Having spent the bulk of his letter exhorting honourable and hopeful behaviour before unbelievers, Peter draws his exhortations to a close by turning his attention inward and challenging his readers to behave honourably and hopefully within the church. In 5:1–5, he addresses two particular groups within the church (elders in vv. 1–4 and younger people in v. 5a) before applying his exhortation more generally to the church at large (v. 5b). Though there are specifics that can be explored within each group, the basic exhortation is the same in all three instances: “Clothe yourselves … with humility.” Elders should clothe themselves with humility in their leadership; younger people in their submission to authority; and every church member in relationship with one another.
Humility is not a prized virtue in the age in which we live. We are frequently told to assert ourselves and to look out for number one. Brashness is strangely admired by many in our society. G. K. Chesterton defined humility as a person being “doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth.” Even in the early twentieth century, that had been “exactly reversed,” a trend that continues today. Perhaps more than ever, we are encouraged to assert ourselves while holding that truth is relative.
Of all places, humility should be seen most clearly in the church of Jesus Christ. Sadly, that is not always the case.
Christian leaders are frequently known for their assertiveness rather than their humility. One of the most popular leaders in evangelicalism several years ago described his vision of leadership in terms of a bus: “There is a pile of dead bodies behind the [church] bus, and by God’s grace, it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done. You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options. But the bus ain’t going to stop!” That stands quite at odds with the vision that Peter painted for leadership in the text before us. Leaders, he said, should not be “domineering” but should instead serve as “examples to the flock” of the humility that he exhorted.
Peter also knew the challenges that young people would face in the church. He foresaw a particular challenge among the young with submission to legitimate authority and so he exhorted the young people to humbly follow the direction set by the leadership.
Finally, he exhorted humility in all church relationships “for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
How can Christians live in such a way that they clothe themselves with humility? As we read 5:1–5, we see at least three principles to follow.
First, clothe yourself with humility by serving willingly. Written specifically to the elders, the basic principle applies to all Christians: Service offered to God in the church must be offered willingly. Humility will remain a struggle to the degree that we serve “under compulsion.” But if we realise that we serve because we were served, and that we lay aside our “right” to be served as Christ laid aside his right to be served (Philippians 2:5–11), it is evidence that we have embraced humility.
Ask yourself this morning whether the service you offer to God in the church is willing, eager service or whether there is a sense of compulsion and rote duty. There are times when all of us will do what we are required to do for no other reason than duty, but we should pray for a heart that serves willingly, not under compulsion.
Second, clothe yourself with humility by submitting to rightful authority. The exhortation to submission is given specifically to younger people but, once again, it applies more broadly. God has placed various spiritual leaders in our lives and calls us to humbly follow the leadership of those people. If we are always bucking against authority, always seeking to ruffle feathers, and always seeking to have things done our way, it is a sure sign that we have neglected the call to humility.
Ask yourself this morning, do I display an attitude of gracious submission to the authorities that God has placed in my life? Pray for a heart that gladly submits as you clothe yourself with humility.
Third, clothe yourself with humility by building and maintaining healthy, giving relationships in the church. Humility should be displayed “toward one another.” Humility is more than an empty claim; it is displayed in the context of relationships.
Ask yourself this morning, am I committed to building, maintaining, and restoring healthy relationships in which I can display humility by Christ-centred service?
As you reflect on 1 Peter 5:1–5 this morning, pray to God to give you the grace to embrace the humility of Christ so that you can experience grace, rather than opposition, from his sovereign hand.