“You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.” (1 Peter 5:5, NASB95)
The English Standard Version translates the beginning of this verse, “Likewise, you who are younger….” Whether elder or younger, we are all to come before God with an attitude of humility. There are none of us that can stand on a pedestal with Christ and not one of us can demand anything of Him. Those who are not elders, and particularly those who are younger but not exclusively so, are instructed to submit to the elders and pastors of their church. These men have been placed there by God and they are charged as His under-shepherds to take care of His sheep. This does not mean that they are perfect, and it definitely does not preclude them from making mistakes and even being led astray.
God has an order to things, and in His church He has established that there are to be a plurality of men given to leadership. Some churches may call them elders and some may reflect the Greek term and call them presbyters. Rather than stumbling over terminology, we should focus on the fact that God’s plan includes leadership and we are to submit to that leadership. Having just read Peter’s instruction to the elders, we also see that this leadership is not free to act in any way or tone that it chooses. Elders are to follow the example of Christ as they seek the will of Christ, and non-elders are to submit to their elders as they also submit to the will of Christ.
I know that I’ve felt at times that I was right and that what someone else was doing was wrong. The question in those times was, “What am I going to do with these feelings?” An attitude of pride would lead to forcing the issue, whereas a humble attitude might lead to dropping it or alternatively to dealing with it and the individual in an appropriate way. Forcing an issue on the floor of a business meeting in front of the congregation is likely not the best thing to do. But carefully coming to one or all of the elders (as appropriate) to discuss your concerns and possible solution could certainly be the right and proper thing.
The proud person pumps himself up and forces his way. The humble person is more willing to cut a wide path, wait on God, and seek a right time and a right response. Being shepherds of a vast array of people from different backgrounds with varying life circumstances and issues is a difficult thing. Discerning the best way to build up the body amidst the flood of information and offerings today is a constant challenge. Every Elders will not do it the same way as we might, but our attitude toward them is to be respectful of who they are in Christ and submissive to the role given them by God. In all of this, it really comes down to us entrusting the outcomes to God.
And in the event that you should have an issue with a particular elder, consider the words of Paul to Timothy as he was establishing leadership in the churches: “Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses.” (1 Timothy 5:19, NASB95) Rather, consider the words of Jesus found in Matthew 18:15, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.” (Matthew 18:15, NASB95) Take some time to pray about the matter and lovingly for the individual. Then, if led to them do so, go and speak privately to the other person whether it be an elder or anyone else. Keep it as private as possible and always seek loving restoration. This is how we are to be toward one another. This is humility in action.
And similarly, if you have a concern about the elders as a whole, don’t build up a band of resistance. Pray, listen, and go if you really think it is something for which to go. We won’t always agree, but we certainly aren’t to be disagreeable. “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, NASB95)
Jesus understood submission. He was the perfect example of it, and submission is a huge part of how He calls us to live as we trust Him for the outcomes. He will give us the grace that we need. “But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”” … “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” (James 4:6, 10, NASB95)