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TEXT: I Peter 5:5a
SUBJECT: I Peter #16: Submission to Elders
Today, with God's blessing, we will move on in our study of I Peter. I began the series four months ago in the morning services, but because of the Advent Season, I moved it to the afternoon. Over the next two or three weeks, we'll finish it, Lord willing.
Whatever you have forgotten about I Peter, I hope you remember this: 'Submission' is its key word. Several times, Peter refers to Christ as the model of devout submission, and then he tells us to follow His example in our various callings as a citizen, an employee, a spouse, a pastor, and now, in 5:5, as a church member.
In vv.1-4 of the chapter Peter addresses 'elders' which, in this context, means 'pastors'. Though he doesn't tell pastors to 'submit to their churches' in so many words, that's very much what he means. He wants us to put the welfare of the church above our own wishes; in other words, he wants us to submit personal desires to the needs of the flock. To make it plain: He wants us to--
Shepherd the flock of God...
...Not ignore it, use it for personal gain, or get a kick out of pushing the sheep around. This is where Peter leaves us, with pastors, pouring out their hearts in service to the church.
Because of their office and character, knowledge, and concern for the church, Peter then has a word for the church itself. The word is easy to understand, easy to abuse, but not so easy to comply with. And so, in coming to it, we need the special illumination of the Holy Spirit and His power to make us obedient.
YOU YOUNGER PEOPLE
In v.5, Peter turns his attention away from the elders to what he calls--
You younger people.
What he means by 'young' is hard to say. When life expectancy was far less than it is now, young might well have meant nobody more than twenty or twenty-five. I've gotten to the point in life where I think of middle-aged men and women as still 'boys' and 'girls'! Not that I'm demeaning them, of course, but someone born in the seventies seems very young to me!
And so, what does Peter mean by you younger people? Whatever he means, it must to be in contrast to the elders whom he mentioned just before. In the New Testament, the word elder can mean one of two things, and sometimes both at the same time. Obviously, it means 'an older person'; and it can also mean 'an office in the church', what we usually call pastors and what the Bible sometimes calls bishops.
In this passage, I believe the elders refers to pastors, but I also know that most pastors were also older men. Not all, like Timothy, but most. And so, the you younger people can refer to people still young in years and also to church members in general, most of whom are younger than their pastors.
What Peter wants the younger people to do is--
Submit [them]selves to their elders.
This is not the kind of advice usually dispensed by youth pastors or leaders of young peoples' ministries. Taking their cue from the unbelieving culture, they emphasize self-assertion and assume that--whoever's technically in charge of the church--the young people set the agenda.
You see this especially in church music. At one time church music was different--intentionally different--than non-church music. But in the 60's-70's thing changed. Some people were reactionaries, of course, damning every new genre of music, but more thoughtful Christians were not against jazz or rock or hip-hop as such, but of using them in church--not because they're evil--but because they're often incongruent with reverence for God and the great doctrines of the Bible.
Well, whatever church-marketing experts say about 'attracting' and 'keeping' young people, Peter has the last word. He wants younger people--and church members in general--to submit themselves to the leadership of their pastors.
The word, submit means 'to come under', and it's a voluntary act. When every knee is bowed to Christ, some knees will be pushed down by His irresistible power. They are bowing, but not submitting! Because 'submission' is what you do, not what is done to you.
Submission is a good thing. But, like other good things, it can be abused, both by the one who receives it and also by the one who offers it. Last time, we looked briefly at how pastors abuse their authority--
Lording it over the flock.
But if pastors can demand too much submission, members can give too much as well. When they do, they're victims of spiritual abuse, but not altogether innocent victims.
Since the pastor's authority is derived from Christ, (a) it cannot contradict His authority and (b) it cannot go beyond the boundaries he has set for its exercise.
No one should submit to a pastor when he commands or cajoles you to disobey Christ. And you can know when he's doing that when you prayerfully study the Bible. on our own, that is, without the pastor's shadow hanging over you.
This rule seems obvious, but not everyone recognizes it, and sometimes with tragic consequences. Think of Jim Jones commanding his church to drink the poisoned Kool-Aid. Or the teenage girl who slept with Pastor Jack Schaap because he told her she was his 'spiritual wife' and that 'Jesus wanted [her] to'. Our heart breaks for these people--they were victims of the most vicious pastoral abuse, but they didn't get there all at once. They allowed the pastor's voice to sink in deeper and deeper over the years, until they couldn't distinguish it from the voice of Jesus Christ!
If your pastor tells you to do what Jesus tells you not to do, you're bound to disobey the pastor, and you can do it with a clear conscience because the pastor has no authority but what Christ gives him, and what Christ gives Him is consistent with the Bible. This is the first rule.
The second is more subtle. Pastors have real authority, and when people defy their real authority they sin against God. But the pastor's real authority is carefully circumscribed by the Bible. In other words, the pastor's authority is deep, but it is also narrow.
He cannot command anything but what Jesus Christ commands. He can recommend, he can counsel, he can give his opinion, and you may well want to take it. But you don't have to! One of the richest blessings the Gospel confers on us is Christian liberty.
We're not free to sin, but other than that, we can pretty much do what we want--without worrying about what the pastor thinks about it!
Every group has its own collection of legalisms. The Fundamentalists I grew up with, for example, were dead-set against all drinking, all dancing, all smoking, and most movies.
The old-time Pentecostals were even stricter than my people, adding such 'abominations' as lipstick, jewelry, neckties, and even Coca Cola to the list!
Reformed Christians are often every bit as legalistic, what with their myriad rules about birth-control, home schooling, child discipline and wives working outside the home.
None of these things is inherently wrong: If you don't want to drink a Coke, don't. If you want to pump out a baby a year for twenty years, have at it! But, in saying 'none of these things is wrong', I have to also say, 'none of them is commanded in the Bible!'
This means you're free to enjoy them or not, and in making your choice you're answerable to no one but Jesus Christ.
Every one of us ought to submit to our pastors, but submission is not 'blind obedience'!
And so, what is it?
'Cooperation' is the word I prefer. This is the submissive person's default position. He's agreeable to what his pastor says unless there's a strong reason not to be. It's the opposite of 'suspicion', of assuming the pastor is always overstepping his boundaries, and digging in against his counsel unless he can produce a hundred Bible verses supporting it and all the scholars of Christendom are on his side!
Every pastor makes mistakes, but if a man is qualified to teach the Word of God you ought to submit to him when he teaches it--unless there's a very strong reason not to!
When a stranger preaches to you, the burden of proof is on him; when your pastor preachers, give him the benefit of the doubt. That's what it means to--
Submit yourselves to your elders.
If this is what you're supposed to do, you need to pray for your elders! Talking is the elder's main occupation, whether it's preaching, teaching, counseling, or whatever. James tells us that nothing trips a man up more than talking! And the Proverbs warn us of the danger of folly that's sure to slip in when we talk a lot.
But even though it would be safer to keep our mouths shut, pastors have to speak, and this means, we're more prone to make mistakes than other people are.
Only God can sanctify our talking, only He can turn our words into His Word. And He often does this for the pastor, when his people pray for him. When asked the secret of his great success, Charles Spurgeon replied--
My people pray for me.
Be much in prayer for your elders, that we may be worthy of you submission and never abuse it.
In the second place, pray for yourself, that the Lord would give you a humble and submissive spirit. We live in an age that celebrates defiance more than compliance! Go to the movies and all the heroes are people who stand up to authorities, never the ones who submit to them.
Everything in the culture, therefore, is against submission; and not just in the culture, but also in yourself. We all prefer our own wishes to somebody else's. But the Lord wants you to be submissive to your pastors, and again, He is often pleased to make you this way when you ask Him to.
Finally, let's remember what pastors are: We are not shepherds, but undershepherds! When we tend the flock they way we ought to, submitting to us is submitting to our Chief Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ. Who will never lead us amiss.
Let us, therefore, thank God for the Lordship of Christ and for the unworthy men he appoints to help us follow Him.
God bless you. Praise the Lord.
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