Relationship To Power
I Peter 5
Many of you have been watching the TV series “Survivor” over the summer months. The object of the contest was not so much to survive the elements, but to survive other people. One of the stated objects of the game was to “outwit” all the other players. Very early in the show, Rich indicated a confidence that he would win. I thought, “how arrogant!” In the end, he was right. It turned out that way because he knew how to use power to his advantage.
We live in a world in which power is used and often abused to gain an advantage over others. The United States military has the ability, by its power, to force its will in almost any country in the world. Hockey teams hire enforcers to help win the game. The two chipmunks in the cartoons who were always deferring to each other are laughed at because the whole world knows that you can’t live that way. They are a parody mocking the folly of yielding to one another.
In the church, we have learned to exercise power very much as the world does. When it comes time to fill positions in the church, we manipulate and coerce until someone is willing to do the task we want them to do. When it comes time to make decisions, we use the same methods of power which are used in politics to sway an issue in our direction. I know all of these things happen because I have done them.
We have noted repeatedly in our study of I Peter that we are the people of God. As Peter closes his book, he raises the issue of how we as the people of God should relate to the issue of power and authority. He talks about how we relate to the authority of leaders, how we use power in relationship with one another and how we relate to the authority of God. In all of these situations, we will learn that God calls us to something different from the way of world in which we live. He calls us to be humble and submit. There is only one relationship in which we do not submit, but rather we resist and that is in relationship to the power of the evil one.
I. Leadership 1-5a
One of the mistakes we make when we think about power and authority is that it means that there is no place for leadership. As a church that believes very strongly in the priesthood of all believers and is very congregational, we have been very uncomfortable with the concept of giving authority to leaders. Peter, however, recognizes the responsibility of leadership.
The term “elders” was a term that was used among the Jewish people in reference to those who were older and therefore respected with wisdom to lead. The term came to refer to more than just those who were older in age, but to those who were seen as leaders. Timothy is identified as an elder, but Paul also identifies him as a young man. Thus, elders are those who hold positions of leadership in the congregation.
The leadership responsibility of elders is that they must “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.” One wonders if Peter thought of this because of what Jesus said to him after he had denied Jesus. Jesus asked him “do you love me” and when Peter responded in the positive, Jesus told him, “feed my sheep.” Shepherding is the responsibility of leadership. There are those in the congregation who have been given authority or more accurately, responsibility over others. They must lead them, guide them and take care of them. They must teach them truth and guide them into the way of righteousness. They must warn them when they wander away. They must give direction to the work of God in the church. The other word used is “overseers.” This also is a leadership function. Thus we see that there is a place for leadership and we need to allow leaders to lead.
I have to admit that I am uncomfortable with power, I don’t want it, I am afraid to exercise it, it is a scary thing to handle because I am afraid I will misuse it and so I don’t use it. On the other hand, sometimes, I use it when I should not use it. What does Peter have to say about leadership and its place in the church? He teaches that leaders must lead.
The important thing for leaders to remember is in how they exercise their leadership. Peter has three pairs of opposites which demonstrate the way in which leaders must exercise the power they have in their leadership role. I have already spoken of this to the ministerial, but I would like to mention it for the sake of all the leaders who were not there.
Spirit: Not under compulsion but willingly
Once again, I would reiterate what I said last week that God invites us to use the gifts he has given us and to serve him with joy because we love to do it.
Motivation: Not for sordid gain but eagerly
Leadership has its advantages, and therefore the underlying motivation for leadership must not be what can be gained from leadership, but rather an eager desire to serve the Lord.
Style: Not as lording but as examples.
In this last one, we see above all the method which is a method of humility, not using power, but using personal example to lead.
B. Followers 5a
If leaders are to lead with humility, how do those who are not leaders relate to their authority? Peter has one line which speaks about this. It has been translated in different ways and we need to get a good sense of how it should be translated. The Greek would read “Likewise the younger, or new ones, you should be subject to the elders.” NIV gives us the sense that young men should submit to older men. Although this is a good thing, I do not believe that it is what the passage intends. Since he has been talking about elders and the same word for elders is used in verse 1 and in verse 4, I think we should keep the context together. The word “young men” can be translated as the “new ones” or the “young ones” meaning not only in age, but in experience. I think the best way to translate this is to suggest that it means that those who are younger in faith should submit to those who are the leaders in the church. The Message puts it this way, “you who are younger must follow your leaders.”
In an age of individualism and personal authority where we are told assert yourself, this may not be a popular message, but it is God’s word to us. It recognizes that those who have more experience and who have been given the authority and responsibility of leadership should be listened to. So when you go to Sunday School, listen to your teacher. Accept and respect the authority of those who are in leadership.
So we learn that power in the leadership structures of the church must be exercised with humility and gentleness by those who lead, and those who follow must do so willingly.
II. One Another 5b
A. The Call To Humility
But humility is not only to be exercised between leaders and followers, but in fact in all our relationships with one another. Peter says, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.””
When Peter said this, I wonder if he had in mind the imagery of Jesus wrapping the towel around his waist and washing the disciples feet? Some have translated this, “put on the apron of humility” which suggests to me the serving apron, or the serving towel in Jesus’ case. When Jesus took up the towel and washed his disciples feet, he demonstrated a very different way of living in this world. He is our example! Have we really learned to live in that way?
If we think of Jesus as the example for this kind of thinking, we have a wonderful model of one who came with humility. The same Jesus who washed the disciples feet was the one who came from heaven, and all its glory and humbled himself by becoming a child. He was the one who said, “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.” He was the one who had the power to turn stones into bread, but did not use that power in order to gain an advantage. He had the power to fall from the temple and not get hurt and impress the people, but he did not use that power. He was the one who gave up power and instead offered his life on the cross in order to give us life.
Peter reinforces the example of Jesus by referring to Proverbs 3:34 in which we learn that it is a principle of God that the humble are accepted and the proud rejected.
B. Exercising Humility
The truth is clearly and powerfully presented that we are to act with humility towards one another. The question is, how do we do it.
Humility is elusive. When we think we have it, that is the moment we lose it. Thomas More was ambitious, but he did not want people to know that he was. He loved the praise of the crowd and worked hard to create a public image of himself as a man who took no care for what people thought of him. Yet he hated criticism and responded furiously whenever attacked. He worked hard to seem humble. But he always wanted to be somebody, and he always tried to make the public imagine that high position had been thrust upon him only because great and wise men insisted that his talents were too large to be hidden. Few people have enjoyed greater success in advertising their humility.
Just as the way to be humble is not by pretending to be humble, it is also not by thinking of ourselves as less than we are. That is an insult to the image of God in us and the grace of God in our lives. Madeleine L'Engle said, “We can be humble only when we know that we are God's children, of infinite value and eternally loved.” Phillips Brooks said, “The way to be humble is not to stoop until you are smaller than yourself but to stand at your real height against some higher nature that will show you how small your greatness is.”
True humility is simply and graciously exercised in life. Donald Grey Barnhouse told the story (supposedly true) about Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes. When he moved to Washington, D.C., to take up his duties as chief justice, he transferred his membership letter to a Baptist church in the area. It was the custom for all new members to come to the front of the sanctuary at the close of the worship service. The first to be called that morning was Ah Sing, a Chinese laundryman who had moved to the capital from the West coast. He took his place at the far side of the church. As the dozen or so other people were called forward they stood at the opposite side of the church, leaving Ah Sing standing alone. But when Chief Justice Hughes was called, he took his place beside the laundryman. When the minister had welcomed the group into the church fellowship he turned to the congregation and said, "I do not want this congregation to miss this remarkable illustration of the fact that at the cross of Jesus Christ the ground is level."
III. God 6,7
Thus we see that the path to humility begins with a recognition of who we are in the presence of God. There are two aspects of humility before God.
A. Humility Before God
Peter says first of all that we are to “humble ourselves under God’s mighty hand.”
Humility means recognizing the power of God. When Job arrogantly accused God of not giving Him justice, God responded with a powerful display of His power. Fredrick Buechner wrote, “You can think of God as a great cosmic bully here if you want, but you can think of him also as a great cosmic artist, a singer, say, of such power and magnificence and so caught up in the incandescence of his own art that he never notices that he has long since ruptured the eardrums of his listeners and reduced them to quivering pulp.” Whenever we think we are something, we need to remember who God is.
By world standards, humility does not work. If we are humble, we lose because we allow others to take the first place. We don’t understand the importance of humility precisely because we think like the world. Humility in relationship to others works precisely because of this matter of placing ourselves “under God’s mighty hand.” Humility works because God has all power and the injustice we fear because we take the servant role, is in the hands of the one who has all might and power. Humility before God is recognizing His power and submitting to Him in obedience.
The amazing thing is that it is still difficult for us to place ourselves under Him. The only way that I know that we can humble ourselves before God is to worship Him and to pray. In worship and prayer, we become aware of his greatness and his power.
B. Trusting Him
The other side of humility is to cast all our cares upon Him. A Moody Monthly article suggested that our motto seems to be, “Why pray when you can worry.” It is an act of pride to take all responsibility and to be unwilling to receive. It is humility to say to God, “I can’t, I need you.”
Cast is a strong word meaning throw. There is a commercial on TV advertising a gymnastics club in Winnipeg. I watch it with amazement as these little girls do cartwheels and flips. In one clip, a girl takes a run down the floor, jumps high over a jumping horse and does a flip, landing - safely- on a pile of soft foam.
There is another commercial, having something to do with the Olympics, of a woman lying on a high diving platform looking down with evident fear.
When cares come into our life, we are prone to be like the woman on the high dive platform. We edge our way towards trust in God fearful of plunging into His care. If we are truly humble, knowing the greatness and power of God, we will have the courage and freedom to cast ourselves on Him like that little girl throws herself over the jumping horse.
This is where the true beauty of humility is experienced, because it frees us. We fret and worry and hang on in pride and self power when God invites us to let go and give him all our anxieties. Once again The Message has a good translation, “Live carefree before God; he is most careful with you.”
IV. The Evil One 8-9
In all authority relationships, the key word is humility. Leaders exercise humility in the way in which they lead. Those who follow exercise humility in submitting to those who lead. We all submit in humility to one another and above all, we submit in obedience and trust to God who has all power. There is only one authority to whom we do not relate in humility or submission and that is Satan.
A. Satan’s Tricks
The power of Satan is exercised through violence and deception. He seeks to wield authority, through trickery and lies. The text says that he prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour. His strategy is deception and his purpose is destruction. He will use whatever works to accomplish his purposes. One of his tricks is to tempt us to pride and abuse of power instead of humility and submission. When we see it so freely and successfully exercised in the world, it is easy to succumb to that method, but it is a deception of Satan.
B. Resist Him
The strategy to overcome the power of Satan is not to submit, but to resist him and to stand firm! It is so easy to relax our guard and to succumb to his tricks and so it is imperative that we are in constant watchfulness and exercising self discipline.
As we battle with these temptations, we are encouraged that we are not alone in this fight. We may think ourselves less spiritual if we are always battling with temptation, but we should not. This is not an excuse to yield, thinking that since everyone else is also fighting and sometimes losing we can to. Rather, as we recognize that we are not alone in our struggles, we should be encouraged to be strong and not give up.
This is the final message in this series on I Peter. As we have looked at it together, we have learned about the blessings we have in Christ. We have heard a call to holiness and love. We have learned that we are God’s chosen people in a world that rejects him and we have seen examined some of the implications of that reality. We have been challenged to be the people of God as we live in this world. We have been encouraged to walk in humility.
As the people of God, we live with a promise. As Peter closes his letter, he encourages us with this promise. In verse 10, we are encouraged that we have been called to His eternal glory in Christ.” As we struggle with the world, as we battle with our failure to love, be holy and be humble, as we suffer, I want to encourage us by reminding us of this promise. We can have hope and courage in all our battles and struggles if we remember that we are moving towards the hope of eternal glory. May this hope encourage us to live as God’s people, standing firm and living in humility towards God and others.