So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 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. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV
The above title is meant to create a certain degree of disconnect in your mind when you read it. Is it really possible to wear humility with pride. It would seem contradictory to say that someone is proud of their humility. The two characteristics are anything but complementary. In their very essence, they oppose one another. And that is why Peter is continuing this section on suffering for righteousness’ sake with some very specific words of application regarding the role of humility within the body of Christ. First of all, he addresses the elders or overseers of the church. He qualifies his right to address them based on his own role as an elder and an apostle. As an apostle of Jesus, Peter had been en eye-witness to the sufferings of Jesus, having watched Him endure scourging, mocking, beatings and public scorn during His trials, and the public pain and humiliation of crucifixion. He knew first-hand what suffering for righteousness’ sake looked like. He knew far too well just how costly the kind of humility he was talking could be. He had watched Jesus die, willingly and obediently, fulfilling the will of His Father. But Peter had also been there when Jesus appeared in His resurrected state, and he had heard Jesus say, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48 ESV). And Peter had been an eyewitness to Jesus’ ascension back into heaven. He had been “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1b ESV). And Peter had heard the angel proclaim, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV).
So based on his qualifications, Peter addressed the elders by telling them to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). They were not to do it for money or power. Their role was not to be seen as a status symbol, but as a statement of humility and service. They were to lead by example. Their lives were to be models of righteousness and godly leadership. They were to find their motivation in their future glorification, not any sense of prominence or pride they might find in this life. Peter had remembered well the words of Jesus spoken on the hillside years earlier: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 ESV). Jesus had gone on to say that if your motivation was to be seen and praised by men, you would have your reward in full: the recognition and praise of men. But elders were to have a higher standard, a loftier goal. And they were to be examples to all those under their care.
Paul had given similar words of admonition to the elders from Ephesus:
You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:18-24 ESV
He went on to tell them, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV). They were to see the people of God as belonging to God, having been paid for by the death of Christ. They were simply overseers or caretakers, ultimately answering to God for those He had placed in their care. Like any shepherd, they were to offer protection and provision, care and comfort. Like Jesus, they were to be willing to lay down their lives for the sheep. They were to live in constant recognition that they would one day answer to the Chief Shepherd.
But Peter didn’t just address elders. He went on to deal with those within the congregation who were younger. He encouraged them to live in submission to their elders. That would require humility on their part. Self-autonomy is a part of human nature. We all want to run our own lives and to control our own fates. But within the body of Christ, God has called for order, structure, and a spirit of submission and humility. In fact, Peter went on to speak to everybody in the church, saying, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5 ESV). It is difficult, if not impossible, to lead the prideful and stubborn. Hard-headed sheep require a heavy-handed shepherd. But if we all learn to live humbly and submissively, leadership becomes much easier and following, much more pleasant.
Quoting from the Greek translation of Proverbs 3:34, Peter writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James quoted from the same passage when he wrote, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:6-7 ESV). Ultimately, our submission is to be toward God. As Peter will say in the very next verse in this chapter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV). Shepherds are to lead, humbly. The sheep are to follow, humbly. Each is to willingly wait for God to glorify them at the proper time and in according to His divine will. There is no place for pride in the life of the humble.