On October 31, 1517 Martin Luther nailed his 95 theological statements to the door of the Wittenburg church, and kicked off the Protestant Reformation. He called the church of God back to the authority of the word of God, and salvation by grace through faith. A few years later, his followers began to be called “Lutherans.” Luther’s response should be very instructive to us. He said, “What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for you … How then should I — poor stinking maggot fodder that I am — come to have men call the children of Christ by my wretched name?”
Luther is a great example to us of one of the most important qualities of the Christian life: the quality of humility. We see the importance of humility in the church taught here in the first part of I Peter 5:
“Therefore I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.
You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”
I. Humility In the Church Begins With the Example of the Shepherds
Notice that Peter opens this passage saying: “I exhort the ELDERS among you …”. It is important for us to understand that he is not speaking just about “older” people. He is referring to the OFFICE of “elder,” the Greek word is “presbuteros”, and this word is used throughout the New Testament to refer to “pastors.”
Now you may know that there are some religious groups who think that “elders” are a different position from pastors. But the New Testament makes it clear that these are the same people. In perhaps the best passage regarding this, Acts 20 tells us in :17 that Paul called for “the elders of the church” at Ephesus. And then later in :28, he tells these “elders,” that “The Holy Spirit has made you OVERSEERS” of the flock, “to SHEPHERD (“shepherd” is the word for PASTOR) the church of God.” So in this one pivotal passage, the very same group of individuals is called “elders”, “overseers”, and “shepherds” (or pastors). So it is very clear in scripture that “elders”, “overseers”, and “pastors” are the SAME people, not three different offices. (In fact, if you notice, those SAME three terms are also all found here in Peter 5, addressed to the same men. So the bottom line here is that Peter is addressing what we would call “pastors” as he opens Chapter 5 here.
Now notice also how Peter opens this passage regarding HIMSELF. He did not “pull rank” here. He didn’t say “I, Peter, the Apostle, and the one to whom Jesus gave the keys …” etc. NO! He called himself “your fellow elder.” He says, I am just one of you. Peter demonstrates here the humility that he wants to see in all of us. And he tells the pastors of the church to lead the way for the church as examples of humility. Notice how he says that pastors should serve:
— “shepherd” the flock of God among you. Not “rule”, as authoritarians, but “shepherd.” The minister is NOT to be a dictator, but a humble shepherd. There is a big difference.
— “exercising oversight” — the pastor DOES have responsibility to oversee the work and ministry of the church. He IS the leader, no doubt. One of the words for his ministry is “overseer” — he DOES “oversee”!
But then he gives us some NOT’s; things the pastor is NOT to do:
— He is NOT to serve under compulsion (because he “has” to)
— NOT for sordid gain: not “for the money.”
— NOT lording it over his flock, but proving to be examples.
This word “examples” here is important. The Greek word is “tupos,” it means a type or pattern. It was originally used of a stamp that was struck by a die, and leaves an imprint. It means a “copy, image, pattern, model.”
So God is saying through Peter that the pastor is not to be a “dictator,” who TELLS everyone what to do; he is to be an EXAMPLE, a MODEL, who SHOWS his people what they should be doing:
— See how the pastor reads his Bible and prays; and do that
— See how the pastor witnesses; and imitate that
— See how the pastor goes on mission; you do that too
— See how the pastor loves everyone in the church, regardless of who they are; you copy that
— See how the pastor is patient with people; you do that
— Observe how the pastor treats his wife and family; you imitate that
— See how the pastor spends his money; you copy that
— See how the pastor does not have to have his own way in everything in the church; you be like that too!
— And see how the pastor is not all about his own ego; but about serving God and others; you do that too!
God says the pastor is to be an example. I’ve heard people say, “We shouldn’t put pastors on a pedestal” — and we definitely should not. Pastors are MEN, just like anyone else. You put them “up on a pedestal” and they will come crashing down! But the Bible also tells us that our pastors are to be men who are living according to a higher standard; I Timothy 3 says they are to be “above reproach”. And Peter tells us here that they should be an EXAMPLE to his flock.
One of the old Puritans said the best gift a pastor can give to his congregation is a holy life. To be an example of what you want your church members to be. And in the context of this overall passage, which focuses on humility, the pastor should be an example of humility. The church is not to be all about the pastor. It should not be about his pride, his EGO, his WILL, his WAY — instead pastors should be examples of humility, who point people to Christ, not to themselves.
I remember hearing a church member years ago tell me that their pastor was pretty good, except he just had this little “pride problem.” (He called it an “I” problem.) I thought, if that’s true, that’s not a “little” problem. A pastor can’t have an “I” problem. A proud pastor is a contradiction in terms. Peter says pastors are not to be lords or dictators, but humble examples.
Now, someone may say; “Well, you are just preaching to yourself and Kyle and Scott here; the rest of us could have just stayed home!” But that is not true, for several reasons:
1) The people of the churches need to know what to expect from their pastors. Your pastors are not to be heavy-handed dictators; if you have a pastor who is treating you that way, you need to know that they are out of line and they are violating God’s word.
2) There is also a sense in which there is an application here for all us who are Christian workers — especially in Sunday School. Every SS teacher is in essence a “shepherd” of the little flock in your class. In fact, many of our Sunday School classes here in America are basically the size of many “churches” in countries around the world; where they may have only 10 or 20 people total in a little house church. Many of you Sunday school teachers are basically pastoring a little “flock” of your own, by world standards! So this word can apply to you too as a Sunday School teacher.
— so as a teacher: “shepherd” your flock: lead them to spiritual food and drink in the word of God; go after them when they are missing; care for them; (By the way, I was so grateful to hear of one of our Sunday school teachers who this week, who told his class: “Let’s do whatever we can to minister” to a family in their class in need. That’s the attitude we want from our Sunday school teachers.) Be an example to them yourself just like Peter says here.
— And realize the big responsibility you have. If you are a Sunday School teacher, there may be NO bigger responsibility you have in this life spiritually than that class. Take it seriously. You are God’s under shepherd, His little “pastor,” in a sense, for that group.
— And as he says in this passage, lead them with HUMILITY. Don’t make the class all about YOU; but you be an example to your class members of what a humble servant of Christ is like.
All of us who are “shepherds” of the church, who are pastors or ministry leaders of any kind, are to lead the way as examples of humility in the church.
II. Humility in the church extends to the entire congregation.
Verse 5 goes on to say: “and ALL of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.”
Peter had described the pastor as one who was to be humble, and not a dictator — and now here in :5 he specifically applies the importance of humility to everyone here, and says: “ALL of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” He says the humility that should typify the pastors of the church, is also to extend to the entire congregation.
This is such a descriptive phrase when it says: “CLOTHE yourselves with humility toward one another.” Our clothing often identifies us as who we are: you can often tell a lot about a person by what they are wearing: are they a Texas fan, or an OU fan? Do they work in a plant, or in a grocery store, or in a bank? A lot of times you can tell by the way they dress. Our clothing marks and identifies us.
So Peter says here, Christian person: be “clothed” with humility; be identified by your humility; let humility characterize your life. Now humility is not in much fashion in America today; it is popular to admire the “proud”, flashy person who is boastful and all about themselves. But as Jesus said in Matthew 20, “It is not to be so among you.” God’s people are to be marked and identified by our HUMILITY.
Humility should characterize everything we do in the church, because humility is foundational to who we even ARE as Christians:
— As Christians, we are not BETTER than anyone else in the church (or outside of it!) There should be no room among Christians for a “holier than thou” attitude like the Pharisee had at prayer, when he said: “Thank God I am not like this other man …” NO! If you really are a Christian, it is because you have realized that you are a SINNER, and that you are only saved by the GRACE OF GOD! If you truly realize that, then you will walk in humility towards both God and other people. You know you are not “better” than anyone else. You’re only here by God’s mercy. So like the Publican, you spend your time focusing on your OWN sins, not anyone else’s. Your prayer is not “thank God I am not like this other man;” instead it is: “God be merciful to ME the sinner!” So our humility as Christians starts with our salvation. If you really understand salvation, then you will be humble. If you are NOT humble, it calls into question whether you really understand salvation – because genuine salvation humbles us all before God.
Then when we DO humble ourselves and are saved, that humility should impact everything else we do in the church: every relationship, every attitude:
— We will realize that we are not more important than anyone else in the church.
— We’ll realize that our opinion is not more important than anyone else’s in the church
— We won’t say “I’m not going to do what that pastor or ministry leader says.” No, you’ll respond humbly; you know that God has put that person there, so you humbly submit to God’s plan.
— You won’t say, “Who is this Committee Chairman to tell me how I am going to do this?” No, you will be humble; GOD has put that person there; so you respond with humility.
— We won’t use terms like: “my class,” “my ministry,” “MY people,” “MY committee,” “MY decision,” “MY way,” etc. Just as the pastor is not to be a “dictator” in the church, but a humble servant, so each member is to be a humble servant in whatever area in the church we serve.
— We won’t say things like: “I am OVER the kitchen” or whatever. (I always cringe whenever I hear somebody in a church say, “I am OVER the kitchen,” or “I’m over the nursery,” or the vans, or whatever. That MAY just be an expression, that they don’t mean anything by. But it often times it subconsciously conveys an attitude of LORDSHIP: “I am OVER this.” I am the ruler of it. It is going to be done MY way. And it is true that God DOES give us responsibilities as stewards. But as we serve, we need to realize that we are not LORDS of these areas; we are God’s SERVANTS in these places of responsibility. Just as the pastor is not to be a “lord,” neither are any of God’s people to be “lords” of our responsibilities. We are servants. We are not here to get “our way” done, but we are here to advance GOD’S kingdom and to do HIS will, not our own. We should all conduct our work for God’s kingdom in the church with humility. Listen to others; be open to others; serve God and others humbly.
— So we listen to our pastors; we listen to those who are in authority; we listen to the ideas and opinions of others (and especially to the word of God which can correct us!).
Genuine Christian humility should start with our leadership, and it should extend throughout our entire congregation. It should impact everything we do in the church; every relationship; every decision; every ministry; everything! It is not about US; it is about God and others.
In CSLewis’ Screwtape Letters he talks about what real humility is and isn’t. He says that real humility recognizes when God has given you an ability to do something — but you don’t “gloat” about it; it’s just what He’s given you.
Our son Michael is pretty intelligent; he was reading at a post high school level at an early age. One time someone at church told him: “Michael, you are really smart.” And he said, “Yeah, I am.” He didn’t say it in a boastful way; it was just very matter of fact. God had made him smart. We can all do the same thing with our gifts. Humility as a Christian doesn’t mean you put on some “fake” attitude as if you can’t do something when you can. That’s not being honest.
No, Christian humility is not thinking less of yourself in a less than genuine way. Rick Warren summarized that idea when he wrote that real Christian “humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Humility doesn’t mean you have to “run yourself down” or act like you can’t do things well. Being humble doesn’t mean you tell people you are bad at something when you know very well that you are good at it. That’s not being truthful, and it does not acknowledge the real gifts God has given you. Humility can acknowledge, like Michael: “God has given me this ability.” But we should have the attitude that we had as little to do with it as the color of my hair. GOD gave it to us.
So humility “is thinking of yourself LESS!” It means that in everything we do in the church; don’t just think about yourself: your feelings, your preferences, your opinions — think of OTHERS instead. THAT is Christian humility. Put others ahead of your self. Think of yourself less. That kind of humility is one of the most important qualities any church needs to function well.
When George Friderick Handel, who wrote “Messiah,” was doing a musical in London in the 1700’s, there were two singers that were at odds with each other over who was the “top dog” — and they ended up actually fighting on stage, and totally ruined the performance. You can’t have a good show when the singers are “prima donnas”, who are more concerned about their own egos than they are with the overall performance.
And you can’t have a good church that way, either. When egos take front stage, it leads to disaster — in a musical — and even more so in a church. That’s why God emphasizes humility here in I Peter 5. If we’re going to be the church He wants us to be in 2020, we’ve got to walk in humility with Him, and with each other.
There is a great quote at the end of verse 5: it says, “God is opposed to the proud, but He gives GRACE to the humble.” This is one of the most important truths we can remember as Christians. If you will humble yourself, God will give you grace.
— If you’ll humble yourself and admit that you need a Savior, then He’ll give you the grace to be saved.
— If you’ll humble yourself and kneel and pray and seek God, then He’ll give you the grace of an answer to prayer.
— If you’ll humble yourself and let others’ opinions and preferences and comforts be more important than our own, then God will pour out amazing grace and power on a church.
But if we will NOT humble ourselves, the Bible has a warning for us. It says “God will be opposed to you.” This Greek Bible word for “opposed” (antipassetai) means “to line up in battle array against” someone. That should be chilling to us: when you & I are proud, GOD ALMIGHTY “lines up in battle array” against us!
Like so much in scripture, it’s our choice: do you want God to give you GRACE, or give you BATTLE?! What you get from Him depends on how you respond to this word: will you humble yourself before Him, or will you resist Him in pride? There are few teachings that are more important, more vital to the Christian life, than this. You can’t even be saved if you won’t humble yourself. (Mt. 5:3). And as a Christian, humility is the key to spiritual growth. There is NO such thing as a “powerful, spiritual, PROUD Christian”! God’s power, and God’s grace, are for the humble alone. So may each of us truly hear this word from God, and apply it: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you.”