September 20, 2009

Let Go and Let God (I Peter 5:5-7)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: New Life in the Same Old Place (I Peter) Scripture: 1 Peter 5:5–5:7

New Life in the Same Old Place

Let Go and Let God
I Peter 5:5-7
September 20th, 2009
Way of Grace Church

I. Pondering that Bumper Sticker

Bumper stickers are funny things, aren’t they? They are not as popular as they once were, probably because they started to look funny on the super sculpted plastic bumpers that you find on cars these days. Nowadays, you find most stickers on the back window, right?

Whatever part of the car they’re affixed to, for many people, these stickers are a simple way to make a statement about who they are and what they believe. You may remember the sticker that said, “Visualize World Peace”. That was followed by the satirical version that said, “Visualize Swirled Peas”. My brother even had one on his old VW Van that said, “Visualize World Judgment”.

Some people make political statements, some make religious statements, some indicate what car manufacturer they prefer, some talk about the driver’s honor student child, and some simply mock all of these other kinds of stickers.

But the one I was thinking about this past week was the sticker that says, “Let Go and Let God”. Have you seen that one? I think it began as or at least became a favorite Alcoholics Anonymous slogan.

But I have to admit to you this morning, I’ve never really liked that sticker. I always thought it came across as a hallmark-ish kind of saying used by people who thought the truly spiritual life was some kind of passive, disengaged journey, kind of like putting a plane on auto-pilot; maybe the people who had this bumper sticker on their car were the kind of people who didn’t really want to do the hard things that God might ask them to do, and thus, dismissed their problems by chanting, “Let Go and Let God”.

Now, I know that doesn’t describe everyone who has that sticker on their car. And this morning, I’d actually like to reexamine that saying in light of our main passage this morning, our verses from the letter we call I Peter. Turn with me to I Peter 5:5-7.

II. The Passage: "Clothe Yourselves…with Humility" (5:5-7)

As Peter moves toward the conclusion of his letter, listen to how he encourages, how he instructs, how he exhorts his hearers in light of all that’s come before this in the book…

Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Now, it’s pretty clear to even the most casual reader of this passage that there is a common thread weaving its way through all three of these verses. It’s the thread of humility, isn’t it?

In the first half of verse 5 we see Peter talking about the idea of humility toward the elders. In the second part of verse 5, he is addressing the idea of humility toward other Christians. And in verse 6, he is talking about humility toward God. Do you see that?

Let take a few minutes at look at each of these before we try to think about the passage as a whole.

We first might ask, “What is humility?” Our word humilty comes from the Latin word humilis, meaing ‘low’, which in turn comes from the Latin root humus, meaning ‘ground’ (from which we also get the word “human”). So the roots of our English word paint a picture of someone bowing low to the ground.

The Greek word used three times here in verses 5 and 6, which is some form of the word tapeinos, is a word that also means “low”, or “lowliness of mind”. From Greek writers like Xenophon and Aristotle, we know that the Greeks mostly used this word in a negative, pejorative sense. The weak were tapeinos. Servants and slaves were tapeinos, not people of greatness.But this is what Peter, this is what God calls these Christians to in these verses.

A. Humility toward the Elders (v. 5a)

Look first back at the beginning of verse 5: Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders.

Now while translations like the NIV translate this in reference to the young men or younger people in the church and their relationship to the older people, I think the context argues for a continuation of thought from verses 1-4.

As we talked about last week, verses 1-4 are Peter’s words of exhortation the elders of the church, those leaders that the NT also calls pastors and overseers. These leaders were not always older in a chronological sense, but they were typically older, or more mature, spiritually.

Well the word for “elders” in verse 5 is the same word used in verses 1-4. Also remember that back in 2:13, Peter encouraged his readers to “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…”. This was followed by examples throughout the next few chapters: citizens should submit to the governing authorities, servants should submit to their masters, wives should submit to their husbands, and here, in 5:5, we find that the younger should submit to the elders.

But if the term “elders” here is still referring to the leaders of the church, who are the ones referred to as “you who are younger”? It could simply mean the younger people of the church. But it might also be used in a figurative sense, just like the term elder. This could be a term describing the rest of the congregation spiritually, in terms of their relationship to the elders.

So in light of his challenge to the elders of these churches, Peter is calling the other members of these churches, our specifically the younger ones who are more prone to waywardness and rebellion, Peter calls them to submit themselves in humility to their leaders.

As we last week, the writer to the Hebrews put it this way in Hebrews 13: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you. (13:17)

So in light of the important work of shepherding God’s people, Peter calls the flock to listen to those who are under-shepherds of the Chief shepherd.

B. Humility toward One Another (v. 5b)

But look again at where he takes the idea in 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.”

At the root of the submission Peter calls for at the beginning of verse 5 is a heart of humility. It’s that heart that Peter expands on here.

When Peter says “clothe yourselves…with humility”, the word is not the same word that Paul uses when he talks about “putting on the new self” or “putting on Jesus”. This word literally means ‘to tie an apron on oneself’. This apron was the one worn by slaves. So a rough translation straight from the original language would read, “All of you, toward one another, humility, tie around you as a servant’s apron.”

It’s not only a great picture of the kind of heart we should have for one another, but it’s a great reminder of how the Lord Jesus served us. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Peter has in mind here the evening meal right before Jesus’ death. The Apostle John described the scene this way:

The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. (John 13:2-5)

Peter’s call to lowliness here is echoed by another Apostle. Paul writes in Philippians 2: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility [same word from I Peter 5:5] consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (2:3, 4)

Have you tied humility around your waist this morning when it comes to your relationships with your brothers and sisters in Christ?

Look at how Peter back this up from the OT. He uses Proverbs 3:34 to remind them that God will give them grace when they choose the path of humility. But when we walk in pride, we will find God standing against us as our opponent.

C. Humility toward God (v. 6)

But look again at how Peter, in verse 6, continues to expand this thinking. He started with a narrow focus in regard to humility and the church leaders. He then expanded the scope to encompass the whole church and their humility with one another. Now, in verse 6, he takes the perspective out as far as it can go. He writes:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…

Humility does not find its source in respect for pastor-elders. It does not primarily spring from love that we have for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. No, genuine humility can only come from one place: it can only come from a right view of who God is and our relationship to Him!

“Humble youselves…under the mighty hand of God”. He doesn’t say, “humble yourselves toward God, your friend” or even, “humble yourselves toward God your savior”. He very deliberately says, “Humble youselves…under the mighty hand of God”.

In the Old Testament, the “hand of God” was a way to describe God’s absolute power to accomplish his will. We already heard this language used in our very first reading this morning: Both riches and honor come from You, and You rule over all. In Your hand is power and might, and in Your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. (I Chronicles 12:29)

This is why Peter can say, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you…

You cannot be truly humble unless you measure yourself by who God is and what God wants. That is the source of the lowliness Peter is calling us to this morning.

III. God-Centered Humility (v. 7)

Now, in some sense, we could just stop there and let God’s Spirit work on us in regard to this topic of humility. All of us know we think too much about ourselves. We fight too often for our own rights and desires. We give too little when it comes to serving our brothers and sisters in Christ.

But in regard to this passage, we cannot stop, if not simply for the reason we have yet to talk about verse 7. Look again at verses 6 and 7 together:

6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Now at first, verse 7 seems like an awkward addition to verse 6. Some translations even make verse 7 its own sentence. But it isn’t. It’s just a clause that depends on verse 6.

What’s strange about this connection is that it implies a relationship between humility and the casting off of anxiety; the unloading of our worries. But this means there is also then a relationship between the opposites, between pride and worry.

This connection is strange because we usually imagine the person who is proud…strutting, and the person filled with anxiety…fretting. The person filled with pride appears strong and confident. The person filled with anxiety appears weak and plagued by doubt.

So how do we reconcile these things? What is the connection between humility and anxiety?

Well the connection goes right back to the source of humility, right back to what it means to be “under the mighty hand of God”. The concepts that connect anxiety with pride and humility are the ideas of power and control.

Both pride and anxiety are fueled by our desire to have power over our circumstances; by our longing for control. Pride is confidence that we have this kind of power. Anxiety is fear that we might lose or can’t have this kind of power.

Remember what Peter’s listeners were going through. These followers of Christ were being mocked and reviled because of their faith in Jesus; they were being falsely accused because of their faith.

And whenever persecution like this takes place, we’re all tempted to either take matters into our own hands and try to protect ourselves, OR, we’re tempted to worry and become weighted down with fear and doubt. Either way, submissiveness and servanthood are often the last things we desire, because submission and servanthood are about giving up my rights, not clinging to them through pride. Submission and servanthood are about putting others first in spite of the risks, and not shielding ourselves out of worry.

Even if you are not suffering for your faith like Peter’s audience was, all of us find ourselves, every single day, faced with challenges and trials. And therefore, all of us, each and every day, are tempted to either pride or worry; to either confidence in our power or fear because we have no power. And it is precisely this struggle that affects our relationships with one another. These attitudes are the enemies of true humility.

So how does Peter direct them in light of this common struggle? There’s no Nike philosophy here. He doesn’t tell them to “just do it”. No, Peter calls them to humility by calling them to God.

We could say that the foundation for Peter’s encouragements here is summed up pretty well by the bumper sticker we talked about earlier: “Let Go and Let God”. To “let go” is not to jettison responsibility. It is to acknowledge our weakness. To “let go” is not to choose the road of inaction or passivity. It is to be proactive in faith and humility.

Look at the three things Peter tells us in this passage about “letting go and letting God”:

First, we can “let go and let God” because we can trust that God ‘s grace will empower us to do so. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Now think about how astonishing that fact is. When you trust in yourself and your own power, you will ultimately get no place. Why? Because the King of the Universe is opposed to you. No one can overcome that kind of opposition.

But, when we seek humility, when we “let go and let God”, we can be confident in the fact that God will give us grace for an even greater faith and humility. God wants to empower you for humility.

Second, we can “let go and let God” because we can trust that God’s hand is truly mighty. Remember, Peter said, Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God… Humility is the acknowledgement that you and I are not mighty, that we don’t have the power to accomplish what needs to be done in our lives. When we “let go and let God”, we are trusting that God will act “at the proper time”. We are trusting that He will exalt us in the right way at the right moment.

Third, we can “let go and let God” because we can trust that God really cares about us..

Peter words in verses 7 come right out of Psalm 55, where the psalmist writes:

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall. (Psalm 55:22)

Consider your anxieties this morning. What are you worried about? No matter what it is, no matter how overwhelming it seems, God is saying to you this morning, “Throw all of it onto my shoulders. I will take it from you.” But notice what God is NOT saying. He is not saying, “cast all of your difficulties on me.” He says through Peter, “cast all your anxieties on me”. He wants to use the difficulties, but take away the anxieties…because he cares for you.

Do you believe God’s hand is guiding your life? Do you believe God’s hand is able to protect and prosper you? Do you believe that God’s hand is driven by love…for you?

Are you ready to throw your anxieties onto God’s shoulders this morning? Are you ready to let go and let God? Paul describes one way we can do this in Philippians 4. He writes:

The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:5b-7). Prayer is one way we cast our anxieties on God.

Let me see if I can sum up what we’ve looked at this morning. I think we could say that The humility to which Peter calls his overwhelmed readers is a humility motivated by faith that God is mighty, and mighty in His concern for our absolute good.

Worry-free humility under the hand of God is not something we can simply generate. It’s only possible because of Jesus. Do you remember what Peter told us about what Jesus did? He put it this way at the end of chapter 2:

For to this [endurance through suffering] you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (I Peter 5:21-24)

Do you see what this tells us about our main passage from this morning? Jesus trusted God’s mighty hand, didn’t He? He didn’t have to worry, because He knew that God was in charge and that God loved Him.

But there’s more than that. We know for certain that the shoulders of God are able to bear all of our anxieties because those same shoulders bore all of our sin on the cross. Jesus wants to take your sin, and your anxieties. He says, “Put them on me, and I will destroy them…because I care for you.”

The Christian life, the life of faith, following Jesus begins by letting go of sin and self and letting God forgive us and make us new through the cross of Jesus Christ. And that’s the pattern for everything else, every time. May God let that be what drives our relationships to one another at Way of Grace.

other sermons in this series