1 Peter 5:1-14 - The Humbling Life of a Sheep
December 15, 2013 Speaker: Series: 1 Peter
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: 1 Peter 5:1–5:14
[Text: 1 Peter 5:1-14] “The Humbling Life of a Sheep”
A shepherd has sheep. And sheep are, as I understand them, needy creatures. So when our God calls our Savior, Jesus, a Shepherd, what does that say about us?
[Pray – Father, here in Your Word you speak to us, teaching us truth, helping us see Your faithfulness, and calling us to respond with active, humble faith. Do all that in us today through the power of Your Holy Spirit. We ask that as those who belong to Jesus. Amen.]
[Read 1 Peter 5:1-14]
My Granny can’t do the things she used to do. She can’t get her words out. She knows what she wants to say but something gets lost between her mind and her mouth. She can laugh about it a little but it can also be deeply frustrating.
Granny forgot how to drive. Granny forgot how to use to microwave. Granny is forgetting how to use a fork. So, my mom takes care of her. Doctors and bills, meals and messes, my mom takes care of Granny because there are things she can’t handle on her own anymore.
I’m sure it’s a humbling thing for Granny to be taken care of like that. I mean, she raised five kids; she used to make a mind-blowing shrimp etouffee’; she was always the last to eat at family meals because she took care of everyone else. But that’s what she needs during this difficult time; she needs someone to take care of her.
Nothing shows us our need to be taken care of like old age or infancy. The neediness of Carter and Mason and Leah and Yuliya and Mary Bowser and my Granny shouts, “Take care of me because I can’t take care of myself.” But there are seasons between infancy and the infirmity of age that we understand our neediness better than others. There are times when our own hearts cry out with the young and the old saying, “Help! Please, someone, take care of me because this is all too much.”
It’s not that we are truly self-sufficient sometimes and need someone to take care of us at other times. What I’m suggesting is that seasons of suffering and difficulty simply reveal to us that which is always true. What I’m suggesting is that the rest of the time we tend to believe a lie – the Lie that is (nearly) as old as humanity itself – the lie that says we can stand firmly on our own.
In the Garden of Eden, God took care of our first parents. But then things went terribly wrong. In Genesis 3 we read, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’” The woman answered pretty well – not perfectly, but pretty well. She pointed to the one tree God said not to eat from and she understood; eating from that one tree meant death. But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
“You will be like God,” the serpent said. You’ll know good and you’ll know evil. You’ll be self-sufficient in your spiritual life and in every other way. That’s what the dark power (represented by the serpent) promised to humanity; self-sufficiency. And the man and the woman both chose to believe the lie instead of God. Instead of trusting the God who had made them and taken care of them perfectly, instead of knowing good and evil because they saw the goodness of God so clearly, they went down the road of trusting themselves and knowing evil firsthand because it lived in their very own hearts.
That’s the road we’ve all walked at one time, trying to live an independent life on our own terms instead of in obedience to the God who made us and takes care of us. And living that way is doubly easy for us as Post-Enlightenment, Western thinkers living in “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” We’re raised on independence, taught that pride and self-sufficiency are excellent qualities. But such a love is a sign of the rebellious heart that has laid in the breast of every human since the Fall, leading us away from a loving God and into self-centeredness in our relationships, in our vocations, and in our worship. And although glimpses of grace are seen when we put others before ourselves – even so – the words of the prophet Isaiah remain true; “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way….” (Isaiah 53:6)
Such pride was, as today, a prized quality in the Roman culture in which these early Christians lived. To be humble and in need of help; to need someone to take care of you was beyond weak. It was pitiful, shameful, offensive. But Peter urges these Christians (and urges us) to hear the truth and respond to it with humble belief. The truth confronts us with our selfish desire for independence from God, confronts us with the wrongness of all the ways we’ve run away from Him and tried to replace Him with other things more suited to our desires. The truth of the Gospel shows us how needy we are in our sin and weakness. The Gospel tells us that we need someone powerful and good to take care of us because all of life – our sin and our sufferings – all of life is too much for us. We can’t deal with any of it.
But the Gospel goes on to tell us of the God who takes care of His people at all times – dealing with their sin through his own sufferings in Christ, caring for us in suffering and trials, guarding us from our enemies – God takes care of us at all times with the promise that he will keep doing so from now through the eternal age to come. That’s the Gospel. It’s the announcement that we have a Shepherd who goes after his sheep, leading us back to himself, forgiving our wanderings through the death of Jesus, and taking care of us because we can’t take care of ourselves.
That’s good news for suffering people. That’s good news for sinners like me who can’t do anything about my own wandering, selfish heart. But it does humble us. And that is a good thing since Peter says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (5:5)
What we’re talking about today is the truth that enables us to stand firm in every circumstance. It’s not a truth about our inherent goodness (because we don’t have any). It’s not a truth about religion making us strong if we just do such-and-such (because enough of that fills the self-help aisles of Barnes and Nobles and crushes us when we don’t live up to it). It’s the truth of grace and peace coming to us by the mighty workings of God in this world. And it’s the only truth to stand on.
Listen again to Peter’s final greetings to hear his heart. He sent this letter to the “elect exiles” (1:1) by the hand of Silvanus (elsewhere called “Silas”), who was connected with other apostles (like Paul) and counted as faithful. But listen to how Peter summarizes what he’s written in this letter. “(T)his is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” Everything he’s written is meant to encourage these Christians and strengthen them to stand firm in the face of tremendous suffering. And with what he’s encouraged and declared, he himself has to embrace because he is writing from Rome itself, which he calls “Babylon.” Rome was the center of opposition to the Gospel of Jesus, just as Babylon of old represented humanity’s opposition to the God who made all things. Peter is writing confidently even from such a place that the grace of God is more powerful than all the powers of this world that come against the people of God. And not only does the grace of God find his people, but so does his “peace” (v.14) come to us through Christ.
What a final word to Christians – peace. It speaks to every need we have being met in Jesus – our rebellious hearts being subdued by his loving sacrifice and constant care; it speaks of quiet hope in the midst of a raging storm because of the promises of a God who cares. If we’re talking about the problem of our need, then peace with God and peace from God is the answer. And Christians have that peace because of Jesus.
That’s really the point that Peter has been driving home the whole time in this letter. God takes care of His people and that reality is won for them by Jesus.
Looking back to chapter 1, Peter writes blessing God as the One who had mercy on us saying, “he…caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (1:3) And even though we had nothing to show for our self-sufficiency but guilt and death apart from God, through Jesus we are promised an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed…” (1:4-5)
It shouldn’t be lost on us that Peter wrote those words to suffering Christians whose circumstances said they were unloved, un-cared for, and unprotected in this world. But Peter says, “this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.” You, Christians, have a God who is taking care of you and he does that because Jesus died and rose again. You are simply called to continue believing that truth and going back to it when you wander or when you’re afraid. We’re supposed to go back to our hope in Jesus; that in him we have forgiveness and in him we have been born again as children in the family of God (1:14). In Christ we are “living stones being built up as a spiritual house” for God himself to live within (2:5). In Christ we have become “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for (God’s) own possession…God’s people.” (2:9-10)
Such belief that we are helpless apart from Christ but perfectly secure in Christ is humbling because it strikes at our desire for self-sufficiency. But a humble people – wholly depending on God – is exactly what our God desires. In 5:6 it’s the fundamental response of faith; “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”
The “mighty hand of God” calls to mind images of the Exodus, when God came and rescued His helpless people out of slavery in Egypt. That work of redemption became the pattern Christ followed and in it God showed His faithfulness to keep the promises He’d made to Abraham. He showed that His people could trust Him to take care of them. And so from that moment on, Israel was always supposed to function from a place of trust. When enemies threatened their borders, roaring threats against them, the people of God in the Old Testament were supposed to turn back to their faithful God and trust Him to fight for them, which He often did by raising up champions for them like the judges or King David.
So with the better, fuller redemption we see accomplished by Jesus, the Church is supposed to always function from a place of trust in the Lord. That’s what Peter is getting at in vv.8-9. “Be sober-minded; be watchful,” Peter says. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
Two things here. First, see the call to continued trust in the Lord in the face of an overwhelmingly strong enemy? We’re being called to the same faith the people of God have always needed to exhibit. We aren’t strong enough to defend ourselves against such an enemy. We can’t stand against him if we’re functioning from a place of self-sufficiency. But we can stand firm and resist when we come back to the truth of a God who protects us in Christ and takes care of us even when our circumstances tell us He isn’t. He’s protecting us from the very same enemy who deceived our first parents in the garden.
The second thing to note there is how normal it is for Christians to have to endure such suffering. Your brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are enduring the same trials as you. It might look different for them – there are degrees of suffering – but it is the same in essence. They suffer because they reject sinful self-sufficiency and would cling to Christ. Indeed, every Christian is experiencing this and will experience this kind of suffering because we are each called by God to follow the pattern of Christ’s own life; suffering, then glory. But knowing that you aren’t suffering alone is a powerful encouragement. Jesus suffered and had to entrust himself to a faithful God (2:23). Your brothers and sisters each have to do the same, which is a comforting thought, somehow. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said that the two most comforting words a human can say to another are ”Me, too.” You aren’t alone in your sufferings. Your brothers and sisters are with you. Christ himself is with you.
All of this together makes Peter’s exhortation in vv.6-7 make more sense. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you….” Peter keeps the promise in front of us that things won’t always be this way. Christ’s sufferings gave way to glory and so will yours because you are in him. But then Peter goes on to tell us what it looks like to humble ourselves until that time. It’s not merely an attitude shift (although it is an attitude) – it is an attitude that is lived out in action. “Humble yourselves…, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
“(C)asting” there means “hurling or throwing something upon something else. It’s the image of bundling up all the things that make us anxious and throwing them on to the shoulders of our God, trusting Him to carry them for us.
But one caveat: this isn’t the same as “Let go and let God.” That phrase can imply a passivity on our part that isn’t known in the Scriptures. No, at the end of chapter four Peter wrote, “…let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good.” (emphasis mine). So, we are called to faithfully live and work in all our endeavors while ultimately trusting the results to God. That makes “casting all (our) anxieties on him” a call to reject our desire for self-sufficiency and confess our need for God to take care of us. It’s faith in action, rooted in the hope that He really does care for us.
So, what are the things that cause your heart to become anxious? What do you lie awake thinking about? What are you trying to get or achieve? What are you terrified of losing? What situation makes you feel like you’re drowning right now? Throw it on the shoulders of your faithful God who cares for you. Work. Do all the good that is within your power. But then trust. God makes no guarantees that it will turn out how you want. But you can trust Him to work it for your good and for your salvation. That’s His promise to those who are in Christ.
Now, it’s entirely possible that all this talk about God taking care of His people against a supernatural enemy and a world-wide brotherhood of believers and a Savior, Jesus, whom we’ve never seen ourselves – it’s entirely possible that all this sounds incredibly mystical. It might sound like it is so spiritual that we who are made of flesh and blood can only hope that it is true (and by “hope” I mean “Boy, I really hope it’s true but I’m not sure").
But God’s care for His people, while absolutely spiritual and supernatural, breaks into this world of flesh and blood. Of course, He first broke in to take care of us when Jesus took on flesh and blood in the Incarnation (which is what this time of year is all about). But in this passage we see another flesh and blood means through which God takes care of His people. He takes care of His people through the elders He gives as shepherds for His people.
For those who haven’t grown up in a church with elders (and even for some who have if the elders functioned as a corporate board), the idea of God taking care of us through another human being can be strange, even offensive. But here it is; God takes care of His needy people – loving, leading, teaching, correcting, and disciplining – through other (also needy) people.
At our Session meeting yesterday morning – where the elders of Grace came together to talk and pray – we talked about Peter’s words to his “fellow elders.” I say that to let you know that we’re trying to take these words seriously and to do them. We readily confess our weakness. But I want you to know what we want to do, what God calls us to do.
So, let’s consider a few of the things Peter says. First, he says, “(S)hepherd the flock of God that is among you….” Note that he never says, “Shepherd your flock” because the people of God belong to God alone. As we heard in Ezekiel 34 and John 10, we are His sheep. In v. 4, Peter makes reference to the “chief Shepherd,” referring to Jesus, of course, as a way to underscore the reality that elders are under-shepherds to the Great Shepherd of the sheep. That means we never get to lead the flock of God according to our own thoughts and desires. We are stewards, accountable to the Lord himself for how we care for His sheep. And that constantly drives me to repentance because I know I don’t love and care for his sheep as much as he does.
But still, an elder is called to the action of shepherding. He is a shepherd and shepherds shepherd. So, what does that mean? Well, there’s a lot to it that we could talk about. The Scriptures talk about this throughout the Old and New Testament (with both positive and negative examples). But Peter addresses a few aspects that help us understand what shepherding is all about.
Shepherds “exercise oversight.” Of course, God would have His under-shepherds serve willingly and not as if it was an imposition. But still, elders are to “exercise oversight” over the flock. And that happens in a number of ways. There’s oversight over doctrine and teaching, so that no errors creep in that do harm to the flock or lead them away from humble reliance on God and on Christ. There’s also oversight over the very souls of the flock so that when a sheep strays, they are lovingly and gently (but more and more firmly in the face of resistance) called to repent of attempts at self-sufficiency. The goal of such discipline is always the restoration of a wandering sheep. But that “oversight” is a part of the work of an elder.
Second, there are situations where an elder could exploit his position for wealth (“shameful gain”). But money isn’t the only kind of gain tempting elders. The praise of men is as powerful a pull for some. But that is not becoming an under-shepherd of Jesus – Jesus who willingly died for his sheep. No, earnest, eager service is fitting for shepherds. Pray for us that we would serve you and God that way.
Finally, an elder should never domineer over the flock of God, asserting himself as superior over them. Rather, an elder should be an example to the flock (v.3). There are echoes here of Jesus washing the disciples feet in John 13 and his words about the greatest in the Kingdom being the one who serves. And this is where we spent most of our conversation yesterday morning. What does it mean to be an example to the flock? How is God taking care of His people through the elders in that? In what way is an elder’s example helping to lead the people of God in the way they should go?
It comes back around to this issue of trusting the God who promises to take care of his people. We’re back to faith in Jesus, the Son of God, and enduring whatever the Lord has for us while entrusting ourselves to him.
We see it in the word itself; “example.” It means “a tracing of a pattern.” Jesus’ trust in the faithfulness of God is the pattern for every believer. That’s what Peter said in 2:21; “For to this [enduring unjust suffering] you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.” The word for example in that verse is different from the word for example used of elders. Jesus is the pattern. Elders are the tracing. And while our tracing may be faulty, you can follow it inasmuch as it looks like Jesus.
We’ll be the first to tell you that there is a lot in us that shouldn’t be imitated. But if you see Kurt and Dick and Ken and Jonathan repenting and believing the Gospel; if you see your elders trusting God in the face of suffering and trials; if you hear them confess a need for God to take care of them because they can’t take care of themselves, then you can know for certain that such faith is an example worth imitating because it is exactly what the Lord wants in his sheep. Such faith is pleasing to him in shepherd and sheep alike.
So, step into this. In all of this there is a call to persevere in faith. It humbles us, absolutely. That’s why Peter writes in v.5 to urge younger believers to be subject to the elders. There’s nothing like the pride of youth – the pride of self-sufficiency and knowing everything – to lead someone astray. It’s evident in youth but it really exists in all of us, which is why Peter says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” When we humbly confess our need and our trust in God to take care of us through Jesus, our Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20), we are doing exactly what God wants us to do. He will take care of you, even using flawed elders to do it. Trust him.
But, thankfully, “the call to perseverance is matched by the doctrine of preservation.” Look at v.10-11. In spite of the devil and in spite of our own weakness we have this hope: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” God calls us and his callings are “irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). Soon and very soon the God who rescued you through Jesus will restore to you what has been lost, confirm you and make you stand confidently in His presence, strengthen your weakness and establish you firmly in Himself. He made you. He chose you and caused you to be born again through the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. And He will carry you to Himself in the end like a Shepherd carries his lambs.
[Pray – Father, we thank you for this Word and ask that you forgive us for wanting to be self-sufficient from you. From your Word we hear that isn’t the way it is supposed to be. And thank you that through Jesus we have been born again to a living hope in which you do take care of us. Lord, help us to joyfully humble ourselves before you and humble ourselves toward one another, elder and flock alike. That is hard for us, Father, because we really want to fix ourselves. So, help us to trust you and throw everything on to you, believing you at your Word that you care for us. In the name of Jesus, our Savior and Shepherd, we pray. Amen.]
[Benediction, from 1 Peter 5:10-11]
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
 New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 1384.
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