Summary: God makes us humble to exalt us like Jesus.
Three weeks ago, we explored in 1Peter 5 the heart of the job description of church elders. They are “shepherds,” looking out and caring for us through love, prayer, compassion and concern. We also learned they are “overseers,” a work which must be done without domineering, but by “exampling.” Meshing overseeing with shepherding requires profound humility, a fact which Peter stresses.
We begin today where I left off: with an illustration from the life of Abraham Lincoln. I thought it particularly fitting because it reveals a humble response to mistakes. A godly elder must learn and grow, in sight of the congregation, without losing his ability to shepherd and serve.
Abraham Lincoln wanted to please a politician, so he order the transfer of certain regiments in the army. When Secretary of War, Edwin Stanton, received the order, he refused to obey it. He said, “The President is a fool.”
Gossip ensured that Mr. Lincoln heard what Stanton said. Lincoln answered: “If Mr. Stanton said I’m a fool, then I must be, for he is nearly always right. I’ll see for myself.” As the two men talked, the President realized that his decision was a serious mistake, and withdrew it.
Humility which accepts correction, examines actions and admits failures characterizes all who follow a humble savior. This is God’s challenge to us today. [Read 1Peter 5.1-11. Pray.]
Billy (that is not his name) met me at the back door to offer the traditional complement: “Good sermon, pastor.” Billy and I had been meeting together to study a book and pray and encourage each other for months. We had a close friendship, one I felt confident could sustain a surprising answer.
So Billy said, “Good sermon, pastor.” I responded: “Yes, it was, wasn’t it?”
Billy was…flummoxed! He finally stammered: “Yes, but you are not supposed to say that!”
So I said: “Really? Why not? I explained truth from the Bible, and I showed you your weakness and sin. I preached Jesus as the one and only solution, and called you to faith in his perfect, completed work. It was a good sermon.”
Of course, Billy was complementing my rhetorical skills and what bothered him was my apparent lack of humility. But I was after something different — I wanted Billy to rethink what he valued in a sermon and even his definition of “humility.” Do we recognize Biblical humility?
Peter knew it; he read the nearly 100 times it appears in the Bible. Verses like: Proverbs 11.2: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom”; and Proverbs 29.23: “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.”
More than simply reading, however, Peter heard Jesus teach. We listened to one of his parables earlier in the service. Another example is in Matthew 23, where Jesus condemns the Pharisees because they do good works to be seen by others. They crave honor, they love to be called “teacher,” “father,” “pastor,” “elder.” But among you (said Jesus), “The greatest shall be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
Peter heard and he read; but more even, Peter saw humility. God entered Jerusalem, “riding on a donkey,” the lowliest of positions. And on his final night, when the world should have bowed in cheering adoration for his soon to be sacrifice on the cross, Jesus dresses as a slave and knelt to wash Peter’s feet.
Peter read about humility; he heard Jesus’ frequent teaching on humility; he saw humility lived out by the only one who had no reason to be humble. But before he commanded this trait in us all, he experienced it himself: Matthew 26.33: “Peter answered Jesus, ‘Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.’” Jesus corrects him: “No, Peter, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” And Peter corrected Jesus: Matthew 26.35: “Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!”
Within hours, a teenage girl confront Peter: “Hey, weren’t you with him?” “I don’t know what you mean. I don’t the man. As God is my witness, I do not know him.” And the rooster crowed.
Chrysostom (the most popular preacher in the early church): “The foundation of Christianity is humility.”
Augustine (possibly the most brilliant theologian ever) commented: “When a certain rhetorician was asked what was the chief rule in eloquence, he replied, ‘Delivery’; what was the second rule, ‘Delivery’; what was the third rule, ‘Delivery’; so if you ask me concerning the precepts of the Christian religion, first, second, third, and always I would answer, ‘Humility.’” (Both quoted in John Calvin, Institutes, 2.11, 268-269).
God helps the humble. Humility, as it turns out, is central to the Christian faith. Because it is so valuable, we ought to be especially wary of counterfeits.