When Did Saul Meet David?

It is a commonplace in liberal biblical scholarship to claim a contradiction between 1 Samuel 16:14-23 and 1 Samuel 17:55-58. The nature of the alleged contradiction lies in what Saul knew and when. In 16:19, Saul sends a messenger to Jesse, after he has been told about Jesse’s son by the young man of verse 18. The messenger tells Jesse to send David (“your son”) to Saul for purposes of musical distraction. In chapter 16, therefore, Saul knows whose son David is. In the very next chapter, however, Saul seems not to know this information. In 17:55 and following, Saul asks Abner about David’s parentage (Abner doesn’t know). Saul then finds out from David himself that David is the son of Jesse. So, which is it? Did Saul not find out in 16 about David’s father? Or are there other possibilities?

The first thing that must be said is that the author (or, to go momentarily on the liberal turf, the redactor) most likely already knew about this issue. Ancient authors weren’t quite as stupid as some modern scholars tend to think they were! How do we know? In the text of verse 23 lies what I believe to be the hint that points to the solution. The first two words of the verse are well translated, “Now, whenever…” The verse then describes a state of affairs that appears to have lasted a relatively long while before the events of 17. This points to the answer: Saul simply forgot whose son David was. The length of time combined with the stress of the events of 17 could easily explain Saul’s forgetfulness on this point.

To my mind, this explanation works better than some of the alternatives. Some believe that chapter 16 is about David’s identity, whereas 17:55ff. is about Jesse’s. This explanation does not take 16:18-19 adequately into account, where twice it is stated that Saul knew Jesse to be the father of David.

Another unlikely interpretation is that 16:14-23 is out of chronological order, and belongs in between 18:9 and 18:10. This would make the Goliath story the very first time Saul met David. Now, this would solve the issue. The Bible does not always record things in chronological order. What makes this solution unlikely is not the supposedly “unbiblical” nature of the solution, but rather the unlikelihood of the passage getting put intentionally out of place. If 16:14-23 was originally between 18:9 and 18:10, why would anyone move it?

Gleason Archer, in his Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (175), argues that Saul’s concern in 17:55ff. was in building up his own personal bodyguard, and that Jesse’s identity was important because Saul viewed David as a “lead to obtaining more soldiers like him.” This is possible, and would be an additional element consistent with the idea of forgetfulness.

Robert Bergen adds two more aspectual possibilities in his commentary on Samuel (199). The issue of who gets the tax forgiveness could be another reason why Saul asks about David’s parentage. In addition, Bergen argues that the Spirit having left Saul means that Saul “was intellectually incompetent.” I might amend the latter to say that Saul was becoming incompetent, memory being not what it once was.

One last solution, possibly the least likely, is that of Robert Polzin. In his Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomic History, Part Two: 1 Samuel (171-6), he argues that Saul’s question is 17:55 is actually a demand for David’s allegiance, not a question about identity. Again, this would solve the issue. However, it is difficult to see why we should interpret the text that way. Are there other instances in ancient literature where asking about the identity of a person’s father is equal to a demand for allegiance? This seems highly unlikely to me. The other solutions are better.

Recent UFO Phenomena, E.T. or…? A Look at Current Faster-Than-Light Travel Prospects

by David Gadbois

Startling footage of physics-defying UFO’s has surfaced since 2017, originating from U.S. Navy aircraft. The earliest video was recorded in 2004, while the latter two were from 2014-2015. The Pentagon itself eventually released official copies of these videos. To this can be added two videos of separate naval ship-based UFO sightings from 2019. What is more, at least the original 2004 incident has been corroborated by both ship-borne radar and the public testimony of pilots involved (David Fravor and Chad Underwood). Likely this is the tip of the iceberg. For example, former naval aviator Ryan Graves claims that UFO’s were witnessed regularly by his squadron.

In fact, the Pentagon will be releasing a report on UFO phenomena that it has documented, possibly quite soon.

It is somewhere between difficult and impossible to dismiss these mounting threads of evidence for the veracity of objective encounters with vehicles that seemingly can perform physically-impossible maneuvers. While many UFO sightings can be plausibly categorized as hoaxes, natural phenomena (e.g. atmospheric phenomena such as ball lightning or, quite often, the planet Venus), camera artifacts, or experimental military aircraft, these incidents defy such explanations. While there are no doubt many secret aircraft in service with impressive and perhaps surprising performance and abilities, there are still reasonable limits to what we can expect of next-generation or even medium-term aerospace technology. It is simply is not realistic from a propulsion or structures perspective for a vehicle (manned or unmanned) to perform near-instantaneous maneuvers involving hundreds or thousands of G’s of acceleration. With no visible means of propulsion, and no sonic boom, to boot.

By process of elimination, this leaves us with either 1. an extraterrestrial hypothesis to explain such phenomena or 2. a supernatural hypothesis. Strictly speaking, an interdimensional hypothesis is also a logical possibility, but see Hugh Ross (in the work cited below) on the problems with this.

I believe that the prospects for practical faster-than-light (FTL) travel are exceedingly poor, given our current understanding of physics as of 2021 (more on this below). And as such this renders the extraterrestrial hypothesis highly unlikely. FTL travel is almost universally-acknowledged as the only realistic method of interstellar (to say nothing of intergalactic) travel, that an extraterrestrial life-form would need to employ to reach Earth.

So what should a Christian make of all of these recent, perplexing, provocative videos and news reports? I believe it furnishes compelling evidence of activities of the supernatural or spiritual realm, and spiritual beings. Physical explanations, we have seen, are not adequate. It is probably the case that Christians (to say nothing of our secular friends) have been too dismissive of UFO phenomena, filing them universally and without discrimination into the categories of the more conventional and mundane explanations mentioned above.

Without a doubt, the definitive work on this subject from a Christian perspective is Lights In the Sky & Little Green Men, written by Hugh Ross (astrophysicist and founder of Reasons to Believe ministry), Kenneth Samples, and Mark Clark, and was published in 2002. While slightly dated, the central thesis and the vast majority of the content holds up rather well. It promotes the supernatural hypothesis, and further that the supernatural beings are, in fact, demons on account of the deception that seems to be involved. (Note: with their nomenclature they label their view as an interdimensional hypothesis, although they differentiate their non-physical/spiritual view from views involving the 10 known physical dimensions).

In chapter 5 Ross provides an excellent overview of the problems with interstellar space travel, mainly touching on sub-light-speed travel and the nearly-insuperable barriers involved there. While he does cover the issue of wormholes (you need to fly into a black hole, in which case every particle of your body/vehicle is utterly destroyed), he otherwise doesn’t broach the issue of the plausibility of FTL travel.

With Albert Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, physicists have known that the speed of light is the universe’s speed limit. This theory has been well-supported by experiments over the last century, and few doubt its veracity. Nonetheless, some have wondered if there is a way “around” this. Not by violating this speed limit, but by “warping” the fabric of space itself, bunching up or stretching space like a knit quilt. This, of course, is the “warp drive” of Star Trek and so much other science fiction.

There were essentially no serious proposals in the world of theoretical physics for such a means of FTL propulsion, until 1994 when Miguel Alcubierre proposed a method that comported with General Relativity. The problem was that it required negative energy. A lot of it. So an interesting theoretical exercise, but otherwise hopeless.

Just this year (2021), there has been two papers that have presented concepts for positive-energy warp travel. One is, in fact, still slower-than-light travel, but at least does not resort to a requirement for negative energy. The other, by Erik Lentz, provides FTL travel but:

“Currently, the amount of energy required for this new type of space propulsion drive is still immense. Lentz explains, “The energy required for this drive travelling at light speed encompassing a spacecraft of 100 meters in radius is on the order of hundreds of times of the mass of the planet Jupiter.”

I certainly don’t have a few hundred Jupiters lying around for such purposes, so this isn’t promising. To be fair, Lentz does go on to say “several energy-saving mechanisms have been proposed in earlier research that can potentially lower the energy required by nearly 60 orders of magnitude.” But at this juncture ALL of the above proposals are so theoretical, we really need something beyond these notional papers to get within the realm of credibility.

To conclude, a few theological takeaways:

1. We have in the recent UFO videos and testimony, compelling evidence of non-physical beings and their remarkable intrusions and activities in our world. And that, at minimum, this demonstrates the reality of supernatural phenomena, and thus a refutation of materialism (i.e. the belief that physical reality is all there is).
2. A strong caution that we should not seek to communicate with or put ourselves into any position to be deceived by these beings. Fundamentally, this isn’t a new problem: many cults and false religions in the history of the world have involved deception from evil spirits.
3. The good news is that many of our secular friends also find the recent UFO evidences to be compelling. As well they should. And there we have an excellent opportunity to witness to them about Christianity. That our worldview can fully account for such supernatural phenomena, especially when contrasted with atheistic/materialist alternatives.

Along with Ross’ book, please spend a few minutes to view the very up-to-date “Goy for Jesus” video here. An excellent overview of the recent phenomena and analysis from a Protestant, Christian perspective.

On the Apostle Paul’s Above Reproach Criterion

Posted by R. Fowler White

1 Tim 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach … (δεῖ οὖν τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνεπίλημπτον εἶναι).
Titus 1: 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach … (δεῖ γὰρ τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνέγκλητον εἶναι ὡς θεοῦ οἰκονόμον).

Introduction. While considering whether men who experience same-sex inclinations should be ordained to or remain in the office of elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), one focus of attention has been the Apostle Paul’s criterion in 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:7 requiring candidates for eldership to be above reproach. To put that requirement in perspective, it is useful to observe that, in the commentaries on these texts, there is substantial agreement that the above reproach standard is most likely a summary of the specific qualifications listed thereafter. Granted that consensus, our question in the following post is this: does the criterion allow for variable assessment by sessions and presbyteries when applied to individual cases? Before we take up that question, let’s consider several preliminary stipulations.

Three means. First, we propose to stipulate that self-description is one of three parts that make up a man’s call to ministry. When elders, in their ordination vows for the PCA, “approve of [its] form of government and discipline …, in conformity with the general principles of Biblical polity” (BCO 21-5.3), that approval involves their affirmation that “ordinary vocation to office in the Church is the calling of God by the Spirit, through the inward testimony of a good conscience, the manifest approbation of God’s people, and the concurring judgment of a lawful court of the Church” (BCO 16-1). In this light, ordained PCA overseers have affirmed that there are three means through which “the calling of God by the Spirit” is realized. (Fittingly, Paul’s charge to Timothy in 1 Tim 4:12-16 with 1 Tim 1:18-19a; 2 Tim 1:6, 14 illustrates all three components.) We affirm, then, that, when it comes to making judgments about fitness for office, assessment will include but will not be limited to a man’s self-description. We follow the Apostle’s example as expressed in BCO 16-1 and stipulate that the Spirit of God gives His testimony that a man should be inducted into or remain in office through all three measures mentioned above.

A Good Reputation. Second, though the preceding summary may be agreeable enough, we suggest that it strengthens our consensus to fill in the picture in BCO 16-1 from the contexts of 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:7. Factoring in the content of 1 Tim 1:3-11; 3:7; 4:12-16; Titus 1:10-16; and 2:7-8, we confirm that a candidate’s self-description is not the Apostle’s only or even primary focus. This is not to say that Paul advocates an approach of suspicion, but rather one of earned credibility. In a phrase, trust but verify. Why? Because Paul is eager to establish the necessary contrast between the church’s elders and false teachers when it comes to their self-description, doctrine, and practice. In doing so, he calls special attention to what the false teachers believe and declare about themselves: they profess to know God (Titus 1:16). We do not doubt the candidates for eldership also professed to know God. What is of interest to the Apostle, however, is not a man’s profession (self-description) as such, but rather the consistency of a man’s teaching and practice with his profession. In other words, a man’s self-description is of no interest to Paul if neither his doctrine (1:10-14) nor his practice (1:15-16) matches up to it. Even if a man believes and declares himself conscientiously to be above reproach, his open and honest self-description is not sufficient or conclusive to demonstrate that he is as he believes and declares himself to be. Transparency and authenticity, while praiseworthy, are, in themselves, inadequate to prove qualification or to protect against disqualification.

Unmistakably, we anticipate that a man will humbly describe his character and conduct—personal, domestic, and public—as a fitting example for others to follow in their own profession, doctrine, and practice. Particularly in his self-description, we expect that a man will conscientiously describe himself in terms of his Christian experience and inward call to the ministry (BCO 24-1.a). We also expect that, in distinction from a recent convert, he will present himself as a man of mature profession, teaching, and practice, devoted to genuine experiential religion, including his ongoing crucifixion of indwelling sin and all its corruptions to our nature that incline us to evil. Overall, then, the contexts of 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:7 provide us a synopsis of the point expressed in BCO 21-5 and BCO 16-1: a candidate’s doctrine and practice must bring no reproach on what he believes and declares himself to be, nor on what the church believes and declares itself to be. He must be above reproach—have a good reputation—not only with those inside the church, but also with those outside the church, including with the church’s opponents.

A Good Reputation with Outsiders? Third, though we can all agree that, for the Apostle, the above reproach criterion involves the specific qualification of a good reputation with those outside as well as inside the church (δεῖ δὲ καὶ μαρτυρίαν καλὴν ἔχειν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξωθεν, 1 Tim 3:7; 4:12-16), we can also agree that a shared approbation from outsiders and insiders presumes a shared definition of the good, at least on pertinent issues. Clearly, however, we should ask, how can those outside and inside the church come to share a definition of what is good? Since we would all agree that Paul does not look to outsiders to define the good, we can surely agree that the good reputation qualification presumes that insiders know what is good from God’s revelation in the apostolic traditions (which included the law of Moses), in nature, and in conscience, and that outsiders know what is good from His revelation in nature and conscience (Rom 1:18-23, 32; 2:14-15). Accordingly, as Ridderbos reminds us, though Paul declares that outsiders are all subject to God’s wrath (Rom 1:18, 24, 26, 28; Eph 2:3), he also acknowledges differences among them. He knows that not all outsiders are guilty of the most heinous sins. Some show the requirement of God’s law written in their hearts, as their conscience, though defiled by sin, bears witness to good and evil as defined by God’s revelation (Rom 2:14-15). They are thus commendable, even if in a civic sense only, for their good conduct (Rom 13:3-5; cf. 1 Cor 5:1-2; 1 Tim 5:8).

Knowing, then, that outsiders vary in their judgments, it is for the church to accept the judgment of outsiders only when it accords with God’s revealed will (cf. Rom 12:17; Col 4:5; 2 Cor 8:21). Remarkably, this is what Paul himself does when he accepts as true the testimony of an outsider about the Cretans (whose reputation included the practice of homosexual religious rites) as he applies it to certain divisive teachers in the Cretan church (Titus 1:12-13a; 1:9-16; 3:10-11). Therefore, when it comes to the matter of sexual immorality and specifically homosexuality, we reasonably infer that Paul acknowledged differences among outsiders. Though some in Greco-Roman culture showed the requirement of God’s law written in their hearts, the Apostle well knew that, outside the NT church, homosexuality was widely tolerated or approved in that culture (e.g., Rom 1:32a), just as it had been tolerated or approved in Canaanite and other ANE cultures outside of the OT church. When it came, then, to the issue of a good reputation with outsiders, the Apostle does not require the church and its officers to gain the respect of all outsiders without exception. Instead, he requires the church and its officers to gain the respect of outsiders who by nature do what the law requires … [who] are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law … [who] show that the work of the law written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them (Rom 2:14-15). In this way, we get our bearings on our time. We see that it is not materially different from the ancient past. We know that outsiders today vary in their judgment about homosexuality and other sexual immoralities, but we also know that they largely affirm these vices in greater or lesser degree. Thus, when our congregations, sessions, and presbyteries come to Paul’s specific qualification that an elder candidate should have a good reputation with those outside the church, we should look only to those outsiders who share our definition of what is good. If, as a result, we lose the respect of other outsiders, we remain faithful to implore them to join us in acknowledging that we are all sinners in God’s sight, justly deserving His wrath and without hope except in His sovereign mercy, and in believing in our Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners, receiving and resting upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the Gospel.

Variable Assessment. With the preceding stipulations in place, we take up finally the question of whether the Apostle’s criterion allows for variable assessment when applied to individual cases. In the context of our considerations, we submit that allowance for variable individualized judgments among the churches is plainly at odds with the deliverance of universally binding standards to the congregations and with the connectionalism of the NT church. The overt aims of the Apostles to prevent individualization and to promote standardization of profession, teaching, and practice in the churches meant that judgments in the churches would not vary without accountability. Particularly as that connectionalism stemmed from the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the NT makes it explicit that the Council’s decisions were to be kept from one church situation to another, wherever the Gentile mission bore fruit (Acts 15:23; 16:4-5; 21:17-25). Moreover, there is evidence sufficient to indicate that to ensure the consistency of profession, doctrine, and practice in all the churches, the NT letters themselves, like the Jerusalem Council’s letter, were effectively open letters—hence official documents—for all the churches impacted by the Apostles’ Gentile mission (see, e.g., Col 4:16; Rev 2:1­–3:22). In general, from the earliest to the latest days of the Gentile mission, the NT bears witness that the Apostles set boundaries to prevent individualization of profession, doctrine, and practice among the churches by requiring them to implement the universally binding apostolic traditions delivered to them (2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 1 Cor 11:2, 16; 1 Tim 6:20; 2 Tim 2:2, 14; cf. 1 Cor 7:17). Once delivered to the churches, sessions and presbyteries were to apply those traditions with a view to standardizing what was professed, taught, and practiced in the congregations. Furthermore, given our focus on the above reproach criterion, it is noteworthy that embedded in the traditions of the Apostles was the moral law of Moses (e.g., 1 Tim 1:8-11; Rom 13:8-10), including the specific provision in the official resolution issued by the Jerusalem Council: the requirement of sexual purity (Acts 15:19-21, 29), the terminology of which included homosexuality and other sexual immoralities. That being the case, the official ministry in the churches was (is) to be carried out to promote their purity, to prevent their impurity, and to hold them accountable for their judgments relative to those purity standards. In fact, the NT documents associated with the Gentile mission show that this requirement was an indispensable point of emphasis in the churches (Acts 15:23; 16:4-5; 21:25; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:1-8; 1 Tim 1:10; Rev 2:14, 20-21).

Thus, though sessions and presbyteries may have reached varying judgments in individual cases, this did not mean that the apostolic standards were inherently subjective. To the contrary, the connectional principles of biblical church polity—mutual accountability, mutual dependency, and mutual submission—constrain our conclusion that the Apostles took the necessary steps to ensure that their standards, including officer qualifications with the above reproach criterion, would not vary from one situation to another, and that judgments about fitness for office by sessions and presbyteries, while variable when applied to individual cases, would be subject to external official review and correction. Of these principles, the Apostles’ correspondence to the congregation in Corinth, to Timothy and Titus, and to the congregations of Asia Minor provide multiple occasions addressing standards of sexual conduct (1 Cor 5:1-13; 6:9-20; 1 Tim 1:3-11; Titus 1:9-16; 3:8-11; Rev 2:14-16; 2:20-24).

Conclusion. In summary, when weighing the question of whether a man who experiences same-sex inclination should be ordained to or remain in the eldership of the PCA, it seems prudent to begin with the premise that evaluation of a man for office will include but will not be limited to his self-description. In addition, his doctrine and practice will be consistent with what he believes and declares himself to be and with what the church believes and declares itself to be. In this way, a candidate will gain a good reputation with those inside and outside the church, with the church accepting the judgment of outsiders only when it accords with God’s revealed will. All of these factors work together to fill out the picture of how the Spirit of God gives His testimony that a man should be inducted into or remain in the eldership through the testimonies of the candidate himself, a congregation, and a church court. Against the preceding backdrop, when we consider whether the Apostle’s above reproach criterion allowed for individualized judgments about fitness for eldership when it came to men experiencing homosexual inclinations, we have to deny that claim and oppose those who affirm it. Such a claim is at odds with the connectional obligation of congregations, sessions, and presbyteries to promote the consistency of the church’s profession, teaching, and practice with the apostolic traditions in general and with the sexual purity standards of Scripture in particular.

Two Creation Accounts?

It is a commonplace in historical-critical scholarship to assert that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 offer us two distinct (and usually, therefore, dependent on two different sources, J and E) creation accounts that contradict each other. The order of created things in Genesis 1 is light, firmament, separation of land and sea, plants, lights, fish, birds, land animals, humanity. In chapter 2, it is said, the order is very different: humanity, plants, land animals. Although this supposed discrepancy has been answered in the past by conservative scholars such as Keil and Delitzsch, the historical-critical scholars continue to cite this supposed discrepancy as if there were no answer to their claims.

It is my claim that there cannot be a discrepancy in the text, if it is read carefully, and without an assumption of contradiction. The exegesis of the text in Genesis 2 will show that the plants supposedly created after humanity are not all plants, but only cultivated plants. It is a relatively simple point. There are two reasons given in 2:5b for why the plants of 2:5a are not yet in existence. There was no rain, and there was no man to plow the ground. Now, the lack of rain could be reasonably used as a reason for why all plants were not yet in existence. The lack of a plowman, however, cannot be used as a reason for why all plants were not yet in existence. Wild plants thrive without any help from humans whatsoever. The plants of 2:5a, therefore, cannot be all plants. There has to be a more limited reference. If there is no plowman yet, then the plants of 2:5a have to be cultivated plants, farm plants, plants that need the human touch in order to thrive. So much for the plant issue.

The other issue of order has to do with the relative creation of humanity and the land animals. 2:19 seems to suggest that Adam was already in existence when God formed the land animals and brought them to Adam to see what he would call each creature. There is no need to interpret the text this way. Even though the word “formed” is a vayyiqtol (normal on-line narrative, normally denoting sequential action), the statement of forming could just as easily be a summation of days five and six as a statement of sequential order. The emphasis in the context is far more on the bringing and naming than on the forming. Furthermore, the forming of the creatures from the earth is an implicit contrast with the forming of the woman from the rib of the man. The text is saying that all the animals have the wrong origin to be Adam’s helper. Only someone who comes from his flesh and bone (2:23) will be the right helper.

What’s an Exile to Do? Trust in Your God, Stand Firm in His Grace

Posted by R. Fowler White

With this post we come to the end of our series on the Apostle Peter’s first letter, his survival manual for Christian exiles. His letter is as relevant now as it was in the 1st century because, in the ebb and flow of God’s providence, we Christians find ourselves increasingly pushed to the margins of public life, relegated to social-cultural, if not geographical exile. There’s little doubt that we who confess the historic Christian faith are increasingly viewed as terribly outdated by some and as simply insufferable by others. In that light, we ought to know how Peter would have us live life in this world. His closing message to us in 5:10-14 is as fundamental as it gets: mistreated by the world, embattled by indwelling sin, and threatened by the devil, trust in your invincible God (5:10-11) and stand firm in His grace (5:11-14). We should take a closer look at each of these closing exhortations.

First, continuing his theme of humility under God’s mighty hand (5:6-7), Peter urges us to keep trusting God, casting all our anxieties on Him, because He truly cares for us. Trials, even from the devil, are His “provide-ence” for us, meant to purify us, not damage us. Those whom our God calls to glory He brings through suffering. Our destination is not in the valley of the shadow of death. With Him, we walk through that valley, yes, suffering along the way but only for a little while. You see, our suffering is not eternal. It won’t last forever. Only glory is eternal; only glory is forever. Though we’re broken and hurt, stumbling, the God of all grace … will Himself restore us, putting all that was out of order in order, repairing whatever is damaged. He will Himself confirm us, placing us in a firm and fixed position, causing us to stay the course and remain constant in our faith. He will Himself strengthen us, making us courageous to endure all suffering without stumbling beyond recovery. He will Himself establish us, fortifying us to withstand whatever assaults may come. Peter knew this promise in his own life, for after the ordeal of his infamous threefold denial Christ had restored him, so that he reemerged as that first apostle, that rock of foundation, fixed and solid. No wonder Peter is moved to a doxology: to Him be dominion forever and ever! The promise that Peter had lived applies to us, his fellow exiles, as we make our way through this world. The God of all grace permits our suffering but overrules it to purify us. The God of all grace allows the devil to rage, but his rage we can endure, for lo! his doom is sure! The God of all grace is the Divine Warrior, not only gracious but also omnipotent. The power to accomplish His will is forever His. He will ultimately triumph over evil. What a promise this is from our God! How can we not trust in our invincible God and join Peter in his doxology?

Second and last, Peter exhorts us to stand firm in God’s grace (5:12-14). Here is Peter’s letter in one phrase. Through Silvanus (aka Silas), Peter’s courier, this letter would be circulated among the churches of the Roman provinces in Asia Minor as an exhortation and declaration to them of God’s true grace. As an apostle of Christ, he has laid out the doctrinal and moral truths we need as exiles. He has told us what God has graciously done for us in Christ. Based on Christ’s work, we’re commanded to live holy lives in keeping with that grace. And so, Peter exhorts us one final time to stand firm in grace, to resist all temptations to apostasy. Remember: despite suffering and trial, we’ve been born again to a living hope. We must live therefore in the holiness of that hope. Jesus, having Himself conquered all evil through His suffering, has called us to follow in His steps through suffering into glory. All who do so will be vindicated with Him. Stand firm, then; stand fast in the knowledge of His grace. As we do, we take courage from her who is in Babylon, that is, from our fellow exiles in the church-at-large throughout the known world (in Peter’s time, the Greco-Roman world). Peter may even be referring to the church in ancient Rome, the center of the then world empire and regime as ancient Babylon once was. But here’s Peter’s point: we’re not alone as we stand at the margins. While standing there, we do so firmly, taking courage from others, like John Mark, Peter’s son in the faith (5:13). Peter had known Mark from the earliest days of Jesus and His Church. This same Mark had traveled with Paul and Barnabas on their 1st missionary journey (Acts 13-14). Though Mark had turned back when they got to Asia Minor (Acts 14:24-28) and Paul had rejected him as a co-worker for the next journey, his relationship with Paul had later been restored for ministry together. Having learned of this reunion, Peter had seen the grace of restoration at work. We should see it too and be sure to take encouragement from it. Lastly, while standing firm, we should take courage from each other (5:14a). As we exchange the legendary “holy kiss”—here called the kiss of love, Peter’s point is not a kiss itself, but any outward expression of communion with and affection among us saints as we share in the love and peace of Christ. Fittingly, in that communion of love, we find peace in our God (5:14b). As Peter’s readers, marginalized or worse, we know ourselves to be under some stress, even in distress. How timely it is, then, to hear a benediction of peace from the Apostle who would have us persevere to the end.

So, what’s an exile to do when pushed to the margins of public life, relegated to social-cultural, if not geographical exile? Trust in our invincible God, and stand firm in His grace. The hatred of the world, the fleshly desires at war with our souls, the roar of that diabolical lion—all threaten to undo us. Did we in our own strength confide, we know our striving would be losing. But we’re assured of even more: the right man [is] on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Christ, it is He, Lord Sabaoth His name, from age to age the same, and He must win the battle. So, again, what’re we exiles to do? We’re to listen to His benediction: Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you. … Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (John 14:27). We’re to read again—and again as needed—the words of His Apostle: Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls (1 Pet 1:8b-9).

What’s an Exile to Do? Resist the Devil

Posted by R. Fowler White

In our last few posts from First Peter, we’ve noticed that the Apostle has been focusing our attention on the type of people we need to be to assure our perseverance in times of persecution. In such contexts, we usually hear or read about our three chief enemies: the world, the flesh, and the devil. In that light, we notice that Peter has talked to us about the world and about the flesh (the sin that indwells us) in 2:11-12. It’s remarkable to realize, then, that in 5:8-9 he nears the finish line by talking about the devil. Peter’s exhortation brings to mind the words that someone has said: “One great error we make is to underestimate the power of Satan. We need a sober and a vigilant understanding of his person and work.” So ask yourself, as I ask myself: do I underestimate Satan’s power? Do I have a sober and vigilant understanding of his person and work? Some might ask, why think about these questions? Because the Apostle tells us that to assure our perseverance in times of marginalization and even persecution, we must resist the devil. To find out just how do we do that, check out the details that Peter provides.

The Apostle declares to us: be sober-minded; be watchful (5:8a). Twice before he has exhorted us in similar terms in chaps. 1 and 4 (1:13; 4:7). He does it again here in chap. 5, and his point is basically the same: “Don’t let the tests and trials of this life make you careless or make you lose sight of the goal.” In other words, Peter doesn’t want us living our lives with distractions or blurred vision. He knows, and we must know, that the trials of exile can divert our attention from our ultimate destination or distract us from the dangers around us. The right state of mind is, therefore, vital to our perseverance. So, he says, stay focused; stay vigilant.

In 5:8b-9, Peter turns specifically to one danger he has in mind, and it’s an enemy whose presence should rivet our attention. Why be sober-minded and watchful? Because your adversary the devil is on the prowl. This is the only place in First Peter where the Apostle mentions the invisible powers of this present darkness who threaten us. This particular foe often works through others whom he has influenced, attacked, or even indwelt. He is said here to prowl around like a roaring lion, looking for and stalking his prey. We hear his roar in the slanderer who undermines God’s word, in the deceiver who distracts us from God’s glory, in the tempter who corrupts our relationships with God and others, particularly His people. He’s a destructive predator whose roar is meant to terrorize us, to force us to cower or even to deny the faith. Don’t give in, says Peter. Resist him. Remain firm in your faith. Continue entrusting yourself to your faithful Creator and the righteous Judge. Through that faith He is protecting us (1:5). Through that faith our souls are on deposit with our trustworthy God for safekeeping (4:19). Clearly, the danger to us is not that we’re helpless; the danger is that we’ll fail to resist. So, Peter says, in effect, hold steady; watch and pray. Stand firm. Resist the devil, and do so knowing that we’re not being singled out. The same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. We’re not the only ones being verbally insulted or physically attacked for Christ. Throughout the world there are others going through exactly what we’re going through—and, yes, some are going through unquestionably worse than we are. So, resist the devil, recognizing that for all of us who suffer unjustly there’s a fellowship in Christ that binds us together. No, we’re not being singled out: the devil’s evil campaign is worldwide, and there are others just like us throughout the world.

Several decades ago, during a presidential campaign, a political ad ran with the following words: There is a bear in the woods. For some people, the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear. Fellow Christian exiles, marginalized or worse, the Apostle Peter reminds us that, unlike that bear in the woods, there’s no “if” about the roaring lion on the prowl. Some don’t see him at all, but there’s no doubt about his sinister presence in this world. He’s vicious and dangerous, seeking unsuspecting prey to devour. In that light, maturing Christians will be alert to the reality that lurking behind various powers and forces that dominate life in this world is a diabolical enemy who roams the earth, hunting for victims. Listen for his roars in those voices that slander God’s word, that distract from God’s glory, that corrupt your relationships. Even as you discern his presence, don’t underestimate his power or his purpose. Don’t be his unsuspecting prey. As the Apostle tells us, resist that lion-like devil, trusting in God’s mighty hand, and watch him flee (Jas 4:7). He’s powerful, but he’s not invincibleand he knows it. In doing so, gain the assurance that you’ll persevere to the end of these times of marginalization and persecution.

SSA Identification is Not Above Reproach

<rdp> As the Presbyterian Church in America draws closer to this year’s General Assembly, we’re beginning to focus a bit more on the core issues around the question of same-sex-attracted (SSA) men and ordination to sacred office. While there are lots of variables and permutations in front of us, the focus is rightly placed upon the one instantiation (the concrete example) of a teaching elder’s identification as a SSA (homosexual, gay) – (hyphenated) Christian (professing believer in Jesus Christ).

In a previous post I provided a simple summary of why I believe that men so identifying themselves are not above reproach. Accordingly, following the Bible’s rationale here, such men are NOT qualified for sacred office. More, in saying that they are not qualified, this is not a mere declaration that they don’t check off the boxes in a biblical qualifications checklist. No, reading these qualifications via the Bible’s idea of evidence of the Spirit’s work, what I am more fully concluding is that such a man’s lack of the biblical qualifications demonstrates that God has not called him to sacred office. Hence, in submission to the Head of the Body, the Church, we cannot place hands on him in ordination to sacred office.

Of course, these opinions generate some questions, most quite understandable and reasonable. I don’t propose I am the person to answer all these questions. I am not equipped to answer some of them, nor do I have the time to answer all of them. Suffice to say, I strongly recommend reliance on resources from others. Among those, let me highlight a few that presently are drawing my attention (in hopes that you may find them useful too):

Following my previous behavior, this past week I’ve sought to carefully listen to those interacting with my blog post, especially those who’ve disagreed with me. As of today, I am even more persuaded that an SSA-Christian man is not qualified for/not called to sacred office. He is not above reproach. Such a man has established as part of his identity a sin that is against nature (Jude 1:7; Rom 1:26). This identification may be nothing more than a confusion of a worldly-informed identity matrix (complex of principles). Yet at the very least such an identification marks him as one who has not (yet) secured the blessing of living in the language of 1Co 6:11:

“And such were some of you.” (e.g., formerly identifying with your SSA, rdp). “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1Co 6:11 ESV)

reed depace

What’s an Exile to Do? Submission and Humility in God’s Sheepfold

Posted by R. Fowler White

In Peter’s first letter—his “Survival Manual for Marginalized Christians”—he focuses our attention on the type of people we Christians need to be to assure our perseverance through the time of our present exile (1 Pet 1:17). He’s exhorted us to pursue moral excellence as we deal with both the world and the sinful passions that wage war against our souls (2:11-12). He’s told us our duties to civil authorities, to bosses, to spouses, to our fellow Christians, and to critics and other persecutors. Having turned again to discuss life in God’s sheepfold in 5:1-11, Peter has talked to us about the ministry of discipleship that elders must perform to assure our perseverance (5:1-4). Now, in 5:5-7, he begins his final appeal to those in the flock whom he calls younger (5:5a) and to all of the sheep (5:5b-7).

When we turn to 5:5a, Peter issues a call to be subject that we’ve heard before (2:13, 18; 3:1), but translators and commentators differ as to who the younger and the elders are. Do both terms refer to men? Do they differ in age, or in Christian maturity, or in office? The Apostle’s immediately preceding reference to the elders as shepherds of God’s flock and the specific duty he enjoins on the younger (be subject) tell us that he’s shifting his focus from what the elders owe the flock to what the flock, particularly those younger in the faith, owe those installed as their elders. Presuming, then, that the flock has recognized their shepherds, Peter instructs us how we non-elders must respond to their ministry. He tells the younger sheep, likewise, be subject to the elders (5:5a; cf. 2:13, 18; 3:1). Clearly, the Apostle doesn’t look on the younger as mere consumers shopping for a church that meets their every preference. No, for Peter, church life is about entering a sheepfold in which there are shepherds qualified to care for God’s sheep. It’s about submitting ourselves to those overseers, placing ourselves in their care, taking our place responsibly under them (cf. 1 Thess 5:12-13; Heb 13:17). Furthermore, as Peter showed in 5:1-3 and will show again in 5:5b-6, the relationship of God’s flock to the elders is not about us non-elders adopting servile, much less rebellious dispositions and behaviors toward our shepherds. On the contrary, flawed and finite as elders are, our submission to them is conditioned first by our obedient humility before God. As such, submission in the sheepfold is, as in every other human relationship, an act of faith: we who are non-elders keep entrusting ourselves to God as we subordinate ourselves to elders, knowing that the Chief Shepherd holds them accountable.

Having called us non-elders to take our place under our elders’ care, the Apostle moves promptly to call all of us to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another (5:5b). Interestingly, Peter’s command is for us all to put on one and the same garment, and not just any garment: he specifies that we put on humility. Perhaps Peter here is thinking of what Jesus did (John 13:4-15) when He girded Himself with a towel and taught the disciples—Peter in particular (John 13:6-11)—the lesson of humility (John 13:15). Why humility? Because, as Peter has already told us (3:8), in a colony of exiles, competition for privilege or power is toxic; commitment to the common good is essential (cf. Phil 1:27–2:5). In times of social marginalization or even persecution, then, mutual humility within the sheepfold is an indispensable virtue. We must mortify dispositions and behaviors that domineer, usurp, or withdraw, and instead find our places in honoring and serving others according to our gifts (4:10). But there’s something even more fundamental that lies behind Peter’s exhortation: God’s actions toward the proud and the humble. The former He resists; the latter He favors (cf. 2:19-20). Once again, Peter engages critically with the world’s expectations: he shows us how God deals with the proud and the humble and, in the process, he reforms how we should order our social relationships.

The truth that it is God’s prerogative to apportion honor leads Peter to reassert his call for humility in 5:6-7, but now he underscores that God’s actions toward the proud and the humble require our humility under His almighty hand. Peter has told us that suffering comes to faithful Christians and is part of God’s providence. He’s told us that painful trials are part of the normal Christian life and are the way God purifies us. It is for us, then, to bow ourselves low before Him and to entrust ourselves to Him. If we confess that He really does use even unjust suffering to accomplish His refining purpose in our lives, we must also confess that He has it under His control and us under His care. Our mighty God is more concerned about our welfare than we could possibly be: after all, both His glory and our good are at stake. What greater incentive could there be for us to cast all our anxieties on Him?

So, fellow exiles, do we wish to assure our endurance throughout this time of our present exile (1:17)? Then we must heed the pointed word that Peter has for us in 5:5-7. He would have us recognize what social marginalization and even persecution do to us: they tempt us, out of pride and its fruit anxiety, to compete for the privilege and power denied to us. But such carnal competition has neither efficacy nor place in God’s sheepfold. Why? Because God resists the proud and favors the humble. The Apostle, therefore, commands us to mortify all desire to domineer, usurp, or withdraw and to take our places in honoring and serving others according to our gifts, whether we’re elders or non-elders. He commands all of us in God’s flock to humble ourselves before Him, because His hand is mighty to bring down the proud and to raise up the humble at the proper time. These are our duties, says Peter, because God has made submission and humility twin means of our perseverance in this time of our exile.

No SSA Clergy in the PCA

<rdp> So for me, this has been a bit of a difficult decision to arrive at. Others I respect got here a lot sooner. Some I respect still decline to even travel in this direction. But, as the headline says above, I am convicted that same-sex-attracted men are not qualified to serve as ministers (teaching elders, pastors) in any denomination that seeks biblical fidelity in their ordination practices. As this is one of the biggie issues in our circles, allow me a few words to explain, support, and defend my conviction.

Background

Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, is the Sr. pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis. He has publicly identified as a man who is both a Christian and gay. That is, he affirms that both labels are essential in describing his core identity. He affirms all of the PCA’s doctrinal standards, including that same sex attraction (SSA) is sinful, both in desire and practice.

Sounds like, “what’s the problem?” at this point, I know. Indeed, when this first came to my attention (as best I recollect, sometime in 2018), after the first few months’ flurry of interaction and discussion I was inclined to think that, while there may be some minor problems, nothing rose to the level of reaching the conclusion I am affirming in this post. I made a connection with Greg (via Facebook). He graciously accepted my friendship request. He engaged in a number of private messages with me, even when he was being bombarded with people wanting a slice of his attention. (Out of care for him, I decided to not take advantage of our social media “friendship”. At best, we’re acquaintances, showing respect and kindness toward one another via social media’s limits.) Greg has treated me with nothing but the best of Christian kindness. I’m grateful to count him among my brothers in Christ, whom I will see around the throne of Christ in glory. Writing this blog post, then, grieves me.

The Nutshell

God requires men to be ordained as ministers in his church (1Ti 2:12). Further, he requires such men to be above reproach:

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you–if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination.” (Tit 1:5-6 ESV)

I recognize others will have different opinions as to what this means. For me, as God has grown me in the wonders of his perfect grace and mercy in Jesus, his comforting kindness and secure love has led me to a deepening desire to not lean on my own understanding, but align my beliefs and practices as closely as possible to what his Bible says, without variation (Pro 3:5-6). I’ve learned to take quite seriously God’s warnings to neither add to or subtract from his Bible (Dt 4:2; 12:32; Pro 30:6; Rv 22:18-19). I’ve become increasingly cautious that I neither get off-track to the right or to the left in any matter the BIble addresses (Dt 5:32; 28:14; Jos 1:7; Pro 4:27).

This has led me to conclude that identifying as a (SSA) gay-Christian makes a man not above reproach. He may indeed have a credible profession of faith. His life may in every other way be an exemplar of Christian virtue. Yet in the one vital area of sexual ethics, such a man has declared that he is not above reproach. At best, his life is marked by an ongoing struggle with a sexual perversion that both those inside and outside the church identify as debauchery:

“TNDT Dictionary: 112
ἀσώτως aÃsoÒtos [dissolute],
ἀσωτία asoÒtiÃa [debauchery]
The original sense is “incurable”; then we have the ideas of dissipation, gluttony, voluptuousness, and indiscipline. The only OT instances are Prov. 7:11 and 28:7. The reference in Lk. 15:7 is to the prodigal’s life of dissipation, and in Eph. 5:18; Tit. 1:6; 1 Pet. 4:4 to a disorderly life (rather than voluptuousness). [W. FOERSTER, I, 506-07]”

Such debauchery is not limited to the actions of those who indulge their SSA, but it certainly includes such things:

“For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you.” (1Pt 4:3-4 ESV)

Let me be clear at this point: Greg declares that he has never engaged his SSA. He declares that he continually fights this temptation of his fallen flesh with the resources of Christ. And I believe him! Let no one misread me and infer that I’m suggesting Greg is guilty of SSA practice. I am most certainly not!

Instead, Greg’s own resolute self-identifying as a gay-Christian marks him as one who is ever suspect. His conviction that his SSA is an integral part of his personal identity means that both those in the church and outside the church will always wonder if Greg is free of any and all charges of debauchery. This is even the case for those who believe SSA is not condemnable. Certainly they will never think Greg is chargeable with debauchery, but that is only because they do not believe SSA desire or practice is sinful!

Thus, a Christian man who ongoingly identifies as a gay-Christian is, by that self-identification, declaring himself to be disqualified for sacred office in the church of Christ. All the debates about concupiscence, mortification, etc. (as important as they are), do not remove the disqualifying effect of the self-identification as a gay-Christian. Such a man will, as fine as he and his life may be in all other ways, always be marked this side of eternity as one who may be guilty of a debauchery attached to his SSA. Disappointing and discouraging as this conclusion may be, it is the only one that respects the integrity of Scripture, that takes it exactly at it’s word, neither turning to the left or the right, but maintaining God’s sole authority.

Notwithstandings

I recognize that the discussion on these matters has left many with frustrations. Men on both sides may feel like those on the other have not listened to them, or are guilty (even inadvertently) of equivocation. Yet, in the providence of God, we’ve not seen much progress in collapsing the gaps between us.

I also recognize that the motivations of Greg (and those agreeing with him) are dominated by concerns for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom. Even where I’ve been deeply and personally offended by some things found among those supporting Greg’s position, I recognize that the motives have been consistent with the desire to lift up Christ that all the lost elect might be drawn to him and be saved. Nevertheless, the gay-Christian identification is a compromise with the world’s system of thought. It is a syncretism that in time will yield a destructive harvest in the churches that adopt it. Rather than be helpful to the cause of Christ, the insistence that identifying as a gay-Christian is consistent with biblical fidelity is a pernicious error which can only bring dissoluteness.

For such considerations, as much I wish no harm to Rev. Dr. Greg Johnson, I believe we cannot affirm his calling as a minister in the PCA. Rather, I think we have no choice but to take the actions necessary to make sure no man identifying as a gay-Christian is ordained to sacred office. He is not qualified because he is not above reproach.

Offered with prayers for God’s blessing in the hearts of my fellow elders in the PCA,

Rev. Dr. Reed DePace

[Postscript, 4/24/21: thank you to the brother/ministry that made a way for me to attend GA this year after all. See you in St. Louiee!]

What’s an Exile to Do? Elders, Shepherd God’s Exiled Flock

Posted by R. Fowler White

For well over a year now, the congregations of Christ’s church in our nation and world have been dealing with fast-developing, stress-producing changes in public health, economics, politics, and culture. In more ways than we Christians may realize, this current season of testing has offered us a trial run for future times when our marginalization may worsen. If that’s the case, we elders ought to ask: how’s it gone for us and the sheep in our care? Constrained by recent providence, have we elders learned what’s required of us, particularly in seasons of harder trials? Do those in our care regard us as examples to emulate in times of difficult testing? It’s not too late to examine ourselves in light of the instruction Peter has for elders in 1 Pet 5:1-4.

As the Apostle has worked through his plan for “the perseverance of the exiled saints,” he reminded us in 4:12-19 that trials of suffering for righteousness are part of the process by which God removes sin and its impurities from His church and ultimately the world. Following the order of Ezekiel’s prophecy, Peter addresses the church’s elders first, commanding them to shepherd the flock of God in their care (cf. 5:1-4 with Ezek 9:6). As we read these words, let’s recall that the eldership is one of two special offices in God’s house (the other being deacons; cf. Phil 1:1). Pointedly, elders are not a board of directors among whom one is a paid chief executive officer accountable to the others. No, the context in 1 Peter shows us that the terms elder, overseer (bishop), and shepherd (pastor) are essentially interchangeable titles, referring to all those men who by their example and instruction distinguish themselves as those who live a life of faith and practice worthy for others to emulate and who are therefore set apart for the ministry of discipleship, whether they make their living in that ministry or not (1 Tim 3:1-7; 4:12, 16; 5:17-18; 2 Tim 2:2, 24-25; Titus 1:5-9; Eph 4:11; Heb 13:7, 17 with 1 Pet 5:1-3). Having been recognized by congregations for their qualifications, Peter presumes that the non-elder members will submit themselves to their elders’ care, holding them in high esteem because they keep watch over them, give them instruction, serve as judges on their behalf, and otherwise manage the flock’s affairs (1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 3:5; 5:17-18; 1 Cor 6:4, 5 with Exod 18:21-26; Num 11:16-17). Given their responsibilities, it’s easy to see why Peter addresses the elders first.

Interestingly, to start off his exhortation, the Apostle Peter (1:1) cites his own qualifications as a fellow elder (5:1). He acknowledges his official connection with the other elders in the Dispersion (1:1) and presumably elsewhere. He also reminds readers that he’s a witness of Christ’s sufferings. Though Peter did not see Jesus’ crucifixion, he did remain with Jesus during the trials of His ministry (Luke 22:28) and certainly did know about the crucifixion and proclaimed it to others (Acts 2:23; 5:30; 10:39). Faithful, then, as a witness of and to Christ’s sufferings, the Apostle is assured that eternal glory will be his reward (5:1, 10). With his own qualifications laid out, Peter has now let his fellow elders know that he’s not asking them to undertake a ministry that he himself hasn’t undertaken. The particular tasks he has in mind follow.

Knowing that sheep need shepherds to keep them from straying as they suffer unjustly, Peter exhorts us who are elders to give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among us (5:2a NET). As shepherds, we’re obligated to know, feed (teach), guide, and guard the sheep under us. To clarify what he means by shepherding, Peter adds exercising oversight (5:2a), that is, watching over or supervising the sheep whom God has assigned to our care. As overseers, we’re stewards and guardians of the flock (cf. 2:25b), particularly as we defend them against any teaching, belief, or behavior that threatens to scatter or devour them (5:2a). But what attitude and approach are we to take in our work? Peter tells us, first negatively, then positively (5:2b-3). “Shepherd God’s flock,” he says, “not reluctantly or against your will, not because you’re coerced into doing it; but voluntarily, in keeping with God’s revealed character and will. Watch over His sheep, not to get money (like Judas) or influence, but to give care with a holy zeal. Exercise oversight, not by treating the sheep as your subjects or slaves, certainly not by bullying or intimidating them or by being abusive or harsh to them (2 Cor 1:23-24 with 11:20), but by setting an example for them to follow.” In sum, just as Peter framed husbands’ authority within limits defined by obedience to God and by Christ’s example, so he does the same with us who are elders. The Apostle emphatically forbids us shepherds from adopting ways that marginalize or otherwise injure the flock of God in our care.

Lastly, as if his qualifications weren’t enough to motivate us, Peter urges us elders to comply with his directions by pointing us to the future reward for faithful shepherds (5:4). It’s true, of course, that Paul requires elders who do their work well to receive a reward matching their labor now (1 Tim 5:17). Peter, however, looks to the future: if we elders do our work as undershepherds accountable to Jesus the Chief Shepherd, we who have shepherded as God would have us do it (5:2) will receive the unfading crown of glory. The Greco-Roman world rewarded athletes, soldiers, and politicians with crowns of unfading flowers. Peter, however, like Paul, sees God Himself granting that special reward on the last day (e.g., 1 Cor 9:25; 2 Tim 4:8). His point is clear: when Christ returns, God will openly acknowledge and honor faithful elders, even though the world may reject and vilify them now (2:4-8; 4:12-19).

According to Peter, God’s process of purifying the church and the world of sin and its impurities has begun with fiery trials at His house, and first in line for purification are the elders. And so our assignment is set before us: would we who are elders show others the lessons of perseverance that we have learned during recent providence? Would we prove ourselves worthy to be emulated by others moving forward? Then, following Peter’s example, we must devote ourselves, as the Chief Shepherd’s undershepherds, to knowing, feeding, guiding, and guarding the sheep in our care. Only then will we show that we’ve made good use of the current season of hardship and are worthy of emulation by others, particularly exiled (i.e., marginalized) saints.

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