Peter ends his letter with a few last instructions about how we, as followers of Christ, are supposed to relate to each other as the church.
He begins by talking to the Elders in the church. This term isn’t just a reference to their age - “Elders” were the leaders of the church during this time period, equivalent to the “ministers” in modern churches. (click here for my article explaining terms and titles in the early church). Peter reminds these leaders to use their power for the benefit of the church, not for their own glory. He cautions them against lording their authority over others, and instead urges them to lead their flock by example. He then tells the “younger” people - the congregation - to listen to them, and for everyone to be humble and not let their egos get in the way.
There is a lot of significance in this section that is easy to miss if you don’t know Peter’s history. After Jesus rose from the dead, Peter was in a dark place. He had once considered himself a leader of the disciples. Jesus had even called him “the rock” upon which He would build the church. But when the moment of testing came, Peter denied that he even knew Jesus - not just once, but three times. When Jesus returned from the dead, Peter went up to Galilee and went back to his old job as a fisherman.
In John 21, Jesus goes and finds Peter. During their conversation Jesus asked Peter three times whether Peter loved him - once for every time Peter denied Him. Each time Peter said that he did, in fact, love his Lord, Jesus responded by telling Peter to “feed my sheep” or “care for my flock.” Then, Jesus finishes by telling him:
“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.” Jesus said this to let him know by what kind of death he would glorify God. Then Jesus told him, “Follow me.” (Jn 21:18-19 NLT)
Now Peter is old, and will soon meet his fate, just as Jesus predicted. He looks to the next generation of leaders of the church and tells them the same words that his master once told him: “care for the flock” (1 Pet 5:2 NLT)
Peter knew that the job of every generation of the church is to pass on the gospel to the next. Jesus passed the torch to him decades before on the shores of Galilee. Now he looked to those who used to be like children to him, and did the same. One day, those Elders would look to that next generation and pass it on to them. And so it has continued on for nearly two thousand years.
What role do you have in the church? Are you an elder, needing to train up the next generation? A young man or woman, who needs to learn? Are you doing your part to continue this tradition of faith, and to leave a legacy that others will follow? Pray today that God will use you to preserve and continue the church - and the gospel it is called to uphold.