May 24, 2020
It was the night before His crucifixion. The disciples – the Twelve – had gathered with Him in an upper room to observe the Passover. The last Passover. You see, it was there He introduced the first Lord’s Supper – this is My body, broken for you. This is My blood, shed for your forgiveness. Let’s not forget who was speaking. Scripture says things like this of Him:
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him.
17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.
19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him….
This was Jesus, the Son of God – and God the Son. Lofty language. It would be impossible to speak too highly of Him. How does one speak too highly of the infinite God – who humbled Himself and took on flesh? And yet, at that Last Passover – the Last Supper – the First Lord’s Supper – those disciples – the Twelve – began arguing among themselves about which one of them was greatest. They had just spent three years with Him – heard some of what He knew, seen some of what He could do. They’d heard the teachings, seen the miracles. They were in the presence of infinite goodness, infinite power, infinite knowledge, infinite grace, infinite holiness, infinite glory – in the presence of God Himself, and they were fighting over supremacy.
So John tells us – only John – one of the Twelve there that night – one of the inner circle – the big Three – this John tells us:
4 [Jesus – knowing that His time had come to return to His Father] got up from supper, and laid aside His garments; and taking a towel, He girded Himself.
5 Then He poured water into the basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel with which He was girded.
To include Peter – remember that? When Jesus came to Peter, Peter said, “Lord, do you wash my feet? Never.” To which Jesus responded, “If you don’t let Me, you have no part of Me.”
You see, part of the Christian life that Jesus here exampled is not only serving, but being served. Did you know, being willing to be served requires humility? You may know, the job of washing feet was reserved the lowest of the low. A slave. But apparently there was not one present at the Last Supper – their last supper together. It was common before a meal to wash your dirty, sandaled feet from the dusty roads. Or to have a lowly slave do it. There is not a single instance outside this story in Jewish or Greek or Roman sources of a superior washing the feet of an inferior. You just didn’t do that. But apparently, at this meal, none stooped to the task. Interesting, they were arguing about who was greatest, but none was willing to serve. They were willing to fight for the throne, but no one played tug of war with the towel.
So Jesus, the Son of God and God the Son – the One who created all things for Himself – the one who humbled Himself and became a man, now humbled Himself further – washed the disciples’ feet as they were arguing about which one was greatest. Maybe it was because they were drawing straws to see which was the least among them to stoop to the task of foot washing. Certainly, we would all agree, it wouldn’t be Peter, James or John.
Jesus wrapped Himself in a towel, poured some water in basin, and began to wash the disciples feet – the act was both stunning and humbling. Something none of them had done, nor would be willing to do. Now understand, it was not Michelangelo’s painting of the Lord’s Supper. They would been seated on low couches around a low table – triclinium– leaning on their left elbows, eating with their right hands, their feet stretched out behind them. Jesus made His way around the perimeter, washing their feet, apparently in silence. No doubt the disciples exchanged shocked glances, maybe murmuring and whispering – both wondering what He was doing, and embarrassed and shamed by His actions.
After finishing, again no doubt in stunned silence except for the brief interchange with Peter, Jesus put on His outer robe – took a seat and looked them in the eyes and asked, “Do you know what I have done to you? (I see 12 heads dropping to their chests, or perhaps exchanging guilty glances.) You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master….” I’m the Master – I performed the duty of slave. So should you.
Let me share some thoughts with you from Pastor Kent Hughes on this event: “Jesus rises from supper just as in the Incarnation he rose from his place of perfect fellowship with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. He lays aside his garments just as he had temporarily set aside his glorious existence. He takes a towel just as he took upon himself the form of a servant. He wraps a towel around his waist, for he had come to serve. He pours water into the basin, just as he was about to pour out his blood in order to wash away human sin. He washes his disciples’ feet just as he cleanses his children. On this remarkable occasion Jesus perfectly staged a portrayal of his whole life from birth to death to resurrection!”
If I then, the Lord and Teacher, washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet. Now, some have seen in this command a third ordinance given to the church. Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and foot-washing. Understanding the teaching and admitting the idea of submitting ourselves to this humble rite might be good thing, I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind here. It would seem strange for this to be an ordinance given to the church and only be mentioned here and nowhere else in the New Testament, to include Paul’s epistles. There’s also no evidence such an ordinance was practiced in the early church. But again, that is not to cast dispersion on those who do.
I do think, however, what Jesus had in mind is seen in His words, “For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.” He doesn’t tell us to observe this rite, but to observe His example. And what is the example? The idea is to humbly serve one another – without consideration of status and station in life and who we think deserves it and who we think doesn’t.
You see, He goes on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you [pay attention, this is important] a slave is not greater than his master, nor is the one who is sent greater than the one who sent him.” That is, a messenger is not greater than the one who sent him with the message – an emissary is not greater than the king, for example. So also, as disciples, we are in no way greater than the Master – yet the Master left us an example to follow. An example of lowly, humble service to one another – even kings to emissaries, and masters to slaves. Elders to people.
So, have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped – held onto – but emptied Himself, taking on the form of a bond-servant. A slave. And in that form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is humility. If we want to be like Jesus, walk as Jesus walked, we will be humble. But, as John Piper rightly observes, humility is not a popular human trait in the modern world. It’s not touted in talk shows or celebrated in valedictorian speeches or commended in diversity seminars or listed with core values. It’s certainly not displayed on FaceBook. And if you go to the massive self-help section of Barnes and Noble you won’t find many books on humility.
I have been around long enough to attend many graduation ceremonies. To listen to commencement speakers laud the accomplishments of the graduates, and commend them to their next station in life – to college, from college, to the world. And you always get the sense that help has arrived. Those listening in the audience are never sure how we’ve made it this far without the new crop of graduates, but not to fear, they are here. And all will be made right with the world. Inevitably, the charge is given – go make a difference, you can do it, change your world. What you do not hear is, go wash some feet. Now that you have your high school diploma, your bachelors, your masters, your doctorate – you’re qualified. Go wash some feet.
One of the hallmarks of the Christian faith is humility. I am saying to you in this address, go wash some feet. For without it, we cannot be like Jesus – and further, God will oppose us.
We have been a study of I Peter for awhile now. We’ve arrived at chapter 5, the last chapter of the letter, and Peter gives some final instructions. I had thought to get through many of those today. But to do so, I would have to hurry though humility. Which I suppose is what some of us would like. It does not, after all, fit with the “look out for number one” mantras of today. Be all that you can be. Change your world. You’re the brightest, the fastest, the smartest, the best. And while that may be true, without humility, you are not like Jesus. You are not becoming what Jesus wants you to become.
Well, last week, we looked at the first four verses of chapter 5. There, we saw that Elders – church leaders – are to be humble servants. Oh, to be sure, he didn’t use the word humility, but it was clearly there. He said things like, Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight voluntarily, not for personal gain, but with eagerness. Not lording it over the church, but proving to be examples. And when Jesus returns, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Which brings us to our text today – I Peter 5:5-7. Read that with me. (Verse 6 – Peter says, humble yourselves, and God will exalt you. Now switch that around – do you want God to humble you as you seek to exalt yourself?)
Again, we could hurry through these uncomfortable verses and speed to resisting the devil, which sounds much for fun. But we’ll look at that next week. This week – humility toward God and one another, not being proud, or arrogant or self sufficient. Did you notice – did you ever stop to think that being anxious is actually a form or pride? How so? Very simply, being anxious means you have your eyes in the wrong place. Instead of depending on God, who alone can meet our needs – we think we are somehow in charge. That we are self-dependent. Is that a word for us today? We’ll come back to that. Today, we will be reminded of our great need of God – and I would suggest that is the foundation of humility. Being God dependent. The outline looks like this:
- Younger Men Submit to (or be Humble toward) Elders (5a)
- Everyone Be Humble toward One Another (5b)
- Everyone Be Humble toward God (6-7)
He’s just told elders to lead well – to shepherd God’s people well. Now, while the qualifications of elders do not list a certain age requirement, it seems reasonable that Elders, by nature of the qualifications and the name itself, are older. They’re certainly older in the faith. In fact, Paul told Timothy, make sure they’re not new converts, or they could be trapped by the snare of the devil. And undoubtedly one of his favorite snares is pride. It seems new converts could allow things to go to their heads, and become proud, become snared by the devil. Remember, the Garden of Eden? How did Satan trap them? Entice them?
In his conversation with Eve, she said, we’re allowed to eat anything we want in the Garden – except the fruit from this tree. How did the slithering, satanic tempter respond? God knows that the moment you eat that fruit – you’ll be like God. He appealed to the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. He appealed to their now developing sinful pride. Don’t listen to God – you don’t need Him. Eat and be satisfied. Not in what God has for you, but in what you get for yourself. Be all that you can be, Eve. C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity calls pride the Great Sin.
Think of this – the first Adam, in arrogance, sought to become like God; the second Adam, Christ, in humility, became like man. The first Adam, created in human form, grasped at equality with God; the second Adam, existing in the form of God, did not hold onto or grasp that which He already had, but instead stooped to accept equality with humanity. He who had everything gave it up, that He might gives us who had nothing, everything.
Piper in his sermon in this text quoted an editorial in The Star, the Minneapolis newspaper. The editorial said this, “There are some who naïvely cling to the nostalgic memory of God. The average churchgoer takes a few hours out of the week to experience the sacred . . . But the rest of the time, he is immersed in a society that no longer acknowledges God as an omniscient and omnipotent force to be loved and worshiped. . . Today we are too sophisticated for God. We can stand on our own; we are prepared and ready to choose and define our own existence.” We are the masters of our own destinies, the captains of our own ships. Are you?
So here, Peter reminds those younger men – those who in youthful pride have a tendency toward disobedience, be subject to your elders. Some suggest Peter is talking to anyone who is not an Elder, or anyone who is younger, or simply younger men. Since he says, younger men – we’ll go with that. You see, young men, having been one, tend to think they have arrived and don’t need to submit to anyone. But here, Peter reminds them otherwise.
We all need to be reminded of that. When we were younger, we thought, I can’t wait to get out of the house to be my own man, my own woman. In a sense, to be my own authority. Then we grow up and realize, we are always under authority. Peter had told us earlier – using the same language – citizens, be subject to your governing authorities; slaves, be subject to your masters; wives, be subject to your own husbands. Younger men, be subject to your elders. We are always under authority, and to shed that authority is to be shed humility and embrace the great sin, pride.
But don’t feel like he’s just singling out younger men. He certainly starts with them – as if they needed special attention – but he now includes everyone, “and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”
Now, it’s quite normal throughout the NT to be commanded to clothe ourselves with Christian virtues. Paul says it many times. Earlier in this letter, Peter said to take off like a dirty shirt things like deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander. Instead, now he says, put on, clothe yourselves with humility. But this is an interesting word – unlike the ones used by Paul. This word speaks of a slave putting on an apron. And then we remember Peter was in the upper room when Jesus did just that. Put on the humility that is necessary to serve others, no matter how menial the task – even if it means washing feet.
I suppose we should define humility. Charles Spurgeon said, “Humility is the proper estimate of yourself.” I would add further – a proper estimate of yourself in the eyes of God. C.J. Mahaney in his book Humility, True Greatness, defines it this way, “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” Andrew Murray in his book titled Humility writes:
“God, as the ever-living, ever-present, ever-acting One, who upholds all things by the word of His power, and in whom all things exist, meant that the relationship of His creatures to Himself would be one of unceasing, absolute dependence.” That, he says, is humility. Further then, pride is any independence from God – any form of self-reliance or self-dependence. And so John Piper suggests we can understand humility by looking closely at its antithesis – pride. He suggests pride is:
- Pride is self-satisfaction, as opposed to God-satisfaction and joy.
- Pride is self-sufficiency and self-reliance.
- Pride considers itself above instruction.
- Pride is insubordinate.
- Pride takes credit for what God alone does.
- Pride likes to be made much of.
- Pride aspires to the place of God.
- Pride opposes the existence of God.
- Pride refuses to trust in God.
- And last, because of all that, Pride is anxious about the future.
Because you see, if you think everything depends on you, that you are the source of your satisfaction and joy and sufficiency – then of course, given your meager resources and inability to control the future – of course you will be anxious. If you are anxious, it is because your eyes are too much on you.
So, considering those definitions, I have said, I don’t think humility as it relates to others means thinking less of yourselves, of becoming a doormat so others can walk on you. Obviously, it is the opposite of pride, which is to think too much of yourself – as we are encouraged to do in our society. Look out for number one – if you don’t think of yourself first, no one else will. That is true in a sinful society. We, however, in the church, are not in a sinful society.
No, humility is not thinking less of yourself – it is not thinking of yourself at all. Not that you don’t seek to put on Christian virtues, and grow in your faith, etc. But it means you don’t think of yourself first – you think of others. How you may serve them, care for them, put them first. Think of what I just said, if you don’t think of yourself first, no one else will. Well, unless we’re in the church as brothers and sisters in Christ. Then everyone – as we clothe ourselves with humility toward one another – will be thinking of you first – of others first.
Well, Peter goes on to quote Proverbs 3:34 verbatim. Clothe yourselves toward one another, for God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. There’s an incentive for not being arrogant – pursue pride and God will oppose you. Peter actually gives four incentives for pursuing humility in this text:
- Verse 5, “God is opposed to the proud.” Nothing could be worse than to have an infinitely powerful and holy God opposed to you. So don’t be proud.
- Verse 5, “God gives grace to the humble.” And nothing could be better than to have an infinitely powerful and wise God treat us graciously. He gives grace to humble people. The reason is not that humility is a performance that earns grace but humility is a confession of emptiness that receives grace.
- Verse 6, God will use His mighty hand to exalt the humble: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” That’s our last point – humble yourself under God’s mighty hand – recognize your great need of Him and dependence upon Him, and He will exalt you at the proper time. When is that? Well, Peter constantly points to the future – the return of Christ – in this letter. It is then we will be exalted as we are vindicated and revealed as children of God. While we have been opposed, ridiculed, thought less of, which is so hard for us – the time is coming when God will exalt us.
- And verse 7, God will use His mighty hand to care for the humble: “Casting all your anxiety upon Him, because He cares for you.” Follow the logic here. Humble yourselves – how? He tells us, by casting our anxieties on Him. (Main verb in verse 6, humble yourselves; how, by the participle in verse 7) Which means we don’t humble ourselves, we remain proud, if we keep our anxieties as if we are in charge. As if we can do something about our challenges.
Certainly, as we’ve seen, this letter was written to a suffering, persecuted church. In the midst of that persecution, don’t try to rely on your own resources. Cast your anxiety and dependence on Him – whose mighty hand will care for you. Now, to be clear, that does not mean He always delivers His opposed children from persecution. He often does not. But, He will care us, see us through, and exalt us in due time – at the proper time.
Principally, this is true in our current crisis. Will God deliver us from disease and its consequences? Maybe not immediately, but ultimately, yes. Because He cares for us. And so right now, you can cast your anxieties upon Him. Why would you want to keep them?