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.(1Pe 5:5-7 ESV)
Discussing humility is very tricky. The moment we believe we are progressing in humility, it seems that we are less humble. Yet in this passage, Peter commands us to put on humility. So how do we accomplish this tricky activity? The answer is found in two proactive behaviors that enhance our progress in humility. First is serving. This is the direct application of the opening command “clothe yourselves.” The word used in this phrase is the word used to describe Jesus when he was in the upper room himself with the uniform of a servant. He clothed himself with a towel and humbly washed their feet – including Judas! Every time we serve, if our attitude is right, we are progressing in humility. The second proactive behavior is submitting to God. Let me unpack this phrase a bit. Notice how Peter refers to the mighty hand of God. This letter was written to believers who were living in a very tumultuous period in Christian history when it was legal to persecute Christians and even kill them. In that environment, Peter refers to the mighty hand of God. Now, we might ask, as could his first century reader, if God’s hand is so mighty, why are Christians suffering so much? One perspective is to consider that God is leading believers through hardship in order to grow them in humility. This seems consistent with a passage earlier in his letter.
In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Pe 1:6-7 ESV)
Further, this command to humble ourselves to God followed Peter’s instruction to young men to submit to their church leaders (vs. 5.) It makes sense, then, to understand the command to humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God to refer, in a similar way, to submitting to the leadership of God. So, if we can get to the place where we own the perspective of receiving our hardship as an expression of God’s training and purifying process of our character, we will see his mighty hand at work much more clearly than we ever could through the eyes of pride. But that is not the end of the lesson. There is an immense provision of God in this process. Notice three.
First, God gives grace to the humble. This could not be referring to the grace of salvation, for salvation does not depend on our first being humble (see Romans 5:8). Instead, this refers to God’s gracious provision in the midst of our hardship as we serve others and submit to God. I believe that this gracious provision comes from the power of the Holy Spirit who not only gives us regeneration, but also power for daily living.
Second, God gives us the promise that he will lift us up in due time. Sometimes he lifts us up during our present life. I recently read the story of the confirmation process of Supreme Court Judge, Clarence Thomas. He tells of the total surrender of his life to the Lord and of how God gave him his grace, and then of how God literally lifted him up to confirmation. But it does not always go according to this timing. Sometimes, in fact many times, God does not lift us up till the day we put our hand in the hand of Jesus and he pulls us from this life into the next. But let’s not discount the hope that that day brings. In due time, God will lift us up.
Third, God cares for us. Along the way, the mighty God who governs the universe, cares for us; in fact, he cares about every detail of our lives. Therefore, we have the privilege of casting our cares on him. Someone asked me recently if grace was a noun or a verb. I didn’t know what to say right at that moment, but subsequently I realized that the answer is both! When we present ourselves to God (Rom 6:11) by serving others and by submitting to God’s mighty hand, he “graces us.” He cares for us. We can rest in his grace and in his care, knowing that all of life is in his control.
So, don’t fall into the trap of not working at humility. Take proactive steps towards growing in humility – serve and submit to God. Enter into a perspective shared by Martin Luther when he said, “God created the world out of nothing; if we can become nothing, he can create something out of us.” When we learn to become nothing by serving and submitting to God, God gives grace to the humble.