Peter’s first epistle has much to say about the need for Christians to submit to the lawful authorities God has placed over us (1 Peter 2:13–3:7). But Peter has instruction not only for those who must submit to authorities but for the authorities themselves. Specifically, he gives admonitions to those whom God has given to exercise rule and oversight in the church.
We find these instructions in 1 Peter 5:1–5, where Peter addresses the elders of the church and also gives an exhortation for younger people to submit to the elders. Before we turn to the words the Apostle has for the elders, let us note that his guidance is not for elders alone. Laypeople must also take these instructions to heart so that they can look for elders who do what Peter says and so that they can support elders as they exercise oversight according to Peter’s admonitions.
First, Peter tells us that elders must exercise oversight “not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (v. 2). To put it another way, the church should not have reluctant elders but elders who actually want to do the task of being an elder. This does not mean that elders must never have any hesitations or feelings of inadequacy for their job, but it does mean that in the main, elders must desire the work they have been given.
Elders must also do their job “not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge” (v. 2). Those whom God puts over the church must not be in it “for the money,” though elders and pastors have a right to receive financial compensation for their labors (1 Cor. 9). Church authorities must not enter ministry primarily to get rich, though it is not wrong for a church body to be generous with its ministers and staff.
However, the motivation for shameful gain is found not only in those who make financial gain the chief aim of their work in the church. Shameful gain can also be found in “domineering over those in your charge” (v. 3), which Peter likewise forbids. Ministry, particularly pastoral ministry, can be a great avenue for attaining power and adoration. Although pastors must face many criticisms and difficulties in the course of their labors, they can also enjoy a great deal of power and attention. They get a captive audience week after week and can easily become consumed with building their own kingdom, not the Lord’s. Pastors and other leaders must not do this, and church members must look for humble men to fill these roles.