Humility, Anxiety, & the Devil | 1 Peter 5:5

In our study of what the Bible has to say about pride and humility (presented quite purposely on “pride month”), we arrive at the third of three interrelated texts. Proverbs 3:34, of course, is the core since it is cited by both James and Peter, and it defined the sharp dichotomy between the proud and the humble, the fools and the wise, the wicked and the righteous. James then used that verse in his description of why quarrels and fights break out. We now conclude with Peter, who calls us to watchful humility in our war against the devil.

1 Peter 5 begins with a snapshot of authority within the church. He begins by exhorting elders to shepherd and oversee their congregation well (vv. 2-3). Interestingly, Peter could have appealed to his status as an apostle (although that is implied by his witnessing “the sufferings of Christ”), yet he chose to present himself first as a “fellow elder,” as a pastor of God’s people in an individual congregation (v. 1). He chose to speak as a peer to his fellow pastors, which acknowledges that even as an apostle he likewise submitted to “the great Shepherd,” the great Pastor, Jesus (v. 4). And after explaining how the elders’ oversight is meant to function, he calls for “the younger” to “be subject to the elders” (v. 5). Whether by “the younger” Peter was literally speaking to the youthful particularly or the elders’ congregations as a whole, the apostle established a hierarchy of submission within the church. Elders have authority as shepherds over their congregation, which they must exercise with care and in imitation of the good Shepherd, and the congregation should submit joyfully to their elders.

He then summarizes this section with a command to all believers that enables church authority to function in a Christ-like manner, while also transcending that particular issue: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (v. 5). Humility is the key ingredient. Elders need humility to submit to Christ and to know that their authority is one of stewardship rather than ownership. Members need humility to “obey your leaders and submit to them” (Hebrews 13:17). Indeed, humility imitates Christ, who endured the humiliation of both His incarnation and crucifixion. Church structure should reflect what is true of Christianity and of reality as a whole: that God gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud.

For the past two articles, we have belabored the destruction that pride brings (as the texts rightly warrant) but Peter now emphasizes the virtue of humility. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (v. 6). Notice that our humility toward one another must be rooted in our humility toward God. A sign of how secularized our society has become is seen in how ancillary the very concept of God has become. Plenty of people still believe in a great divine power of some kind; however, in many ways, topics like diet are treated with more gravity. Deism is all the rage. Yet because God truly did create the world, our ideas of God must foundationally impact how we behave. For example, although secularism aims to divorce itself from God entirely, doing so has left it a godless religion in its own right without any real concept of forgiveness. What we think (or don’t think) about God shapes everything else about us. It simply cannot be otherwise. The world nevertheless believes that it is perfectly capable of expressing virtues such as love without belief in God, but the whole enterprise is doomed from the start. The same is abundantly true of humility. If we cannot humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand (before whom even the highest archangels fall prostrate), how will we ever be able to show humility to others?

But what does biblical humility look like? Peter gives us a clue in verse 7, which is a direct continuation of verse 6: “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” What does anxiety have to do with pride and humility? Given the sheer number of people who battle anxiety, I should warn that you may not like the answer. A chief cause of anxiety is self-reliance. We become anxious about our circumstances because we live as though everything is dependent upon us, as though we are gods. Therefore, the biblical response to anxiety is trusting in God, remembering our creatureliness. In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus commands us pointedly:

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on… For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Likewise, Paul in Philippians 4:6-7 tells us:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace that surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Of course, verses 8-9 should also be quoted because they give further insight into how to fight anxiety:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me– practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Anxiety, we should note, is an understandable response to living in our broken world, and the Bible does not expect for Christians to be immune to anxiety. However, an inability to fight back against anxiety ultimately reveals a distrust in God’s goodness. Yet through our de facto declaration that God is not trustworthy, we exalt ourselves above Him, which links sustained anxiety to pride. Or to put it simply, a refusal to trust God is pride, and anxiety is a refusal to trust God. Humble submission to God, on the other hand, involves the casting of our anxieties upon Him, trusting that they are better held by Him than us. Given that Peter wrote this two thousand years ago, we should not be surprised to find that our culture’s adoption of pride as virtuous has also produced an epidemic of anxiety and depression. But God cares for us and happily receives our troubles and worries, if only we are humble enough to come to Him.

With the destructive effects of pride in mind and the grace found through humility, Peter goes on to say:

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.

Casting our anxieties upon God does not mean walking carelessly through life; rather, we must be sober-minded and watchful. Our life should be marked by vigilance, for our enemy is always near and does not rest from his labors. One grace that has come from our current secular moment is that many Christians are reawakening to the reality of our adversary. The more that Christian teachings and values are openly scorned, the easier it is to see a larger malevolent force at work. In other words, as suffering for the sake of the gospel gets nearer, we are finally seeing the true nature of the beast around us. Given that Peter almost immediately jumps to the inevitability of suffering, we should heed Rod Dreher’s sharp words:

Christian resistance on a large scale to the anti-culture has been fruitless, and is likely to be for the foreseeable future. Why? Because the spirit of the therapeutic has conquered the churches as well– even those populated by Christians who identify as conservative. Relatively few Christians are prepared to suffer for the faith, because the therapeutic society that has formed them denies the purpose of suffering in the first place, and the idea of bearing pain for the sake of truth seems ridiculous.[1]

I would argue that Dreher’s evaluation, while very true, does not go far enough. Christians do not make a dent in our present “anti-culture” because comfort and convenience are valued above truth. This month corporation after corporation has proudly embodied Romans 1:32: “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” Yet it seems ridiculous for many Christians to ever think of spending their dollars elsewhere. Our world screams its hatred of God, His ways, and His people while we continue offering our financial support. We may lament the celebration of sin, but our lament evidently does not run deep enough to cancel our subscriptions or shift our spending habits.

If fed affirmation, the proud only demand more and more. They will not stop until all dissenting voices are silenced. Biblically, we know that their conscience cries out against them that they are defying the law of God. They long desperately to silence their own divinely placed moral compass, so they roar and foam at every non-affirming voice in the crowd. For them, words really are violence, for the truth pieces their souls like cold steel.

Notice that we are not called to slay the devil, only to resist him. Simple, humble obedience to God is a grating resistance to the first sinner. The same applies to our post-Christian society. While the world throws parades to pride and reaps the anxious whirlwind, we must patiently resist, choosing the joy of humble submission to the Scriptures, while “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (3:15). God will, in the end, exalt the humble over the proud.

[1] Rod Dreher, Live Not by Lies, 13.


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