“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,….’ (1 Peter 5:5b-6 ESV)
Having called for submission to elders on the part of those younger, now the Apostle calls for humility among all the Christians. Humility is to be the clothing that is worn. And this humility is to be expressed “toward one another.” Back in 1 Peter 4:8-10, love, hospitality, and service were to be directed to one another. Now, humility is the focus. The previous “one another’s” were to display the grace of God and be exercised in the strength of God. Here the quotation provides a strong rationale for the humility called for and it leads into what is to follow (proverbs 3:34, James 4:6)
It is an awesome thought that God actually “resists the proud,” but gives grace to the humble Pride indeed would be at the forefront of any lack of mutual humility expressed within the fellowship of believers. The Christian needs to have a “pride check” regularly since this is the tendency of the flesh. How many relational issues really come back to the issue of pride, which leads to selfishness! Pride does not fit in the life of the church. And a person does not want to find himself or herself actually “at odds” with God Himself. God, who is the source of grace, will not tolerate human pride. That includes a lack of humility “functioning” within the interactions of the people of God.
Knowing our need of grace, God’s people must live in a posture of humility towards one another so that the grace needed will be available. This image of clothing yourselves emphasizes personal and corporate responsibility. This is something that needs to be done. And the picture is probably one of humble servanthood toward one another. This is not the false humility of a few nice complimentary comments towards one another. This is expressed more fully in Romans 12:10b, 16:
“Outdo one another in showing honor….. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be conceited.”
What the resistance of God to the proud or His withholding of grace actually looks like is hard to identify. We do know that pride often precedes “destruction,” a haughty or proud spirit leads to a downfall of some sort (Proverbs 16:18). So, this is a serious matter, not just a nice religious idea. This is important for individuals, and for corporate church life together. Graceless activity in the church is similar to “dead works” done by those outside of Christ. The touch of God is absent. The power of God is absent. The purposes of God are not the priority. Pride robs the church of true joy as people are more concerned about themselves than for God’s will and ways. We need grace-filled communities of God’s people reflecting God’s grace in all that is said and done. A proud church contradicts the gospel and disobeys the very texts of Scripture we are studying. Humility is necessary for grace to dominate the life of the church.
We have emphasized this word “grace” in this letter. We have seen grace anticipated in the future, and we have seen grace that is to be expressed in gifted serving. Also, we have seen the word grace used in the sense of God’s favor upon or acceptance of the willing suffering of His people. The reference here to grace reminds us that grace is given to God’s people who live humbly before Him. I interpret this to mean not just future grace (although that is seen in the following verse), but grace for God’s humble people during this “little while.” There is future grace and there is grace available for living now. But, what does this humbleness look like? How is it expressed? Let’s see what Peter writes next.
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…..” (5:6).
This strong statement provides a specific directive related to this matter of humility. There is a responsibility for God’s people to humble themselves. This submission is “under the mighty hand of God.” This certainly is a Christian commitment in all seasons.
This statement though seems to have a special connection with the sufferings that are being experienced by the Apostle’s original readers. The Apostle has expounded on the need for submission in the various arenas of life. Also, a Christian understanding of suffering and the glory to follow has been explained (4:12-19). The Apostle has stated that it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God. In short, God is sovereign over the sufferings being experienced.
As His mighty hand is sovereign, it must be acknowledged. It is also that same mighty hand that will exalt at the proper time. The path of humility will lead to a time when God lifts His people. So, the call now is to accept His will, to humble yourself, and wait upon His timing for exaltation and deliverance. Certainly, the exaltation will come at the revelation of Jesus Christ and His glory. Whether the Apostle has in mind a present exaltation, a change in circumstances in the near future, is not clear. In either case, it is the posture of God’s people to submit to the Lord and His will until……
God is the exalter. Attempts at self-exaltation outside of the will of God are just the manipulations of human pride. On the other hand, God’s mighty hand will move at just the right time according to His will and purpose. That timing may not be what God’s people desire at any given moment. Waiting on God’s timing is part of humbling ourselves under the mighty hand of God. He is sovereign over circumstances, and He is sovereign over time. At the “proper time,” the right time, God’s time, His exaltation will take place.
This may seem like a foreign language in our society today. Usually, any talk of God in relation to suffering focuses on “why” or how a good God could allow suffering. The Apostle has given very specific answers to those questions. These answers may not satisfy those who lack a “living hope” and an understanding of the ways of God, but they are answers backed up by the example of Jesus Christ Himself, and the witness of the Scriptures. Ultimately we bow to the nature and purposes of a Holy, Sovereign, and Good God.
What about our present-day context in a democratic society?? Certainly, there is nothing wrong with seeking justice and peace using legitimate means that are available. Praise God for the avenues that exist in many countries to seek to correct injustice and to speak out against persecution. But, the Christian is always in submission to God, His will, and in humility of mind and heart. Personal revenge is not a Christian option. The example of Jesus has already been given in this letter. Although He was righteous and called for righteousness, He was willing to suffer unjustly according to the will of His Father. So, we follow in the path that our Master walked, and seek to live humbly before the Lord.