Now that Peter had established what it meant to be an elder, to teach and shepherd among the believers, Peter turned to the younger leaders before talking about the importance of humility—another topic Apostle Paul also regularly wrote about.
In the Same Way
In the same way, you who are younger be willingly cooperative [hupotasso] with the elders.1 Peter 5:5 (my translation)
In what way? In the way Peter had just described,
- As a shepherd under the Chief Shepherd, tending the flock God had placed in their care.
- Being observant as a physician would be.
- Willing and eager, rather than feeling obligated, or trying to make money.
- Serving in the way God would have them do.
- Rather than “lord it over” by considering themselves as authorities over others, act as examples of how to live mature, Spirit-filled lives of faith.
- Looking forward to Christ being revealed in them, in the brethren and sistren, and in Jesus’ return to bring them “crowns of glory.”
A brief overview of English translations render the imperative form of ὑποτάσσω, hupotasso, as “must accept the authority of” or “submit yourselves” or “be subject to.” But remember, this versatile verb had many meanings. When used in a military context, it meant “to arrange [troop divisions] in a military fashion under the command of a leader.” But the apostles were not military men addressing their troops. They were all civilians, citizens in the kingdom of God.
In this way, then, hupotasso means
- To yield to one’s admonition or advice.
- A voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden.
Just as the Lord Jesus had said to his disciples if they were to follow him, then they were to pick up their cross daily and follow, so now Peter told this new generation of disciples that their cooperation was to be voluntary, and their yielding to the teaching and shepherding of the elders was to be willing.
In mutual deference to each other, Peter wrote that all the believers were to
clothe yourselves with humility in your dealings with one another1 Peter 5:5 (NRSV)
The word Peter used for clothe yourself, ἐγκομβόομαι (egkomboomai) refers to a servant putting on an apron before serving a master.
As Peter wrote, his thoughts must have gone back to that last supper together, when Jesus had removed his outer garment, and as they all looked on—with this very kind of humility—had tied the towel of a servant around his waist.
After pouring water into the basin, as they silently watched, Jesus bent down to wash the feet of each of his disciples. Even today, the visceral sense of exposure, of nakedness makes this reading uncomfortable.
In first-century Palestine, and especially for those of Jewish faith, washing feet was not only an important part of everyday hospitality, it held spiritual and cultural significance as well.
- Abraham invited the three august visitors who had unexpectedly arrived at his tents to wash their feet as he summoned a servant to bring a basin. It is possible he recognized them as angels.
- Moses received God’s command that priests must wash their feet every time they were to enter the tabernacle, and later the temple. It was in recognition of the need to be purified, and cleansed from all sin before entering the holy presence of God.
- Servants could refuse to wash another’s feet if an enslaved person of even lower status were available. As one commentator put it, “To wash another’s feet symbolized the subjugation of one person to another. Those who received footwashing from another were social superiors of those who performed the task.”
And perhaps this was a part of what Jesus was seeking to teach the disciples. The full extent of love, of agape, is to treat each other as visitors from heaven, for such we are.
The full extent of love is to recognize that wherever the church stands is holy ground, for there is the very Body of Christ, the presence of the Presence, the embodiment of God the Son. Every believer is a holy place, and believers gathered together are holy. We minister to each other through both honoring each other and humbly serving each other.
God Opposes the Proud
Peter quoted scripture to anchor his teaching in the word of God.
“God opposes the proud,1 Peter 5:5 (NRSV)
but gives grace to the humble.”
This was a well-known proverb found three times in the Hebrew scriptures.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly;Psalm 138:6 (NRSV)
but the haughty he perceives from far away.
Toward the scorners he is scornful,Proverbs 3:34 (NRSV)
but to the humble he shows favor.
A person’s pride will bring humiliation,Proverbs 29:23 (NRSV)
but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor.
Mary sang of this truth in her Magnificat, and later Jesus taught on this proverb when he had finally excoriated the Pharisees, there on the steps of Solomon’s Colonnade. He had delivered seven woes after this proverb, targeting the religious authorities.
- The proud in spirit keep themselves and others out of God’s kingdom because they refuse to admit to their own imperfection and wrongdoing and insist they can achieve faultlessness, or at least enough goodness to obligate God to bring them into heaven. This is what the religious leaders did by teaching their own rules and rejecting Jesus.
- The Pharisees were out to win others to their own system instead of bringing them to the living God. Instead of saving souls, the religious leaders were condemning souls.
- The Pharisees had worked out a religious system where they could back out of their promises if it got too costly for them and still maintain their reputations. Instead of being men of godly integrity, they encouraged evasive language to conceal things.
- The Pharisees had rules for every tiny thing, straining out the gnats, while at the same time forgetting about all the important things, swallowing whole camels of uncleanness. The complaint is not that they failed to take great care with the Scriptures; it is that they missed the point of them. They missed God’s will. Justice, mercy, and faithfulness are the important qualities God is seeking. Obeying rules is no substitute.
- The religious rulers, temple elite, Pharisees, scribes, and teachers of the law were occupied with external obedience, not the essence of true faith. If they kept the outside looking good, they would get praise and honor from other people. They had no consideration for God’s view of their hearts and minds.
- The Pharisees lived for reputation, not character.
- The religious authorities were the heirs of those who had failed to recognize the prophets of old, for they persecuted Jesus and those who followed him.
This key teaching was quoted by James in his letter, and now here, by Peter.
With such a broad foundation, it is clear you and I are to heed the same teaching today, because God does oppose the proud, but gives grace to the humble. It is only as we prove faithful in the little things that God will entrust us with the big things.
Peter expanded on this core teaching by explaining
Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time.1 Peter 5:6 (NRSV)
Of the many worthy sayings throughout the scriptures, this one is worth memorizing. This is how Jesus began his Beatitudes, saying,
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
. . . “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”Jesus in his Beatitudes, Matthew 5:3, 5 (NRSV)
This kind of humility, this meekness, this recognition of need in our spirits, makes you and I teachable, soft-hearted, transparent and vulnerable. We are eager to know our shortcomings, our imperfections and failings, because as soon as we know them, we may repent of them. We are eager for and delight in God’s cleansing and forgiveness.
Such humility does not consider itself better than anyone, or more important. Quite the contrary!
We fully expect to hear God’s voice from every believer, earnestly desiring to be a part of whatever God is doing. We do not worry about failure because we know that all the successes will come from God anyway, and you and I will be able to enjoy them as much as everyone else. We know that if we stumble, God will use even that for God’s glory, and will work out good for us and everyone else who loves the Lord. We enjoy giving our best, because we know God is going to take that and do something supernatural with it.
[Jesus washing the disciples’ feet | By Ditlev Blunck – 1. Museumsberg Flensburg (mit freundlicher Genehmigung © Museumsberg Flensburg)2. Museen Nord / Museumsverband Schleswig-Holstein und Hamburg e. V., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9379068%5D