Sermon Text: 1 Peter 5:5b–7
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé

A Handful of Pebbles

1 Peter 5:5b, the Word of the Lord to us this morning,

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” -1 Peter 5:5–7

Before we get into this text, which is sure to confront all of us in different ways if we let it, I’d like to share some good news with you from pastor Ray Ortlund. I shared this quote with you before, on September 23, 2018, for those keeping track at home, but it’s too good not to bring out again. He says, 

“Here is the good news. We do not come to Christ because we are humble. We come to Christ because we are proud, and he receives us and loves us and helps us in our pride. ‘The fear to the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” but the grace of the Lord is the beginning of the fear of the Lord. Jesus said in his parable of the wedding feast, ‘See, I have prepared my dinner … and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.” -Ray Ortlund

The good news for you and for me, Refuge, is that if we are in Christ, we are going to be a humble people by the time he is done with us, with the work he has started in us. If we are in Christ, we are on our way, inexorably and irreversibly and unfailingly, towards the green pasture of realized, actual humility. Meaning God will not rest in his work in us, his people, until he has finished the project that is us. He is not like us, who start projects and abandon them when they get hard. No, he is a finisher, and we are God’s good workmanship in Christ Jesus.

So even when we come to something like humility—and let’s be honest, we’re all proud people except for like one of us, and that guy is probably the one who thinks he is the most proud—even in something that seems as unachievable as actually becoming humble, Jesus can do it. And Jesus will do it.

And I’m convinced that part of the means he has appointed for this work of bringing us to glory is found in the paragraph before us this morning. So turning to that paragraph from our brother Peter, there are three things we need to do:

1) First, we need to understand what humility actually is, not assuming that we know or that what we think we know is the authentic article and not one of the many counterfeits. So humility, defined. This is where we’ll spend the most time.

2) Second, we need to follow the logic that Peter grounds his call to humility in. By that I mean we should ask Peter, “Why? Why should I be humble?” Because he gives us powerful answers to that question. Here we will see both humility’s warning and reward.

3) Finally, we need to get a glimpse—even if it’s just a glimpse!—of the gloriously green pastures that our Good Shepherd is taking us to by making us a humble, rather than a proud, people. That is, we’ll work to get a glimpse of humility’s fruit.

Counterfeit Humility

So first, let’s define humility. Peter writes, again look at the second half of verse 5,

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…”

-1 Peter 5:5b–6

If that’s true, if God opposing us or giving grace to us is at stake, if humiliation and exaltation are at stake with humility, and if the Lord Jesus would clothe his people in this thing, we should work hard to understand what it actually is.

One of the best ways to figure out what a thing is is to eliminate all the things we know it’s not. So first, let’s knock down some bad ideas about humility that have attempted to sneak into our dictionaries. Three things humility is not:

1. Humility is not a mere feeling. 

This is a lived humility, not a merely felt, humility; a humility that is “…towards one another”—meaning it is a humility that necessarily must come out of our fingertips and mouths and live in our homes and gatherings if it is to be authentic. It cannot be the mere thinking of lowly thoughts in our minds. It has to actually live somewhere in the world.

This shouldn’t surprise us, because what every real fruit of the spirit, every real character trait produced in us by the Holy Spirit, is like this. Can love be an abstract thing that lives in our hearts? Can gentleness be a mere feeling? Can goodness, kindness, self-control, joy, peace, patience—any of the fruits of the Spirit—exist like that, somewhere in the emotional aether? 

No! Now, of course they have to be from the heart if they are to be authentic. Jesus warned us in Luke 18 that there was a Pharisee who fasted and gave tithes, who looked good outwardly, but who went home condemned by God—why? Because he needed a new heart. All of his works were dead works, like plastic imitation fruit, because they were not born out of living faith! He needed new birth, not better works.

But for us, who are in Christ, who by faith have been washed, cleansed, forgiven, raised new, indwelt by the Spirit—living fruit like lived, embodied humility, authentic humility, humility that shows up in houses and neighborhoods and church buildings and work places, the harvest of God’s cultivation, of his living and active Spirit in us—all of that is now possible.

This humility is no mere feeling; it is the growing harvest of God’s Holy Spirit at work in us.

2. Humility is not a pretended incompetence.

Related to that first counterfeit of humility is the counterfeit humility that feigns incompetence, as if the most humble people are the most useless people. 

Let me ask you a question: Who is the most humble man who has ever lived? And another question: Who is the most competent man who has ever lived? 

The answer to both question is the same man: Jesus Christ. Humility is not pretended incompetence. In fact, more often than not, those who loudly pretend that they are incompetent, who cannot receive an encouragement or a compliment without launching into a five-minute soliloquy that they are worm, useless, without gifts or ability, that they suck at everything—what you’re usually hearing is the blustering of pride

Holding up a big, bright neon sign that shouts,“Look at how humble I am! I can’t even take a compliment!”—believe it or not, is not humility, but pride in disguise. Finally, number three…

3. Humility is not the avoidance of glory. 

Would you be surprised if I told you that the Scriptures do not rebuke humans for the seeking of glory? Or that the Scriptures more often than not—as we’ll see in a moment right here in our text—motivate us to kill our pride, not to avoid glory, but actually to attain it?

After that rebuke of the proud, self-exalting Pharisee of Luke 18, Jesus actually promises this: “…everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Humility is not glory-avoidance; it is rather the pursuit of the correct glory—the glory that comes from God and not from man. You were made for glory. You were made to bear the glory, the weighty goodness, of a man at right with God and living for the glory of God.

Do you want glory? Repent and trust Christ. Run hard after the things he’s set before you. Die to the make-believe, small glories of the kingdom of self. Tear down the monuments your pride would build to your own name. Get to work building God’s eternal Kingdom. 

You have no choice but to pursue some glory, live for the sake of some glory—accept no lesser glory than God’s and no path to get there save through the cross and tomb and resurrection.

Authentic Humility

We’re wandering now into the fields of authentic humility. So let’s turn from the counterfeits to the real article and ask: What actually is humility, then? Three marks to see:

1. Humility begins with rightly assessing yourself—who you are, what you’re for, and where you stand in the order of things.

In Romans 12:3, Paul writes,

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

-Romans 12:3

So who are you? What are you? Let’s work it out from Scripture, that is, from the voice of the God who made you and knows what you are, who you are, and what you’re for.

You are a created thing, dependent not only on the God who knit you together in the womb of your mother (Psalm 139:13), but dependent moment to moment on the God who holds all things together (Colossians 1:17).

You have not even one solitary thing that you did not receive (1 Corinthians 4:7)—every good and perfect gift having come down to you from the Father of lights (James 1:17).

1 Peter 3:18 taught us that you were made for God, but that as a fallen sinner (Romans 3:23), you are wholly dependent on the work of Jesus on the cross to forgive you, restore you, and reconcile you to the God for whom you were made.

We could go on, couldn’t we? Humility soberly looks as the self as the self stands in relation to God the Creator, the creation he made, and what he made us to do in that creation. Humility therefore knows itself by believing what God has spoken of us.

This is why the Proverbs teach us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, because once you see yourself humbly, that is, see what you are—a dependent, created thing created for the glory of the Creator—you will fear and respect and tremble at the majesty of God, and so take your first, trembling toddler step towards wisdom.

But that is not all. That’s just the beginning of humility. 

2. Humility isn’t just rightly assessing yourself, it is then giving your rightly-assessed self away.

See, humility can’t merely be rightly assessing yourself. That’s where it starts to be sure! But that’s not where it ends. You can rightly assess yourself and do so in the service of pride and vainglory and folly.

To humble yourself is to live in accord with reality, with a true measure of self, yes, but it is also to live with charity, the giving of the self to others for the sake of others.

The point of knowing yourself rightly isn’t to establish a proper pecking order—making sure you figure out who’s sitting under you on the charts and who above. No, it’s to give yourself away—a warm giving away of self for the sake of others.

At the heart of the gospel, Jesus stands, putting authentic humility into flesh for all to see. In Philippians 2:3–8, Paul puts it like this,

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

-Philippians 2:3–8

Humility is part of what saved us, proud people, from our sin and pride. Jesus didn’t just soberly assess himself, he lowered himself. He didn’t assess his standing and abilities and strength in order to hoard those things, but to pour those things out in love.

So the question for us is simple: What are we clinging to? What are you grasping in clenched fists? What are you trying to protect from others? Your time? Your house? Your money? What do you feel like you would die if you lost? 

Humility says, “That which is most precious to me I will give, because I love you.” Humility says, “I didn’t earn or deserve anything I have, not even my own time and strength.” Humility says, “The strength I have I was given to give away.”

And when we sin and cling and fight God and fall short and feel the snake of pride coiling up and dripping poisons from its fangs in our flesh, humility responds in total dependence upon the grace of God. Number 3,

3. Humility is a life of confident dependence.

Once you see who you are, you realize very quickly that you are a wholly dependent thing, right? Dependent on God for everything from existence to ability to the very next breath. 

And one of the things that pride likes to do with that dependence is to immediately freak out. Pride, paired with a realization of weakness, dependence, and neediness, results in anxiety. I’m not a doctor, and I’m not trying to diagnose clinical anxiety disorders from the pulpit, here, but one of the things that you and I need to know is that there is a kind of chronic anxiety that is a very proud thing. This is why Peter writes as he does in verses 6–7,

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”

-1 Peter 5:6–7

If God has commanded us—and yes, this is a command!—to take all of our worries and anxieties and tremblings and doubts and fears, all the things we stay up late into the night worrying over in our minds, then who are we to treasure up anxieties?

The perpetual and chronic treasuring of anxiety is a proud thing. It is an insistence on self-sufficiency. It implies a trust in our own strength—that if I don’t carry it, nobody can or will. It says to God, “It’s up to me, Lord.”

To which the Lord answers in Matthew 6:27, “…which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” In other words, “Your anxiety is an attempt to do what God alone can do.”

Pride is therefore an anxious thing, humility a confident thing—from the Latin con-fide, “with faith.” True humility lives in confidence, that is, in faith in the promises of God and the God of the promises.

I confess to you that just yesterday, I was feeling paralyzed by this exact thin, by anxieties. I was feeling wounded and slandered by something someone had said about me publicly, something not true, and my heart and mind was just roiling with anger, with fear, with hurt, with sadness—and guess what that was? It was pride.

I know it was pride because rather than immediately casting it on God and putting it in the care and hands of God, my mind wanted to turn it over from every angle and figure out how to get back, what I would say, how to vent, how to get people on my side. 

And what the Lord, the Good Shepherd, brought to my mind in a moment, like an electric shock in my mind, was this very verse that I’m preaching now. Cast your cares on the Lord, because he cares. Don’t be proud and carry it. Give it up.

Are you chronically anxious? Look to Jesus and trust him. Do you have anything to fear if you cast your anxieties on him? Is there something you could do about them that he can’t?

And when you sin, do believe God and cast your sin on him in confession, or do you store it up, worry over it, hide it, justify it? Don’t be proud, friends. Jesus has paid for it. He’s put it away. Go therefore with confidence to the throne of grace to receive mercy and help in your time of need.

So that is the humility that verse 5 commands we put on—Christ-confident, sin-confessing, self-giving humility. And Peter doesn’t stop there. He doesn’t merely tell us to put on humility, but why we need put on humility.

Humility’s Warning & Reward

Specifically, he offers a stunning warning and a fabulous reward; Opposition or grace, humiliation or exaltation are on offer with respect to pride and humility. Look again  at verse 6,

“Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…”

-1 Peter 5:5b–6

For pride, the promise is divine opposition, and for humility, the promise is divine exaltation.

Opposition & Humiliation

Why should I humble myself under God’s hand? Peter answers, “Because it is a mighty hand, and if you rise up against it in pride, that hand will oppose you.”

This is not God being petty; pride is serious, the very root of human sin. See, pride is an attempt at the divine throne in seed form, a cosmic coup d’état inchoate, an attempt at becoming god.

Pride says, “God isn’t God, I am!” And so God, in his love, opposes proud people and does not let them have their way. Yes, God’s opposition of the proud is a part of his love.

How? Because if pride is just the seed form of trying to remove him from his throne and sit their ourselves, and if that attempt will always result in the proud person failing and being destroyed, then love must oppose pride. Love doesn’t let its neighbor destroy himself unopposed.

What I’m saying, what Peter is saying, is that God may be opposing you in your pursuits right now—and that may be an act of the greatest love that you could in this moment receive.

Grace & Exaltation

On the other side, God promises grace and glory for the humble. Again, if we understand the shape of the gospel, we should expect this. A moment ago, we read from Philippians 2:3–8, which described the cosmic humility of Christ. Verses 9–11 end that secant like this:

“Therefore [Because of his great, cross-bearing humility] God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

-Philippians 2:3–8

Pride goeth before the fall, but humility before exaltation. Jesus passed through humiliation to glorious exaltation in order to bring the humiliated to glorious exaltation. I’m not talking about us become little gods—blasphemy! 

I’m saying that the end of our salvation is glorification, which is to say that it is God making us fully what we were made to be: His perfect, immortal image-bearers. The answer to pride is not to seek no glory, but to seek God’s glory, and to be satisfied with no cheap, plastic knockoff in the shape of man’s glory.

Humility’s Fruit

As we come to the end of our time in the Word this morning, let me point out that it is no mistake that this instruction to universal humility in the body of Christ—from the elders on down—comes in the heart of Peter’s instruction in the life of a local church, which he has been giving for the last few chapters. 

Humility is the secret sauce of local church life. Humility is one of the first fruits that grows from the seed of love; it is what love looks like in flesh. And so the kind of authentic humility that is born from authentic love is the thing that will keep us united together, for each other, fighting for each other’s joy and good. 

Paul said that if we could speak in the tongues of men and angels, if we had all the powerful declarations of a prophet, all the knowledge of a scholar, and all the faith of the martyr, but have not love, we are just noise

A similar chapter could be written of humility; without it, how can we love each other? Unless we count each other as more significant than ourselves, how can we give ourselves away in service of one another?

And so here is the glimpse of the green pasture our Good Shepherd is taking us to—a green pasture where we are clothed in humility. Where we have put off a curated image of perfection and put on rather humility. 

Where we have put off prideful self-protection and have put on humility, giving ourselves away for each other. Where we have put off god-pretending anxiety and have put on the peace of humility, living with confident dependence on our Shepherd.

Dirty Pebbles & Clenched Fists

So let me leave you this morning with some golden wisdom from the 1600s. In his book on the Beatitudes, the Puritan Thomas Watson wrote this tremendous paragraph,

“Till we are poor in spirit we are not capable of receiving grace. He who is swollen with an opinion of self-excellency and self-sufficiency, is not fit for Christ. He is full already. If the hand be full of pebbles, it cannot receive gold. The glass is first emptied before you pour in wine. God first empties a man of himself, before he pours in the precious wine of his grace… Till we are poor in spirit, Christ is never precious.” -Thomas Watson, 

Listen: God is not trying to rob you. He doesn’t need to! He lacks nothing, needs nothing, wants nothing you could clench in your fist and hide. 

He’s not trying to rob you, but to help you. Do you understand the magnitude of the gift he is trying to give you? He aims to give you nothing short of himself. Remember 1 Peter 3:18! Our Lord died and rose and rules in order to bring us to God. 

Pride is poison because you are a bad god, because God is a good God, and because you were made for him. Let weak us humble ourselves, therefore, under his mighty hand, that at the proper time he might exalt us in union with Christ.