By Shawn Lazar
Humility is not a favorite virtue, especially in American culture. We much prefer pride, self-aggrandizement, and the ruthless promotion of our personal “brand.”
But that is not how Christianity works. Someone said we have an “upside-down spirituality.” I agree. That is part of the pattern and offense of the cross. As Harold Senkbeil wrote, “The cross is offensive. It grates on us that God would achieve his highest purpose through lowly degradation” (Senkbeil, Christ and Calamity, p. 46). But that is the way God achieves His purposes. God works through the lowly and humble way of the cross. For example, Peter says that instead of being prideful, we’re called to submit:
Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders (v 5a).
I am not sure I have ever heard this passage taught in church. I think it is because our church life is so thin, and people are too easily offended. When we hear about submission, it rubs us the wrong way, and it is very easy to choose to attend a less demanding church. So this message does not get preached very much.
However, it is necessary to a healthy church life.
Please note—Peter is not discussing whether these elders are in the right or the wrong, whether they are wise or foolish, prudent or greedy, or whether they deserve your submission. That is not the issue here. This is about what you should do, i.e., submit yourself.
Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (v 5b).
The issue of submission will probably come up in the context of a conflict. You will have a disagreement with your elders about something, and in that moment, you will not feel like submitting. It is easy to go along with decisions with which you agree, but when things are headed in the wrong direction and you think you know better, you want to argue for your point of view. In those fights, you want to show that God is on your side. But Peter says that if you really want God to be on your side, then humble yourself. Instead of clothing yourself with self-justifying arguments, wear some humility. Yes, you might be right, and the elders might be wrong, but if you’re proud, God will resist you either way, and then you’ll have both the elders and the Lord against you.
That is a losing scenario!
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time (v 6).
When you humbly submit yourself to your elders, you are really humbling yourself “under the mighty hand of God.” You might feel like you’ve surrendered to a fallible human authority. But take a divine perspective on this issue. What you’ve really done is given up trying to achieve things your way and have given the situation over to God so He can do things His way. The expression about God’s mighty hand refers to His ability to deliver His people. In other words, in submitting yourself, you are trusting God to act for you in that situation and to deliver you from it. That does not mean you will be getting your way. It means you will be getting God’s way in God’s time. His priority is your priority. So you humble yourself under His hand, and by doing that, “He may exalt you in due time.” That is, instead of fighting tooth and nail for your “due” and trying to lift yourself by your bootstraps, let God do the lifting for you.
casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you (v7).
Your conflict with your elders is probably stressing you out. It might be keeping you up at night as you turn the situation over repeatedly in your head. You think about what people said and did and wonder about all the different ways you should have responded, and you obsessively wonder, “How will this all turn out?” But part of humbling yourself under God’s hand means casting those worries upon God. Frankly, the problem is too big for you. You don’t see all the moving pieces or understand how they fit together, so give your cares over to God. All of them. He has big hands. He can carry them. And more than that, God cares for you. I wish I could convey to you how much He cares. You are full of anxieties, and they seem like the most important thing in the world at the moment. God sees how you struggle and wants you to transfer those concerns over to Him. That can be as simple as saying aloud, “Lord, take this from me!” Or “Lord, I am trusting you with this problem!” Make the conscious decision to relate your situation to Christ, in faith giving your problem over to God.
Peter goes on to explain that there is a spiritual warfare component to submitting to your elders and humbling yourself before God:
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour (v 8).
All those church conflicts between you and the elders create opportunities for the devil to do his work. Like a hungry lion seeking to devour his prey, the devil can persuade a church to “bite and devour each other” (Gal 5:15). He would like nothing more than to see elders and younger people at each other’s throats. Divisiveness is one of the chief sins of church life, and we are constantly
warned against it: “Note those who cause division…and avoid them…Reject a divisive man…Now I plead with you, brethren…that there be no divisions among you” (Rom 16:17; Titus 3:10; 1 Cor 1:10). Submitting to your elders and clothing yourself with humility is a necessary step to avoid division and devouring. It is also a way to resist the devil:
Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world (v 9).
We are called to resist the devil, both individually and as a church body, and submission and humility are part of that spiritual resistance.
Of course, submitting yourself is not the path to a trouble-free life. It may still end up with you suffering, in which case, Peter reminds you that you are not alone. Christians around the world are suffering in the same way. But thank God, suffering does not have the last word in your life:
But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you. To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen (vv 10-11).
Peter says that after “you have suffered a while,” God, who shows grace to the humble, can use your submission to “perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
He can perfect you in the sense of bringing you to spiritual maturity.
God can establish you, so that you become a more stable believer, instead of being tossed to and fro by your anxieties and interpersonal conflicts.
Even though submission and humility seem like signs of weakness in the eyes of the world, they are how God can strengthen you.
And God can use this to settle you, to make you stand even more firmly in place to resist the devil’s schemes, instead of being susceptible to division and being devoured by the devil.
In other words, your real enemies are not your elders but are pride, division, and the devil. And your real hope is not in winning your argument and being proven right, but in His glory and dominion, which will last forever.
Every knee will bow then, so go ahead and submit now.
Shawn Lazar is Director of Publications for Grace Evangelical Society. He is happily married to Abby and tries to impart a Christ-centered worldview to his three children.