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The Epistles Of St Peter And St Jude Preached And Explained by Martin Luther


V.1-4. The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and partaker of the glory which shall be revealed. Feed the flock of Christ which is among you, and take the oversight of it, not by constraint, but willingly, not for the love of vile gain, but of a ready mind, not as Lords over the heritage, but be ye examples for the flock. Thus when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive the enduring crown.

There St. Peter gives a direction for the behaviour of such as are to preside over the people in the spiritual government. He has already said in the last chapter, that no one should teach or preach anything, unless he be sure that it is the word of God, so that our conscience may stand on the firm rock. For this is imperative on us as Christians, that we must be assured what is well-pleasing to God, or not. Where this is wanting none can be a Christian. Afterward he taught us, that whatever work or office any one might have, he should discharge it as though God wrought in it. But the present passage refers particularly to the bishops or pastors as to what their fitness and conduct should be. But here you must pause and learn the meaning of the words. The expression presbyter or priest is a Greek word, rendered in Dutch an elder, just as in Latin these were called senators; that is, a number of aged, careful men of much experience. So Christ also has called his officers and his council, who bear spiritual rule; that is, who are to preach and provide for some christian church. Therefore you must not mistake, though they are called at the present day by a different title, priests. For of those who are now called priests, Scripture knows nothing. Put the real state of things as it now comes to pass out of sight, and apprehend the matter thus: that St. Peter and the other Apostles, when they arrived at a city where there were faithful people or Christians, have selected there some few aged men of honorable standing, having wife and children, and being well-grounded in the Scriptures. These were called presbyters. After this Peter and Paul call them Episcopos, that is, bishop. So that priest and bishop are one and the same thing. Of this we have a fine example in the legend of St. Martyn, where an individual, with several companions, arrives in Africa at a certain place, and perceives a man lying there in a hovel, whom they took for a husbandman, though they knew not who he was. Afterwards, when the people had come together at that place, this very man arose and preached, when they perceived that it was their pastor or bishop; for at that time they were not distinguished from other people by their peculiar kind of clothing and attendance.

Those elders, says St. Peter, who are to care for and to oversee the people, do I admonish, who am also one. Hence you clearly perceive that they whom he calls elders, have been in the ministry and have preached, since he speaks of himself also as an elder. And here St. Peter humbles himself -- does not say that he was a Lord, although he might have had authority for it since he was an Apostle of Christ, and speaks of himself not only as a fellow-elder, but also as a witness of the sufferings that were in Christ. As though he had said, I do not merely preach, but am a partaker with Christians, even suffering Christians. Thereby he shows that wherever Christians are they must suffer and be persecuted. Such is a genuine Apostle. If such a Pope or a bishop were to be found among these men that bear the title at the present day, we would gladly kiss his feet.

And partaker of the glory which shall be revealed. This is something still more exalted, and evidently a bishop must not lightly say it. For here St. Peter claims to be a saint. He was certain that he should be saved, for he had strong assurance, as when Christ said, |I have chosen you| -- yet it had cost much pains ere the Apostles attained it. They must first be humbled and wickedly derided. Now, although he knew that he was a partaker of salvation, still he is not proud, neither does he exalt himself, although he is a saint. But what were the elders therefore to do? It follows:

V.2. Feed the flock of Christ which is among you. Christ is the chief Shepherd, and has many shepherds under Him, -- as also many herds of sheep which He has committed to His shepherds, here and there, as St. Peter writes in this place, in many lands. What are these shepherds to do? They are to feed the flock of Christ. This the Pope has arrogated to himself, and thus claims that he is sovereign lord, and will dispose of the sheep as he chooses. We know very well what feeding is, -- namely, that the shepherd should distribute provision and set food before the sheep, that they may thrive. Besides, they are to guard lest the wolves come and rend the sheep, -- that is, that they may not assault and worry them.

Now St. Peter says, particularly, the flock of Christ, as though he should say: Do not imagine that the flock is yours, ye are only servants. But our bishops speak with all confidence the reverse of this. They say, you are my sheep. But we are Christ's sheep; for so he said above, |Ye are now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.| The bishops are Christ's servants, and their business is to guard Christ's sheep, and feed them. Therefore to feed them is nothing else but to preach the Gospel, whereby souls are nourished, made fat and fruitful, -- since the sheep thrive upon the Gospel and the word of God. This is alone the office of a bishop. So Christ says also to Peter, |Feed my sheep,| -- that is, the sheep which you are to feed, are not yours, but mine. Yet from this they have inferred the doctrine that the Pope has external power over all Christendom, and yet none of them preaches to you one word out of the Gospel; and I fear that since St. Peter's times there has been no Pope that has preached the Gospel. There has certainly been none who has written and left anything behind him in which the Gospel was contained. Saint Gregory, the Pope, was certainly a holy man, but his sermons are not worth a farthing; so that it would seem that the See of Rome has been under the special curse of God. It is very possible that some Popes may have endured martyrdom for the Gospel's sake; but nothing has been written of them to show that it was the Gospel. And yet they go on and preach that they must feed the flock; and yet they do nothing but bind and destroy the conscience, by laws of their own, while they preach not a word of Christ.

It is probable, indeed, that among all Christians many might be found, both men and women, as able to preach as those who are thus employed. But certainly among all these multitudes there are many people who have not this ability. And therefore some one must be selected to strengthen them, so that the wolves shall not come and tear the sheep. For a preacher must not only feed the sheep, so as to instruct them how they are to be good Christians, but, besides this, must guard against the wolves, lest they attack the sheep and lead them astray with false doctrine, and introduce error such as the devil would not find fault with. But there are many people to be found at the present day, quite ready to tolerate our preaching of the Gospel, if we would not cry out against the wolves and preach against the prelates.

But though I were to preach the simple truth, and feed the sheep and give them good instruction, still it is not enough unless the sheep be guarded and protected, so that the wolves do not come and carry them off. For what is it that is built, if I throw out one stone and see another thrown into its place? The wolf can very readily endure to have the sheep well fed; he had rather have it so, that they may be fat. But this he cannot endure, the hostile bark of the dogs. Therefore is it a most important matter, if well considered, that we should truly feed the flock, as God has commanded it.

The flock, he says, which is among you, -- that is, which is with you, not that they are to lie at your feet. And oversee them not by constraint, but willingly, not out of love for vile gain. There he has expressed, in a single word, what the prophet Ezekiel writes, chap. xxxiv., of shepherds or bishops. And this is the meaning: you are not only to feed them, but also pay attention and be carefully faithful where it is called for and there is need. And here he uses a Greek word, Episcopountes, -- that is, being bishops, and it comes from the word Episcopos, -- that is, rendered in Dutch, an overseer, a guardian, who is on the watch or look-out, and takes notice of what every one around him wants. Observe, then, how a bishop and an elder are one and the same thing. So that that is false which they now say, that the bishop's office is a dignity, and that he is a bishop who wears a pointed hat on his head. It is not a dignity, but a ministry; so that he who has it should oversee and provide for us, and be our guardian, so as to know what is generally needed; that when one is weak and has a troubled conscience, he should then give help and comfort; when one falls, that he should raise him up, and things of this sort; so that the people of Christ may sufficiently be cared for, both in soul and body. For this reason, I have often said, that if a proper form of government was to be now established, there must in such a case be in one city as many as three or four bishops, who should have the oversight and care of the Church, providing for the general wants.

And here St. Peter touches on two points which might well appall any one from taking the charge over a people. In the first place, there are some to be found who are truly devoted, yet yield reluctantly to becoming preachers; for it is a wearisome office for any one to have the general oversight, -- how the sheep live, so as to direct and help them, -- since there must be oversight and watchfulness night and day, that the wolf do not break in; so that body and life must be devoted to it. Therefore he says, you are not to do it of constraint. True it is, that no one should force himself uncalled into the ministry; but if he is called and required for it, he should enter it willingly, and discharge what his office demands. For they who do it from constraint, and who have no appetite and love for it, will not properly discharge it.

But there are others, worse than these, who stand up before the people and thereby seek their own gain, so as to feed their own belly. These men are anxious for the wool and milk of the sheep; they ask no questions about the food, -- just the course of our bishops now, -- a thing that has become almost everywhere a scandal and a shame, for in a bishop it is especially scandalous. For this reason both the apostles Peter and Paul, as well as the prophets also, have repeatedly spoken of it. So Moses says, |You know that I have coveted no man's cattle.| The prophet Samuel, also, |You know that I have taken of you no man's ass or ox.| For if he whose duty it is to feed the flock is anxious merely for wealth and gain, he will in a short time become a wolf himself.

V.2. But of a ready mind. That is, that a bishop have an appetite and inclination thereto. This is the character of those who willingly minister, and do not seek the wool of the sheep. Thus we have two kinds of false shepherds: the one, those who serve unwillingly; the other, those who do it gladly, but for the sake of avarice. -- Further, he says:

V.3. Not as lords over the heritage. This is the character of those who rule willingly enough for honor's sake, in order that they may rise high, and become powerful tyrants. Therefore he admonishes them that they should not act as though the people was subject to them, so that they might be gentlemen, and might do as they chose. For we have a Master, who is Christ, who rules over our spirits. The bishops are to do no more than feed the sheep. Here St. Peter has broken down and condemned all that rule which the Pope now maintains, and clearly determines that they have not power to give one word of additional command, but that they are to be only servants, and say, |Thus saith Christ thy Master, therefore you are to do it.| So Christ also speaks: |The kings of this world have dominion, and men call them who are in authority their gracious lords; but you are not to be like them.| Now the Pope speaks the reverse, -- |Ye shall rule and have authority.|

V.3-4. But be ye an example for the flock; so shall ye, when the Chief Shepherd shall appear, receive the enduring crown. That is, see to it that you go before them at their head, and exhibit such a conduct that your life may be an example to the people, and they may follow after you. But our bishops say to the people, |Go there and do so and so;| and they sit on cushions and play the gentleman, imposing burdens on us which they will not bear themselves, while they will not preach a word, and call others to account if they have not done it for them. But if it should be required of them, they would soon be weary of their dignity.

Therefore St. Peter does not appoint any temporal reward for bishops. As though he would say, |Your office is so great that it never can be rewarded here, but ye shall receive an eternal crown, which shall follow it, if ye truly feed the sheep of Christ.| This is the admonition which St. Peter gives to those who are to care for souls, from whence you may confidently infer and clearly prove, that the Pope, along with his bishops, is Antichrist, or an enemy of Christ, since he does nothing of that which St. Peter here requires, and neither teaches nor practices it himself, but even acts the counterpart, and will not only not feed the sheep or let them be fed, but is himself a wolf and tears them, and yet makes it his boast that he is the vicar of the Lord Christ. He certainly is that, for since Christ is not there, he, like the devil, sits and rules in Christ's place.

Whence it is necessary carefully to remember these plain texts and others like them, and to hold them up against the Pope's government, so that when any one asks or questions you, you may be able to answer and say, |Christ said and practised so and so; the Pope teaches and practices directly the opposite. Since they are opposed to one another one of them must be false; but certainly Christ is not. Whence I conclude that the Pope is a liar and the real Antichrist.|

In this way must you be prepared with Scripture, so that you can not only challenge the Pope as Antichrist, but know how to prove it clearly, so that you could die secure of it, and withstand the devil even in death. -- It follows, further:

V.5. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elders. We have now the last admonition in this chapter. St. Peter would have such order in the christian church, that the young should follow the old, so that all may go on harmoniously; those beneath submissive to those above them. If this were now to be enforced, we should not need many laws. He would strictly have it so that the younger shall be directed according to the understanding of the older, as these shall best judge that it shall be for the praise of God. But St. Peter presumes that such elders are to be instructed and established in the Holy Ghost. For should it happen that they are themselves fools, and without understanding, no good government could originate with them; but if they are persons of good understanding, then it is well that they should rule the youth. But St. Peter is not speaking here of civil, but of church government, that the elders should rule those that are spiritually younger, whether they be priests or even old men.

Be ye all of you subject one to another, and therein manifest humility. Here he turns and modifies his command, directing each to be subject one to another. But how is that consistent, that the elders should rule, and yet all should be subject one to the other? Are we then to overturn what has been said? Some one perhaps would give such a gloss as this, that St. Peter spoke above of the elders, -- here he speaks of the younger. But we shall let the words stand, granting that they are spoken generally; as Paul also says in Rom. xii., |That each in honor prefer one another.| The younger should be subject to the old, yet in such a manner that the latter shall not regard themselves as masters, but even should submit and follow, where a younger is more judicious and learned; just as God in the Old Testament often selected young men, provided they were more wise than the old.

So Christ also teaches, in Luke xiv.: |When thou art bidden, sit not down in the highest place, lest a more honorable than thou be bidden, and then he that bade thee and him come and say to thee, give this man place; and thou begin with shame to take the lower place; but when thou art bidden, go and sit down in the lowest place, that when he that bade thee cometh, he may say unto thee: Friend, go up higher;| and then he introduces the passage as it is found in many places: |He who exalteth himself shall be humbled, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.|

Therefore should the younger be subject to the elder, and yet the elder on the other hand should be so disposed that each one in his heart shall hold himself as the least. Were this done we should have delightful peace, and all would go well on earth. This, therefore, says he, should we do, exhibit humility.

For God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble. That is, those who will not give place God casts down; and on the other hand, he exalts those who humble themselves. It is a common expression -- would to God he lived like common folks.

V.6. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God. Since God requires that each should be subject to the other; if it is done willingly and cheerfully, he will exalt you. But if you will not do it willingly, you shall do it from constraint. He will cast you down.

That He may exalt you in his own time. It seems, when God suffers his own children to be cast down, as though he would at length desert them. Therefore he says: Do not mistake on this account, and suffer yourself to be blinded, but be confident, since you have a sure promise that it is God's hand and will. Therefore should you not regard the time, however long it be, that you are brought low; for though He has cast you down, He will yet lift you up. Hence it follows:

V.7. Cast all your cares upon Him, for He careth for you. You have such a promise as this, whereby you may rest secure that God doth not forsake you, but careth for you. Therefore let all your cares go, and cast your burden on Him. These words are exceedingly precious; how could He have made them more sweet or tender? Why does He employ so great allurement? It is in order that no one might easily despond and give up his purpose. Therefore He gives us such consolation as this: that God not only looks upon us, but cares also for us, and has a heartfelt regard for our lot. He further says:

V.8. Be sober, be vigilant, for your adversary the devil goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Here he gives us a warning, and would open our eyes, and it would be well worthy that the text should be written in golden letters. Here you perceive what this life is, and how it is described, so that we might well be ever wishing that we were dead. We are here in the devil's kingdom, just as in case a pilgrim should arrive at an inn, where he knew that all in the house were robbers; if he must enter there he will yet arm himself in the best way he can devise, and will sleep but little: so are we now on earth, where the prince is an evil spirit, and has the hearts of men in his power, doing by them as he will. It is a fearful thought if we properly regard it. Therefore St. Peter would warn us to take heed to ourselves, and act the part of a faithful servant, who knows the state of things here. For this reason he says: be sober, for they who indulge themselves here in eating and drinking, and are like fat swine, are such as can be fitted for nothing useful. Therefore must we have ever by us such a talisman as this.

And be vigilant (he says), not only as to the spirit but also as to the body. For a vitiated body, prone to sleep when it eats and drinks itself full, will give the devil no opposition, though it belong even to those swine who have a faith and spirit.

Wherefore should we then be sober and vigilant? Because your enemy the devil goeth about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. The evil spirit, sleeps not -- is cunning and wicked. He has purposed with himself that he will assault us, and he knows the right trick therefor; goes about like a lion that is hungry, and roars as though he would gladly devour all. Here St. Peter gives us an important admonition, and forewarns us of our enemy, that we may protect ourselves against him; as Paul also says, |we are not ignorant of the devices of the wicked spirit.| That |going about| tends to make us heedless, and thereupon follow wrath, hatred, pride, lust, contempt of God.

And here observe especially, that he says the devil goeth about. He does not pass before your eyes, when you are armed against him, but looks out before and behind you, within and without, where he may attack you. If he now meets you here, he will quickly return there, and attack you in another place; he changes from one side to the other, and employs every kind of cunning and art that he may bring you to fall; and if you are well prepared in one place, he will quickly fall in upon another; and if he cannot overthrow you there, then he assaults you somewhere else, and so never gives it up, but goes round and round, and leaves no rest to any one. If we then are fools and do not regard it, but go on and take no heed, then has he as good as seized upon us.

Let every one now look to this; surely each shall trace something of this in his own experience. He that has examined knows it well. Therefore it is so sad for us that we go about so heedlessly. If we rightly regard it, we should cry out, death rather than life. Job has spoken thus: |Man's life on earth is nothing but an encampment, a mere conflict and strife.| Why then does God thus leave us in life and misery? In order that faith may be exercised and grow, and that hastening out of this life, we may have a desire of death, and an anxiety to depart.

V.9. Whom withstand, firm in the faith. Sober you should be, and vigilant, but to this end, -- the body must be in a proper frame. Yet with all this, the devil is not routed; this only suffices to afford the body less occasion for sin. The true sword is this, that ye be strong and firm in the faith. If you in heart grasp hold of the word of God and maintain your hold by faith, then the devil cannot gain the advantage, but will be compelled to fly. If you can say, |This has my God said -- on this I stand,| then shall ye see that he will quickly depart, and ill-humor, evil lusts, wrath, avarice, melancholy and doubt, will all vanish. But the devil is artful, and does not readily permit you to come to this, and so assaults you in order to take the sword out of your hand; if he can make you full, so that your body is unguarded and inclined to wantonness, then will he quickly wrench the sword from your grasp. Thus He served Eve: she had God's word; if she had continued to depend on it she would not have fallen, but when the devil saw that she held the word so loosely, he tore it from her heart, so that she let it go and he triumphed.

Thus St. Peter has sufficiently instructed us how to contend with the devil. It requires not much running hither and thither; is besides a work that you can do, yet no longer than you depend through faith on the word of God. If he comes and would drive you into despondency because of sin, only seize hold of the word of God that speaks of the forgiveness of sin, and venture yourself thereon; then will he be compelled quickly to let you alone. St. Peter says, moreover:

Knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. That is, be not surprised that you must meet opposition from the devil; but comfort yourselves, inasmuch as ye are not alone, but there are others besides you who must endure such suffering, and reflect that you have your brethren to share with you in the strife.

There now you have the Epistle in which you have sufficiently heard a truly christian doctrine; in what a masterly manner he has described faith, love, and the Holy Cross; and how he instructs and warns us as to how we should contend with the devil. Whoever comprehends this Epistle, has doubtless enough, so that he needs nothing more but that God teach him richly from that which likewise overflows in the other books. But that is besides nothing different from this; for here the Apostle has forgotten nothing which it is necessary for a Christian to know.

Finally, he does what every faithful preacher should do, in that he not only takes care to feed the sheep, but also cares and prays for them; and concludes with a prayer that God may give them grace and strength, that they may understand and retain the word.

V.10. But the God of all grace who hath called us unto His Eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, establish, strengthen, settle you. That is the wish wherewith he commits them to God -- God, who alone bestows grace, and not a single grace, but all grace richly in one, who has called you through Christ that ye might have Eternal glory, not through any desert of your own, but for Christ's sake; if ye have Him, ye have through faith, without merit of yours, Eternal glory and salvation, which will prepare you, that you may be strong, grow, and stand, and that ye may be able to accomplish much; and to this end He will strengthen and establish you, that ye may be able to bear and suffer all.

V.11. To him be praise and power for ever and ever, Amen. Praise is the sacrifice that we as Christians should offer up to God. He only adds, in conclusion:

V.12. By your faithful brother Silvanus, (as I suppose), have I written briefly, to admonish and manifest that this is the true grace of God wherein ye stand. Although I well know (he would say) that you have heard this before and know it well, so that you do not need that I should teach it unto you, yet have I written this to you (as those that are truly Apostles should do), that I might also admonish you that you abide therein, since you are tried and exercised; and you are not to imagine that I preach any otherwise than as you have already heard.

V.13. The Church that is at Babylon greets you. Such was the practice of writing in the Epistles the farewell. The Church at Babylon, says he, greets you. I suppose, but am not fully confident, that he here meant Rome, for it has been generally supposed that the Epistle was written from Rome. Still, there were two Babylons, -- one in Chaldea, the other in Egypt, which is now Al Cair. But Rome is not called Babylon, except figuratively, in the sense, as was said above, of thronging corruption. Thus, Babel means, in the Hebrew, a confusion. So, perhaps, he has called Rome a confusion, or Babel, since there was also such disorderly conduct, and a confused multitude of all kinds of shameful practices and vices; and whatever in the whole world was scandalous had flown together there. In this same, he says, is a church gathered of such as are Christians, who greet you. But I will readily leave every one to hold it as he will, for no importance attaches to it.

My son, Marcus, also. Some say that he here means Mark, the Evangelist, and calls him his son, not literally, but spiritually, -- as Paul calls Timothy and Titus his sons, and says to the Corinthians that he has begotten them in Christ.

V.14. Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity. This custom has now passed away. In the Gospel we read distinctly that Christ received his disciples with a kiss, and such was then a practice in those lands. Of this kiss, St. Paul often speaks, also.

Peace be with you all that are in Christ Jesus. Amen. That is, who believe in Christ. This is the adieu wherewith he commits them to God. -- Thus we have concluded this first Epistle. God grant His grace, that we may hold and keep it. Amen.

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