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.”