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Practical Suffering, Part 5c: The Need for Shepherding – 1 Peter 5:8-9

Be Sober. Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks about as a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in the faith, knowing the same sufferings experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

Because the end is near (4:7) and the necessary refining fire (4:12) which begins from God’s house (4:17), Peter deeply desires the churches of Asia Minor to be ready and present themselves before God and a watching world as true Christians. The people of God are always in need of shepherding, but in the context of clear and present danger, the need for shepherding doubles. This is the reason for Peter’s strong address to the elders (5:1-4) and the people (5:5-7). Both shepherds and sheep must understand their duties if they are to survive. Peter’s final exhortation does not end with the commands for humility, however. Humility must be balanced with vigilance.

Of the seven imperatives found in 5:1-11, the final three are contained in these two verses. While the commands to shepherds (v. 2) and sheep (vv. 5-6) are aimed internally toward the body of Christ, these commands are faced externally. It is now time to watch for external threats to the fold. It is imperative that the church understands what is at stake. Peter drives home two realities that every shepherd and every sheep must realize to inform and motivate their obedience.

Know the Enemy (v. 8)

Peter’s exhortations go from shepherding and submitting to being sober and watchful. The emphasis has shifted from the internal responses of the church to the external vigilance required for survival. Peter front-loads two more aorist imperatives, one after the other. The force is startling, made more so by the fact that the explanation that follows comes with no conjunction. In effect, Peter demands his readers remain vigilant (v. 8a) before explaining who they are to be vigilant of (v. 8b) and why (v. 8c).

Be Ready for the Enemy (v. 8a)

Be Sober. Be watchful.

The first command Peter issues for external vigilance focuses on inward stability. “Be sober” translates the aorist imperative from νήφω, a verb used twice by Peter already (1:13; 4:7). Peter began his exhortations regarding Practical Salvation with the same idea that he now concludes his thoughts concerning Practical Suffering. Peter uses sobriety of thought, deed, and life as an inclusio for his entire letter.[1] The idea contains much more than an abstention from alcohol to include a countenance of balance and self-control. The sober man is one who is not easily swayed and is free from outside influence whether that influence consists of an intoxicating substance or personality. A sober man is in control of his mind and his body. The aorist imperative leaves no wiggle-room for obedience and demands immediate application.

Immediately following the command to be sober comes the command to be watchful. The verb from γρηγορέω indicates more than wakefulness, but alertness. One can be awake and still be caught by surprise. It does little good for the guard to be awake if he is not also alert and watching. If anyone understands the significance of artlessness, it is this author who himself failed to remain awake and alert at an hour of great peril (Matt. 26:39-46). Here we have a very active idea beginning to form and a wonderful balance to the previous exhortations to cast our anxiety upon God (vv. 6-7).[2] The Christian life is not a passive existence where we can always pass the buck, so to speak, up to God. There is a very real necessity of remaining in control of our faculties and maintaining our posts with valiance.

Peter has already expressed his love for Ezekiel’s prophecy and seems to hint here at a major theme of the prophet’s, the idea of the watchman. In Ezek. 3:17 Yhwh calls Ezekiel to the task of being a watchman to the house of Israel. In chapter 33, Yhwh condemns all watchmen who see danger and fail to report it.

If the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and a sword comes and takes a person from them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require from the watchman’s hand” (Ezek. 33:6 NASB).

According to Ezekiel, the watchman is not held responsible for the people’s decision to heed his cry of alarm or not. However, the watchman will be called to account for each person who depended upon his warning and did not receive it.

The context of this verse remains solidly within the realm of shepherding. Peter does not indicate that he speaks to the shepherds (elders) exclusively here, but they are certainly at the forefront of the application. What good are watchful sheep with slumbering shepherds? Yet this demeanor of vigilance is likewise to be shared with the sheep. Part of their submission to the shepherd is to keep their head on a swivel. The people of God are to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16), for we are surrounded by predators.

Identify the Enemy (v. 8bc)

Without the use of any conjunction, Peter dives into the reason why his readers must maintain constant vigilance. The context obviously uses this clause to explain why they are to be sober and alert, but the lack of any connecting conjunction brings emphasis to the discussion. Without a break of any kind, Peter moves from command to explanation.

Know Who He Is (v. 8b)

Your adversary, the devil, walks about as a roaring lion

Peter introduces the enemy simply as your adversary (ὁ ἀντίδικος ὑμῶν). It is significant that Peter mentions only a single adversary as opposed to many adversaries. When all is said and done, the Christian has but one single adversary, one opponent, one enemy. The appositional nominative διάβολος can be taken to mean simply “slanderer,” but here it is used as if it were a proper name. The Devil is the one opponent. The conjunction ὡς does more than draw a simple comparison of manner (the Devil is like a lion). It is stronger than that and states that the Devil is a lion who walks about the earth in search of victims.[3]

The imagery of the Devil being free to roam the earth is consistent with the Old Testament account from Job, for Peter uses the same verb (περιπατεῖ - περιπατέω) here that the LXX uses to describe the freedom with which Satan roams or walks about on the earth.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before Yhwh, and Satan also came among them. Yhwh said to Satan, ‘From where do you come?’ Then Satan answered Yhwh and said, ‘From roaming about on the earth and walking [ἐμπεριπατήσας - ἐμπαριπατέω] around on it.’” (Job 1:6-7)

The understanding that Satan freely walks the face of the earth is maintained and enhanced in the New Testament where Paul states that Satan is in fact the ruler of this wicked world or the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). The ridiculous notion that Satan is now subdued, and that Rev. 19-20 is history is obviously a farce. Peter confirms that which we already know that the Devil is at large, free to walk the earth and seek out prey. Any alternative understanding leaves Peter’s warning devoid of significance.

With the image of a roaring lion, Peter seems to allude to Psalm 22:13. This well-known psalm of David marks a striking parallel with the suffering of Christ at His crucifixion. David describes his enemies who stand and gawk at his suffering as a “ravening and roaring lion” (Ps. 22:13b NASB). By choosing his words and descriptions with care, Peter combines the suffering of Job with the suffering of David, who was a foreshadowing of Christ’s suffering. The point is that Satan is in fact working against God. As God opposes the proud and exalts the humble, Satan opposes the righteous to exalt himself. He targets God’s elect to make them break and curse God.

Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face.” (Job 1:9-11 NASB).

Satan targeted David, the stem of the promised Seed to come (Ps. 22) only to target THE Seed to come from David when He came. The Devil may have failed to kill the Christ (or at least to keep Him dead), but he continues to target those who belong to Christ as he did Job of old. The Devil is not to be trifled with or underestimated. He is certainly the singular opponent of God and those who belong to God. He must know and understand this if we are to maintain active vigilance.

Know His Objective (v. 8c)

Seeking someone to devour.

The verbal idea behind devour may be better translated as swallow. The Greek verb from καταπίνω means to drink down, swallow and if used figuratively to destroy. There must be no mistake concerning the objective of Satan. He was allowed to attack because he wanted Job to curse God. He was allowed to tempt David to bring a curse upon David and Israel (2 Sam. 24; 1 Chr. 21). He tempted Christ to derail His mission of redemption (Matt. 4:1-11) and entered Judas’ heart to bring about Christ’s death (Jn. 13:27). This lion is set upon destruction.

The destruction that is described here is the destruction of apostasy. The Devil has little care if Christians remain alive on this earth or if they are martyred. What he seeks is to make them curse God to His face. The call to remain vigilant (v. 8a), for the sheep to submit to their elders (v. 5) and for the elders to shepherd the flock of God (v. 2) come to a head here with the reality that eternity is at stake. Peter does not demand vigilance to avoid suffering for the sake of righteousness to the point of death. To warn the saints of Asia Minor to remain alert and sober so they can avoid martyrdom undermines most of his letter. He warns against slothful indifference so that when suffering comes it will not produce apostates. The warning against anxiety and the comfort of God’s loving care (v. 7) must comfort these believers as they remain attentive to Satan’s schemes to rock them from the solid rock of Jesus Christ.[4] It is imperative that believers know their enemy and his designs.

Know Your Duty (v. 9)

Christians would do well to understand the difference between being submissive and being passive. Christianity is by design, a religion of submission to God and His Word, but the relationship we have with Christ is far from passive. Christians have an active duty to perform. A third and final imperative is delivered here in v. 9 to address the Christian duty in response to such a devastating enemy.

Duty Stated (v. 9a)

Resist him

The imperative here, like the others, is an aorist active from ἀνθίστημι meaning to set oneself in opposition to someone or something. There is an inherent idea of resistance as the compound term (ἀντί + ἵστημι) literally means no entry. To resist the Devil means to bar the gate, plant the guidon and form ranks, stand shoulder to shoulder with overlapping shields so that he can come no further. The Bible explicitly commands Christians to flee from evil activity (1 Cor. 6:18; 10:14; 1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22) but never once advocates turning tail and running from the Devil. In fact, Scripture encourages the opposite (Jam. 4:7).[5]To cower before the devil is to invite sure defeat; resistance in faith procures his flight.[6] The Christian duty is simple where Satan is concerned: resist him!

Duty Explained (v. 9bc)

The wonderful thing about Scripture is that it is sufficient. This means that we are never left to wonder about the details. If God gives us direct commands, He will also explain to us how we are to carry them out and many times He is even gracious enough to explain why these commands are so important. The rest of this verse provides needed explanation how we are to resist the Devil and why.

How to Resist (v. 9b)

Firm in the faith

I am thankful that God the Holy Spirit prompted Peter to pen this simple phrase. Just three words in the English as well as in the Greek (στερεοὶ τῇ πίστει). The crazies in charismania have all kinds of pagan rituals and spells to utter to stave off any demonic attack. They “rebuke” Satan, draw little circles on the floor, and pray down “hedges of protection” around themselves. None of these things are biblical, or even Christian. All of these things do more to encourage and invite Satan than to resist him. The means by which we resist Satan is much simpler. We resist the Devil by remaining steadfast in the faith.

The faith” (τῇ πίστει) is taken objectively and indicates the sum of what Christians believe and trust. This is shorthand for the gospel, Scripture, the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Those who desire to boil the good news of God’s plan to undo and reverse the curse to glorify Himself through the redemption of King Jesus to a simplistic “Jesus loves me” inadvertently discard the means by which they might resist the Devil.

The Devil is not resisted by any Herculean acts that a believer might perform,[7] nor can a counterfeit or errant gospel produce victory.[8] We stand our ground to resist the Devil by knowing the full counsel of God, believing every word, and refusing to speak or act in such a way that would contradict it. We resist by holding fast to the promises of God. The only question then becomes, do we know and understand these promises?

Why to Resist (v. 9c)

Knowing the same sufferings experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

The participle “knowing” comes from the verb οἶδα, indicating knowledge from experience as opposed to γινώσκω, which emphasizes the intellectual side of knowledge. This is given as a reason or as an explanation to resist the Devil by clinging to the faith. The readers know the same sufferings as the brotherhood. Suffering is par for the course among Christians, Christians that remain firm in the faith that is. This is meant to be an encouragement. If the Christians of Asia Minor were the only Christians experiencing suffering, then it would shake their faith. Are they doing something wrong? Should they perhaps give in and melt into the culture? But this is not the case. They know and experience the same suffering as other believers. The suffering may vary in degree and specifics, but they come from the same source, the adversary, and they come with the same intention, to devour. Peter’s exhortation to resist the Devil is brought home with the encouragement that they are not alone. Our brotherhood around the globe feels the same hot breath of this roaring lion. Yet there is no need to fear, for we have been given all we need to resist him.


False doctrine will either lull Christians to sleep or distract Christians from their posts. False ideas of Satan, who he is, where he is, and what he does abound in these days of false prophets. The church’s inability to discern truth from error has left her slumbering at her post with the result of many being taken and devoured. It is time for Christ’s bride to awaken from her apathy and shrug off the drunken stupor of indifference. It’s time for shepherds to man their posts and sound the alarm. We do not fear this lion or his schemes. But we must remain alert so that we can resist him. We fear not the devouring lion. But we must fear the reproach of the Chief Shepherd if we fail to warn the sheep. Hurt feelings are a small price to pay in exchange for a life being saved. May we choose faithfulness over feelings and alertness over comfort. For the sheep’s good and the Chief Shepherd’s glory.

Soli Deo Gloria!

[1] Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 241. [2] D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 313-4. Matthew’s gospel specifically mentions that Jesus addressed Peter (v. 40) the first time that He woke them. [3] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 225-6. This is not to say that Satan is in fact a physical lion. The language here is obviously figurative. But the point of comparison is stronger than saying that the Devil walks like a lion walks. The Devil is a hunter, like a lion is a hunter. The Devil searches out prey as a lion searches for prey. [4] Schreiner, p. 242. [5] James’ argument is very similar to Peters. (1) Resist the devil because God resists the proud. (2) Draw near to God. (3) Humble yourself before God. [6] Hiebert, p. 315-6. [7] Schreiner, p. 242-3 [8] Hiebert, p. 315-6.


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