In a previous blogpost I showed how Peter exhorted the elders or leaders of the local church bodies meeting throughout Asia Minor to feed the flock of God. However, this command, which actually comes from Christ, has more to it than simply teaching God’s word. In the latter part of 1Peter 5:2 Peter uses three pairs of contrasts—negatives and their corresponding positive compliments—to show how an elder needs to express his responsibility of feeding or tending the flock of God. First it should not be done through constraint, but willingly; secondly, it should not be done for the sake of filthy lucre but of a ready mind; finally, it should not be done as lords over God’s heritage, but through one’s own example.
The first contrast, as it is considered in the light of persecution, the theme Peter’s epistle, it is easy to see how an elder might want to avoid getting involved in problems of others that could affect him and his family. Helping the brother who has been slandered could blur the integrity of one’s own reputation. In other words, if the enemy has made the state suspicious of the loyalty of a brother, helping him may involve the state in the elder’s own affairs. Guilt by association is a very good weapon the enemies of the faith could use against the bond of love between the brethren. Of course, the only way one is able to combat this attack upon the bond of love between the brethren is to willingly thrust oneself into the affair by identifying with one’s brother during his time of crises—good name be damned (cf. 2Timothy 4:16).
Peter’s reference to filthy lucre or money in his second set of contrasts poses a problem at this point, as far as context is concerned. It is difficult to understand how money might be an issue in such times as persecution. Peter isn’t speaking of the right of the minister to be paid, and the Greek word he uses (G147) is used only here. It literally means greedy for shameful or sordid gain. The question is, if Peter isn’t speaking about money, necessarily, what type of gain could an unwise elder take to himself during a time of trouble in the church, which might be considered sordid or shameful for him to participate in? One of the responsibilities of the shepherd is to protect his flock, even put his own life in danger to fulfill that responsibility (cf. John 10:11-12). An elder might be tempted to abuse his authority by accepting the attack against his church as a kind of baton used by the commander of an army—a kind of status symbol of his own authority. Disregarding the pain others might have to endure, the elder might be tempted to use the Gospel as a kind of battle cry, preaching “Christ of Contention” (cf. Philippians 1:16), rather than seeking to defuse the affair and save the brother from further humiliation and pain.
Rather, the elder should assume his responsibilities toward the flock of God with a predisposed willing spirit. This is another Greek word (G4290) that Peter uses that is found nowhere else in the New Testament. It is not the same willing spirit that Peter mentioned in his first contrast. Rather this is a predisposed spirit of willingness. That is, he is not reacting to the matter at hand in a way that is not well thought out. Rather, he has it fixed in his mind and heart exactly how he needs to respond to the affair. His willingness is not a knee-jerk reaction to a problem, but a well thought out spirit of behavior that would help the brother who is being persecuted.
A similar Greek word (G4289) has only one letter difference in its spelling may shed some light on the word Peter uses in 1Peter 5:2. It is used in three places in the New Testament. Christ uses it in Matthew 26:41 and Mark 14:38 to say of the sleeping apostles “the spirit is willing or ready (G4289) but the flesh is weak. In other words, the desires of the flesh oppose the willing or ready spirit. The last place this word is use in the New Testament is at Romans 1:15, where Paul writes to the Romans from Corinth saying: “as much as is in me, I am ready (G4289) to preach the Gospel to you who are in Rome.” That is, Paul was at that time totally given over to the prospect of going to Rome to preach the Gospel. He had no idea when he wrote that letter that he would do it from prison, but the same spirit of willingness that announced his readiness in his epistle operated in him as he preached to all who came to him during his imprisonment at Rome (cf. Acts 28:16, 30-31). So, The related word that Peter uses (G4290) seems to require the submission of the flesh to the desire of the willing spirit. That is, he has prepared himself for just such a moment of need no matter what the personal cost to the elder.
Finally, in his third set of contrasts, Peter tells the elder he should never tend God’s heritage as though he were the lord over it. The believer belongs to God, not the elder. What comes to mind at this point are Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 20:21-28. James and John had desired to hold important positions of authority in the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:35-37) and Matthew shows they had their mother, Jesus’ Mother’s sister, ask that Jesus would bestow upon them that great honor (Matthew 20:21). Jesus told them they didn’t know what was involved in their request, because they went about it the wrong way. Authority in the Kingdom of God has less to do with desire for such power and more to do with a willingness to serve others (cf. Matthew 20:25-26). To desire to be chief in authority is not necessarily wrong (Matthew 20:27), but such a position involves service so great that it may require the offering of one’s own life for another (Matthew 20:27-28), and Peter says the elders need to be willing to do just that (1Peter 5:2).