A Lesson in Humility from 1 Peter 5:6

A Lesson in Humility from 1 Peter 5:6

by Bob Burridge ©2011

Humility doesn’t come easily. Our fallen human nature naturally tends to put itself first. It puts its own comfort and peace above the needs of others. It also tends to take for itself that that are God’s. The Sabbath Day is reduced to remembering God for a few hours on Sunday morning. Tithes and offerings are redefined so we have more to spend on our own needs. God’s glory is directed toward the creature rather than the Creator. Basically, fallen souls want to do what they want, even if God says otherwise.

Humility is the opposite of all that. It puts God first. It honors him with what is his. It obeys what God tells us to do and not to do. It gives him all the glory for all that is good.

Our verse for this study comes from what the Apostle Peter wrote in his first Epistle.

1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:”

The context of this verse is extremely important. Before we can understand the lesson about humility here we need to see how it fits into what the Apostle was writing about. Chapter 5 begins with a command from God to the Elders of the church.

The Elders he’s talking about here are not just the older people in the church. They are the Church officers, they are the “Presbyters”. The word “Elders” here is Presbuteroi (πρεσβυτεροι). They are the men called and ordained to teach and lead God’s People. The word was defined by Scripture long before Christ came, and the office was carried over into the church after his resurrection. Elders were appointed by the Apostles as each new congregation was formed.

Biblically the church is to be run by Local Elders. That’s why the Rule of Elders is called the Presbyterian form of church government. It’s the form followed by all the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. Even the “Reformed Baptists” are organized under the rule of Local Elders. They should be looked to with respect for their office.

In verses 1-4 of 1 Peter 5 it tells what Peter commands them to be and to do:

(1) The Elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: (2) Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; (3) nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; (4) and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away. Submit to God, Resist the Devil

The Elders are to be shepherds of the congregation. They are to care tenderly for the spiritual needs of the members. They are to be overseers of the congregation. The word for “overseers” is Episkopoi (επισκοποι) which means literally “those who watch over something”. In older times this word was translated as “Bishops”. It’s where the Episcopal form of Church government comes from. That’s the form followed by the Anglicans (Episcopalians) and Methodists. But the word as used here clearly isn’t referring to a separate group of officers. It’s one of the jobs of all the Elders.

Their work is to be done not by force, or by greed for office, but by being humble examples. Their reward will come at the time of Christ’s final appearing as the Chief Shepherd of the church. They will receive God’s reward of glory for their faithful work.

The final word to them is that they should be submissive to God. It’s only as they are humble before God and follow Christ as their Shepherd that they can effectively shepherd God’s flock.

Then he adds that they need to resist the Devil. Satan is a spirit who is out to actively destroy the church and to get her off track. The Elders need to be resistant to all the Devil’s efforts.

Next Peter turns to those who are to be led by these Elders in verses 5-9

The word for “younger people” here is neoteroi (νεωτεροι), It comes from the Greek word neos (νεος) which fundamentally means “new”. They are the less experienced in the congregation, the members under the leadership of the Elders. They are to submit to the leadership and example of the Elders as long as those Elders are rightfully exercising the authority and responsibilities God has assigned to them.

However, this verse calls God’s people to do more than just submit to church leaders. It says they should all be submissive one to another. He’s talking about living humbly. Not always promoting their own glory, accomplishments or skills. Not always trying to have their own way. Not sulking or complaining when things go a way they didn’t want. Instead they’re to wear humility as if it was their clothing.

Then Peter reminds his readers of God’s attitude toward the proud and toward the humble. He refers to Proverbs 3:34, “Surely He scorns the scornful, But gives grace to the humble.”

Peter doesn’t quote this verse directly from the original Hebrew text. There is says he “scorns the scorner”, here Peter says he “resists the proud”. Peter is quoting from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was in common use then. The Septuagint has the same word Peter uses here, antitasso (αντιτασσω). It means “to oppose” or “to resist”. James 4:6 quotes the same verse in the same way Peter does here. That was the proper understanding of what the verse in Proverbs 3:34 meant.

The meaning of the quote is clear. God looks with anger upon those who are unsubmissive. His blessing of grace is upon those who are humble, submissive to God’s ways and authority. That includes those God calls to represent his authority on earth in the church (as the context here shows), in the home, in the work place, and in the civil government.

Then we come to the verse we are considering in this study. 1 Peter 5:6 says, “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time”

In all things, you are to submit yourselves to God’s rulership. Particularly as you are led in the church by God’s Elders. But the point is that all of us should follow God’s ways. The Elders are there to show God’s people those ways.

God’s promise is that he will exalt the humble.
The reward God promises here doesn’t come by a person’s own aggressive behavior to seek and to seize blessings for himself. It is a gift of God that he attaches to the obedience he puts in a person’s heart when he is saved by grace alone. No one can find true peace, happiness, security, and satisfaction in life unless it comes from God as he blesses the obedience he stirs up in a redeemed heart toward and by Christ.

This is accomplished by casting all your care upon him because he cares for you (verse 7). Rather than arrogantly looking to yourself, or to things merely made by God as a way of getting things, you put all your hope and concerns upon him who is your Loving Lord and Good Shepherd. You humble yourselves. You lay aside your own glory and personal wants for Christ’s glory and desires, and you do the same regarding the needs of others.

You can and should do that because, he cared for you and died to make you acceptable to God, and able to obey him.

Peter ends this section by turning our attention to God, the one who makes us able to obey.

(10) 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. (11) To Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

There is no other proper response to God’s enabling us, than to worship him, to praise him, and to honor him by our obedience. The humble bow before God and consider him worthy of all their devotion and service. They steal nothing from him. All he calls them to do they do. They don’t put their own desires or interests before what their Lord knows is best.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

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About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies