Elect Exiles: Humble Yourselves

Sermon by David Strain on March 29

1 Peter 5:5-11

Well do please take your copy of God’s Word in hand and turn with me to 1 Peter. We’re working our way through 1 Peter on Sunday mornings. This is the penultimate message from 1 Peter, so we’re in chapter 5 and we’re looking at the second half of verse 5 through verse 11. Peter has said a few words to elders, to shepherds of the flock. We saw that last time in the first five verses. Now, he has a word for the whole congregation; how we are to treat one another and live under God’s hand in challenging days. There were challenging days for the church in Peter’s generation and they are very much challenging days in our own. These are verses, verses 5 through 11, that speak, I think, to our current circumstances with remarkable clarity and usefulness.

After a couple of weeks of social distancing and working from home, maybe by now you’re beginning to be a little stir crazy. You find yourself getting impatient with your family, perhaps. Nerves are frayed; egos exposed. Fears are bubbling away, not too terribly far below the surface. It doesn’t take much to push them over the tipping point into open anxiety. Perhaps with the disruption of your regular routine instead of more time to draw near to God and to read His Word and seek His face, it may be actually that amidst all the disruption you have found daily spiritual disciplines have been more difficult to maintain than usual. Instead of running to Christ, you’ve fled for comfort to food or tried to distract yourself by binging on mindless, sometimes even ungodly entertainment. Maybe we’d have to admit that, truth be told, the devil has been having a field day with our fearful, weary, selfish hearts. In the providence of God, 1 Peter 5:5-11 speaks directly to those issues. You could almost call these verses a “Social Distancing Survival Guide,” a manual for navigating these difficult days.

Essentially, Peter tackles four of the challenges with which our hearts must daily wrestle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Look at the passage with me please, 1 Peter 5:5-11. We learn here first of all about dealing with pride in verses 5 and 6. One important use of this pandemic for Christian believers is to shatter our pride, our self-reliance, and to help us learn humility under the afflicting hand of God. Dealing with pride.

Secondly, we learn about dealing with anxiety in verse 7. Look at verse 7. As the pandemic continues to spread, maybe you’re anxious about your job, your retirement, your aging parents, your isolated neighbor, your children’s education. Maybe you’re anxious about getting sick or about protecting those you love from getting sick. We all know anxiety is an enemy that is not easily defeated, and Peter has help for us here in verse 7. Dealing with pride. Dealing with anxiety.

Then in verses 8 and 9; look at verses 8 and 9. We learn about dealing with the devil. Satan is constantly seeking to leverage our circumstances to his own advantage and to wreak havoc in our hearts. He wants to derail our faith, dangle before us empty idols as alternative sources of hope, and to do everything he can to ruin our walk with God. And we need to learn how to fight him. So Peter has a word for us about dealing with the devil. Dealing with pride. Dealing with anxiety. Dealing with the devil.

And then finally, verses 9 through 11, dealing with suffering. How do we think Christianly about suffering? Well, verses 9 through 11 give us some guidance about interpreting suffering correctly; understanding what it is that God is doing in our trials. Pride, anxiety, the devil and suffering. Those are four, pretty pertinent themes for us to be wrestling with as a Christian community in lockdown, trying to handle our hearts well when we can’t be together in these difficult days. Before we look at them together we need to read the passage, and before we do that I want to pray, and we should pray together asking for the illumination of the Holy Spirit as we sit under His Word. So let’s bow our heads as we pray together.

O Lord our God, please would You send us the Spirit of Christ to make Jesus known, and in His light to see ourselves truly and honestly? And by the Spirit wielding the Word, would You equip us, trusting in Jesus, to live for Him, to slay sin, to respond to our trials confident not in ourselves or our own resources but in Your grace and in Your promises? For we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

1 Peter chapter 5 at the second half of verse 5. This is the Word of God:

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Dealing with Pride

So the first thing Peter speaks about in verses 5 and 6 is dealing with pride, dealing with pride. You will all have, no doubt, seen on the news one of the issues we are facing right now is a shortage of proper N95 masks and protective clothing for our healthcare professionals. I saw last week in The Atlantic newspaper one physician complained that being asked to wear bandanas in the absence of facemasks as the CDC recommended recently is like, “going to war with a butterknife.” That gets at some of the gravity of the situation. Don’t you think? Our doctors and our nurses are battling on the front lines of the struggle with COVID-19 and we are right to worry for them about the shortage of proper protective clothing.

Now if you look at verse 5, Peter says to us actually, spiritually speaking, that should be a concern for every single Christian. He says we all need to make sure we are wearing the right gear as we face this current crisis. You see that language in verse 5? “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” We’re right not to want our physicians and our nurses fighting this virus without wearing the correct clothing. But Peter is telling us here neither should we try to face the current crisis unless we are clothed in humility.

Now why am I calling humility protective clothing? Well look at the end of verse 5. Do you see the warning and the promise in verse 5? “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” It’s a quotation from Proverbs 3:34. We need to feel its force. It’s pretty sobering, isn’t it? God opposes the proud, but humility obtains grace from God. Humility, we might say, is a spiritual N95 mask, and we need to be wearing it as we face these challenges. Don’t try to face the circumstance in which we find ourselves today without it, because according to our text, a lack of humility exposes us to something worse actually than any virus. It exposes us to the opposition of God, whereas humility receives grace. Humility receives grace.

Now it’s important to remember Peter is talking to Christians here. The opposition of God in view is not His eternal wrath and the grace promised isn’t saving grace. Peter is presupposing that the great issue of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ has been settled in the lives of his readers. But he is still saying, “Christian, God will oppose you if you conduct yourself in pride, but He will lavish His grace on you if you will bow before Him in humility.” That is a principle of the Christian life that Peter wants us to learn and it could not be more urgent in these days.

Of course humility is not just about how we respond to one another. “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another.” It’s not just about one another, of course. Ultimately it’s about how we stand under God and that comes out if you look at verse 6. The emphasis on humility continues. What doesn’t come out in our translation is the command to “humble ourselves,” there in verse 6, is actually in the passive voice. Literally it is, “Be humbled, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” Most likely the “mighty hand of God” is a reference to the growing afflictions and sufferings the believers of Asia Minor, to whom Peter was writing, were beginning to experience. And the passive voice helps get his point across. “Under the heavy blows that you are enduring from the hand of God, be humbled,” he is saying. It’s not that you’re spontaneously electing to try humility on for size for a change. Rather, it is that under God’s heavy hand of providence, which has come to rest on you – and it’s a season of difficulty and stress and loss and fear and pain – that’s where we’re living right now, isn’t it? Under God’s mighty hand, how should we respond? How should we respond? We should respond, Peter says, by being humbled.

And that is surely part of God’s design for us during this pandemic. In His providence, think about it, this microscopic little bug has laid us low! For all our cleverness and sophistication, for all our technological accomplishments and our innovations as a society, this invisible virus has stripped us of all grounds for boasting. My question is, when the dust settles and we get on the other side of this crisis, will America be humbled under God’s mighty hand? Will the Church be humbled? Will I be, will you be humbled under God’s mighty hand? As Christians, you know, we confess these afflictions are not random events with which God has nothing to do. Hard and mysterious though it may be, we know that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. Ephesians 1:11, God does everything according, He works out everything “according to the purpose of His will.” Our trials as well as our triumphs come from the hand of a good God.

In Job chapter 2 when Job’s wife taunted Job for holding fast to his faith amidst all his terrible losses, all his suffering, remember she told him, “Curse God and die, Job!” Now do you recall how he responded to her? He said, “Shall we receive good from God and shall we not also receive evil?” We cannot only welcome God’s good gifts and not recognize that God is equally free to ordain trials for us also. That’s Job’s point. There’s a meekness under the hand of God that accepts trials as part of His sovereign will. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to relieve suffering. It doesn’t mean that we should simply acquiesce in tragedy. It does mean that as we work to end this pandemic and to stay safe and take all appropriate measures, it means that we must also learn to interpret these hard providences correctly so we can sing, “What e’er my God ordains in right, holy His will abideth. I will be still what’er He does and follow where He guideth. He is my God, though dark my road; He holds me that I shall not fall. Wherefore to Him I leave it all. Whate'er my God ordains is right, He never will deceive me. He leads me by the proper path; I know He will not leave me. I take content what He hath sent. His hand can turn my grief away, and patiently I wait His day.” Be humbled under the mighty hand of God.

And again, notice there’s a promise attached as we do so. Peter says, “Be humbled under the hand of God, so that at the proper time, He may exalt you.” Perseverance in the Christian life is a long road characterized by humility under God’s hand. But if we persevere in His way, in due time, Peter says, He will exalt us – humility here and glory to come. That’s the pattern remember that Jesus Himself has set for us, isn’t it? That was the trajectory of His life – earthly suffering here, glory to follow. And so likewise, that’s the path that we are called to walk as we follow Him.

You remember, I recall in youth group tormenting youth workers singing, “Do Lord.” Do you remember “Do Lord” just over and over? It’s a dreadful, rather trite little Gospel chorus. There’s a line though, that I think, trite though it be, captures Peter’s point – “If you will not bear the cross, you won’t wear the crown.” That’s his point. “If you will not bear the cross, you won’t wear the crown.” Suffering here; glory to come. “Be humbled under the hand of God and He will exalt you.” Remember, there’s glory to come and press on till you cross the finish line to take hold of that for which God in Christ has taken hold of you. Win the prize, finish the race, and do not grow weary in well doing. And so God’s design, part of His design in our trials is teaching us humility. So we are to repent of our sin, we are to rest our confidence in Jesus, we are to climb down from our pedestals remembering and confessing we are not mighty, we are not invulnerable. We are not in control. We feel that now if ever we have before. God, the Lord, is the sovereign God and we bow before Him and in humility acknowledge that we depend upon Him. Dealing with pride, first of all.

Dealing with Anxiety

Then secondly, notice Peter offers a word about dealing with anxiety. Look at verse 7 again. We are to be humbled under God’s mighty hand. How? By what means? We are to do it, he says, “casting all our anxieties on Him because He cares for us.” The word translated “casting” – “casting all your anxieties on Him” – means to put responsibility for something onto someone else; to hand it over to be taken care of by another. That’s what it means. How do I bow in humility under the mighty hand of God in days like these? Well, I face my own smallness honestly. All the fears that threaten to overwhelm, all the anxieties that stock my nights – I’m not strong enough for them; you’re not strong enough for them. This virus robs us, even the most capable of us, of our confidence. We don’t know who will get sick. We don’t know when it will end. We don’t know how to treat the illness. We don’t know! And so instead, Peter says put the full weight, put the full weight of your anxieties upon God’s shoulders. Your heavenly Father stoops before you with open hands and He says, “Give that stuff to Me. Put it all in My hands. Trust Me with this. I’ve got this and I’ve got you.”

You remember the apostle Paul says something very similar in Philippians 4:6. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.” Instead of anxiety, what do we do? Notice the synonyms for prayer. “In everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make your requests known.” What’s Paul’s point when he’s saying pray and pray and pray and pray? What do you do with anxiety? Sometimes Christians say it glibly, “Just pray about it.” There’s nothing glib about it. This is the Biblical weapon for fighting fear in your heart. Run to God. Cast your anxieties upon Him. Put them in His hands. He is the sovereign God who reigns and He’s got this and you can trust Him. So trust Him.

And notice we’re told here, “He cares for you.” Paul says when you come to God and fight anxiety by prayer, “the peace of God that passes understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Instead of anxiety there is peace promised. There is a reason you can trust Him. He cares for you. Have you forgotten that? Have you perhaps forgotten how much you are loved, child of God, believer in Christ? He cares for you. And so He loves to hear your cries and He loves to answer. Dealing with pride. Dealing with anxiety.

Dealing with the Devil

Thirdly, dealing with the devil. Look at verses 8 and 9. “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” If you notice much of the rhetoric that is coming, for example, from White House briefings and on the news about this current crisis draws from wartime imagery. We’ve already used some of that language in the sermon this morning. We’ve talked about our healthcare professionals on the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19. And it’s an apt metaphor, I think. The closest thing, I suppose, that anyone can remember to this sort of unprecedented shutdown in society at a global scale through which we are all living right now must have been some of the wartime measures adopted during the Second World War. And in many ways, we need the same kind of wartime mentality that pulls together and that looks out for one another and that makes sacrifices and so on that the greatest generation have modeled to us all so very well.

But Peter is reminding us in our passage that back of the fight against the pandemic there has been a spiritual war raging all along. The battle was joined in Eden when the serpent deceived our first parents and there has been enmity, open strife, warfare between us and the devil ever since. And I am sure, I’m confident that Satan has been working in your heart, in your home, in our communities, in our churches to open new fronts in his war against the cause of Jesus Christ during this crisis. He wants to sow fear and unbelief. He wants people to collapse into despair and to be paralyzed by fatalism. He wants the many alluring temptations of sin to pull us more and more strongly away from obedience to God to make us compromise our testimony. He is a prowling lion Peter says, and we are hearing his roars especially loudly in our time. Aren’t we?

So how do we meet this onslaught as Christians? Well look at the text. Peter says first of all, “Be sober-minded.” Spiritual warfare is serious business. Think about soldiers on the frontlines. They do not forward deploy into enemy territory joking around, unconcerned about the dangers. There’s a sobriety to them. What’s the vocabulary? You know, you see it on movies. They’ve got their heads on a swivel – right? They’re attentive; they’re looking out for the enemy. They’re constantly looking out for one another. They are all aware of the role they play in their unit. Their weapons are ready. That’s to be our mindset. The imagery Peter uses of a prowling lion is meant to conjure stealth and danger.

There is a predator stalking us unseen, and so he says, secondly, we must be sober-minded and we must be watchful. There’s a favorite expression of the Lord Jesus when He instructed His disciples, you remember. “Watch and pray,” He said. Usually, certainly in Jesus’ instruction, watchfulness and prayerfulness go together. “Watch and pray, lest you fall into temptation.” Spiritual watchfulness, vigilance, is expressed in prayer, attentive to every line of enemy attack, alert to every movement of the enemy, constantly reporting back as it were to headquarters to call in airstrikes if necessary. Prayer, that’s what prayer is. You watch and pray.

Social distancing has limited how much interaction we are able to have with one another right now. Ministry around here, as David was telling us earlier, has necessarily had to become more creative. It looks very different. But one thing we can all do and grow in, one thing we should ramp up is spiritual vigilance in prayer. Sober-mindedness; watchfulness.

The third thing Peter says we should do in response to the devil’s predations is “resist him.” This is an encouraging word, isn’t it? “Resist him, firm in the faith.” Sometimes we forget we can fight back. We’re not powerless anymore. God, by His Spirit, dwells within us. We can overcome sin and temptation and we can sing boldly with Martin Luther, “Although this world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, we will not fear for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us. The prince of darkness grim, we tremble not for him. His rage we can endure, for o his doom is sure. One little Word, one Gospel word, will fell him.” Believe the Gospel, and armed with the little Word of the Good News, you can stand your ground. You do not yield to temptation or crumble under trials. However great his wrath and power may be, you are not helpless victims of the devil’s predations. Resist him, firm in your faith. Take hold of the promises of God. Take Him at His Word. Entrust yourself to Christ. Say “no” to sin and to Satan. God hath willed His truth to triumph through us, through you. Dealing with pride. Dealing with anxiety. Dealing with the devil.

Dealing with Suffering

And finally, dealing with suffering. Look at verses 9 through 11. “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” One of the hardest parts, I think, of our current circumstances has to be the isolation. I miss seeing your face. It’s very strange preaching in an empty sanctuary like this. I miss your smiles. I want to be with you. We should want to be together. We are commanded to assemble ourselves together and it’s only an act of necessity and mercy that prevents us from being here together. This is not a worship service. This is an approximation of one during this difficult situation. Corporate worship demands physical presence and we can’t be together. And that’s a wound; it’s a grief to us. We want to obey the sixth commandment. We want to keep the fourth commandment. We want to love our neighbors and so we have to stay apart for now, and that just makes things hard. Suffering right now, it’s always harder to deal with when you’re on your own. That’s part of our challenge, isn’t it – isolation. And the devil’s temptations are always more vicious if he can separate us from one another. We’re stronger together. The devil – again that analogy of the lion – he wants to separate one of the deer from the herd. That’s how he works. He wants to separate us from one another.

And so notice in verse 9 how Peter reminds us “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” One thing that makes temptation in suffering especially hard to deal with is thinking we are unique, that our struggles are special, that no one else experiences what we experience. It’s not true. Peter says, in effect, “Sure, some of what you’re dealing with is uniquely yours because you are a unique human being. But the truth is, deep down, our sufferings and our struggles are common.” First Corinthians 10:3, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” Suffering, however it comes, is part of the normal Christian life, the normal Christian life. You can endure it. You are not alone.

And more than that, verse 10, God has grace, Peter says, to bring you through it, and to bring you through it stronger than ever. “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” What a precious promise for these days. Because dominion, he says – lordship, sovereignty – belongs to the Triune God. Because He is the God of all grace, restoration, confirmation, strength, establishment – those things are assured for the child of God. In other words, God is at work to make us holy. That’s His agenda ultimately. That’s the outcome that He is promising.

When I was in art school I was a printmaker, and one of the processes we used was stone lithography. So we used this massive limestone slab to draw an image, say with a wax crayon or to paint with an oil-based paint, and then you would wet the stone with a sponge, and with a roller covered in ink you’d spread the ink across the surface of the stone. And because oil and water repel, the oil-based ink would only adhere to the oil-based image on the stone and the wet stone would have no ink on it and then you could take an impression multiple times and have a print on a piece of paper.

But before you could get to the image, you had to prepare the stone. And the way we prepared the stone, there were four grades of graphite powder – from coarse to very fine – and you would pour the graphite powder on the stone with some water and then we had this massive 7-inch steel disk with a handle on one side and with water running, you would place the disk on top of the stone and you’d begin to turn it. And you would use different grades of powder to grind the stone smooth and clean and to degrease the stone until it was a perfect drawing surface with no grease, no blemish, no mark of any kind.

That is, I think, part of what God is doing among us right now. He is preparing to make us bear His likeness, His image. To do that, He has to grind us smooth. He’s sanctifying us in and through this trial till the stone of our lives is clean and smooth and free of blemish. That’s what He’s up to. Dealing with pride – “God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.” Under God’s mighty hand, that’s resting on us so heavily right now, let us humble ourselves. Dealing with pride. Dealing with anxiety. The weight of responsibility we feel can be crushing. God your Father invites you to place responsibility for dealing with these trials into His hands. He has the grace that you need. He cares for you. Dealing with the devil. He is a predator, but we can fend him off. He does not need to win the battle. You can win it by resisting him, firm in your faith, with a sober mind and a watchful, prayerful heart. And dealing with suffering. What is it that God is up to? One of the things He is up to in these weird and difficult times is He is making us holy. He is working to restore, confirm, strengthen and establish us so that we can say with Peter, “Even in these days, to Him be the dominion, the lordship. We gladly bow before the King. To Him be the dominion, forever and ever. Amen.”

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, we thank You that You are the sovereign God and You are at work not only at the macrolevel in history with the rise and fall of nations, but in the details, in the little circumstances, in the bumps in the road, in the momentary fears and in the besetting struggles of our hearts. You’re at work in all of it, even superintending suffering and sin so that Your purpose might be triumphant and victorious and the kingdom of darkness and of the devil be overthrown. Thank You that You have already won the victory in Jesus Christ, that He is King of kings and Lord of lords, that dominion belongs to Him. Help us with all our fears, with all our anxieties, to rest the entire weight of our lives upon You alone. For we ask this in Jesus’ holy name, amen.


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