He was young when he became interested in the work of John the Baptist, and through him met Jesus. But now he was an old man facing the wrath of Rome. The city burned in July 64, and the corrupt Emperor Nero found a scapegoat in the Christians. The followers of Jesus were a peaceful people who went about doing good but were easy to falsely accuse.
All Peter had to do was deny Christ and go free. But he remained faithful.
We think Peter might have written his first letter during his time of incarceration. He took a moment to exhort younger pastors who would carry on the work in his absence (1 Peter 5: 1-4).
“Work willingly, and not of compulsion,” he wrote. This means that the call of God thrust upon a pastor is a joyful burden. Pastors serve because they see value in the work of helping others, not because they feel pressure from anyone or any source. The adage is true, “Do what you love, and you won’t work a day in your life.”
Secondly, Peter said the pastor mustn’t work for wealth, or as the King James Version states, avoid “filthy lucre.” I’ve known very few pastors who tried to grow rich. Most have the burden of school debts and the burden of self-employment taxes according to IRS guidelines! I’m probably typical of many, and I completed my degree work at age 31 and purchased my first house at age 35.
There was a standing joke at the seminary I attended. One couple lamented that they again had pork and beans for dinner the night before.
“What! You mean you had pork with your beans?” another couple exclaimed!
There have been celebrated cases of some who handled money irresponsibly in their quest for wealth, but, fortunately, these are few.
Finally, Peter advised the younger pastors to lead by example, not by fiat. A pastor must exercise authority as he administers the church, but his leadership must be empowering and respectful. In an emergency, he can say, “Do this now!” But in the customary work of ministry he must say, “I believe this is the best way. Let’s do it together.” And his life must reflect the principles he preaches on Sunday. It must be “do as I do,” not, “do as I say.”
Of course, no pastors are sinless, and they need to readily admit it when they mess up, repenting before the Lord and confessing to the people. Part of leading by example is being open to our mistakes and turning from them when we learn better.
Peter’s words from prison yet encompass sage advice for pastors as they shepherd the Lord’s flock.