Summary: What the humble life looks like.
Humility is not a minister’s favorite subject. How can you exhort others to be humble with a clear conscience or presume to know what you are talking about? You would have to be humble; yet, believing yourself to be humble is not being humble. But if you are not humble, how then can you presume to speak with authority on being humble? It is a problem that is humbling! And so with humility I approach this passage!
Our Humility Before Others
Verse 5 picks up from Peter’s exhortation to the elders to be good shepherds. Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. The word for “older” is the same for “elder,” which leads me to believe that Peter is referring to the elders, as the KJ and other versions translate the word. This also fits with the exhortation to be submissive, the same word used for being submissive to the authorities in 2:2, 18 and 3:1. The young men are to submit to the elders as the legitimate authorities of the church.
This exhortation then leads Peter to speak broadly to the whole community: All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another. Though there is a structure of authority within the church, the guiding attitude for everyone is humility. From the venerable elder to the new young convert, everyone is to be clothed with humility toward one another.
What does that mean - to be clothed with humility toward one another? What it does not mean is that we are to wear an attitude of self-pity, which we often mistake for humility.
“I’m just a nobody.”
“Don’t mind me; I’m no one important.”
“I’m just a poor old soul trying to get along.”
Peter is not exhorting his people to be pathetic, which is simply a bad imitation of being humble. To be humble simply means this – to consider the welfare of our neighbor as more important than our own. That’s it.
Let me give two examples. I’ll start first with the most dangerous – how to preach humbly. The humble preacher is not one who regards his sermons as poorly done. He is the one whose pleasure centers on the glory God receives and the benefit his hearers gain. In other words, you measure his humility not according to his attitude about his sermon, but according to his attitude about his hearers.
Another example: The humble supervisor is the one whose focus is both on carrying out his responsibility well before his superiors and encouraging the workers under him to do their job well. There is the phrase, “He’s not too proud to roll up his sleeves and get dirty with the rest of his workers.” Actually such a person could be proud. He could take pride in showing up the other supervisors or in identifying himself with the workers in opposition to the management. I remember a football coach that liked to be identified as a players’ coach, when all he was really doing was poisoning the attitude of the players against the owner. His primary goal was to be considered the real man in charge.
The humble man or woman operates from the mindset of what is good for the other person. This is why Peter says to clothe yourselves with humility toward one another. What matters is how we are treating one another. Given that in mind, the best way to measure how humble a person is, is to gage how people feel around him and after being with him. Do they feel happier and more encouraged? Do they feel more thoughtful? Do they become more considerate themselves?
Now, I realize that people could feel angry and uncomfortable around Jesus, the model of humility. But that was because of the mean and deceitful spirit within them. The majority of people felt better having been around the perfect model of humility. They felt that way, one reason being that this man truly cared about them. Interesting, isn’t it. As we analyze humility, we come up with love. To be humble is to love.
God’s Attitude Towards the Humble
So Peter exhorts his people to be humble. He then puts his exhortation in the context of God’s attitude towards humility. Remember his word to them: live in response to God, not to the world.
What is God’s attitude? …because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Note first, God actively responds. He “opposes” the proud; he works against them. He “gives grace” to the humble; he works for them, giving them grace to live to his glory and to weather the persecutions against them. Undoubtedly, Peter’s readers would be thinking of their own situation. God opposes the wicked who are attacking them and gives them grace to withstand the assaults.