I Peter 5:1 “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s suffering, and one who will share in the glory to be revealed.”
Have you ever been frustrated by someone who had a theoretical knowledge of how something was supposed to work, but had never actually gotten his hands dirty in real life? Maybe it’s the tech support person working off his script, telling you your computer couldn’t possibly be doing what it’s doing right now. Perhaps you become exasperated with the know-it-all friend who once read a book about gardening or car repair. He dishes out advice, but he has never had any dirt or grease under his fingernails.
Peter was not that person. He wasn’t an ivory tower academic. He had years of experience caring for God’s people. He was a fellow elder who had spent his time in the trenches preaching, teaching, and leading congregations.
Peter’s qualifications suggest two things about our pastors today: they speak with both an authority, and a humility. They speak with an authority because the Apostle Peter regards them as fellow elders. They are colleagues with Jesus’ apostles in the same line of work. Sometimes Christians are tempted to dismiss what their pastors says. “I don’t have to listen to you. You’re just a man, no better than me.” True, pastors and elders have no claim of moral superiority. We are all aware of horrific scandals in which some clergy have become involved. In our church, the pastor confesses his sins each Sunday right alongside the rest of the congregation. Like you, pastors sin real sins, not theoretical ones. They need a real Savior, not just a theoretical one, too.
That doesn’t change the fact that Jesus has called your pastor to speak for him, just like he did Peter. Men called into the ministry are fellow elders. They have been deputized to uncover sin and apply grace just as Peter did, just as Jesus did. If we accept Peter as a qualified source of biblical truth and godly guidance, we ought to regard our pastors and elders that way, too–so long as they stick to the standard of Scripture itself.
Speaking of Scripture, Peter has something to say about the reliability of his message. He was also “a witness of Christ’s suffering.” Like Matthew, Mark, John, and James, Peter was not reporting things he had researched or been told. In his second letter he says it again, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses…” Jesus also promised his disciples the Holy Spirit to guide them in their preaching and writing, but Peter had heard Jesus message from Jesus’ own lips. He saw Jesus’ life with his own eyes. He was qualified to pass Jesus’ words and wisdom on to us in every way.
The man who serves as your pastor can’t claim to be an eyewitness in the same way. But he preaches the same message. It’s true that almost 2000 years have passed since Peter put this down on paper. Sometimes people have the idea that the Bible has gone through all kinds of changes because this all happened so long ago. Like the line in my favorite story, The Lord of the Rings, for them “Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend, legend became myth.”
But what might seem legend and myth to some is still history. No book from antiquity has been as carefully copied and passed down to us as the Bible. The manuscripts of the New Testament we have in our hands were copied closer to the actual events than almost any other book in history. When your pastors preach on these pages, you are still getting the eyewitness accounts from the qualified sources who first saw and experienced Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.