Humble and Vigilant
Passage: 1 Peter 5:6–5:11
Humble and Vigilant
Earlier this month, Southern Seminary hosted a panel discussion on the future of religious freedom in America. During the discussion, the panelists noted that for the majority of the 20th century, people tended to accept religion’s influence on all areas of life. From government to morality to even entertainment, religious beliefs held at least some sway in people’s lives. And those religious beliefs were largely similar to historic Christian teaching, at least on the surface. The result was a kind of cultural Christianity in which people were expected to attend church and even exhibit moral behavior as generally defined by the Bible. Furthermore, the prevalence of this so-called cultural Christianity led many evangelicals to assume that they were in the majority when it came to life in America.
Over the last decade or so, we have come to see how mistaken that assumption really was. Or, as Dr. Al Mohler, one of the panelists, said during the discussion, “Cultural Christianity is dead.” And before you think that I’m announcing doom and gloom, let me be quick to say I think that’s a good thing. We don’t need a cultural Christianity; we need a robust, biblical, Christ-centered, gospel-infused Christianity, the same kind of Christianity that led the apostles to lay down their lives for Christ, the same kind of Christianity that led William Carey and Adoniram Judson to start the modern missions movement, the same kind of Christianity that led Martin Luther to say, “Here I stand; I can do no other. So help me God.” We need that kind of Christianity, not a cheap cultural knock-off.
And that is why we’ve spent 23 sermons on 1 Peter, because almost more than any other book in the NT, 1 Peter prepares us to live as God’s people in a world that is not our home. Cultural Christianity is deceptive because it gives the appearance that we belong here, that this place is our home. But with that shallow idea in its death-throes, we need to hear the message of 1 Peter. As our exile status in this world becomes increasingly clear, the message of 1 Peter can equip us with what we need to live as God’s people.
And that’s why we chose this letter. Look, I don’t know what the future holds. I pray for righteousness and goodness to hold sway in our country; I pray for the spread of the gospel. But I don’t know what the future holds. What I can say is that it seems to me, now more than ever in my lifetime, we need to be reminded what it means to live as the elect exiles we are. And that’s why we chose this letter.
One of Peter’s main goals in this letter was to equip his readers with what they needed to live as God’s people in the world. And to that end, Peter has given his readers a number of instructions throughout these five chapters. This morning, we come to Peter’s final series of instructions. After this section, all that remains is the formal closing to the letter, which Lord willing we will look at next week. But this morning’s passage is the final series of instructions. Now, what makes these instructions so important is that they are really a summary of the entire letter. These six verses draw together in one closing, coherent paragraph all that Peter has taught regarding how to live as God’s people in the world.
What that means for us is that these verses become very important and very helpful as we seek to understand how we should live in culture that is rapidly changing. Think of these verses as a short survival guide, a summary for how to live as a Christian in the midst of a world that is not our home.
In this passage, Peter gives his readers three closing instructions. I’m going to give you all three points in advance, so you can see where we are going throughout the message. First, in vv6-7, Peter tells his readers to humbly submit their lives to God’s will. Second, in vv8-9, Peter exhorts his readers to remain vigilant. And third, in vv10-11, Peter reminds these Christians that the God of all grace will finish what he has started. All of Peter’s teaching throughout the letter is summed up in these closing instructions: humbly submit your lives to God’s will, remain vigilant, and the God of all grace will finish what he has started.
Humbly Submit Your Life to God’s Will
We begin in vv6-7, with Peter’s first instruction – humbly submit your life to God’s will. In v6, Peter continues with the theme of humility that he introduced last week in v5. Last week, his focus was humility toward one another. But this week, Peter’s focus is a bit different. Now, Peter is concerned with humility before God.
You can see the difference plainly enough in v6, where Peter says, “humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God.” It’s still humility, but humility before God rather than others. The key to understanding Peter’s point is that phrase “under the mighty hand of God.” This is the only time in the NT that exact phrase is used, but it shows up more frequently in the OT, where it often refers to God’s sovereign power to save his people. It’s used particularly in Exodus and Deuteronomy to describe God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. So, when Peter uses this phrase, he’s recalling that history. He is reminding his readers that God is mighty to save them, and everything, including hardships and trials, is under God’s sovereign authority. Now, we can understand better what Peter means when he says humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand. His point is believers should submit themselves to God’s will for their lives, even when that will involves trials and hardships.
But why does Peter present this in terms of humility? Because pride would lead a believer to question God’s purposes or to complain about what God is doing. When a believer faces trials, the temptation is to pridefully grumble against the trials. Pride demands that life must operate the way I think is best. Pride says, “God, I don’t care what your will is for these trials. I think life would be better without them!” Instead of exhibiting that kind of attitude, Peter says humbles yourselves under God’s mighty hand. In other words, humbly submit yourself to God’s will, even when that will includes hardship.
But that is not all that Peter says in v6. He goes on to remind his readers that this kind of humility is not meaningless. Peter is not saying that humility means simply resigning yourself to suffering. Rather, Peter reminds his readers that humility before God has a point, and that point is actually for our good! Look at the end of verse, where Peter says, “so that at the proper time he may exalt you.” This is the purpose of humility. Why does God call his people to humbly submit to his will? So that at the proper, he may exalt them.
We’ve seen this throughout the letter. God’s purpose is to produce genuine faith in his people, and that genuine faith comes through testing. The end result of genuine faith is a glorious inheritance with Christ that believers will receive on the last day. And that’s why we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God – so that we might be exalted. God’s purpose for his people is not suffering for suffering’s sake. There is no glory to be gained in hardship alone. Rather, God’s purpose is to satisfy his people with an unfading inheritance in Christ. His aim is our good! And that’s why God calls us to humility under his mighty hand, because in his infinite wisdom and grace, he knows that humility leads to true and lasting glory with Christ. So, we humble ourselves under God’s will now so that we might rejoice in the greater inheritance to be gained in the end.
Now, if we’re honest, God’s good purpose in our trials is, at times, hard to believe or even accept. Some people might hear this kind of talk and think, “Yeah, but how can I know that this will actually work? If I do humble myself now, what guarantee is there that I will one day be exalted?” Still others might think, “But how can suffering and humility lead to exaltation? That doesn’t even make sense. Humble people get dumped on, not exalted.” So, people can be skeptical.
The only real answer to those questions is the life of Christ. Jesus’ life is the living illustration that God’s purpose in suffering is both true and for our good. Think back to Jesus’ final night in the garden of Gethsemane. Remember, he goes off with Peter, James, and John to pray. In that moment, Jesus knew that suffering was coming. He knew that God’s will for his life was that he should die as the substitutionary sacrifice for God’s people. And as he prayed in the garden, Jesus boldly asked if there was any way that cup of suffering could pass from him. But what did he pray after that bold request? He prayed, “Yet not what I will, but what you will.” He humbly submitted himself to the Father’s will, even though he knew that meant he would suffer.
And what was the result? Exaltation, through the suffering! Christ humbled himself under God’s mighty hand by enduring the cross. He suffered and died. But then he rose again, victorious over death and ascended again into heaven where he has taken his place at the Father’s right hand as the Sovereign Lord of the Universe! Christ was exalted through his humility, through his suffering. And that is how we know that the Father’s purpose for our humility will come to pass. That is how we know that humility now leads to exaltation later – because we have seen it in the life of Christ himself. So, whenever you are tempted to doubt God’s good purpose for your trials and maybe even pridefully question his will, look to Christ. Jesus reminds us that all who humble themselves before God will be exalted in God’s time and according to God’s will. Let that hope of exaltation with Christ spur you on in humility before the Father.
Now, if this humility before God is so important, then how do we get it? Peter tells us in v7. Look in your Bible – “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” This is the how of humility. How do I pursue this kind of humility? By casting all my anxieties on God, believing that he cares for me.
Even though it is God’s will, suffering can raise a number of worrisome questions. What will happen to us? Will this ever end? Those are difficult questions that have caused Christians anxiety since the NT era. Peter’s point is that we should cast those worries on God as the means by which we humble ourselves before him. When we do this, it shows that we believe God’s will is best and for our good. It shows that we trust God to care for our worries.
Notice, then, how this changes our perspective on something like prayer. Often, we think of prayer as a duty or as a means of expressing our needs to God. But this passage teaches us that prayer is also a key way of growing in humility. In moments of anxiety, prayer becomes the way that I resist pride and embrace humility. Here’s what I mean. Worry is a form of pride that says to God, “I am able to handle this; I don’t need your help.” Prayer, on the other hand, is an expression of humility that says to God, “I am not able to handle this, but I trust that you can, and that you are in fact working these things for my good! So I give you my anxieties. I throw them on you, God, because you care for me.” When I pray like that, I’m actually repenting of pride and, by faith, cultivating humility. Prayer is not just a religious duty; it’s a divinely appointed means for prideful, worrisome people to grow in humility.
The key for us worrisome people is to learn to fight for humility through prayer on a consistent basis. It’s not as if you can pray once and then the anxiety disappears. There is no silver bullet or quick fix for any struggle of the Christian life, and that includes worry. We must be ready to continually cast our cares on God. This may mean that we desperately pray over and over in the same day about the same worry.
But in those instances, isn’t true humility being cultivated? At the end of a day when you have repeatedly prayed about the same anxiety, don’t you feel your dependence on God much more clearly? Yes, you do, and that dependence is the beginning of true humility! This is why God often works in precisely this way. He’s not just interested in how we handle moment-by-moment things. He’s interested in the condition of our hearts. He wants humble people, not people who have mastered techniques for dealing with stress and anxiety. That is why, in his mercy and grace, he often teaches us humility through prolonged seasons of exposing our prideful worries; he’s causing us to see the true depth of our dependence on him. The process is hard, but ultimately, like everything the Father does, it is for our good.
And just so we don’t forget, this kind of humble prayer is not wishful thinking. It’s not a mental trick like what you might learn from some positive-thinking guru. When Peter calls us to cast our cares on God, he reminds us that we can do this because God cares for us. Don’t miss that phrase; don’t gloss over it simply because it sounds simple. It’s actually profound. The sovereign, omnipotent, holy God of the universe who created all things out of nothing cares for you as a Father cares for his children. So, when we pray, we’re not throwing our worries into the wishing well of the universe. We’re giving them to a personal, loving heavenly Father who has promised to work all things for our good and ultimately our salvation. So, the next time you sense yourself moving toward worry and anxiety, pray, and cast those anxieties on the Father. And then keep doing it! View those prayers not as some religious exercise, but as an expression of humility. And as you pray, remember that God promises to graciously exalt those who humble themselves before him.
So, that is Peter’s instruction from vv6-7: humbly submit your life to God’s will. Now, we come to vv8-9 and Peter’s second instruction, which is simple and poignant – remain vigilant. Look again at v8. Peter instructs his readers to be sober-minded and watchful. Sober-minded is one of Peter’s favorite terms. He uses it three times in this letter, which is more than any other letter in the NT. As we’ve seen before, the idea is readiness for action. We should probably connect it with the following command to be watchful. The two terms – sober-minded and watchful – communicate one idea – vigilance against outside threats.
Let me give you a negative example that illustrates Peter’s point. In fact, it comes from Peter’s own life! As before with humility, this example comes from Jesus’ final night in the garden of Gethsemane. If you remember the scene, Jesus instructs Peter, James, and John to remain awake and pray for him. Jesus used the same word for watchful that Peter uses here. But instead of being watchful, what do Peter and his companions do? They fall asleep. Three times, actually. They were not vigilant; they weren’t watchful. And what happened after the garden? They abandoned Christ when the trials began. So, when Peter tells his readers to remain vigilant, he knows from personal experience both the difficulty and necessity of this command.
Peter goes on in v8 to tell us why we need vigilance – because “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Believers should be vigilant because the devil, their accuser and opponent, seeks to destroy them. Peter’s imagery is vivid. The devil is like a prowling lion. He’s on the hunt, in other words. He’s not aimlessly roaming through the world, doing whatever crosses his path. No, the devil is purposeful, and his purpose is to destroy our faith. That’s how the devil devours Christians. He roars at them with suffering, with lies, with temptations, with accusations, and he keeps on roaring until their faith is weakened and they turn away from Christ. Therefore, we must be vigilant. We can’t wander aimlessly through the Christian life, hoping that we avoid his schemes. We must remain vigilant.
But Peter also goes on to say that this vigilance is not enough. Our vigilance must also lead to action. Look at v9 – “Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” Vigilance leads to active resistance. Now, to be clear, this resistance is not done through our own abilities. Peter is not calling us to resist the devil with our own cleverly devised plans or in our own supposed strength. That would be foolish. The devil is smarter and stronger than we are. So, how do we resist him? Look at what Peter said, “firm in the faith.” That’s how you resist the devil, by remaining steadfast in the faith. Resistance is an active, ongoing trust in God’s promises given to us and fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
Remember, the devil’s goal is to destroy our faith. If he can tear down our trust in Christ, then he has devoured us. So, our resistance must take the form of continued, ongoing trust in Christ. This means that we should never underestimate the power of faithfully – day-in and day-out – trusting in God’s Word and faithfully living out what that Word says. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of reading, believing, and memorizing God’s word. That’s part of resisting the devil. We shouldn’t underestimate the value of covenanting with God’s people in a local church and faithfully gathering with that body for worship and encouragement. That’s part of resisting the devil. So often, we assume that to battle the devil means resisting very public displays of evil, and at times, that is the case. But most often, our battle with the devil takes place in small, seemingly mundane moments when no one else is around. Most often, our faith is eroded not by a single, momentary failure, but by small compromises in the daily fight for faithfulness. Over time, those small compromises completely erode our trust in Christ. And when our faith finally comes crashing down and we’re left sitting in the rubble, we can’t even point to a single instance of failure; it just all seemed to gradually crumble, little by little. Remember, the devil is subtle and crafty, and he’s been working the same scheme since Eden – getting God’s people to question, little by little, the value of faithfully living every day according God’s word.
So, are you vigilant against that subtle scheme? Or are you asleep in the garden like Peter? Are you faithfully reading and believing God’s word? Or are you living on past experiences with the truth, things that you believed at one point way back when? Are you faithful in reminding yourself of the gospel? Or have you moved on from the message of Christ crucified, thinking that there are other, more important truths for life? Are you faithful in gathering with God’s people? Or have you slowly, maybe even unwittingly given in to the individualism of this age that says all you really need is yourself and your own spirituality? Listen carefully to Peter’s warning here. The devil is crafty and on the prowl. And he seeks to devour your faith one small, compromising bite at a time. Be vigilant against him by remaining firm in the faith, not just in the big moments, but daily in the seemingly mundane things. That’s were the real war with our adversary is most often fought.
Peter closes v9 by reminding these suffering Christians that they are not alone. They are enduring the same kind of suffering as believers throughout the world. And this should encourage them. They are not alone; there are other believers experiencing the same trials. In fact, their endurance of suffering is one of the marks that they do belong to the people of God! So, in a sense, Peter is saying with this phrase, “Be encouraged in the faith, even in the midst of trials! Your suffering is one of the marks of all those who belong to Christ.”
The God of All Grace Will Finish What He Has Started
So, that is Peter’s second instruction: remain vigilant. Now, we come to vv10-11 and Peter’s final instruction, which is actually a repeat of how he opened the letter – the God of all grace will finish what he has started. Peter opened the letter by telling his readers that God’s grace had given them new life in Christ, and that same grace would keep them secure until the last day when they would receive their inheritance with Christ himself. Now, here at the end of the letter, he repeats that same point.
Peter once again encourages these Christians by contrasting their temporary sufferings with the God’s ongoing, powerful grace. Look at v10. He says, “After you have suffered for a little while.” So, yes, believers will suffer in this life, but that suffering is only temporary. In contrast, once the appointed time of suffering has past, God himself will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. Those four verbs describe what God will do for his people in the end. All four are in the future tense; this is what will happen on the last day. Peter’s point is that after the suffering, God will certainly bring his people into glory. He will strengthen them where they are weak. He will re-establish what the trials have shaken. He will finish his work of salvation in their lives.
But how can we know that this will be true? Those verbs are future oriented. What if that future can’t be realized? What if the suffering and the trials and the devil are triumphant in the end? How can I really know, the suffering Christian asks? Because of the character of God, Peter says. Notice how Peter identifies God, as “the God who called you to his eternal glory in Christ.” The same God who called you in Christ is the same God who will finish his work of grace in the future. And that God – the God of all grace – is never thwarted in what he purposes to accomplish.
Think back to chapter 1 and how Peter described God’s calling of believers. 1.3 – God has caused us to be born again in Christ Jesus. So, did anything stand in the way of God’s calling his people out of the deadness of sin and into new life in Christ? No, nothing stood in the way of that call. Therefore, nothing will stand in the way of God’s finishing that call on the last day. You see? The God who called you with sovereign grace in the new birth is the same God who will finish that work of grace on the last day. The power of his grace in the beginning is the promise of his grace in the end.
So, at the end of the letter, Peter wants his readers to hear the same point he made at the beginning of the letter – God finishes what he starts, and that means he will finish his work in your life. Suffering will not have the last word because God has called you to himself. You belong to him. And if you belong to him, then the trials will not overcome you, the devil will not devour you, and no amount of suffering will ever rob you of your inheritance in Christ. Because God’s grace is ongoing and powerful, God will finish his work of producing genuine faith in your life. In his faithfulness, he will keep you to the end.
Therefore, with that encouragement ringing in your ears, continue pursuing obedience to Christ. Let God’s powerful, keeping grace sustain and propel you on in faithfulness to the Lord Jesus. Because God finishes what he starts, humbly submit your life to God’s will. Because God’s grace will finally save you, remain vigilant against the devil. Because God has caused you to be born again to a living hope, live as God’s chosen people in the world, joyfully proclaiming the greatness of Christ, even in the midst of hardship.
More in 1 Peter: Sojourners and Strangers
March 2, 2014Stand Firm in God's Grace
February 16, 2014Shepherding the Flock of God
February 9, 2014Joyfully Entrusting Ourselves to a Faithful Creator