Practical Suffering, Part 5b: Priority of the Sheep, Humility – 1 Peter 5:5-7
“Likewise, the young men must submit to elders. So, all of you must clothe yourselves in humility. For, God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, so that He might exalt you in time by casting all of your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.”
The whole of 1 Peter 5:1-11 forms a conclusion to Peter’s exhortation section regarding practical suffering (3:13-5:11). Because of the reality of current suffering for the sake of Christ and the knowledge that this suffering will only get worse, it is necessary that the local elders do their duty; that is, to shepherd the flock of God by means of Godly oversight (5:1-4). But this delicate and dedicated work of overseeing is of limited value if the sheep do not respond in humility. The break that we introduced between vv. 5 and 6 is admittedly a bit artificial. Thus, it is important to see Peter drawing an inference in v. 6 (οὖν) from v. 5. Beginning in v. 5 and continuing through v. 7, Peter turns his attention from the shepherds to the sheep.
Of the seven imperatives in 5:1-11, three of them are found in vv. 5-7, a section that stands out in Peter’s conclusion. All three of these imperatives revolve around the idea of humility. In these three verses, Peter utilizes the noun (ταπεινοφροσύνη), adjective (ταπεινός), and verbal (ταπεινόω) form of the term that we translate as humility. If the priority of the shepherd is to oversee the flock to the standard that God has set (5:2), then the priority of the sheep is to submit to that shepherding in humility. As Peter considers the flock of the local congregations, he first addresses those who are most likely to struggle with humility (v. 5a) before opening the discussion to exhort the body as a whole (vv. 5b-7). In so doing, Peter identifies three parties to whom the sheep must humble themselves.
Humility Before the Elders (v. 5a)
“Likewise, the young men must submit to elders”
The adverb likewise (ὁμοίως) connects this statement with the exhortation before it just as it connected the exhortation to husbands (3:7) and to wives (3:1-6). The young men (νεώτεροι) mentioned here are just that, young men. Peter does not mean to speak in subjective or obtuse terms to describe those who are new to the faith and/or immature. Generally speaking, by addressing men who are short in years describes those ideas anyway. He points to the young men for two reasons. First, the young are generally those who are the last to submit to anyone. They are convinced that they know all things and thus are not in need of any direction or oversight. Second, by addressing the young men first Peter easily slides into an address aimed at the entire congregation. Peter singles the young men out by means of emphasis rather than exclusion. If the young men, who are cock-sure of themselves, are to submit, then it only follows that the command must be followed by all. The imperative given here is simple, direct, and pointed. If there is any question regarding the meaning of ὑποτάσσω, Peter has already made his point by demanding submission (ὑποτάγητε) of citizens to governing authorities (2:13), submission (ὑποτασσόμενοι) of slaves to their masters (2:18), and submission (ὑποτασσόμεναι) of wives to their husbands (3:1). Young men are to submit to their elders by following their example and obeying their exhortation. If citizens, slaves, and wives receive no escape clause, why would we expect one here?
There is no reason to make this verse about respect for the elderly. The same term (πρεσβύτερος) is used here as in v. 1. The context of shepherding is still in view, and will continue to be in view through v. 11. Submission to Christ’s under shepherds is the point. If the task of oversight has been given to these men by Christ and Christ has carefully defined what righteous oversight looks like, then what problem would anyone have in submitting to them? If the task of the elders is to lead the sheep in such a way that always and only glorifies God and produces good for the sheep, rebellion against them only reveals a heart that does not want God’s glory nor their good. This submission is not blind to follow erroring shepherds or downright wolves. But nor is it constantly second-guessing decisions or demanding explanations at every turn. There is a necessary element of trust that must exist between the elders and their sheep. If the elders oversee the flock of God in the manner that God oversees them (5:2-3), then the sheep should be ready, willing, and able to follow their shepherds as they follow the Chief Shepherd. The heart of the sheep must be like the heart of the shepherd; drenched in humility.
Humility Before the Body (v. 5bc)
Peter introduces another imperative with the use of a simple δὲ (so/and). Here he adds another command for the sheep to humble themselves. Instead of submitting to those who hold legitimate authority over them, he commands the church to humble themselves toward their equals; that is, toward each other.
Humility Before the Body Commanded (v. 5b)
“So, all of you must clothe yourselves in humility”
Peter now easily uses language that encompasses the whole church. “All of you” (πάντες) points to each person regardless of age, sex, or position. He addresses men and women, elders and laypeople. The command given to them is no less pointed. The imperative from ἐγκομβόομαι (clothe) is quite rare and literally means to tie. The object of the verb is humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη). The scene Peter has in mind is not so much the adornment of beautiful robes that consist of humility so much as the tying on of the simple servant’s apron. The point is not to don humility like a fine robe but to tie on humility in preparation to serve. It is not a stretch to imagine Peter recounting Jesus as He discarded His own robes for the towel of a servant in order to wash the feet of His disciples (Jn. 13). The lesson that Peter failed to understand then has been learned in full. Now, the zealous disciple turns to teach others. The sheep are not only to submit to the leadership of their elders but are to also submit to the service of each other. Humility must be a hallmark of Christ’s sheep because God fights against the proud.
Humility Before the Body Explained (v. 5c)
“For, God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”
The reason Peter provides comes from Prov. 3:34 and is identical to James’ use of the same verse (4:6). The imagery here is striking. God opposes or resists (ἀντιτάσσω) those who are arrogant and proud. He is dressed in battle array, ready to contend with them. Those who are proud have no need for God and judge themselves with a high regard. They hold others to the standard that they have created for themselves. It matters not if God would offer them grace, for they would reject it. They have no need of it. So, God resists them.
The other side of the coin pictures the humble. Peter uses the cognate adjective (ταπεινός) of the noun used earlier in the verse. The sheep must tie on humility (ταπεινοφροσύνη) because God gives grace to the humble (ταπεινός). The humble are those who see themselves for what they truly are, desperate sinners who are lost and damned. The arrogant and proud would never describe themselves in such terms. Yet, it is to these who see themselves for what they are that God grants grace (χάρις). He bestows His favor upon them, and because they are humble, they accept it with joy.
It is imperative that the shepherds lead the sheep in humility as they render their service to the Chief Shepherd. But the sheep must follow and display this same humility with each other. They are not greater than their master, nor the shepherds that the master has placed over them. No sheep is greater than another sheep, and every sheep must learn to serve the whole flock.
Humility Before God (vv. 6-7)
The theme of humility continues as Peter comes decisively to a point. Everything that Christians say, think, and do reveals their heart. Failure to submit to the elders and each other is bad enough as it is. But this rebellion against the brethren reveals a rebellion against God. The chief objective is not to make compliant sheep for the under shepherds, but to make holy sheep for the Chief Shepherd.
Humility Commanded (v. 6a)
“Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God”
Here is the third imperative regarding submission/humility and the final use of the root ταπεινόω/ταπεινοφροσύνη. Peter is no longer messing around as he calls for humility, not to any human source, but to the source of all humankind. The aorist imperative demands an immediate response in submission to the living God.
The phrase “the mighty hand of God” (κραταιάν χεῖρα/בְּיָד חֲזָקָה) is a well-known idiom referring to God’s might, power, ability, and majesty. The most common reference in the Old Testament is to the Exodus of Israel where Yhwh redeemed His people with a mighty hand (Ex. 13:3, 9, 14, 16; Deut. 5:15; 6:21; 7:8, 19; 9:26; 26:8; Neh. 1:10; Ps. 136:12; Jer. 32:21). The phrase is also used to describe the superiority of Yhwh over other gods (Deut. 3:24; 4:34), or His might in general (Deut. 11:2; 34:12; 2 Chr. 6:32 Jer. 21:5; Ezek. 20:33, 34). Peter is commanding full submission and humility to the God of the Exodus who parted the Sea of Reeds and crushed the Egyptian army. He is commanding humility before the God of the covenant who appeared in smoke and fire on Sinai and who ordained the destruction of Jerusalem on account of her disobedience to that covenant. In so doing, Peter draws a direct parallel between the submission to elders and the humility to one another to one’s humility before the Almighty Yhwh. The hand of Yhwh is mighty to save, and it is mighty to destroy. Those who humble themselves to Him will know His might to save. Those who stand in their pride will be resisted by this hand. If the proud are to be opposed, then for pity’s sake, says Peter, humble yourselves!
Humility’s Purpose (v. 6b)
“so that He might exalt you in time”
The ἵνα clause introduces the purpose of humiliation. It is necessary that the sheep humble themselves before God so that He might exalt them. The Bible has a dark history of those who attempt to exalt themselves. The evil offspring produced in Genesis 6:4 were called men of renown or, more literally, men of a name (אַנְשֵׁי הַשֵּׁם). The rebels who built a tower to avoid God’s wrath (Gen. 11:4) desired to make a name for themselves (וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם). This is the desire of arrogant rebels, to exalt themselves. But to the man whom God chose, the man who humbled himself and obeyed God’s command to leave his country and his family, Yhwh promised to make his name great (וַאֲגַדְּלָה שְׁמֶךָ). This man was Abram, the first sojourner and carrier of the promise (Gen. 12:1-3). The humble knew the mighty hand of Yhwh to redeem and save while the proud came to know that same mighty hand as it poured out wrath.
By referring to this exaltation in time (ἐν καιρῷ) Peter refers to the time of the Chief Shepherd’s appearing (5:4); that is, the future second coming of Christ. To the shepherds who diligently do their duty, Peter promises an unfading crown. To the sheep who humble themselves he promises exaltation. Just as the shepherd is to expect no reward in this age, neither are the sheep to expect any exaltation. The Christian’s reward is tied to the return of the Christians’ King and His coming Kingdom.
Humility’s Execution (v. 7)
“by casting all of your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you”
Some English translations are not helpful here when they translate the participle (ἐπιρίψαντες) as another imperative (cast!). Peter quotes from Ps. 55:22, where the original text does have an imperative (ἐπίρριψον/הַשְׁלֵךְ), yet Peter uses this text to explain how the sheep of Asia Minor are to humble themselves. This is a participle of means that helps to explain the process by which one humbles himself under the mighty hand of God. A Christian humbles himself under the mighty hand of God by casting his anxiety upon God.
The term anxiety (μέριμνα) describes any concerns, worries, or cares that the readers may have. The command is to stop holding on to these worries and to throw them upon God. One commentator simply refers to these anxieties as “distractions,” things that take our eyes from Christ. Jesus used the same term when explaining the parable of the soils to His disciples. It is the worry (μέριμνα) of the world and the deceitfulness of riches that choked out the seed among the thorns (Matt. 13:22; Mk. 4:19).
One might be left to wonder what the connection is between humility and casting our anxiety upon Christ. Is anxiety sin? In a word, yes. At a basic level, Jesus commanded His disciples not to be anxious over temporal worries (Matt. 6:9-34), a command which Paul summarized as “be anxious for nothing” (Phil. 4:6). So, to be anxious is to disobey a direct order from the incarnate and inscripturated Word. But the root of the issue is the fact that worry, and anxiety is the fruit of unbelief. If I have made myself the god of my world, my anxiety comes from my doubt that I can fulfill my duties and obligations. If, however, my trust is in Yhwh, the creator of the heavens and the earth, then my anxiety doubts His ability to fulfill His promise or doubts His goodness. At best I doubt God’s character and goodness. At worst I reject God in favor for myself. Anxiety has no place in the life of a Christian. Only the proud and arrogant who don’t need God are anxious. But the one who humbles himself under the mighty hand of God has nothing to be concerned about.
Peter finishes this Old Testament quotation with a beautiful explanation. The causal ὅτι (because)introduces the most obvious reason for casting our cares, worries, and anxieties upon God. It is because He cares for us. Every pagan religion in the world is a never-ending process of attempting to earn the gods’ attention and care. Children are sacrificed to appease the gods’ wrath. Offerings are given and promises are made to secure the gods’ prosperous favor. The gods of this world are capricious, unfeeling, and uncaring. But not so of the One True God. He, the Good Shepherd, cares for His sheep. It is true that God is consumed with His glory. But it is also true that whatever glorifies Him is also for the good of those who belong to Him. He cares for His sheep because they are His.
While it is true that poor shepherding can destroy the flock, it is also true that unruly sheep can undermine good shepherding. Sheep that refuse to come to when the shepherds call, refuse the feed that they are given, and refuse the protection of the shepherds appointed over them place themselves and all their fellow sheep in great danger. After all, there is still a need to be vigilant for the roaring lion (5:8-9). But more than their protection, pride and arrogance toward the body of Christ is really pride toward the body’s head; Christ, the Chief Shepherd. The whole wide world will know the mighty hand of God. The humble will know the protection and salvation of this mighty hand. The proud and the arrogant will feel only the wrath it pours out. If elders are to shepherd the flock, then the sheep must respond in humility. May we humble ourselves under His mighty hand until the Chief Shepherd appears for us.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Thomas Schreiner, 1, 2 Peter, Jude, vol. 37, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2003), p. 238. Archibald Robertson, The General Epistles and The Revelation of John, vol. VI, VI vols., Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), p. 132.  Schreiner, p. 239.  Ibid, p. 239-40.  Ibid, p. 240-1. R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of The Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Publishing House, 1966), p. 224. D. Edmond Hiebert, 1 Peter (Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books, 1984), p. 313.