Humility In Action
Humility, Submission, Pride, Grace, Worry, Trust, Fear, Peace
Most of us have been around a small child at some point in our lives. It seems that all small children go through a phase where they insist on doing everything for themselves. During that period, the most common phrase you will hear out of that child’s mouth is, “No, I do it!” As people who are a little bit older, we have mixed emotions about this phase. On the one hand, we want the children to learn to do things for themselves, but we also know that there are lots of things they really need our help for. When they refuse to accept the help of others, they quickly get frustrated, and sometimes can even get hurt. What these children need is to accurately understand their abilities—to know when the situation is beyond their control and when to ask for help.
In our text this morning, we will see that we are a lot like these small children. We are so full of pride that we insist on doing everything in our own power and making our own mistakes. Peter will show us that this attitude is foolish and sinful, and that our pride keeps us from the blessings that God will give to the humble. Before we examine the applications Peter gives on humility, we really need to define what humility is.
All of us have been around people who practice what we call “false humility.” These are the people who do something very well but act as though they don’t. This is called false humility because it is generally a front—these people act as though they don’t recognize their own talent so that you will lavish even greater praise on them.
Biblical humility does not deny talents or gifts that we may have; it starts by viewing ourselves accurately. Humble people recognize that they are creatures who are subject to the Creator. They realize that regardless of their gifts or talents, they have equal standing with every other human being. When we understand humility in this manner, we see that it isn’t about denying our strengths and magnifying our weaknesses, but rather properly understanding the limits of our strength, the source of strength, and the extent of our weaknesses. It means that we recognize the value of others (regardless of their station in life) and our dependence on God.
With this understanding of humility in mind, we can now turn our attention to Peter’s commands in our text this morning.
Submit to Leaders
Peter’s first command is at the beginning of verse 5,
Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. (NIV)
In the verses that immediately precede this passage Peter talks about the responsibilities of elders in the church. We will look more closely at those verses next week, but for now we need to see that Peter is speaking in particular to the younger people and telling them to submit to those who are older.
When we are young, we have a tendency to believe that we have everything figured out. As we grow in knowledge, we tend to think that we know more than the “old people” in our lives who are now out of touch with the way things are. But such an attitude is foolish, because those who are older have usually gained quite a bit of wisdom as they have lived their lives.
So Peter says that part of being humble means learning to submit to those who are older and usually wiser than us. They may not have as much education but they have much more experience. Education tends to bring knowledge; experience brings wisdom. True humility recognizes that we do not have all of the answers, and that older people may know something that we don’t.
Practically speaking this means that we should submit to:
- Our parents and grandparents (regardless of how old we are now)
- Our teachers
- Co-workers with more experience
- Other Christians who are older than us
I do think there is a second implication to this command. In addition to simply referring to physical age, I believe the command can also refer to spiritual age. Those who are younger in the faith should submit to those who are older in the faith, again recognizing that their experience may have taught them something. This actually leads into Peter’s second point, that all of us should be humble as we deal with each other.
Be Humble with Each Other
The second part of verse 5 gives us this command,
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (NIV)
Peter does not simply stop at the command for younger people to exhibit humility when dealing with older people, he is saying that each of us should be humble when dealing with each other. Peter has spent a lot of time talking about this issue. We can conclude from this that he thinks it is important.
Humility should be something that clothes us, something that is always evident in our lives, not simply an attitude we adopt when it is convenient. We are to constantly wear a humble attitude as we deal with other people.
This is important in every human relationship. We have to learn to listen to what other people are saying instead of simply dismissing them because of our presuppositions about the person. Older people need to deal humbly with younger people, recognizing that sometimes younger people may have valuable insights. Rich people should listen to poor people and vice versa. The educated and uneducated should view each other as equals. We need to be open to the advice, ideas, and criticisms of everyone, because each person has value and has experience that we do not. All of our relationships should be characterized by this kind of mutual respect. Here’s a good principle: when we begin to feel superior to another person, we are no longer acting in humility.
Peter quotes from the book of Proverbs to remind us of the importance God places on our humility: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” When we insist on going our own way, on refusing to work with others or to listen to others, we find that we will have another obstacle to overcome—God. When we have a prideful attitude, we begin to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and God will help to bring us back to reality. On the other hand, for those who seek to deal humbly with others God gives grace. He will sustain us in the difficult times and help us to continue to fight against our sinful pride.
Trust God, Not Yourself
The third command Peter gives to us is found in verses 6 and 7,
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. (NIV)
Peter says that the essence of humility is seen not just in submitting to one another, but it is ultimately seen in our submission to God. He says we should be people who seek to do things God’s way in God’s timing rather than relying on our own strength and ingenuity to bring about the outcome we desire. A humble attitude recognizes that God’s way is best, and that we need to submit to His will.
The part of this passage that jumps out to me is Peter’s command that we should cast all our anxiety on Him. That seems like a strange thing to put at the end of a passage focusing on humility. At first glance, you might have a difficult time seeing how anxiety and worry have anything to do with humility, but if you think about it you can see that anxiety and worry have pride at their core. We feel anxiety and worry when we refuse to trust God. We do not believe His promises to watch over us, to guide us, and to provide for us. It shows that we do not really believe that God is in control of the circumstances of life. Anxiety develops because deep down we believe God cannot or will not do what He says. At its core, anxiety is evidence that we lack humility before God.
I know that telling people worry is a lack of humility or faith is only going to fill some of you with anxiety! So let’s talk about what it means to “cast all our anxiety upon Him”.
First, I’d challenge you to consider the futility of worrying. Someone has said that worry is kind of like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere. Peter tells us that instead of worrying—which doesn’t get us anywhere—we should ask the Lord for His guidance and help. We need to remember that some things are beyond our control and worrying about those circumstances won’t change them. So instead of fretting about the things we can’t control, we should ask for help from the One who controls them.
There are other things we can do that are more productive than worrying. We can focus on doing the things we can do in a given situation. Oliver Cromwell once told his troops to “Trust in God, and keep your powder dry.” There is wisdom in this approach. Casting our anxieties upon the Lord does not imply passivity on our part. We ask God to do the things we can’t and devote our energy to doing the things we can.
Think about being stricken with a debilitating disease—something many of you understand in a way I do not. You hear the diagnosis of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, etc. and anxiety sets in. I can think of hundreds of things that I might be anxious about but the biggest thing would be how my family would suffer without me. Rather than getting in the rocking chair of worry, I could choose to help them be prepared for the future. I could help my wife understand our finances in case she has to take them over. I could write letters to my children that communicate to them the things I fear I wouldn’t be able to tell them. I could also keep going to the doctor and taking the necessary treatments. The same could happen if the situation was reversed and a member of my family was stricken with the disease. Instead of worrying, I could ensure that I cherished my time with them, make sure they understood that I loved them, and be sure they knew the importance of trusting in Christ. Rather than sitting around worrying about the things I might not be able to do in the future, I could make sure I do them now—it’s a much better use of my time and energy.
Second, we need to work at trusting God in everything. Imagine a 5-mile long straightaway. Imagine that this road is broken up by stoplights every quarter mile. For most of us who live in the country and aren’t used to stoplights, the idea of stopping every quarter mile seems like a great annoyance. But suppose the people who designed the stoplights timed them perfectly so that if you drove 35 miles per hour, you would hit every light on green. If you will drive at the speed the road was designed for, you will arrive at your destination relatively stress-free. But say you were in a hurry, so when the light turns green, you drive much faster than 35 miles per hour to make up time. What happens? You’ll hit every light red—and you’ll arrive at the same time as the person driving 35 miles per hour. The difference? One will have a stressful trip and the other will not.
Maybe it’s a simplistic analogy, but I think it describes the way we live our lives. God has designed us to function in a certain way, but often we ignore his instructions. The result is frustration and stress because we think we know better. The result of our prideful disobedience is anxiety. We worry about how things will turn out because we don’t trust that God’s way really is best. If we want to start combating anxiety and worry, we need to start with simple obedience to His commands—even if they don’t make sense to us.
Do you trust Him? Do you really believe that He knows what is best? Are you willing to do what he says even when you don’t understand?
A truly humble attitude causes us to really trust God—to abide by the “speed limits” he has set, especially when we don’t understand. True humility sees us as created beings with limited knowledge and God as the Creator with perfect knowledge. If we believe this and believe that God loves us, then we will do what he says. Maybe some examples will help to illustrate this point. If we really trust God:
- We will be people who quietly do the best work we can instead of constantly trumpeting how hard we work and how busy we are in the hopes that our bosses (or others) will see and promote us.
- We will show love to those who aren’t loving to us even though in the short-term it seems like we are being treated unfairly.
- We will give our tithes and offerings joyfully to the Lord even though it seems like by doing so we will have less money to spend on ourselves.
- We will make worship and discipleship a priority even though it may mean we won’t have time to participate in some of the things our friends do.
- We will boldly yet lovingly proclaim the truth of the gospel to our friends and families even though it might seem like it causes conflicts in the short-term.
- We will strive for moral purity (e.g. avoiding sex outside of marriage, avoiding drunkenness, misrepresenting our income, or lying to others) instead of taking “shortcuts” the world says are acceptable.
- We will take time for a day of rest (where we have “down time” and aren’t running and doing work), even though we feel like we can’t afford to give up that time. It may mean that we say no to some things in order to follow God’s command to rest.
If we have a truly humble heart, we will trust God enough to be obedient to Him, even when His commands seem counterintuitive to us. If we will follow the “speed limits” he has instituted, our trip really will be much more peaceful.
Third, we need to remind ourselves of God’s promises. Peter’s rationale for why we can cast our cares upon the Lord is that He cares for us. That sounds great, but we struggle to believe it when it feels like things are falling apart. In truth, a large portion of our anxiety stems from our failure to really believe God’s promises. If we could really believe that God cares for us and that He will never leave or forsake us, we would find it a lot easier to cast our anxieties upon him.
There are two things we can do to help ourselves believe God’s promises. First is to remind ourselves of what God has promised. See that He has not promised that we wouldn’t have struggles, but that He does promise He will never leave us. See that He promises that He will comfort us, and that He has a plan for everything to ultimately work for good. Remind yourselves of what God has promised over and over again. In the midst of struggles, Dad and I often encourage people to keep reminding themselves of three simple truths: God is in control, He loves me, and He never makes a mistake. Keep reminding yourself of what God has promised; it will help to give you peace.
Second is to look at His track record of keeping promises. If you look in the Bible, you can see that God consistently kept his promises to those people. Look at your own life and try to make a list of the ways God has kept his promises to you. Think about the difficult times he has brought you through, the ways he has provided for you, and how His guidance has always proved to be right in your life. Write those things down and keep adding to them. When you feel the temptation to worry, pull out this list to remind yourself that God really does care for you, and He does keep his promises.
Finally, we need to face our fears head on. We worry because we are afraid of what might happen in the future. We don’t even want to think about something unpleasant, so we allow ourselves to become anxious. We worry about what will happen if we lose our job. Instead of worrying about what might happen, face those fears and put them in perspective. What would happen if you lost your job? You would face major lifestyle changes, you might have to relocate your family, you might have to work temporarily in several part-time jobs to put food on the table. None of those things are ideal, but they are also not insurmountable. Be honest with yourself about what you are afraid of and help yourself see that even though things might be difficult for a season, the result is nothing you can’t manage with God’s help.
Peter’s command to be humble is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult commands to follow. It is difficult because deep down each of us wants to be in control. We want others to do what we want and we don’t want anyone else to tell us what to do. With that said, I also think the command to be humble is the basis of Christian living. Humility before God impacts how we will live our lives and will impact the way that we relate to each other. Humility is the key to experiencing the peace of God in our lives. Christians should be people who demonstrate humility in the workplace, in our homes, with our friends, and in the church. Humility should be evident in every aspect of our lives.
No matter how old we are, inside of us somewhere there is still a little child who is demanding to be able to “do it by myself!” But this attitude robs us of God’s blessings. We cannot experience true freedom until we learn that we are not in control and we cannot do it by ourselves; we must trust God’s control and His direction. It seems totally counter to our minds, but it is only when we recognize who we really are and who God really is that we can truly have peace.