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“Humble and Exalted”

1 Peter 5:5-11
Bob DeGray
October 27, 2002

Key Sentence

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 done any hiking in the mountains? I did quite a bit in Boy Scouts and there was something that always bothered me. You’d be hiking along, headed for some mountain peak. and you'd work your way up and up and begin to think - we must be almost there. Then you’d come out of the woods onto some high ridge, and you'd see your destination, only to realize that you still had to go down through another valley, and up the other side, to get to the top. In fact, it seemed to be a truth in hiking, that you always had to go down to go up. That same thing is true in the way God works with people: Sometimes down is the only way up.

        We saw that this morning in the Philippians reading. Christ gave up his glory, and humbled himself, and became a man. He humbled himself again and went to death on the cross. He put us and our needs ahead of his own. He put his father's will ahead of his own. and it was in the depth of that humiliation, that God accomplished his goals - our salvation, the payment of our sins. But there is something else to notice about that lowest point in the ministry of Jesus Christ - it was there, in the depths of death that God reached out to exalt him. He raised Christ from death and 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)

        I Peter 5 shows first that this is the result of humbling ourselves. In keeping with the theme of our current series, part of that humbling is toward one another. A second part is toward God. We see both in 1 Peter 5:5-7: 5Young people, in the same way be submissive to the elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 6Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you at the proper time.7Cast all your anxiety 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 have appealed to the elders, I also appeal to young people to submit to those shepherding elders.

        This is the same word 'submit' used several times in this letter. It implies submission to one who has responsibility and authority over you, whether as 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 has been using 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 and confidence and energy makes submission difficult. Their need for humility leads Peter to think more broadly, so that he encourages all his readers to humility on a horizontal, human, level and humility toward God. "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. We saw last week that we were to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Here we focus specifically on humility, a humility that is directed toward ‘one another’. It is the ‘one another’ command of this text.

        What does it mean to be humble? It's a little hard to define. I think the best working definition may be simply ‘putting others first.’ This is clear in Philippians chapter 2, just before the section we read on Christ's humility. Why don't you turn and look at Philippians 2, starting at verse 3: “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 this difficult? You bet. 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 through 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! I dream of that day _ God: That's great, Max. In fact, I can use you today after church. Max: Super! How about some radio and TV work or . . . a chance to speak to Congress? God: Well, that's not exactly what I had in mind. See that fellow sitting next to you? Max: Yes. God: He needs a ride home. Max, quietly: What? God: He needs a ride home. And 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 today and _ Max, pleading: But, God, what about the world? God, smiling: Think about it.

        Think about your prayer life - do you pray for others? Or if you don't pray do you at least worry on behalf of others? Prayer is better. Think about success - do you work for and enjoy the success of others? Think about stewardship - do you focus your resources on others? Think about time - is it appropriately spent on others? Do you care for others in practical, giving ways. This is what develops humility.

        Notice that Peter gives a reason for this behavior. His says your humility toward others will impact your relationship with God. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God doesn’t give from himself to 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 person who is not trusting in himself, who does not seek glory for himself. That word ‘grace’ is the same word we use when we are 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 of these graces are undeserved and unearned - they are 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 concern about getting what I deserve for my service, the stream of God’s grace and strength will be cut off at its source.

        The difference between pride and humility is the difference between a bomb and a rocket. A bomb is closed and inwardly focused - and all the power in it is destructive. A rocket engine is open, and focuses it’s power on the outside world, so it does useful work. Over the years humorists like Mark Twain have tried to deflate pride before it can explode, using sayings like: “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.” God stays far away from the proud, but he works through the humble.

        Peter calls for humility toward others and humility toward God. Verse 6, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, and at the right time he will exalt you. If humility toward others is to put others first, then humility toward God is to put God first, to recognize that he is God and we are not. He is 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", and living from the truth that I depend on God. The declaration of independence from God is the source of all the misery in our lives. Adam and Eve declared independence from God and the result was sin and death. But Jesus died to pay for that sin, to give life from death so that you and I can live the way we were created to live. Peter says 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 and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

        Thomas Merton said it well: “How can you be humble if you are always paying attention to yourself?” Charles Spurgeon pointed out that “The higher a man is in grace, the lower he will be in his own estimation. Not because he is comparing himself with people, but because he is comparing himself with the Lord God.” Recently Dr. Gary Inrig said “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, and look at my strengths, and the reality about me, but I put myself alongside Jesus Christ. And it's there, when I humble myself before Him, and realize the awesomeness of who he is, and I accept God's estimate of myself, and I stop being fooled about myself, and I stop being impressed with myself, that I begin to learn humility.” Humility is putting God first by dying to self-life, self-desires, self-gratification, and living for Him.

        That sounds abstract, but Peter gives us a very practical and concrete way to do it, as he goes on to say "casting all your cares upon him, because he cares for you". If you want to be humble before God, if you want to put him first, if you want to die to self, then a way to begin is cast your burdens on the Lord. You have to, because when you begin to put others first and put God first, a little voice always begins to ask “But who will care for me?" The answer is that God himself will care for our needs. He is able to do so far better than we are - his hand is mighty. Casting all your cares upon him is the path to humility, freeing you from constant concern for yourself, and enabling you to truly be concerned for the needs of others.

        During a frightful storm on the Great Lakes many years ago, a ship was wrecked. The mate, with six strong men and one timid girl, escaped in a boat, but the waves were high and the craft turned over and over until, one by one the men lost their hold and disappeared beneath the angry billows. The mate, however, lashed the girl to the boat, and thus she drifted to the shore where she was found, safe and unharmed. While the stalwart men went down with shrieks of despair, she alone was saved. She didn't escape by her strength or skill. She escaped because she was fastened firmly to that which would not sink. As we are fastened to him we receive his care

        So what have we said in this section? That God desires for us to show humility, to be humble. Humble toward others - putting others first by caring for them. Humble toward God - putting God first by casting our cares upon him. He has 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 find ourselves in his care.
        But this is also true if we are humbled, if we are humiliated, if we suffer. It’s one thing to humble ourselves, it’s another thing to 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, and condemned him to a sinner’s death, a rebel’s death of suffering.

II. The humbled find God’s strength. (1 Peter 5:8-11)

        Peter teaches that God meets us not only when we humble ourselves, but when we are humbled by the people and circumstances around us. It is in those lowest moments that we most find God’s strength. I Peter 5:8-11 8Be self_controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. 10And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

        Peter starts here by saying: be alert, be self controlled, be watchful, be sober. He means that we should think clearly about Satan's schemes and about God’s purpose 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 to note that the lion he is talking about, is not 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 them. As a believer you are a threat to Satan's territory. He is the ruler of this world, the one in charge of demonic forces, and he hates it when believers invade his territory. When you begin to humble yourself, and put God first and put others first, that really gets his hackles up, and he will roar, and will attempt to devour you.

        Peter says that the right response to this kind of attack is to resist Satan, standing firm, with your faith in God. The attack is intended to move you from humility to humiliation, but God says that against this kind of humiliation I intend you to stand firm in faith. You and I, in and of ourselves, don’t have the strength to resist Satan. The idea is ludicrous - Satan is a spiritual being who was 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 blade of grass could stand against a lawn mower. But God strengthens you as a believer so that you can resist even spiritual powers.

        One commentary I use pointed out that our adversary, Satan, is swift and smart and strong. But the 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 are attacked by this roaring lion, even if we are humbled and brought low like Job, or more significantly, like Jesus, we can stand firm in faith. Peter says of Jesus that he ‘entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.’ That’s what we need to do.

        Peter is aware that even when we stand firm if faith we will suffer. Certainly this was true in his day. He says that all across the world your brothers and sisters in Christ are finding God’s strength and resisting the suffering that Satan desires to use against them. If you read the letters in Revelation from Jesus to the churches, you find that every church was battling suffering or Satan or his schemes in one way or another.

        This is still true today. We have heard recently of many missionaries in Moslem countries who have been jailed or taken captive or attacked or murdered for their faith. Your brothers and sisters in Christ are enduring suffering, persecution, and strife because of their witness for Jesus. Even here in our country, there is more and more open contempt for Christianity, and for the things of God, as Satan works hard to make Christianity and Jesus Christ despised by all. Peter certainly does not rule out the possibility that we ourselves will suffer in the defense of our faith.

        But suffering is more than persecution. The first chapter of 1st Peter makes it clear that believers undergo all kinds of trials. Our experience, as individuals and as caring brothers and sisters in Christ confirms that there are many kinds of suffering and many who suffer. Some suffer job loss or financial setbacks which lead to worry and debt. Many suffer relational difficulties - in marriages, in families, between parents and children. There is great suffering associated with disease, and equally great emotional suffering when a loved one is sick or dying. There is suffering brought on by our own sin, and also by the sins of others. Some of us suffer because of our immaturity, but even today 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 can go up, because God meets you at that lowest point and lifts you.

        I read a book a few years ago called “Coming Back - Stories of Spiritual Survivors.” One chapter was about Pam Wexler, the wife of a successful doctor in Florida whose husband contracted colon cancer, and died after seventeen months of suffering While still recovering from that shock, Pam was diagnosed with acute leukemia. She was hospitalized for six months, undergoing the most extensive kind of chemotherapy The treatment itself came within a hair-breadth of killing her.

        After her recovery, she went to live in North Carolina and a year or so later met and married a godly man named Geoff Smith. Then tragedy struck again, as Geoff was stricken with a vegetative heart disease. Though he recovered, life continued 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 on to the conviction that he will be faithful, and will be that 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 the testimony of believers throughout the ages, across the continents, and right here in this room. You heard a similar testimony right here last week from Debra Reynolds. 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 confirms.

        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 in Christ, an eternal inheritance. 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? That 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. A government official in India, who was engaged in irrigation work, 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.