The Priority of Humility

1 Peter 5:5-7

As we follow Christ through suffering, we all need to be guided and served by caring, faithful pastors (also called elders). Though God entrusts this leadership role to certain men in the church, he expects them to carry out this role with a proper mindset. They should lead by providing an enthusiastic example and not in an abusive, forceful way.

In all they do, pastors must recognize that they are not just leaders but servant leaders who must be willing to suffer as they lead and who must answer to Christ for how they lead. In short, they must be humble men. Yet such humility is not only necessary for them, it is necessary for all of us if together we will succeed in following Christ through suffering.

“Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.” (Augustine)

To his instruction for pastors providing shepherding care in the church, Peter links some further important instructions to a different group of people in the church, whom he calls the “younger people,” encouraging them to be humble as well.

From these instructions, we learn that to follow Christ through suffering, not only do we need pastoral care, but we need humility. To practice this humility…

Younger followers of Christ should follow pastoral guidance.

Likewise, you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders.

Who are these “younger people”? “Younger people” is a translation of one word, literally “younger” or “younger ones.” Some suggest that Peter is speaking to younger pastors, but this makes little sense for at least two reasons.

  • “Likewise” shifts focus to a different group of people not a subset of the former one – the elders of the previous four verses.
  • Peter refers to the former group (elders) once again in these instructions, again indicating that these “younger” were a different group of people from the elders and not among the elders themselves.

Some suggest another possible identity, those people in the church who are newer, less experienced believers. This is also unlikely because describing newer believers as “younger ones” does not occur elsewhere in the NT. So, the most likely identity of these “younger ones” are those church members who are in an earlier, younger stage of life.

In addition to identifying these younger people, we must also identify the elders in v.5. Some suggest (incl. John Calvin) that these elders refer generally to the older men, believers, or generation in the church, in contrast to the younger members or generation. While this word does occasionally refer generally to “older men” (Acts 2:17) or “older women” (1 Tim 5:2), this translation seems unlikely here for at least two reasons:

  • Peter has used this word in his previous instruction to identify the pastors in the churches, closely linking this next instruction with “likewise,” making it unlikely that he has now changed his usage of this word so soon.
  • What’s more, throughout the NT this word almost always refers to the pastoral leaders within the church, so there would need to be compelling contextual reasons for translating here it otherwise, but there is none.

The most likely interpretation is that Peter is telling younger members of the church to follow pastoral guidance. This does not mean older members don’t need the same instructions (more on that shortly), but it acknowledges that younger members need to hear this, perhaps since they are generally less inclined to do so and perhaps because younger members are more apt to act independently, self-sufficiently, and without regard or respect for pastoral care and guidance – thinking they know better.

Whatever the case, Peter tells younger followers of Christ to “submit” to pastoral leaders in the church. The purpose of these instructions is not to promote blind loyalty that does whatever a pastor might say. Peter has taught that pastors must be accountable to Christ, the clear teaching of God’s Word, and the congregation who observes their example and lifestyle and should not lead in an abusive or dictatorial way. And he has demonstrated that the scope of a pastor’s guidance should focus on spiritual care.

These instructions encourage two things of younger members in the church.

  • They should first choose to place themselves within the church by choosing to become committed, contributing, and involved members.
  • They should follow the personal, spiritual direction and leadership that the pastors within their church provide in keeping with Scripture.

As the word submit describes, they should literally “place themselves under” the pastoral leaders to whom God has entrusted their spiritual care (v.3). Another way to define this word is “to defer to the authority of.” Peter has already taught this concept of submission.

We should submit to government officials. (1 Pet 2:12-15)

Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God …

We should submit to our employers and supervisors. (1 Pet 2:18)
Servants, be submissive to your masters with all fear, not only to the good and gentle, but also to the harsh.

Wives should submit to their husbands. (1 Pet 3:1, 5)

Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives.

Just as we should submit to government leaders in matters of civil and criminal law, we should submit to workplace leaders in matters of employment, and wives should submit to the leadership of their husbands at home, so younger followers of Christ should submit themselves to their pastoral leaders with regard to church leadership and spiritual care.

So, Peter singles out the younger members of the church for these instructions because as a category of people and a demographic in the church, they may more generally tend to take church membership, involvement, and pastoral care less seriously than those who are older, more experienced, and more informed.

As commentator and professor Thomas Schreiner explains:

Those who are under leadership should be inclined to follow and submit to their leaders. They should not be resisting the initiatives of leaders and complaining about the direction of the church.

Two other commentators, Max Anders and David Walls, speak even more directly:

Some church members believe they have a right to sabotage pastoral leadership, to speak critically of pastors, to slander them, to castigate them simply because they don’t like them or their leadership. God has not given the members of the flock this responsibility. When they take this upon themselves, they allow Satan to use them as his tool for division and destruction in the church. The message here is clear: when pastor-shepherds lead their congregation with responsible and godly leadership and members of the flock resist this leadership, those members are in disobedience to the Lord and have opened the door for Satan.

These are the sentiments that Peter is expressing to the younger members of a church, but we should not be surprised that he does not limit these sentiments and instructions to the younger members only. He expands them more broadly, too – very broadly.

All followers of Christ should submit to one another.

Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility.

With the words, “Yes, all of you,” Peter extends what he has just said to the younger members of the church to everyone else in the church, as well. All members, regardless of age or stage of life, should follow and submit to the pastoral leadership of the church. No one is exempt from this community obligation.

As I mentioned in a previous sermon, the writer of Hebrews reaffirms this instruction to all members in the church (Heb 13:17):

Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

Yet there is more to be said about this here. By saying, “Yes, all of you…”, Peter includes and expands his instructions of submission to everyone in the church in two ways:

  • He includes everyone in the church with regard to who should submit – every member should submit, not just the younger.
  • He also includes everyone in the church with regard to whom we should submit to – again, we should submit to every member, not just the pastors.

If you think submitting to your pastors is a challenge, then what about submitting to everyone else in your church, too? How’s that for expanding the instructions?

By teaching this way, Peter encourages us to practice the principle of mutual submission towards each other in the church, a principle which Paul also teaches.

To help us understand what it means to “submit to one another,” we should visualize the illustration of a building construction project which Peter has already described earlier in this letter (1 Pet 2:5):

you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house …

With this illustration, Peter describes the church as a house being made of stone that is under construction. To build this house, one stone is being placed on top of and adjacent to another. In this arrangement, we are all dependent upon one another and should treat one another with great appreciation and respect. To disrespect, hurt, or neglect another member of the church is to disrespect, hurt, and neglect ourselves, because we truly are connected that closely and that mutually reliant upon one another.

To submit to one another, we must be intentional and work very hard to elevate one another’s concerns over our own, prioritize one another’s needs over our own, and respect one another’s preferences over our own. This is not easy to do, but it is a biblical necessity. So, it is the responsibility of pastors help guide a church into practicing mutual submission as well as possible. Evidence that mutual submission is occurring includes:

  • Neither long-standing, older members nor younger, newer members insist on having their own way in matters of preference, policy, or opinion.
  • Members do not complain about being neglected or overlooked in their ideas and perceived needs so long as the ideas and needs of others are being considered.
  • Members do not cling tightly to tenured positions and roles, letting go or being more flexible if it means involving, rotating, and training more people to be involved.
  • Members accept appropriate and reasonable changes in practices, programs, and schedules which encourage more and newer people to get involved and take their next steps in following Christ.
  • Members do not spread criticisms and complaints about pastoral leaders or one another to other people in the church but rather commit themselves to the success of pastoral direction and the interests and needs of other members in the church.

Paul describes this spirit of mutual submission as follows (Phil 2:3-4):

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

To help us grasp this concept even better, Peter gives both an illustration from the life of Christ and a quotation from the Old Testament.

First, the illustration is, “be clothed with humility.” To understand this illustration, we need to (a) see the illustration, (b) define the word humility, and (c) identify the moment in Christ’s life that exemplifies this.

The illustration is a piece of clothing, like an apron or pair of overalls that a person would pick up and tie around the waist, only the piece of clothing that Peter envisions here is humility. By illustrating submission to one another this way, Peter emphasizes the deliberate intentionality required if we are going to submit to one another. We can infer that humility is not our usual set of clothes, so we must choose to put on this mindset when we interact with one another.

The word humility means a “lowly, modest mindset.” To understand what this means most clearly, we need to set aside two mistaken perceptions:

  • The first misperception is what I would call a clammy, compulsive, self-congratulatory humility which is no humility at all. A good classic example of this would be Uriah Heep, the famous villain in Dicken’s David Copperfield. This cold, pale-faced, red-headed, red-eyed, squirmy fellow would frequently remind other characters in the story of how “umble” he was. “I am so very umble,” he would say. True humility does not announce itself or go out of its way to insist that a person be treated as such. Humility does not draw attention to itself to others but simply focuses on Christ and others as a simple matter of fact and lifestyle.
  • The second misperception of humility is what I would call reclusive humility, which also is not humility. This mindset refuses to get involved, take opportunities for leadership and service, give testimony, pray, or do things in public. It insists that it does not want to attract attention to itself, an attitude which reveals an over-awareness of self. True humility does not hide or withdraw itself from others but simply gets involved, whether the involvement draws attention or requires public visibility and prominence or not.

Gavin Ortlund, in his excellent little book called Humility describes humility as “the joy of self-forgetfulness.”

Timothy Keller says that humility is “not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less.”

C.S. Lewis says this about humility:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

And again, Gavin Orltund explains:

Being a big deal is a burden. Humility, in contrast, means you don’t interpret everything in relation to yourself, and you don’t need to. It is the death of the narrow, suffocating filter of self-referentiality. It is the nourishing, calming acceptance that you have a small place in a much larger story: that your life is being guided by something far bigger than your plans or controls, and serving something far bigger than your “sole benefit.” Humility is the joy of embracing life as it is meant to be lived.

Simply put, a humble person is not distracted by him- or herself, one way or the other. A humble person just lives and serves, putting Christ first and caring for and serving others. Such a person is free in his or her spirit because they know they are a sinner who deserves nothing from God but who has also received everything from God. As a result, they desire to serve God and others for God’s glory and the benefit of others.

In giving these instructions, Peter drew from a personal encounter he had with Christ himself. John recorded this encounter for us as follows (John 13:4-5):

[Jesus] rose from supper and laid aside his garments, took a towel and girded himself. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.

In the hours leading up to his trial and crucifixion, Christ did something only entry-level servants would do – washed his disciples’ feet. Peter and the other disciples insisted that Jesus not do this, but Christ persisted.

Though he was the God of the universe, the Judge of all people, and the Savior of all who believe, he took the lowest position. This humility was a mindset that resulted in a choice and an action. So, it is for us today. We must choose to put one another first by placing one another’s desires, needs, and preferences ahead of our own – and we must do more than defer to one another, we must actively serve and support one another’s interests and needs as well, seeing them through to completion and success.

To submit to one another is to submit to God.

For “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.

Here, Peter offers an OT quotation from Prov 3:34 (also quoted in Jam 4:6): “God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.” To “resist” means to “set the battle in array against” and portrays God switching sides on the chessboard, so to speak. When church members choose to assert themselves in arrogance and pride, whether against the care and leadership of biblical pastors or against the interests and needs of other members, insisting on promoting their own agendas, priorities, and self-interests instead, they will find that God – through the circumstances of life and other means – will stand in their way, similar to how the angel of the Lord stood in the way of the OT prophet Balaam or how he opposed the Israelites who rebelled against Moses in the wilderness wanderings.

Those church members who gladly and willingly follow pastoral care and direction and who actively pursue and support the interests and needs of other members will experience an increased measure of God’s grace – his divine, supernatural encouragement, provision, strength, and wisdom.

In Eph 5:18-21, Paul teaches us how to be a Spirit-filled, God-dependent, Christ-centered church when we come together for fellowship, service, and worship, he says that we should “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (Eph 5:21). Peter does the same – teaching us that to submit to one another is how we submit to God.

Can you see the significance of this? We cannot say that we are submitting to God if we are rejecting either pastoral care and guidance or meeting the needs and pursuing the success of the interests of other members in the church. In fact, if we are resisting these things, then we are actually opposing and resisting the person and work of God.

To submit to pastoral leadership and one another, Peter says, is to submit ourselves to “the mighty hand of God,” which is a phrase that is used in the OT to describe God’s deliverance of his people, Israel, from their enemies and oppressors through great, supernatural acts – like sending the 10 plagues to Egypt or parting the Red Sea.

So, as we follow Christ through suffering, we must submit ourselves to God by following pastoral leadership and serving one another’s needs and interests. By doing so, we place ourselves in a position not only to wish for but to expect God’s divine, powerful, and supernatural intervention in our lives. Just as God promoted Joseph in the OT to second-in-command of Egypt, after many years of abandonment, injustice, and mistreatment, God will also “exalt you in due time.” He may do this in appropriate and surprising ways in this life, but for sure he will do so in the eternal kingdom of the coming New Earth.

The day of humiliation is limited to this world, but the readers will be lifted on high by God’s grace forever. (Thomas Schreiner)

Cast all your anxious cares onto God.

Casting all your care upon him, for he cares for you.

For those who will consider this sort of self-forgetful service and pursuit of other members’ spiritual interests and success, the question will arise – but what about me? What about my interests and needs?

“Casting all your anxiety upon him” is how we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand. We do this by deliberately “throwing” the burden of those worries that weigh down our minds and pull our focus in many misplaced directions. We do this through prayer that says, “God, I am giving you [name the concern that’s weighing on your mind].”

When we express our trust in God this way, we give him our worries and refuse to take them back from him. Whenever the same concerns resurface in our minds and emotions, we give them back to him again – as many times as necessary.

It’s difficult to take pastoral care seriously and to devote ourselves to serving one another when we are distracted and divided in our attention and energy by our own personal concerns, whether real or petty. As we follow Christ through suffering, God desires for us to entrust our personal anxieties to his care so we can focus on receiving pastoral care and providing care to others in the church.

When we do this, we can rest assured that God is and will care for us, which means that meeting your needs is his constant and serious concern. His care for you is real, ongoing, and unending. You do not need to worry yourself with yourself.

  • Are you humbly and wholeheartedly receiving the pastoral care God has provided for you?
  • Are you committing yourself to serving the needs and supporting the interests of the other members of your church?

No Comments





1 Corinthians Abraham Affirmation Ambition Anxiety Babylon Baptist History Bible Study Bibliology Bitterness Blameshifting Canonicity Charity Christian Growth Christian Living Chronicles Church Comfort Complaining Contentment Courage Covenant Creation Cross Crucifixion Daniel David Death Deuteronomy Devotion Discipleship Disciples Easter Ecclesiastes Egypt Elders Elijah Elisha Emotions Empathy Encouragement Endurance Eschatology Esther Eternity Evangelism Examples Excuses Exodus Ezekiel Ezra Faithfulness Faith Family Fear Fellowship Finances Forgiveness Freedom Friendship Generations Generosity Genesis Gideon Glorification Good News Gospel of John Gospel Government Grace Gratitude History Holiness Holy Spirit Hope Humility Idolatry Ignorance Inspiration Isaac Isaiah Israel Jeremiah Job Joshua Joy Judges Judgment July 4th Justice Justification Kindgom of God King David Kings Lamentations Law Leadership Legalism Leviticus Love Loyalty Marriage Mary Mentorship Messiah Mind Ministry Miracles Missions Money Morality Moses Mothers Motives Nehemiah New Testament Nicodemus Numbers Obedience Offerings Old Testament Omniscience Outreach Pain Passion Week Passover Pastoral Care Pastors Peace Pentateuch Perseverance Philippians Poetry Politics Pontius Pilate Power Prayer Preservation Pride Priests Promises Prophecy Proverbs Providence Psalms Redemption Relationship Remembering Responsibility Restoration Resurrection Righteousness Role Model Romance Ruth Sacrifice Salvation Samson Samuel Sanctification Satan Saul Scripture Service Sinai Solomon Song of Solomon Sorrow Sovereignty Spiritual Gifts Stewardship Submission Suffering Teamwork Temple Temptation Thankfulness Thanksgiving Thanks The Joyful Life Thinking Toledoth Trials Truth Unity Vanity Victory Wealth Wisdom Women Worship