Having urged the elders of the congregations to fulfil their responsibilities in times of spiritual difficulties, Peter now addresses the congregational members in general and mentions several important responses that should mark each of them. Given the situation they were facing, which included the likelihood of ongoing persecution, we might be surprised at his first suggestion, which is the necessity of humility.
Initially, he speaks to the younger members in the congregations (5a) before addressing all Christians about this important topic. As far as his words are concerned, he could be instructing the younger to obey all the older members or he could be telling them to obey their official elders. The context must help us decide which option is more likely. ‘Likewise’ indicates that Peter is still referring to church rulers in this sentence. It looks to me that the apostle wants the younger members to obey the elders that governed the churches on Christ’s behalf.
Why did the apostle mention this detail? I don’t think he did so because the younger were already ignoring the opinions of the elders. He is not rebuking them here. Instead he is looking ahead and telling them the best way of proceeding through the potential pitfalls that they may encounter.
The question that then arises for us is whether or not Peter’s requirement was a temporary one because of the particular situations his readers were facing or is it a biblical principle that applies in all situations? There is no suggestion that his requirement is temporary. Of course, he is assuming circumstances in which elders are fulfilling their responsibilities, so he is not suggesting that elders should be obeyed no matter what they are doing. They should only be obeyed if their decisions are biblical. So why should we submit to functioning elders? Here are three reasons:
The basic reason is because God requires it, which obviously places it within the overall area of obedience to him. So a failure to obey scripturally-functioning elders is an expression of rebellion against God, a repudiation of his requirements. Obedience to such church rulers is an expression of submission to God.
A second reason is that the church has already chosen them as elders. Usually such selections would be made because they were identified by other church members as suitable leaders of the congregation. The church recognised two details about them – their God-given gifts and their Christlike characters. So it would be an expression of pride for some, not just younger people, to reject their spiritual authority. Such rejection would cause disharmony in a congregation.
A third reason is two benefits that such elders will inevitably have – wisdom and experience. What is wisdom? Wisdom is knowing what to do with your knowledge, and such wisdom only comes from experience. Anyone can have knowledge if they are willing to learn, but the possession of intellectual knowledge is not the same as knowing what to do in difficult situations. The elders will have been through difficult situations before and will therefore know what to do in order to guide the church.