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. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety upon Him, because he cares for you.
Humility is not a popular human trait in the modern world. It's not touted in the talk shows or celebrated in valedictorian speeches or commended in diversity seminars or listed with core values. And if you go to the massive self-help section of B. Dalton's or Barnes and Noble you won't find books on humility.
The basic reason for this is not hard to find: humility can only survive in the presence of God. When God goes, humility goes. In fact you might say that humility follows God like a shadow. We can expect to find humility applauded in our society as often as we find God applauded—which means almost never.
In September (12th) the Star Tribune carried a guest editorial that captured the atmosphere that asphyxiates humility:
There are some who naïvely cling to the nostalgic memory of God. The average churchgoer takes a few hours out of the week to experience the sacred . . . But the rest of the time, he is immersed in a society that no longer acknowledges God as an omniscient and omnipotent force to be loved and worshiped. . . Today we are too sophisticated for God. We can stand on our own; we are prepared and ready to choose and define our own existence.
In this atmosphere humility cannot survive. It disappears with God. When God is neglected, the runner up god takes his place, namely, man. And that by definition is the opposite of humility, namely, pride.
So the atmosphere we breathe is hostile to humility. And this text is utterly foreign to our times and utterly necessary. If what is said here doesn't take root in our lives, we will not be a Christian church; and we will not be salt and light for a perishing world.
Humility Is Essential to the Christian Life
The main point of this passage is that we Christians should be humble people. Three times the command comes in one form or another.
- Verse 5a: "Younger men, be subject [i.e., be humble toward] to your elders."
- Verse 5b: "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another."
- Verse 6: "Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God."
So the main point is plain in these three verses: humility is essential in the life of a Christian. It is a defining mark of a true Christian.
Four Incentives for Humility
So Peter also gives reasons or incentives—at least four.
- Verse 5b: "God is opposed to the proud." Nothing could be worse than to have an infinitely powerful and holy God opposed to you. So don't be proud.
- Verse 5b: "God gives grace to the humble." And nothing could be better than to have an infinitely powerful and wise God treat us graciously. He does that to the humble. The reason is not that humility is a performance of virtue that earns grace but that humility is a confession of emptiness that receives grace. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Verse 6: God will use his mighty hand to exalt the humble: "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time."
- Verse 7: God will use his mighty hand to care for the humble: "Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you."
Be a humble person because, if you are proud, God will be against you in your pride, but if you are humble he will give you grace, exalt you in due time, and care for you along the way so that you don't have to be anxious.
That's the basic message of the text. Now how shall it take root in our minds and hearts and make a powerful difference in the way we live to God's honor? Let me try to make it sink deeper into us by asking two questions:
- What is pride and humility?
- What is the connection between humility and not being anxious?
How Do Humility and Not Being Anxious Relate?
I'll start with the second one. Did you notice (in the NASB) the grammatical connection between verses 6 and 7? "Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, 7 casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you." It's not merely a new sentence. It's a subordinate clause. "Humble yourselves . . . casting your anxieties on him." I think this means that casting your anxieties on God is an expression of humility. It's like saying, "Eat politely . . . chewing with your mouth shut." "Drive carefully . . . keeping your eyes open." "Be generous . . . inviting someone over on Thanksgiving."
"Humble yourselves . . . casting your anxieties on God." One way to be humble is to cast your anxieties on God. Which means that one hindrance to casting your anxieties on God is pride. Which means that undue worry about your future is probably a form of pride.
Now there is more to say about that. But to feel the full force of it we need to answer the first question, and then come back to this connection between pride and anxiety.
What Is Pride and Humility?
The second question was, What is pride and humility?
I'll try to answer that with ten biblical observations about pride. Humility is the opposite.
1. Pride Is Self-Satisfaction
God says to Israel in Hosea 13:4–6,
I have been the Lord your God since the land of Egypt . . . 5 I cared for you in the wilderness, in the land of drought. 6 As they had their pasture, they became satisfied, and being satisfied, their heart became proud; therefore, they forgot Me. (Cf. Jeremiah 49:4.)
2. Pride Is Self-Sufficiency and Self-Reliance
Moses warns the people of God in Deuteronomy 8:11–17 about what will happen when they have rest in the promised land:
Beware . . . 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply . . . 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt . . . [and you] 17 say in your heart, "My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth."
God's goodness is turned into self-sufficiency.
3. Pride Considers Itself Above Instruction
In Jeremiah 13:9–10 God says to the people of Judah,
I will destroy the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. 10 This wicked people, who refuse to listen to My words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts.
Pride stubbornly refuses to be taught the way of God, and makes its own wishes the measure of truth.
4. Pride Is Insubordinate
Psalm 119:21 says,
Thou dost rebuke the arrogant, the cursed who wander from Thy commandments.
When the commandments of God are spoken, pride turns away and will not submit. It rejects the right and authority of God to command.
5. Pride Takes Credit for What God Alone Does
One of the most vivid illustrations of this is the case of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon.
[Nebuchadnezzar said], "Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" 31 While the word was in the king's mouth, a voice came from heaven, saying, "King Nebuchadnezzar . . . sovereignty has been removed from you . . . 32 until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind, and bestows it on whomever He wishes." (Daniel 4:30–32)
Then, after his season of humiliation grazing in the fields like and ox, Nebuchadnezzar is restored and confesses,
Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise, exalt, and honor the King of heaven, for all His works are true and His ways just, and He is able to humble those who walk in pride. (Daniel 4:37; cf. Isaiah 10:12)
6. Pride Exults in Being Made Much Of
Jesus indicted the religious leaders in Jerusalem:
And they love the place of honor at banquets, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, Rabbi. (Matthew 23:6)
7. Pride Aspires to the Place of God
In our family devotions we just read the story of Herod's pride in Acts 12:
And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. 22 And the people kept crying out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" 23 And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:21–23; cf. Isaiah 14:12–14)
8. Pride Opposes the Very Existence of God
The wicked, in the haughtiness of his countenance, does not seek [God]. All his thoughts are, "There is no God."
Pride knows that the simplest solution for its own survival would be that there be no God at all. That would be, as the Nazi's might say, "The Final Solution" for the survival of pride.
It doesn't come as any surprise then that . . .
9. Pride Refuses to Trust in God
Proverbs 28:25 contrasts arrogance and trust:
An arrogant man stirs up strife, but he who trusts in the Lord will prosper.
Pride cannot trust God. The posture of trust is too weak. Too dependent. It calls too much attention to the strength and wisdom of another. Trusting God is the heartbeat of humility, the opposite of pride.
When pride keeps us from trusting in God to take care of us, there are two possibilities: one is that we feel a false security based on our own imagined power and shrewdness to avert catastrophe. The other is that we realize that we cannot guarantee our security, and so we feel anxious.
Which brings us to the tenth trait of pride and the final explanation about the connection between 1 Peter 5:6 and 7.
10. Pride Is Anxious About the Future
In Isaiah 51:12–13 God says to anxious Israel that their problem is pride.
I, even I, am He who comforts you. Who are you that you are afraid of man who dies, and of the son of man who is made like grass; 13 that you have forgotten the Lord your Maker?
Who do you think you are to be afraid? Sounds strange, doesn't it? But that's how subtle pride is. Pride is the root of our anxiety.
The Full Force of 1 Peter 5:6–7
Now we can see clearly and feel the force of 1 Peter 5:6–7,
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time . . .
How? In what way shall you humble yourselves? Answer (v. 7): by "casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you." In other words, the humblest thing in the world is to do what 1 Peter 4:19 says, "Entrust your soul to a faithful Creator." Casting your anxieties on God means trusting the promise that he cares for you and has the power and the wisdom to put that care to work in the most glorious way.
That trust is the opposite of pride. It's the essence of humility. It's the confidence that the mighty hand of God is not over you to crush you but to care for you just like the promise says. Don't be proud, but cast your anxieties on him because he will care for you.
Whenever your heart starts to be anxious about the future, preach to your heart and say, "Heart, who do you think you are to be afraid of the future and nullify the promise of God? No, heart, I will not exalt myself with anxiety. I will humble myself in peace and joy as I trust this precious and great promise of God—he cares for me.