THE UPSIDE OF DOWN

Can any good thing come out of times of disappointment, pain, suffering, misunderstanding and defeat? It all depends on how we respond to those moments. Peter, the fisherman who had followed Jesus, now in his later years is writing to believers who were suffering under persecution. He is writing to encourage them regarding the nature of the true grace of God.

With the help of Silas, whom I regard as a faithful brother, I have written to you briefly, encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand fast in it.[i]

In his final appeal, Peter is exhorting the believers to ‘stand fast in the grace of God,’ by giving them both commands and promises that if acted upon will help them become stronger in the grace that God gives to them. What is true for them is equally true for us. Faith will be tested. Peter has been explaining to his readers that the key to victory is following in the footsteps of Jesus who both submitted and humbled himself entrusting himself to His father in heaven. Self-reliance which a manifestation of pride will lead to being humbled and defeated in our spiritual journey. Peter knew that from experience.

Here we find in the final chapter, two significant commands with their ensuing promises of victory over the darkness, suffering and persecution that they were experiencing, are explained. What we are about to see is the true nature of Christian opposition.

Christians are thus involved in more than just a conflict between competing lifestyles or cultural understandings. They are involved in the final battle between good and evil, between God and the ultimate power of evil. It is for this reason that their remaining faithful to the Christian calling is invested with such great importance by the author.[ii]

Peter is going to point out certain elements that both his first century readers and modern believers need to embrace in order to victoriously win the battle of faith when it is tested.

THE FIRST ELEMENT THAT CAUSES US TO TRIUMPH IN THE TEST OF OUR FAITH IS TO WALK IN HUMILITY

The metaphor of walking is a posture of how to live life. To grow spiritually, humility is critical. Humility is simply a deep reliance upon God rather than oneself (cf. Prov. 3:5-7).                                

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’

Humble yourselves, therefore under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.[iii]

What we need to notice here are the attitudes that we need to develop in our lives.

A. The first one is submission.

Submission is the response of a humble attitude. Peter spends a considerable amount of time explaining and applying this vital attitude into our hearts. Beginning in chapter two, he calls us to submit to those who are in earthly authority over us. Employees are to submit to their employers in what is right to do. Wives were challenged to submit to their husbands. The husbands were to submit to their wives by being considerate to them. Believers are to submit to one another. Elders or spiritual leaders are to submit to the Word of God and the Lord himself. Now we read in verse 5, that the younger are to submit to the older. It is interesting that the word for older and elder is the same word in the Greek language. The only way that you can tell which meaning to use is based on the context. Seeing that the previous verses are speaking about elders in the local church setting, it would seem that these verses should be talking about submission to those in spiritual leadership. Some might ask why only the young men are mentioned. One suggestion forwarded by one writer was that young men probably struggle with this concept of submission more than others. However, we are all to clothe ourselves with humility. I wonder if Peter saw a picture of Jesus in his mind at that moment washing his feet. Why this attitude of submission and humility? “…because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (I Peter 5:5).” When we exhibit pride, God Himself opposes us. Therefore, the enemy of our souls would endeavour to entice us to be proud, so that we will be fighting God’s purposes for our lives. We will get back to that thought later. Paul Achtemeier points out a caution, or the balance, regarding taking submission to an extreme, while also showing the value of following Jesus in our behavior in this great spiritual conflict that we are currently engaged in.

Subordination [submission] of any kind therefore has as its limit faithfulness to God; where subordination is asked that weakens that faith, Christians are to resist, and are able to resist, because God in the end will rescue them. The struggle of this culturally and economically insignificant community of followers of Christ is thus invested with more than simply cultural or social consequences. It is a matter of the final fate of the universe itself, since the one the community follows is none other than the creator and sustainer of the universe who will in the end see to the triumph of the divine will.[iv]

So, though we are called upon to submit, there is a limit to that submission in that it must be following God’s will and purposes. What we can ultimately be assured of is that when we follow God’s will and purposes that these will prevail.

B. Secondly, we are admonished to humble ourselves.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time (1 Peter 5:6).” Submission is an aspect of humility. We are not demanding our own way. But how do we humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand? The primary way of humbling is by our submission to God’s Word. “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2).” Thomas Schreiner points out that here in the context of 1 Peter 5, that:

The humbling enjoined probably means that they are to accept the suffering God has ordained as his will instead of resisting and chafing against his will while suffering. They should realize that the purification of God’s house has begun (1 Peter 4:17). When Peter said they are to humble themselves under God’s ‘mighty hand’, he used an expression that is associated particularly with God’s delivering Israel out of Egypt. Just as the Lord delivered his people from Egypt, so he would vindicate his people in Asia Minor who suffered.[v]

God’s mighty hand then is an expression of His power! When we humble ourselves and submit, while entrusting ourselves to God’s mighty power, He will ultimately raise us up.

British preacher F. B. Meyer (1847-1929) describes the subtle nature of pride that we all battle against until we are free from this devastating sin of rebellion against God.

Pride is one of the most detestable sins; yet does it find lodgment in earnest souls, though we often speak of it by some lighter name. We call it independence, self-reliance. We do not always discern it in the hurt feeling, which retires into itself, and nurses its sorrows in a sulk. We do not realise how much it has to do with our withdrawing from positions where we feel ourselves outshone by someone who excels us, and with whom we do not care to enter into comparison with the certainty of being second best. …St. Augustine says truly, that which first overcame man is the last thing he overcomes.[vi]

Augustine was speaking there of the sin of pride.

C. Pride is resisted by God.

‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’- 1 Peter 5:5.

One of the greatest strategies that the devil employs is to get us fighting God. Some have said that the devil has no power over the believer. That is absolutely right! It seems almost unbelievable because of the many struggles and defeats in our lives. Yet, the devil has no authority in our lives.  God is watching over us. So that raises a question: How does he win so many victories in our lives? He is a liar and a deceiver. He works at manoeuvring and getting us into a position where we are fighting God. And friends, God doesn’t lose those battles. How did Satan defeat Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden? He deceived Eve and Eve persuaded Adam to disobey and to disregard what God had said. They actually questioned God’s word. In reality, they did something even worse; they questioned God’s love towards them. When the serpent said that God was keeping back something of real value to man, he was challenging the goodness of God. Being persuaded, Eve believed him because she allowed the power of sin, in this case covetousness, to overcome her.

God is always consistent with His character and is always against sin. He therefore brought judgment on sin. In this case, God banished Adam and Eve from His presence. He banished them from the garden. God banished them from the place of blessing. However, God in His mercy provided a covering, a sacrifice so that the sin issue could be addressed. God addresses our pride by humbling us.

D. God lifts the humble, so we should cast our anxiety on him.

One of the pressures a person feels is that if they submit, or humble themselves they will be taken advantage of. Here we are told how to address that anxiety or fear. We are to cast our cares upon God. Here, Peter the fisherman uses the analogy of casting. Fishing nets are weighted down in order to sink, so that fish swim into them. It is interesting how anxiety weighs us down, but now we are to take such cares or weights and allow them to be apprehended by giving them to God because God promises to care for those who are humble. As we cast our nets of cares/anxiety, we catch God’s care for us. R. C. Sproul shares something very insightful about the age in which we are living. He shares how Martin Heidegger, a twentieth century philosopher, in analyzing the human condition, talked about

“having the feeling of being thrown chaotically into whatever state one finds themselves in, and the singular emotion that we experience is the kind of care that weighs us down and drives us to despair. He understood that people carry a burden of quiet desperation, and this care and concern is part of our human predicament and not easily overcome. God says that we are to take all such care and throw it to Him, because He is the God who cares.[vii]

God cares for us! Once we really believe that and trust that to be true, we begin to act on that truth and find rest in His amazing love and provision for our lives.

THE SECOND ELEMENT THAT CAUSES US TO TRIUMPH IN THE TEST OF OUR FAITH IS TO RESIST SATAN

As we are submitting to God we are in reality resisting the temptation to walk in pride and self-reliance which always leads to defeat. In essence, we are resisting one of Satan’s traps for our lives. So what are the things we need to be aware of in order to resist Satan?

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

And the God of all grace, who called you to this eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.[viii]

A. Be self-controlled and sober minded.

Someone has defined “self-control as the capacity to break a chocolate bar into four pieces with your bare hands – and then eat just one of the pieces.”[ix] We might smile at this definition, but self-control is a result of the Holy Spirit empowering us to say no to our sinful nature that at times wages war with our new spiritual nature.

“Ralph Connor was a Presbyterian minister who had worked among the lumberjacks and miners of Alberta, Canada. His novels were based on his interesting experiences with these stalwart men. [He shares a story that teaches us what self-control is not]. As he tells it: Sandy was a big, rugged Scot who took his faith seriously. Being good-natured, he wasn’t quick to reach the boiling point, but when he did, watch out! On one occasion a man hit him with his fist.  Remembering the words of Jesus to ‘turn the other cheek,’

Sandy restrained his anger as he silently presented the other side of his face. His bewildered antagonist hesitated a moment, then hit him again.  This time the offended Scotsman began to pommel his enemy, feeling justified because he had obeyed the Lord’s admonition. Yes, up to a point he had carried out the Saviour’s command, but he had completely missed its real implication.[x] 

To be self-controlled and sober minded means that we are seeking God out, by meditating on his word and acting upon what He says in obedience.

A minister was visiting in the home of a young couple. The wife said to him, ‘We’re new Christians, and although I’m saved, I have the background of a worldly life–swearing, carousing, and all those things. As a result, the past keeps coming back, and I’m troubled. Bad thoughts are destroying my peace of mind.’ ‘Let me make a suggestion,’ replied the pastor. ‘When something like that comes to mind, analysis it and recognize its evil source [these are called intruding thoughts, they come from the enemy – they are not your own, that’s what the wicked darts of the enemy are]. Then reject it and with God’s help put it out of your life. Finally, replace it by saturating your mind with His truth!’  She took the advice and learned to control her thoughts. A few months later she testified, ‘I’m now one of the happiest women in this city. By filling my mind with the Scriptures, I’m no longer being defeated by my past.[xi]

Not only does God calls us to be self-controlled but also vigilant. We are to be sober minded or alert, as other translations state. The Apostle Paul states that it is possible to know the tactics of the enemy, thereby being able to avert them. In 2 Corinthians 2:11, he writes; “In order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.” The context for this text is to be unforgiving. Yet, there are many other ways that we can be defeated. Jesus talked in his parable of the Sower and the seed, that ‘the deceitfulness of riches or the cares of this life’ can distract us from allowing God’s word to take root and become fruitful in our lives. So often we are defeated in our relationship with God because we become distract by the non-essentials of life.

B. This battle is not unique to us, but others are also fighting the same battle.

Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.[xii]

One of the great tactics of the enemy is to convince us that we are all alone in this battle.  Whatever you are experiencing today, there are other brothers and sisters in this very room who are also in the same conflict or have experienced it at one point in their life. The good news in that God does not leave us to fight the battles by ourselves. He makes a provision for us. We have allies in the conflict. We are to share one another’s burdens and pray for each other. We can also share our testimony of God’s faithfulness in our trials and how God brought us through and what we learned from those experiences of God’s comfort and grace in our own lives.

C. God will give us His provision in times of spiritual conflict.

We cannot make it by ourselves. We are no match for the enemy. Peter points out that grace is not just about receiving God’s forgiveness, but also His strength to live out the Christian life.

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.[xiii]

Grace is seen in its multifaceted nature. He is the God of all grace. There is grace to keep us in the test of faith. So often in the battles and storms of life when we are drowning, we fail to realize that the grace, the undeserved favour of God awaits us. So often in failure we feel too unworthy to come to our Lord. We fear His reproach, or His condemnation; but as Jesus said, God sent His son into the world, not come to condemn us but to save us.  God knows our frame and wants to rescue us from our bondage. Listen again to that gracious promise from our Lord in the hour of distress.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet he did not sin.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.[xiv]

Listen to the promise. We are encouraged to come with confidence, with boldness. When? In the time of our need! In the time that we need grace. Grace is something we do not deserve, nor can we earn. It is a gift of love from God. If you are waiting until you think you’re worthy enough to receive God’s blessing, the enemy will accommodate you and never let you get there. No, we come when we need help. And some of us need help today!

Jesus truly is our sufficiency. It is our false sense of self-sufficiency that is keeping us from experiencing the power of God in our lives. You may be here today drowning in pain, sin and sorrow, but grab the lifeline of God’s grace and power to resist the devil and find strength to stand.

The story is told of an ocean liner that had encountered a severe storm while crossing the Atlantic. As one of the sailors was tending his duties on deck, he was washed into the sea. Instantly the cry went up, ‘Man overboard!’ One of the crew grabbed a rope, made a loop in one end of it, and threw it over the stern. In a few moments he felt a tug on the lifeline. Peering into the darkness, he shouted to the man in the water, ‘Have you got the rope?’ A faint reply came back, ‘No, but the rope has me!’ The exhausted sailor had slipped the loop over his shoulders and under his arms, realizing he didn’t have enough strength to hold on to it. It wasn’t long until he was rescued by the men on board. The application is clear: the Christian also experiences storms and trials in life. He cannot brave them alone, but with the rope of God’s sufficiency to bear him up, he is safe–even though his faith is weak, and his own efforts are failing.[xv]

Peter is challenging us to walk with a right heart attitude. We are to walk in humility trusting God to work all things for our good. One of the great battles that is being waged is within us; the sin of pride that Satan baits and causes us to resist what God is trying to accomplish in our lives. It is hard to submit in times of suffering. We often resist the very thing that God is trying to accomplish in our lives. Peter is reminding us that grace is there not only for our failures but will help us before we surrender to temptation.

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 

It teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age…[xvi]

We also need to understand that God allows moments of suffering. “…after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you… (1 Pet. 5:10).” We need to have renewed confidence in His power and ability to keep us in the hour of temptation. He has the power to do it. For as Peter has already told the readers. “Who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:5).” As we trust God in whatever circumstance we find ourselves, that trust acts as a shield against the devices of the enemy. Peter’s final admonition is to stand fast in the grace of God.

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[i]   1 Peter 5:12, The New International Version of the New Testament, 2011.

[ii]   Paul J. Achtemeier, A Commentary on 1 Peter, Hermeneia-A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible, (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1996), 337-38.

[iii] 1 Peter 5:5-7.

[iv]  Paul J. Achtemeier, A Commentary on 1 Peter, 338.

[v]   Thomas Schreiner, I, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, vol. 37, (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2003), 239.

[vi] F. B. Meyer, Tried By Fire: Exposition of the First Epistle of Peter, (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 165.

[vii] R. C. Sproul, 1-2 Peter: An Expositional Commentary, (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2019), 163.

[viii] 1 Peter 5:8-11.

[ix] Michael Green, Illustrations for Biblical Preaching, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Baker Book House, 1989), 325.

[x]   Infosearch, Self-Control, #1503.

[xi] Infosearch, Self-Control, #748.

[xii] 1 Peter 5:9.

[xiii] 1 Peter 5:10.

[xiv] Hebrews 4:14-16.

[xv] Infosearch, God’s Grace, #1939.

[xvi] Titus 2:11-12.

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