October 11, 2008

Pride and Humility: 1 Peter 5:1-6; Proverbs 3:34

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. (1 Peter 5:1-6)

He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble. (Proverbs 3:24)


I remember a story I heard several months ago. I can’t take credit for it, as it was repeated to me by a colleague, who had heard it from someone else. One Sunday morning after the church service, the pastor and his wife were at the door of the church, greeting and shaking hands of the people as they left. Almost everyone told him how good the sermon was and how it had really impacted them. One or two told him he was a great preacher. Afterward, as he and his wife drove home, he mused, “I wonder how many truly great preachers there are in the world.” Without missing a beat, his wife answered, “I bet there’s one less than you think!”

I teach every week, and I can kind of identify with that pastor, in that people do seem to think about what I teach, and sometimes say nice things about the sermon. It is always good to remind myself that the credit is not mine. It is the Holy Spirit who guides the thinking of a pastor and his interaction, interpretation, and application of the word of God in sermons and Bible studies. When tempted to congratulate myself on a great presentation, I often think of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

As we know from our studies in the book of James several months ago, and from the messages we are studying now in 1 Peter, the Bible has a lot to say about pride and humility.

In the first four verses of 1 Peter 5, Peter gives some brief advice to the church and its leaders regarding the responsibilities, character qualities, and motivation of leaders in the church. He makes the points that leaders should be willing to lead, not looking for gain or profit, that they should be eager to serve and not abuse their authority, and that they should be examples to the people.

Then in verse 5 Peter turns to the subject of humility, quoting Proverbs 3:24: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” From the original Hebrew, Proverbs 3:34 can be translated even stronger: "He scorns those who scorn, but he gives grace to those who are humble." And in 1 Peter 5:6, Peter adds: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.”

A couple of months ago, when we started studying 1 Peter, I said that there indications in the text that Peter was familiar with the letter of James to the churches and relied on James' letter when composing his own. James is thought to be the earliest writing in the New Testament, written in the mid-40s A.D. Peter, writing 20 years later, demonstrates his familiarity with the letter of James here in verses five and six. Both quote Proverbs 3:24, Peter here in verse 5 and James in James 4:6.

In addition, 1 Peter 5:6 reflects the point James makes in James 4:10. Peter writes “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up (literally, “exalt you”) in due time,” while James writes in James 4:10, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up (“exalt you”).”

Notice that Peter has added the element of time (“that He may exalt you in due time”). This is likely due to the fact that the Christians to whom Peter wrote this letter were undergoing a terrible time of persecution. As you will remember from our previous studies, after the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D., the emperor, Nero, blamed the Christians for starting it, likely to deflect the blame away from himself. A great government-led persecution of Christians began, with many Christians being tortured and killed. Christians fled Rome and other cities by the thousands in order to resettle in safer, rural areas. The churches to which Peter wrote this letter were all in what is today northern Turkey. Peter refers to them as “God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1:1).

So Peter, in using the phrase “that He may exalt you in due time,” recognizes that his readers are in harsh physical circumstances in which they didn’t feel lifted up or exalted. But Peter is assuring them that the promises of God are sure. Peter's use of the term "may lift you up" ("may exalt you") is a little ambiguous in English. It is used in the sense that God will be able, not that God might or might not lift us up. His meaning is that God is able to exalt us once we quit exalting ourselves (that is, once we show humility before Him).

We see throughout Scripture the concept that God opposes the proud but gives grace to those who are humble. So in verse 5 Peter doesn't tell us just to be humble, but to "clothe yourselves with humility toward one another." Peter isn't writing about the kind of pride in a job well done or the pride parents feel about their children. He is writing about the kind of pride that puffs us up, that makes us arrogant; pride that is conceited and judgmental of others.

We find examples of pride and humility throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Adam and Eve (Genesis 2 & 3)

And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. (Genesis 3:1-6)

The temptation was temptation of pride: to be more like God. And when confronted, Adam blamed Eve and blamed God for creating Eve; Eve blamed the serpent, all because they yielded to the pride of wanting to be like God:

“Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (Genesis 3:11-13)

The Tower of Babel (Genesis 11)

Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As men moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there. They said to each other, “Come, let's make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves and not be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”

So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth. (Genesis 11:1-9)

These people were the descendants of Noah. Genesis 10 recounts the regions to which they had scattered. Genesis 11 gives us the reason, a kind of flash back. The descendants of Noah, numbering probably in the thousands or tens of thousands, found an inviting plain in what is today central or southern Iraq (the exact location of the Plain of Shinar is not known for sure). They shared a common language, settled on the plain, began building a city, and decided to build a “tower that reaches to the heavens” not to honor God, but “that we may make a name for ourselves.”

Lacking stone, they made bricks and used bitumen (a thick tar-like substance in the ground) for mortar. We’re not sure about the specific purpose of the tower. Perhaps it would be for idol worship, or perhaps it would be merely a monument to symbolize mankind's domination and pride of life. Whatever the specific purposes, the overall symbolism of the tower would be “that we may make a name for ourselves.”

God acted so that they would not inflate their own egos, but once more rely on Him, the one who had preserved their forefathers during the flood. And suddenly, various families couldn't understand each other. They stopped building the city and the tower and moved off to various parts of the earth and thus be able to fulfill God's command to Noah's descendants to “be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth” (Genesis 9:7). God took direct action to stop their attempt to build a monument to themselves and once more to humbly honor and rely on Him. And the place they had started building their tower and city was called “Babel,” which sounds like the Hebrew word for “confused.”

It is interesting that there is a tradition that the plain of Shinar was where the city of Babylon grew, but there are no ruins of any brick and bitumen structure there. Today, there is some speculation that Babel was the ancient city of Eridu, where there are the ruins of a huge ancient foundation made of brick with bitumen (tar) mortar. Eridu was just a few miles from Ur, the birthplace of Abraham, a descendant of one of Noah's sons, Shem.

David (2 Samuel 11 & 12)

The very familiar story of David and Bathsheba is found in 2 Samuel 11. It was his pride of his position as king that led David to believe he could do just about anything he wanted. We know the story. He sent for Bathsheba, fell in love with her, arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, and brought her into his house as his queen.

It was his pride and arrogance, not any need or void in his life, that led David to satisfy his lust. God had made him king over all Israel; he had land, palaces, servants, the best food, the best wine, and hundreds of wives. Yet he was filled with pride in himself, and when that takes place, there is always the desire for more.

You remember the story in 2 Samuel 12. Nathan, a prophet of God, came to David and accused him of the sin. David repented and once more became the strong leader God meant him to be. And once more we are reminded of Proverbs 3:24: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

Herod (Acts 12)

On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:21-23)

Here is another instance of pride and wanting to be God-like and perhaps the extreme example in the Bible of Proverbs 16:18: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14)

Our final example is in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Notice the words of Jesus in verse 14: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”


Pride isn't always blatant; it can be subtle. Pride is the enlargement of self and diminishing of God. Humility is just the opposite. It does not mean, however, denying the sense of self-worth or accomplishment. It means keeping God in His proper place in our thinking: our creator, our sustainer, our source of accomplishment.

Note that Peter, in verse 6, qualifies how we should regard humility: under God's mighty hand. Humility is not denying self. Humility is affirming God. In the letter of 1 Peter, our Lord calls us to be honest with ourselves about our need for God and His Spirit in us, and to trust in God's mercy and grace, not our abilities and achievements.

Note: While I usually teach from the New King James Version [NKJV], I am teaching from the New International Version [NIV] in this study in the book of 1 Peter because the NIV so accurately renders the thought of the original text. Regardless of the English translation used, I also the Greek New Testament. For those not acquainted in the biblical languages, a Greek-English interlinear Bible and Hebrew-English interlinear Bible can be of great assistance. Many of the interlinear Bibles also include Strong's numbering and Greek and Hebrew dictionaries keyed to Strong's for concise definitions. The most useful study Bible I have found is the MacArthur Study Bible, which is available in the New King James Version and the New American Standard [NASB] translation. The notations in the MacArthur Study Bible are accurate in reflecting the literal meaning of the texts and provide the backgrounds for the basic evangelical Christian doctrines. Another helpful Bible for English readers is the Hebrew Greek Key Study Bible, which is an NIV translation with numbering keyed to a Hebrew dictionary and Greek dictionary in the back of the book.)

1 comment:

T.Rob said...

Great thoughts - thanks for sharing your sermons online!