who is to be resisted (5:9). Meanwhile, submit yourselves to your elders, pray for them, and remember to cast your cares upon the Chief Shepherd, for He cares for you.