1 Peter 5:5-7
Likewise, you younger, submit yourselves to the elder. Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility…
There is a general complaint in our day that reverence is rapidly becoming extinct. The sentiment of respect is gone; each one stands upon his own powers and his own right. I suppose all of us, in a certain degree, recognise the truth of this charge against our own time. We may ask ourselves whether this feeling of personal independence is not in itself a good which may make amends for many losses that accompany the acquisition of it. But any consolation which we might derive from this last reflection is checked by another. Can we claim this sentiment of personal independence as at all characteristic of ourselves? Is it not fading along with the one which appears to contend with it? Is there not less of self-reliance than there was?
I. But a sentence like this, if we felt it to be indeed a command, "All of you be subject one to another," — would not that be something more than these speculations about the decline of reverence in an age or a country? That speaks to me. It tells me of a temper which ought to exist in society, which would preserve it; but of a temper which is first of all to be cultivated in myself — which cannot by possibility be diffused through a mass, except as it is formed in the heart of a man. We may look at once to the root of the matter and see whether our respect is merely the effect of the circumstances and accidents in which we live; whether it depends on some external conventional witness of propriety; whether it has been merely taught us by the precept of men; or whether it proceeds from an under source, and is kept alive by springs within, which the Spirit of God Himself is renewing continually. The Bible and Christianity are continually forcing this thought upon us, that nothing can stand which has not a foundation; that if we wish any social edifice to bear the winds and rain, we must dig deep and build it upon a rock; that the passion of the heart for external things and forms, though it looks strong, is not a safe one — not one upon which we can depend. To this point then the apostle brings us. He recognises the relation of younger to elder as a very deep relation, involving duties, calling for subjection. With this natural relation he connects others equally real, though not equally acknowledged. But he has no hope that his admonitions will be heeded unless the principle which lies beneath them is apprehended. "All of you be subject one to another." This reverence is not one grounded ultimately upon differences of position or differences of age. Unless each man cherishes it toward every other man; unless he feels that there is a grandeur and awfulness in the fellow creature who is not distinguished from him by any external signs of superiority at all, who has all the external signs of inferiority — unless he feels that there is (the word is a strong one, but it is St. Peter's and we cannot change it) a subjection due to every such man, that a positive deference is to be paid him — he will not keep alive the other kind of respect, it will assuredly perish. The old oriental notion that royalty is mysterious, and that when it casts away mystery it ceases to obtain respect, is unquestionably grounded on a great truth. St. Peter does not deny the mystery, but he finds this mystery in the being of man himself; every one he meets is the shrine of it; every beggar carries in him that which an archangel cannot look into, which can be described in no words, measured by no human standards. Try to think of that man as having a whole world within him, unknown to you, unknown to him, which is yet a more wonderful world than this which his eyes and yours look upon; nearer to the centre from which this external one receives its light and heat. Try to think so! But will the trial succeed? Is there any chance of forcing ourselves into so strange a state of feeling? Is not this sympathy with people utterly different from ourselves a special gift to a few individuals, commonly women rather than men? And is it not more properly called pity than reverence?
II. St. Peter meets these questions in the second part of the text: "Be clothed with humility." St. Peter knew — no one better — that it is not in station nor in mere example to make a man humble. He was a fisherman, yet he was proud. He conversed with our Lord for three years. He was low, but he aspired to be high. He might be spurned by the people of Judaea as a Galilean, or by the Romans as a Jew; but perhaps he should set his foot upon the necks of both; he should have some goodly place in his Master's kingdom, if not the highest place of all. The self-confidence was brought to the test and fell. What darkness closed in upon him then and shut out all the past and the future! What light was really coming to him through that darkness — a light that illuminated past, present, and future! Such phrases as these, then, which occur so often in the New Testament, "Put on Christ," "Having the mind of Christ," "Be clothed with humility," which are often cast aside as mere figures of speech, oriental modes of thought, were the most accurate, the most exactly corresponding to his inward experience, which the apostle could use.
III. It introduces and explains the third clause of the text, "For God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." "How shall I be rid of this pride, it is so natural, so ingrained?" This must have been St. Peter's question very often; it must be ours. At last he found the answer. It was a terrible one. It was an everlasting one. When he was proud he was not sinning against a rule, a precept; he was resisting God. Every act of pride was nothing more than doing battle against Him; refusing to be ruled and moved by Him. And all humility meant nothing else but yielding to His government — but permitting the Spirit of Christ to hold that spirit which He had redeemed, and claimed for His own. And when a man is once bowed to the conviction that he is not meant to be what his Master and King refused to be, that it is not condescension in him to be on a level with those to whom the Prince of the kings of the earth levelled Himself, "God giveth grace." All the powers of the universe are then conspiring with him, not pledged to crush his wild Titanic ambition.
IV. St. Peter then could transfer his own hardly won experience to the Church, and could say in his Catholic Epistle to the dispersed of that time, to the dispersed through all time, "All of you be subject one to another." So he asserted the true condition of a society while he took down the conceit of its separate members; so he exalted each of these members in the very act of depressing him.
V. Generally this rule of being subject one to another, when applied to a society, implies that we should respect the opinions, habits, individual peculiarities, hereditary prepossessions of every man with whom we have to do; that we should take it for granted he has something which we need; that we should fear to rob him of anything which God has given him. This respect for him does not come from our caring more for him than for truth. It is part of our homage to truth. There is a danger of making him less true, of alienating him from truth, through our desire to attach him to ourselves. And therefore that same subjection one to another must make us resolute to maintain all truth so far as we have grasped it; vehement in denouncing all the habits of mind which, we know from ourselves, are unfavourable to the pursuit of truth, and undermine the love of it. And so this submission to man, which is in very deed submission to God, will preserve us from all servility; from that kind of deference to the judgment of individuals or of multitudes which is incompatible with genuine manliness, because it is incompatible with genuine reverence.
(F. D. Maurice, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
WEB: Likewise, you younger ones, be subject to the elder. Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."