Meditations in 1 Peter : 60: Guidance for Young Men
1 Pet 5:5a Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.
There are two schools of thought in churches about house groups or cell groups or whatever else you call them. One school separates people according to background, job etc. on the basis that the things they have in common will enable people to open up to each other and relate together better than might otherwise happen. They will also be better at reaching those with similar backgrounds. The other school mixes people up in groups on the basis that we learn from different ages and backgrounds. Both schools have merits. It is useful to focus on the commonalities – which include the unique experiences – of specific age groups or people groups, as well as mixing them up to learn from one another’s different experiences. However it is the former thing that comes out here. Peter now gives a simple word of guidance to a specific group – young men.
Interestingly each of the main apostle-writers picked up on young men at various times. Paul encouraged Titus by saying, “encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” (Titus 2:6,7) John in his first letter also wrote, “I write to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one …… I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God lives in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 Jn 2:13,14). Each of these writers thinks of something that is peculiar or unique to the experience of ‘young men’. For Paul it was the awareness that young men were full of vigour and energy and life which could be poured our in unrighteous, unrestrained, profligate living and so he cautions them to be self-controlled, observers of those who they could emulate well. John was aware similarly of the vigour and energy of young men but who, when they were Christians, could be valiant warriors who oppose the enemy and stand out in their generation.
Peter has a different aspect of being young and vigorous in his thinking. He recognises the tendency in the young, in the fullness of their energy and life, to feel that they are the people for today and it therefore becomes very easy to slip into a way of thinking that despises age. We are after all, they might think, the ones full of energy, the ones who are likely to bring change into this dull world, the ones with fresh new ideas. We are the church of today, the ones who are going to change the church and the world.
Now such thinking is good as long as it is seen within context: you are just part of the body of Christ and perhaps nowhere more than here in matters of youthfulness do Paul’s words about being part of a body ring true and need remembering: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Cor 12:27) and “Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1 Cor 12:14) and “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” (1 Cor 12:21)
The tendency of youthfulness is to say, “We don’t need you,” but that comes from lack of understanding. To be fair one has to say that that isn’t always true, at least in a church where the older people are loving and caring and open to the young people. I have been blessed by hearing some of our young people say they are blessed to be able to relate to, and be alongside, older people. The challenge, perhaps, is more for the older people!
But Peter is being more specific: “be submissive to those who are older.” Peter knows that an aspect of this youthful independence means a rejection of the wisdom and authority of those who God has called to lead the church, and that independence could therefore make them very vulnerable to the enemy. The answer is to be rightly related to the authority within the church which resides in those with wisdom and maturity in the church. Yes, youth does have all the energy and vibrancy that goes with younger years but without doubt wisdom comes with the experience of years. Unfortunately we live in an age when wisdom does not rate very highly in discussion areas, it is not valued. It is not realised that wisdom comes with experience and godly wisdom comes with experience of God.
Being submissive is all about attitude. It is about recognising that on our own we are vulnerable. It is about recognising that God calls leaders and our call is to recognise, acknowledge, esteem and let them lead. It is about having a teachable spirit, one who recognises they have much to learn (may we all have that until we go to heaven!) and is therefore open to hear what those who have walked this path before us have got to say. They may not have learnt the wisdom of the years but, nevertheless, listening to them will be instructive. It is about recognising authority that God has established and respecting and honouring it. It is about coming to an understanding of some of the burden that they carry, the responsibilities that they carry, their accountability to God. All these ways are simply expressions of what it means to be submissive to those who are older and in authority. In a day when the world and the enemy derides these things, we would do well to look at them again and ensure they are alive and well in the church.