Out-Facing the Lion

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : 1 Peter 5:1-11

The Bible says that the devil is both real, vicious and hostile. He’s like a roaring lion, on the prowl for victims. But stand up to him and call his bluff, and he will run away.

Listen to this passage from 1 Peter, chapter 5:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

. . . . All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud but gives grace 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.

Be self-controlled and alert. 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 your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

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. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

1 Peter 5:1-11, niv

Peter’s first letter, especially in its closing chapter, gives evidence of how much the apostle has learned in God’s school of character during the course of a rough and tumultuous life. Think of how impulsive the young Peter was, jumping over the side of the boat on the Sea of Galilee to see if it really was Jesus who was walking towards them on the water. Or how ignorant and yet how outspoken he could be. A magnificent confession of faith on his lips is followed immediately by a statement so wrong-headed it could only have come from Satan. Imagine having the temerity to rebuke the Lord Jesus for intending to go to the cross! Or recall Peter’s vain confidence. “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never deny you!” Peter had a lot to learn, a lot to live down, a long way to grow in order to reach maturity in Christ.

But he did, and that’s what makes his concluding words here at the end of 1 Peter so appealing. They come to us with a wisdom born from painful experience. When the Apostle Peter tells us of the importance of humility or the need to resist the devil, we know he’s learned the hard way just how true it all is. So let’s pay attention to him.

Shepherd the Flock

Peter’s first words in chapter 5 are for “the elders among you,” i.e. the pastoral leadership of the church. Notice how he identifies himself. “I appeal as a fellow elder” (verse 1). He doesn’t even call himself an apostle, though of course he could have. No, he is “a fellow elder,” one of them a coach who has played the game, a teacher who has taken the course, a commander who has fought in the ranks as a common soldier.

Peter goes on to add a further self-description, “a witness of Christ’s sufferings.” If the first term points to what Peter has in common with all the leaders in the church, the second one underscores what sets him apart. He was an eyewitness to the life, ministry, and especially to the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus. He saw the Lord’s glory, previewed on the Mount of Transfiguration, revealed in the resurrection and ascension, and promised to all believers, thus enabling Peter’s final identification of himself as “one who will also share in” this glory. So Peter is qualified to teach us. As a fellow elder he has the insight and experience to speak, and as an apostolic eyewitness he has the authority to speak.

His final instruction to Christian leaders is simple: tend the flock (v. 2). That is, feed the Lord’s people from his Word, and care for and guide them with diligence. Peter then explains how this leadership must be exercised. He uses three pairs of contrasting alternatives.

The first has to do with attitude: “Not because you must, but because you are willing.” Don’t serve in the church just because you have to; as God loves cheerful givers, so he loves willing servants.

Next comes the motive: “not greedy for money, but eager to serve.” A mercenary motive leads to the absolute worst abuses in Christian ministry. God is looking for people who are excited about getting a chance to do something for him, not get something for themselves.

Finally, Peter addresses our style of ministry: “not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” The domineering and authoritarian exercise of power is the world’s way of leading, “. . . but it shall not be so among you,” Jesus had warned his disciples (Mark 10:42f). Peter had listened to the Lord about this.

Humble Yourselves

Peter next expands his audience to include the whole congregation. What we in the church all need to do, young and old alike, leaders and led, is to clothe ourselves with humility toward one another. What do you think would happen if we started paying as much time and attention to our inward adornment as we do to our outer appearance? Earlier in this letter Peter had written about the way Christians should dress (1 Peter 3:3f). Now he urges us to clothe ourselves in humility toward one another. Why? “. . . because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (v. 5, quoting Proverbs 3:34). Pride, the inordinate self-esteem that convinces us we are more important than others and therefore entitled to favored treatment, this kind of pride is abhorrent to God. God sets himself against it. He will not tolerate it. It is a terrible thing to imagine us resisting God; but how much more terrible to think of God resisting us. Yet that is exactly what he does to the arrogant who are caught up in their own vanity. God opposes the proud.

On the other hand, he promises his grace to the humble. Many people have mistaken notions of what humility means. Some think that it means having a low opinion of yourself, a negative self-image. But true humility means neither self-loathing nor self-loving, it means being set free from thinking about yourself at all so that you can focus on the value and needs of others. Another mistake we often make is to think there is nothing we can do about humility we either have it or we don’t. “I just wasn’t born that way” we say with a grin. Or we make a joke out of it: “It’s hard to be humble when you’re as great as I am.” We tend to think of humility as a passive experience, as something that just sort of happens to us or is given to us without our being aware of it.

But the conclusion Peter draws from this truth that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble is straightforward: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand.” It’s a command, you see. “Humble yourselves.” That does not mean “Try to make yourselves feel humble.” It describes what we must do, not how we feel. We humble ourselves beneath the mighty hand of God when we intentionally place our own will in submission to his will, especially when we bow to God’s providence and sovereignty and accept the adverse circumstances or painful experiences that he might send to us. These may be very difficult. They may cause us anguish or alarm, but Peter offers a universal antidote to worry: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (v. 7). You know, if you really are convinced that God cares for you, I think you can endure anything.

Resist the Enemy

Finally, Peter here in this practical series of commands urges us to stand up to the lion and out-face him. Winston Churchill once remarked, “However absorbed a commander may be in the elaboration of his own thoughts, it is necessary sometimes to take the enemy into consideration.” The Apostle helps us to do that in his instructions on how to fight against the great enemy of our souls, the devil, Satan, and all his dark legions. Listen again to what he says, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith” (vv. 8-9).

Peter urges us to be on the alert, to be careful about what we do and where we go because there is an enemy, and he would like to devour us if he could. C. S. Lewis, in his introduction to one of his most famous books, The Screwtape Letters, his classic study of satanic strategy, suggests that there are two equally serious mistakes we can make about the devil. One is to become obsessed with him seeing a demon behind every bush (or illness, or bad habit). The other, of course, is to ignore him completely, or think that he’s just some imaginary monster out of a fairy tale.

No, the devil is very real and he hates God so much that his enmity spills over onto the people of God. If Satan can’t hurt the Lord, he will try to hurt the Lord’s people. But God’s power is sovereign; and those who belong to him are under his protection. Remember Jesus’ encouragement, “He that is in you is greater than he that is in the world.” It’s true that the devil goes about like a roaring lion. He can be terrifying but as John Bunyan pictured it in the Pilgrim’s Progress, the devil is held back by God’s chain. He can only go so far. Peter, urging us to stand firm and resist the devil (verse 9), suggests that much of Satan’s threat is a bluff. We need not go in terror of him when we live under the protection and by the grace of God, because, in the words of Charles Wesley,

The Devil trembles when he sees
The weakest Christian on his knees.