RPM, Volume 16, Number 21, May 18 to May 24, 2014

A Humble Life

1 Peter 5:5-7

By D. Marion Clark


Humility is not a minister's favorite subject. How can you exhort others to be humble with a clear conscience or presume to know what you are talking about? You would have to be humble; yet, believing yourself to be humble is not being humble. But if you are not humble, how then can you presume to speak with authority on being humble? It is a problem that is humbling! And so with humility I approach this passage!

Our Humility Before Others

Verse 5 picks up from Peter's exhortation to the elders to be good shepherds. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. The word for "older" is the same for "elder," which leads me to believe that Peter is referring to the elders, as the KJ and other versions translate the word. This also fits with the exhortation to be submissive, the same word used for being submissive to the authorities in 2:2, 18 and 3:1. The young men are to submit to the elders as the legitimate authorities of the church.

This exhortation then leads Peter to speak broadly to the whole community: All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another. Though there is a structure of authority within the church, the guiding attitude for everyone is humility. From the venerable elder to the new young convert, everyone is to be clothed with humility toward one another.

What does that mean - to be clothed with humility toward one another? What it does not mean is that we are to wear an attitude of self-pity, which we often mistake for humility.

"I'm just a nobody."
"Don't mind me; I'm no one important."
"I'm just a poor old soul trying to get along."

Peter is not exhorting his people to be pathetic, which is simply a bad imitation of being humble. To be humble simply means this — to consider the welfare of our neighbor as more important than our own. That's it.

Let me give two examples. I'll start first with the most dangerous — how to preach humbly. The humble preacher is not one who regards his sermons as poorly done. He is the one whose pleasure centers on the glory God receives and the benefit his hearers gain. In other words, you measure his humility not according to his attitude about his sermon, but according to his attitude about his hearers.

Another example: The humble supervisor is the one whose focus is both on carrying out his responsibility well before his superiors and encouraging the workers under him to do their job well. There is the phrase, "He's not too proud to roll up his sleeves and get dirty with the rest of his workers." Actually such a person could be proud. He could take pride in showing up the other supervisors or in identifying himself with the workers in opposition to the management. I remember a football coach that liked to be identified as a players' coach, when all he was really doing was poisoning the attitude of the players against the owner. His primary goal was to be considered the real man in charge.

The humble man or woman operates from the mindset of what is good for the other person. This is why Peter says to clothe yourselves with humility toward one another. What matters is how we are treating one another. Given that in mind, the best way to measure how humble a person is, is to gage how people feel around him and after being with him. Do they feel happier and more encouraged? Do they feel more thoughtful? Do they become more considerate themselves?

Now, I realize that people could feel angry and uncomfortable around Jesus, the model of humility. But that was because of the mean and deceitful spirit within them. The majority of people felt better having been around the perfect model of humility. They felt that way, one reason being that this man truly cared about them. Interesting, isn't it. As we analyze humility, we come up with love. To be humble is to love.

God's Attitude Towards the Humble

So Peter exhorts his people to be humble. He then puts his exhortation in the context of God's attitude towards humility. Remember his word to them: live in response to God, not to the world.

What is God's attitude? …because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Note first, God actively responds. He "opposes" the proud; he works against them. He "gives grace" to the humble; he works for them, giving them grace to live to his glory and to weather the persecutions against them. Undoubtedly, Peter's readers would be thinking of their own situation. God opposes the wicked who are attacking them and gives them grace to withstand the assaults.

Secondly, note who is contrasted with the humble; it is the proud or the arrogant. The difference here is not between the low and the high, or the small and the mighty; it is between those who are humble towards others and those who are arrogant towards others. You can be in a low position in life and be arrogant, and you can be in a high position and be humble.

What matters is not our state in life, but the state of our hearts. Are we caught up with our success and comfort, or are we motivated by love for our neighbors?

Our Humility Before God

Peter then moves to another aspect of humility — being humble before God. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Here is the difference between being humble with your neighbor and humble before God. The first has to do with your loving concern for your neighbor. The second has to do with your view of and trust in God. Regarding the first, Philippians 2:3 says, Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Our humility with others should cause us to have a greater concern for our neighbors than ourselves. Our humility with God should open our eyes to our true condition before God and his greatness. Listen to God speak in Isaiah 40:12-26:

12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand,
or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?
Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket,
or weighed the mountains on the scales
and the hills in a balance?
13 Who has understood the mind of the LORD,
or instructed him as his counselor?
14 Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him,
and who taught him the right way?
Who was it that taught him knowledge
or showed him the path of understanding?

15 Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales;
he weighs the islands as though they were fine dust.
16 Lebanon is not sufficient for altar fires,
nor its animals enough for burnt offerings.
17 Before him all the nations are as nothing;
they are regarded by him as worthless
and less than nothing…
21 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning?
Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth,
and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy,
and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught
and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted,
no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground,
than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 "To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?" says the Holy One.
26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

How do you respond to such words? The humble person before God is awed by such passages. Let me show you real humility. When we think of Job, two characteristics usually come to mind — righteousness and suffering. Job was a righteous man and he suffered. You know the story. God allows Satan to test Job's devotion to God by causing him to suffer. In the midst of his suffering, his friends come and exhort him to confess the sins that are causing his suffering. The climax comes in chapter 38, where God finally responds to Job's demands to answer for himself. How does God answer? He questions Job. As in the Isaiah passage, God demonstrates just how great he is in comparison to man. After four chapters of illustration after illustration of his greatness, Job replies:

4 "You said, 'Listen now, and I will speak;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.'
5 My ears had heard of you
but now my eyes have seen you.
6 Therefore I despise myself
and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:4-6).

We begin with a righteous man. When the story is finished, we have a humble man. In Job 1:1, Job is described as a man who feared God. Be assured that he truly feared God at the end.

And here, now, we are getting at the word that is at the heart of humility before God — fear. Remember how we defined to be humble with our neighbor as meaning to love our neighbor? Well, then, to be humble before God is to fear God.

Now, you may be thinking that's not such a good attitude to have. Shouldn't I be using the term "revere" God? Surely the Bible is not teaching us that we ought to be afraid of God? Well…maybe a story will help. I read last week from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Here is an excerpt from the story. Peter, Susan and Lucy are in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, having a conversation about Aslan.

"Is-is he a man?" asked Lucy.
"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion — the Lion, the great Lion."
"That you will, dearie, and no mistake," said Mrs. Beaver, "if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly."
"Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver. "Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."

To fear God is to understand that God is good, not safe. Because he is good, he acts, not according to what makes us feel comfortable, but according to what is right and true and good. Because he is mighty, he will carry out his good will. Because he is the one true God, he will see that all things work for his glory. As Mr. Beaver says, "He's the King, I tell you."

Now, I've spent a long time presenting what it means to be humble before God, hopefully making the case for us having a healthy fear of him. But what happens once we do humbly fear God? He lifts us up. Peter exhorts his people to be humble before God that he may lift you up in due time. What happened to Job after he repented in humility? God lifted him up, not merely restoring him to his prosperity, but increasing it.

God may not be safe, but he is good. We are to fear him not as we fear a tyrant who only wants to humiliate us or break our spirit. Our fear is meant to inspire trust that here is the God who will carry out his good purpose. I read the passage from Isaiah 40 where God speaks of his greatness. What was his point? to make everyone cower before him? Let me finish the chapter.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
"My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God"?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

God's purpose was to give hope to his people. Peter goes on to say in verse 7, Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Do you see now what Peter is doing? He has small churches scattered among hostile communities. Life is getting more and more difficult for the Christians. The threats for their safety are growing, and they are becoming more and more anxious about their future. What are they to do? You know: respond to God and not to the world.

Humble yourselves before God. That is, get into your mind the greatness of your God. Get into your being the awfulness of your God. (And I mean awfulness, not awesomeness. Awesomeness conveys to us a sense of fun excitement. "This team is awesome!" Awfulness, at least in its old usage, conveys a sense of the fear one feels in the presence of a power beyond one's experience.) When you do that, you can then appreciate God's awesomeness. You can appreciate what he can do for you.

Imagine yourself in a small, walled city besieged by a small, but vicious army. It's night; you've learned that the wall will not stand up to the siege that will be renewed in the morning. You are not hopeful, but you plan to defend your city as best you can. As the sun rises you hear a noise, which you assume to be the sound of the enemy beginning its assault. But what you hear and see is more terrible than you expected. The sound is deafening as you hear and see hundreds of tanks moving in over the hills. Jet planes roar over head. Utter destruction is upon you. The phone rings. Trembling, you pick it up. "We have our tanks and planes in place. We are ready at your word to destroy your enemy." What happens to that fear in you? It is transformed to confidence and joy. The very experience of being humbled by the power that has come to your aid gives you confidence for victory.

The reason we are so often fearful of the world is that we have not learned the fear of the Lord. We have not humbled ourselves before him.

I want to close by reading from one more story. Humility is not only what Christians need to grow in the faith. It is the essential element needed to become a Christian in the first place, as this little allegory shows. It is taken from the book Perelandra by C. S. Lewis, who also wrote The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lewis puts himself in the opening of the book, where he encounters an eldil, what we would know to be a holy archangel.

I had no doubt at all that I was seeing an eldil… My sensations were, it is true, in some ways very unpleasant. The fact that it was quite obviously not organic…was profoundly disturbing. It would not fit into our categories… On the other hand, all those doubts which I had felt before I entered the cottage as to whether these creatures were friend or foe…had for the moment vanished. My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that the creature was what we call "good," but I wasn't sure whether I liked "goodness" so much as I had supposed. This is a very terrible experience. As long as what you are afraid of is something evil, you may still hope that the good may come to your rescue. But suppose you struggle through to the good and find that it also is dreadful? How if food itself turns out to be the very thing you can't eat, and home the very place you can't live, and your very comforter the person who makes you uncomfortable? Then, indeed, there is no rescuer possible: the last card has been played. For a second of two I was nearly in that condition. Here at last was a bit of that world from beyond the world, which I had always supposed that I loved and desired, breaking through and appearing to my senses: and I didn't like it, I wanted it to go away. I wanted every possible distance, gulf, curtain, blanket, and barrier to be placed between it and me. But I did not fall quite in the gulf. Oddly enough my very sense of helplessness saved me and steadied me. For now I was quite obviously "drawn in." The struggle was over. The next decision did not lie with me.

That's a man who has been humbled. When we have been humbled like that, then we know the good fear of the Lord, and the struggle we have fought against him is over.

We have all had enough of struggles. May we in humility know the peace that comes when we are humble before God.

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