1 Peter 5:5-11
November 11, 2012
The humble and the humbled meet God at their lowest point.
I. The humble find God’s sufficiency. (1 Peter 5:5-7)
II. The humbled find God’s strength. (1 Peter 5:8-11)
Have you ever been hiking in the mountains? I’ve done quite a bit, beginning in Boy Scouts, and I first noticed then something that always bothered me. You’d be hiking along, headed for some mountain peak, and you’d work your way up and begin to think ‘we must be almost there.’ Then you’d come out onto some high ridge, and see your destination, only to realize you still had to go down into another valley, and up the other side, to get to the top. It seemed in hiking you always had to go down to go up. The same is often the case in God’s work with people: Sometimes down is the only way up.
We saw that earlier in Philippians: Christ gave up his glory, humbled himself, and became a man. He humbled himself again and went to death on the cross. He put our needs ahead of his own. He put his Father’s will ahead of his own. And it was in the depth of humiliation, that God expressed his love for us: salvation, the payment of our sins. But it was also there, at the lowest point in the history of the world, in the depths of death, that God reached out to exalt Jesus. He raised him from death, seated him at his right hand and give him a name above every name so that every knee shall bow to him. God allowed Jesus to humble himself and to be humiliated and to suffer until he reached the lowest point, and then he lifted him up.
The passage we’re studying this morning, 1 Peter 5:5-11, teaches the same truth about us: that the humble and the humbled meet God at the lowest point. Humility toward one another can be extremely difficult. Suffering and being humiliated can be even more difficult. But these things are worth it simply because it is at these low points that we meet God and receive his grace, recognize his sufficiency and find his strength.
I. The humble find God’s sufficiency. (1 Peter 5:5-7)
1 Peter 5 first shows this as the result of humbling ourselves, in our relationships with each other and in our relationship with God. 1 Peter 5:5-7 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
The first part of verse 5 is a transition. Peter has been talking to the elders, saying "I appeal to you to shepherd the flock," to be shepherds of those who are in your churches. Now he says, ‘just as I’ve appealed to the elders, I also appeal to young people to be subject to, or submit to those shepherding elders.
This is the ‘be subject to’ used several times in 1st Peter, implying submission to one who has responsibility and authority over you, whether citizens to their government, slaves to their masters or even wives to their husbands. Here Peter instructs younger people in the church to submit to the elders. Your translation may say ‘to those who are older’ but it’s the same Greek word Peter used for elders, and it almost certainly means elders again here.
Why does Peter single out young people for this exhortation? Probably because young people have more trouble than others in humbling themselves so they can submit. Their inexperience, confidence and energy make submission difficult. Far too often they think that since in their opinion their elders don’t know what they’re talking about, then it is okay to disregard their counsel.
Their need for humility leads Peter to think more broadly; he exhorts all his readers to humility. "All of you clothe yourselves," or gird yourselves "with humility toward one another." The image is of a slave, wrapping himself in a towel and preparing to serve, as Jesus did the night he was betrayed.
What does it mean to be humble? It’s a bit hard to define. I think the best working definition may come from Philippians: not thinking of myself too highly while putting others first. Philippians 2 says: "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Putting others first is out of tune with our nature and our culture, especially when it leads to humble caring.
Max Lucado brings this out in a dialog with God one Sunday morning. Max: “God, I want to do great things.” God: “You do?” Max: “You bet! I want to teach millions! I want to fill the Rose Bowl! I want all the world to know your saving power!” God: “That’s great, Max. In fact, I can use you today after church.” Max: “Super! How about some radio and TV work or . . .” “Well, that’s not exactly what I had in mind. See that fellow sitting next to you?” “Yes.” “He needs a ride home.” “What?” “He needs a ride home. While you’re at it one of the older ladies sitting near you is worried about getting a refrigerator moved. Why don’t you drop by and . . .” Max, pleading: “But, God, what about the world?” God, smiling: “Think about it.”
Think about your prayer life: do you pray for others? Often? In Scriptural ways? Think about success: do you work for the success of others? Think about stewardship: do you focus your resources on others? Think about time: is it spent on others? As Andy Stanley taught the men last week, is caring for others one of the big rocks in your use of time? Do you care for others in practical, giving ways. This is both the root and the fruit of humility.
Next Peter gives a reason for this behavior: Your humility to others will impact your relationship with God. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble; He doesn’t pour himself out on the person who is proud, who thinks of himself first and makes himself the center of his life. But those who humble themselves find God’s sufficiency at their lowest point. God gives grace to the one not trusting in himself, not seeking glory for himself.
The word ‘grace’ is the same word we use when talking about salvation: it is God’s undeserved favor. He gives it to the humble by giving strength, sufficiency for the task, the unnatural ability to put others first, and the perseverance to keep doing so. All these graces are undeserved and unearned, His gifts. But if we begin to think we deserve them, they simply dry up. When our focus switches from concern about those we serve to pride in how well I am serving, the stream of God’s grace and strength will be cut off.
The difference between pride and humility is the difference between a bomb and a rocket. A bomb is closed, inwardly focused, and destroys itself and others. A rocket engine is open, focuses its power outward, and lifts itself and others up. Humorists like Mark Twain have tried to defuse pride before it can explode, saying: "The fellow who blows his horn the loudest is usually in the biggest fog ." or "Nature never intended for us to pat ourselves on the back. If she had, our hinges would be different." or "Noise proves nothing. Often a hen who has merely laid an egg cackles as if she had laid an asteroid."
Peter calls for humility toward others and humility toward God. Verse 6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” If humility toward others is to put the interest of other ahead of our own, then humility toward God is to put God ahead of us, to recognize that he is God and we are not. He is the creator, we are creatures, not self reliant but God-reliant. Humility means giving up the American spirit that says "I can make it on my own." The Declaration of Independence is a great American document, but a declaration of independence from God is the root of all misery our lives.
Adam and Eve declared independence from God; the result was death and judgment. Every time you and I declare our independence, we declare ourselves sinful rebels, deserving judgment. But Jesus died to pay for that sin, to give life from death so that we can live the way we were created. Peter said that "Christ himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. " We can only come to God when we trust in Christ, forsaking pride and independence, and humbling ourselves to accept his forgiveness and salvation.
Humility that puts God and others first is found, then, in dying to self. This has been the testimony of believers all through church history. The apostle Paul said it in Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. "
Thomas Merton asked: "How can you be humble if you’re always paying attention to yourself?" Dr. Gary Inrig says "If I try to make myself as small as I can, I’ll never become humble. Humility comes when I stand as tall as I can, but I put myself alongside Jesus. And it’s there, when I realize the awesomeness of who he is, and I stop being fooled about myself, and being impressed with myself, that I begin to learn humility." Humility is putting God first by dying to self-life, self-desires, self-gratification, self-reliance and living for Him.
Peter gives us a practical and concrete way to do this: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” Only when you fully trust God with your own life can you selflessly serve him by serving others. Our fallen human nature instinctively cares for itself; only by faith can we truly count on his grace. But it makes sense to depend on the infinite God of the universe to meet my needs rather than to try to meet them out of my meager resources.
We can’t meet our needs, or the needs of others in our own strength: we can only cast our cares and concerns on the one who cares for us. This has been so clear to me this week as I’ve prayed for myself and for others through the lens of this Scripture. There are so many situations in which I can’t possibly begin to help, or to provide effective care for people. Yet God does want us to get involved and maybe make a difference even while casting these cares and concerns on him and trusting that he is the one who cares most and best.
So what have we said in this section? That God desires for us to show humility. To be humble toward others: putting others first by caring for them. Humble toward God: putting God first by casting our cares upon him. He’s promised to meet us at the lowest point with his grace that is sufficient and with his care that is mighty. When we humble ourselves we lose ourselves in his care, and we are given grace to care for others.
But this is also true if we are humiliated, or if we suffer. It’s one thing to humble ourselves, it’s another have that low position imposed on us. Jesus humbled himself to go to the cross, but at the same time he was also humiliated on the way to the cross, and on the cross. He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. They spit on him, mocked him, condemned him to a sinner’s death, a rebel’s suffering. Peter teaches that God also meets us when we’re humbled by people and our circumstances.
II. The humbled find God’s strength. (1 Peter 5:8-11)
But praise God that it’s in these lowest moments we most find God’s strength. 1st Peter 5:8-11 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brothers throughout the world. 10And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Peter starts by saying: be alert, be watchful, be sober-minded. We should think clearly about Satan’s schemes and God’s purposes in our suffering. Satan, Peter says, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. I don’t know how much Peter knew about lions, but it’s interesting that the lion he’s talking about isn’t a hunting female lion: she doesn’t roar, but stalks silently. This is a male lion defending his territory: he roars to frighten away intruders, and then if they stay on his territory, he attacks and devours.
Peter says that the right response to this kind of attack is to resist, standing firm, with your faith in God. But how do you do that? It can’t be in your own strength. Satan is a spiritual being, once an angel, one of the mightiest of God’s created beings. Without the aid of God you could no more stand against him than a rabbit could stand up to a lion.
So how do we do it? It’s got to be through humble dependence and submission. James puts these two thing even closer together than Peter does. He says “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Satan will not, cannot have his way with you when you are near God, when you are in the protection of the cross. One commentary pointed out that our adversary, Satan, is swift, smart and strong. But God, whose we are, is not just swift, but omnipresent. He is not just smart but omniscient. He is not just strong, but omnipotent.
When we suffer, when we’re attacked by this roaring lion, even if humbled and brought low like Job, or more significantly, like Jesus, we can stand firm in faith through submission to God. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did? We’ve mentioned Peter’s teaching over and over, that Jesus ‘entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.’ But don’t miss the fact that Peter is sure that even when we stand firm in faith we will suffer. Certainly this was true in his day. He says that all across the world your brothers are suffering, or more accurately, your brothers and sisters in Christ are finding God’s strength to resist the suffering that Satan desires to use against them.
In the letters of Jesus to the churches of Revelation, which were in the same region where Peter’s letter was circulated, every church was suffering or battling Satan’s schemes. In our day, in many Muslim countries merely declaring faith in Jesus can lead to attack, captivity or even murder. In places like Sudan thousands have been killed for simply bearing the name Christian. This is still true in China. I recently read Randy Alcorn’s book ‘Safely Home’ which was partially written to open our eyes to the suffering and faithfulness of the millions of house church Christians in China.
In our country there is growing disregard and open contempt for Christianity; It may be more subtle, but suffering for of our faith is already a reality, even here. The Princeton University newspaper reported that 155 members of the faculty or staff donated to President Obama’s 2012 campaign, and only two (one visiting lecturer in engineering and one janitor) to Romney’s. This is not because college employees are more enlightened, it is because they have purged from their midst any who disagree with their liberal philosophy. And there is nothing Peter says or Scripture says, that should lead us to a false hope that our heritage makes us secure against even more bold attacks.
But suffering is more than persecution. 1st Peter 1:6 says that believers undergo all kinds of trials. Our experience, as individuals and as caring brothers and sisters in Christ confirms there are many kinds of suffering and many who suffer. Some suffer job loss or financial setbacks which lead to hardship or depression. Many have relational difficulties; husbands and wives; parents and children. There is great suffering associated with disease, and great emotional suffering when a loved one is sick or dying. There is suffering brought on by our own sin, and by the sins of others. Some suffer because of their immaturity, but some suffer because of righteousness, because of right choices they have made and because of their faithfulness to Jesus.
But Peter says that after you suffer for a little while God will restore, strengthen, confirm, and establish you. Isn’t that a great promise? God himself provides restoration and strength for those who trust in him through suffering. But sometimes you do have to go down, humbling yourself and being humbled, before you go up, because God meets you at that lowest point and lifts you.
I recently re-located a book called “Coming Back- Stories of Spiritual Survivors.” One chapter was about Pam Wexler, the wife of a Florida doctor. He was diagnosed with colon cancer, and died after 17 months of suffering While still recovering from that shock, Pam was diagnosed with leukemia. She was hospitalized for six months, undergoing extensive chemotherapy - and the treatment itself brought her to close to losing her life.
After her recovery, she moved to North Carolina and a few years later married a godly man named Geoff Smith. Then Geoff was stricken with a vegetative heart disease. For years life teetered on that edge between a recurrence of her cancer and a recurrence of his disease. But what did Pam Wexler-Smith say at that time about God? "I continue to remind myself that God is a God of extreme understanding. I hold to the conviction that he will be faithful, will be the Father I need. My suffering experience has been a process, but over time the Lord has continued to prove His love and faithfulness."
This is testimony of believers through the ages, across the continents. One of my favorite books is ‘The Hawk and the Dove,’ the story of Father Peregrine, a 14th century monk. A proud and capable man, he is appointed the abbot of a monastery in central Britain. But almost immediately he was disfigured and disabled by merciless attackers, left for dead. He manages to resume the abbacy, but as a humbled, humiliated man. His pride still battles with his brokenness, but in his weakness he is able to seek and share God’s love and compassion with the monks under his care, sympathizing with their weaknesses and calling them to faith, to wholeness, to humility and to love.
This three volume book, and three more recent volumes in the same series, illustrates with great compassion that God does strengthen us even when we suffer, even when we are humbled, maybe especially when we are humbled. He meets us at our lowest point. He restores. He establishes . He strengthens.
He also, inevitably, focuses our attention on who He is. If you are suffering, beg him to do this. Peter says that he is the God of all grace. Peter himself had suffered for his sin - he had denied Christ and was broken by that failure. But the God of all grace restored him. He is the God who gives graciously out of his strength to support us in our weakness, enabling us even to stand against the evil forces of this world. He is the one, Peter says, who has called us to his eternal glory in Christ. We have an eternal heritage; all that happens in this world will be but a fleeting moment, compared to the eternity of celebration we will share with Christ and God the Father. Even if that ‘little while’ during which we suffer is the rest of our human lives, it is only a breath compared to the life of eternity in which there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
So what have we seen? When we humble ourselves toward one another and toward God, we find his sufficiency. When we are humbled by suffering we find his strength. God meets us at the lowest point, and from there he lifts us up.
Ravi Zacharias, I think, tells the story of a government irrigation expert in India, who came to the owner of a field and told him he was going to make it fruitful. The farmer answered, "You need not attempt to do anything with my field; it is barren and will produce nothing." The official replied, "I can make your field richly fruitful if it only lies low enough."
God meets us at the lowest point. As we humble ourselves toward one another and as we are humbled by circumstances and suffering, God meets us, uses this humility in our lives and makes us fruitful.