I exhort the elders among you as a fellow elder and witness to the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory about to be revealed: Shepherd God’s flock among you, not overseeing out of compulsion but willingly, as God would have you; not out of greed for money but eagerly; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. In the same way, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because
God resists the proud
but gives grace to the humble.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your cares on him, because he cares about you.1 Peter 5:1—7
William Temple once said, “Humility does not mean thinking less of yourself than of other people, nor does it mean having a low opinion of your own gifts. It means freedom from thinking about yourself one way or the other at all.” In our passage Peter addresses the leaders—the elders—of the church as a fellow elder. He’s also a pastor. He knows what it means to be a shepherd. This is important because it means that he is identifying with them. He’s speaking into their experience out of his own experience.
We also need to keep in mind that Peter has just discussed what it means to suffer as followers of Jesus. The believers he was addressing were experiencing hardship because of their commitment to Christ. Now he turns to talk about what this means for the leaders of the church. How do the leaders help their people follow Christ in the midst of suffering? What role does humility play in the Christian life?
In The Ashbury Bible Commentary, it says “If Christ is the model for all Christians who face suffering, the leaders among them must be the best representatives of that model.” Peter tells these elders or leaders: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
In other words, those who are shepherds ought to genuinely care for those under their care. Pastors ought to sincerely love their congregations. Not because they’re forced to do it, not for material gain, and not in a way that is arrogant. And this is because they’re meant to be examples. And this requires humility. Leaders are to demonstrate humility so that the members of the church have an example to follow. Toward the end of our passage, Peter tells the entire church he’s writing: Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.
So, while he singles out elders here, he does so precisely because of his concern for the whole church. Humility, therefore, should be a quality in every believer; leaders are to model this quality. And in actuality we can all be examples to one another.
This means putting the needs of others before your own. Think of what Paul says in Philippians 2:3: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. And of course he speaks of this as having the same attitude as Christ himself. Now keep in mind that in the very next verse Paul says: Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. I mention this verse because sometimes we misunderstand humility to mean that we should be a doormat and not care at all about ourselves. But Paul says look not only to your own interests.
Rick Warren puts it this way, “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.” Or as I read elsewhere: “God wisely designed the human body so that we can neither pat our own backs nor kick ourselves too easily.” Humility means not having the inclination to do either.
Let’s put it this way: Living with humility means setting aside our interests for the needs of others.
Why is humility important to relationships in the church?When it comes to church, are we more concerned with our preferences and comfort than with reaching out to others?How can we practice humility and grow in humility?
Peter not only calls himself a fellow elder; he also calls himself a witness of the sufferings of Christ. Earlier in the previous chapter he spoke about how believers share Christ’s sufferings. When they suffer as Christians, because they are following Jesus faithfully, they are blessed because they are sharing the very experience of Christ himself—who suffered for doing the will of his Father who sent him.
And indeed Christ is at the center of what Peter is saying. He calls Christ the chief Shepherd. If the elders are examples for the rest of the church, this is only insofar as Christ is their example. Think of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:1: Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
Clothing ourselves with humility will inevitably mean sacrifice and suffering. Because it means allowing the needs of others to intrude on our comfort. It means letting others into our personal space. There is by necessity a giving up and giving over when living with humility.
But here’s the thing: Humility means gladly accepting the cost to myself of putting others first. And Peter grounds this in the person and example of Christ. All of Scripture does. In Hebrews 12:2, the author tells his readers to look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Jesus did not begrudgingly go the cross. He wasn’t a reluctant saviour. But he humbled himself gladly through his willingness to endure great suffering for our sake.
Basically, we’re called to act toward one another the way Jesus did toward all of us. Living with humility means gladly putting others first at my own expense. In other words, putting others first but then being resentful or complaining about it isn’t humility. Our joy comes from something other than having our way.
This may seem like an impossibility, either because there’s still part of us that doesn’t really want this or because it’s simply very difficult. Here’s the thing: it’s only possible when we ourselves are transformed by Christ himself, when by the power of the Holy Spirit the truth of who Jesus is and what he’s done takes root in our heart and changes us.
What does the willingness of Jesus to endure the cross tell you about him? Does his example inspire you or encourage you?How does it feel when the needs of others invade your comfort zone? How do you respond to people who you experience as needy?Why might God call us to sacrifice and suffer for others? Why is humility important for this?
In our passage Peter says: when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Just as Jesus was exalted to the right hand of the Father after having humbly submitted himself to suffering, so those who follow Jesus now will receive glory. A little later, he says: Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you. And the proper time is not in this life but in the next. We’re not looking for a reward here and now, but when the chief Shepherd appears.
So: Living with humility now means receiving glory in the life to come.
And if you think about it, what would you rather want? Glory now, when it won’t last past your lifetime if even that long? Or glory in the life to come that will never end?
But maybe these are the wrong questions. Because it’s not about putting up with being humble now so that we get ours later. It’s not only a matter of our outward actions but inward attitude. In Matthew 23:11—12: The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. I really don’t think this can be a self-conscious thing. Humility ought to be a by-product of a life where the person is seeking to grow closer to Christ. William Law, in his book A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life, “For you can have no greater sign of a more confirmed pride, than when you think that you are humble enough.” There’s such a thing as false humility. You could almost put it this way: it will be those who do not self-consciously seek glory who are most likely to receive it. Indeed, our true glory is found in Christ. Our true worth and value are found in Christ.
I love Paul’s words in Romans 8:18: For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. And this is the glory of forever life, of resurrection, of being with our Lord always. That is the glory which awaits us.
What might motivate us to live humbly in the present? Are you intentionally seeking to grow closer to Christ, to grow in your faith? Even as Christians, can we sometimes find ourselves living only for the here and now? Is there anything about the future glory that awaits which excites you the most?
Ultimately, humility is important because by it we embody the very person and character of Jesus. And it was by his humility that you and I have come to know the redeeming love of God. Indeed, humility stands at the heart of love in a crucial sense.
Think about Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 13:4—5: Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. Or in other words, love is humble. Love seeks the interests and needs of others. As a church, how can we seek to embody a Christlike humility? Do we “come to church” to have our needs met or so we can bless others? Are we here to passively receive or to actively give? Are we willing to lay down our preferences and our ideas of how we think things should be if it means reaching others with the love of Christ? What would it look like if each us made every effort (or even some more effort!) to relate to one another in a Christ-like way?