“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.”
The context of this verse is that it immediately follows instructions that Peter gives to his “fellow elders” (1 Peter 5:1-4), and so it is clear that he is speaking to the elder as an officer of the church (Greek word “presbuteros.” = ‘elder’). This verse under consideration (5:5), then, is in a passage explicitly about biblical elders and how they are to lead and how the congregation is to follow.
The first part of this verse (5:5) is expressly addressed to youth and is rendered “younger men” in the NASB and “you who are younger” in the ESV. The noun is in the masculine plural, but this is not conclusive that it means “men,” since that could apply to all who are younger, both men and women. Nevertheless, “younger men” is the preferred translation, because younger men are the ones who most need to be admonished to be subject to elders. The young men are the ones with fire in their bones. It is the young men who charge into the fiercest battles and it is also the young men who have the strongest opinions. Consequently, it is the young men who must heed this instruction most carefully.
Note that the command to “be subject to your elders” is unqualified; that is, it has no conditions attached to it which might provide some exceptions to the command. This places the weight and the emphasis on obedience to the command, “be subject.” Therefore, when the Scripture calls the disciple to “be subject” or “to submit,” the disciple is to expend their energy in their effort to obey the command, rather than spending their time and energy looking for an exception (a loophole?) that might permit them to not submit. Barring circumstances where your elders are themselves disobedient and have effectively disqualified themselves through unbiblical leadership and mishandling of the word of God, the command to be subject is to be the primary attitude and response of the disciple of Christ.
Be subject to your elders.
Peter goes on in this verse with instructions to the entire flock (“all of you,” not just younger people), that they are to be clothed with humility toward one another. This verse is similar to Ephesians 5:21 (“be subject to one another”) and I think it is conveying not specific responsibilities but is conveying the attitude that is to exist within the body of Christ. It is the attitude of Phil. 2:3-4, the attitude that others have wisdom and they, too, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. Humility says that I could be wrong, or at least my view could be the weaker view. I think, however, that the context demands that even if I remain convinced that my view is the correct view, I will concede and submit to others for their sake (their encouragement and the unity of the fellowship) and for my own sanctification, in willingly subjecting myself to others and in actively exercising humility.
Now the statements in the previous paragraph are not to be taken rigidly. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but for the purpose of not being misunderstood, if there are serious errors that need to be refuted or if the gospel is being compromised, then obviously concession and submission would be wrong. This, however, is the exception rather than the rule, as most healthy churches do not have a lot of errant teaching that needs to be refuted. In the “normal” situation, I believe the mindset should be weighted toward grace and love for one another and a willingness to exercise humility and concession.
Humility is usually a mark of years of sanctification and, because our fleshly pride is such an immense obstacle to our holiness, it is always a good idea to seize opportunities to exercise humility. “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.” I want to be on the side that receives grace from God, so I want to develop humility and repent of pride. And would not the greatest opportunity for gaining humility be in a situation where you were convinced you were right and you chose to acquiesce?
In summing up, the clear command to be subject to my elders and the command to clothe myself with humility combine to give me a clear path to follow when disagreements arise in the local fellowship.
SDG rmb 4/5/2018