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. Be sober-minded; be watchful. 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. 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.
1 Peter 5:6–11
It’s a Monday morning, and you have taken many steps to get yourself to your office, to get your kids through the carpool line, or to be motivated to get some work done at home. Ready for your week, you see the first human being that you will see that week, and you hear “the question:” “How are you?” The question is a simple enough question, and one that has a plethora of socially acceptable responses: “fine,” “good,” if you are feeling very chipper “splendid,” and if things are really abysmal “ok.” For the most part, the interaction is supposed to be a warm and polite greeting and an acknowledgment that even though humans are in a place together, we all show up differently. But, in this everyday example, I feel the tension of our inability as humans to share when things are hard. Whatever you want to call them, sufferings, problems, or trials, we all have them. Our surface-level response to them reveals that we don’t just have a hard time as we walk through them but also as we try to reflect on them and relate to others about our problems.
If we want to continue to remember God’s story of rescue of the Israelites at the Red Sea and how He moved them from fear to freedom, and if we are to understand what happens next in the narrative after the Israelites move out of Egypt on the journey to the promised land, then taking a look at our own views of trials in life will be necessary. Humility is the thrust of this passage, as that is the command Peter uses, and his phrase “under the mighty hand of God” is probably referring to the Exodus event, connecting the believers to whom he was writing to the sovereignty of God to save us His people. But before the sentence is even over, Peter not only points to the sovereignty of God, but he also then reminds us of God’s care for us. We can cast our anxieties on Jesus because He cares to hear them. God doesn’t just place us on roads of suffering, but He sends us there that we may learn to walk with Him on the road of suffering.
Then Peter talks about the lion, the devil, who is prowling around, trying to devour us. If the devil is principally the liar, the one who deceives, then the lion’s teeth and claws are the lies we believe about suffering. I think a common lie is “I must have done something wrong in my life to deserve this trial.” Now this one is a bit complicated, because all our choices do result in consequences, but the root of the lie is not really about us knowing whose fault the suffering is. The result of this lie is not clarity about the cause of suffering, but rather isolation from God and others. We think that because we have done something to cause this situation to be, we can’t ask God and others for help.
Another common attack of the lion is “suffering isn’t even supposed to be a part of life, so I am just going to shape my mind and life so as to eliminate suffering from it.” In our quest for greatness, as modern men and women we have decided that we can overcome suffering by avoiding it at all costs and labeling the suffering as part of some antiquated system of thinking that can be taken down through new ways of thinking and avoidance. The lie here is that suffering can be avoided if we think harder, organize our lives better, or just say no to anything that brings us pain. The lion devours us here in that he robs us of living life under God’s control, and it just doesn’t work.
The truth that Peter is encouraging us to remember is that as Christians we are called to be united in our sufferings, knowing that in comparison to an eternity spent with Jesus these sufferings are “for a little while.” As God makes all things right, He will ultimately “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us.” Restore means to make things that are wrong right or to make things right. Confirm refers to making real that which we have believed all along. Strengthen here is about preparing us for something greater. And establish is what God does when He places us in His Kingdom that reigns forever.
There is an extremely rare verb that Peter uses in 1 Peter 5:5 that sets up this passage. Peter is using some Greek grammar rules to modify a verb so that this version of it only occurs in one place in the New Testament. He is trying to describe how it is we are supposed to humble ourselves, and in English, we translate it “clothe yourselves.” I think Peter is creating a unique verb, because he is remembering a unique experience with a unique person, and he must find a unique way of referring to it. Peter saw humility being clothed when Christ took off His robes with which He would wash the feet of the disciples. Peter saw humility being clothed when Christ had His clothes being divided amongst the Roman soldiers as He hung nearly naked on a cross. So our humility is not merely a moral perseverance, but it is remembering our Savior who not only showed us what humility looked like but took off His own righteousness so that we may be able to wear it. That’s humility and one that can’t be merely performed but must be received as we clothe ourselves in Christ.
Remembering our stories of how God has brought us from a place of fear to a place of freedom allows us to exchange our view of sufferings as something to be escaped from into something that God can use to strengthen our faith and to meet us in. It reminds us of our salvation, and it encourages us to remember that the final rescue is coming when He will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us forever. I think we are supposed to share our sufferings with God and with God’s people. It gives us a chance to return to true thinking about suffering and allows God’s grace to minister to us when we need it most. May God use our sufferings for His greater purposes in our own lives and in the places He sends us to.