When studying New Testament letters, one of the most important concepts to grasp is the occasion of the letter. Why was the letter written?
Peter gives the purpose for his writing in the closing remarks of his letter. Peter’s letter is one of encouragement and testimony to the grace of God with the intended purpose of producing perseverance through suffering (5:12). To this end, Peter gives two exhortations throughout this letter.
First, Peter called this community of believers to find hope in their new identity which is in Christ. These believers were experiencing some degree of suffering and persecution, and their present reality was characterized by distress. In the midst of their suffering, Peter encouraged them not to allow their present circumstances to overshadow the glorious grace which they have received in their salvation. In so doing, Peter was lifting their eyes to see the hope which belongs to the chosen people of God (2:9).
Second, as an outworking of the first, Peter called these believers to perseverance and holiness. For Peter, a believer’s hope in the glorious reward yet to come should have a transformative effect on the believer’s present life. For this reason, Peter called his readers to live godly lives. Such godliness is perhaps best exhibited in familial and social relationships as well as perseverance in suffering.
So how do Peter’s purposes in 1 Peter relate to 1 Peter 5:1-4?
Church leaders, as Christ’s appointed under-shepherds, are called to lead the church in these ways. By their lives, pastors are to provide an example for living as a faithful member of God’s people in the present evil age (5:3). Pastors must live godly lives marked by perseverance in the hope of the gospel. In addition to their personal commitment to Peter’s exhortations, pastors must serve as a shepherd for the flock entrusted to them (5:2). The author of Hebrews states that pastors will give an account for those sheep under their care (Heb. 13:17). For this reason, pastors should work diligently to keep the sheep on the path of faith and to protect the sheep from enemies seeking to destroy their faith.