5 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.1 Peter 5:5-7
Refresh & Restore Bible Study — May 18, 2023: When the Loving Kindness of God Our Savior Appears – Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast
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- Refresh & Restore — December 29, 2022 (Behold the King)
- Advent 2022 — The Story of Christmas
- Advent 2022 — December 24 (Christmas Eve Reading for Our Kiddos)
I am excited to begin writing again as we embark in 2022! I intended our first study together to be the book of Colossians, but a thought struck me yesterday and spurred today’s devotion and delayed our start of Colossians until next week.
We will begin with a question: what comes to mind when you think of the hand of God?
Some think of the picture above which has been adapted from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. In that painting, you see a depiction of Adam (the hand on the left) and God the Father (right hand) reaching out toward one another. You will notice that the hands just do not quite meet. Some argue that Adam is reaching out to God but unable to grasp his hand (because of sin or inability). Others argue that it symbolizes God trying to reach out to Adam but not quite making the grasp Himself.
But there are other perspectives on the hand of God than just Michelangelo’s mural.
There are some that see the hand of God as a tool of vengeance. They see it poised for a good smacking when all His little children get wayward. Some who hold this view wish for God to strike people down with a mix of Old Testament fury and some Zeus-like lightning bolts. This hand is hard, calloused, and ready to strike and represent a definitively angry and wrathful God.
There are some who view the hand of God like those of the European-looking Jesus shepherds – hands that have nothing but soft cushiony care as they caress the little lambs in their grasp. These hands would never strike, nor would they ever need to because they represent a God of only love and no anger whatsoever.
Yet when the image and thought of the hand of God came to my mind, it brought with it the Scripture above from 1 Peter. As we study this particular passage today, it is my prayer that you see God in accordance with His Word and not by any alternate points of view no matter how lofty they appear.
To understand this passage, you need to look at the context of the book of 1 Peter and, especially, the context of the paragraph and chapter where it is found. 1 Peter is a letter to the “elect exiles of the Dispersion” (1 Peter 1:1), a group of people who were likely dispersed due to persecution – maybe even those who were forced to leave Jerusalem after the stoning of Stephen when Paul was Saul (Acts 8:1). These were believers, many of which were probably Jewish, who had been forced to leave their homes and the land they had grown up in. They were afraid and felt alone. They needed to be reminded that God knew who they were and had a plan for their lives (1 Peter 1:3-5) and that, even in their suffering and troubles, He cared for them.
Peter lays out for them how to “conduct [themselves] with fear [of God] throughout the time of their exile” (1 Peter 1:17) and reminded them that even though they “were not a people” and had previously “not received mercy” that “now [they were] God’s people” and “now…received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). It is a letter of good news in the midst of a lot of bad news.
He reminds them of the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ alone and the hope of eternity with Him. And He reminds them through many specific instances that the gospel of Jesus Christ gives hope in every area of their lives from the tyrannical governments they were suffering under to their relationships and daily lives. That good news is for us, too.
Today’s passage is part of 1 Peter 5 which begins talking to the “elders” who were “shepherd[ing] the flock of God” where these exiles were living (1 Peter 5:1-2). He wrote to the pastors of their local churches and talked with them about how they should serve. He reminded them that they were to “shepherd” in such a way that, “when the chief Shepherd appears” (1 Peter 5:4) – when Jesus returns, they would have exhibited His love, care, instruction, and correction as He would have them: “not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). You see, the pastors were to be examples because the same sort of example (“likewise” – 1 Peter 5:5) is to be followed in the relationships of the generations in the church as the young are to “be subject” to the elders (both the pastors & older, more mature leaders/disciplers in their churches) following the same pattern.
The beautiful thing about this is God uses the imagery of the hand of God to show what this is like.
Humility v. Mighty
Sometimes there is a fine line between humility, being humbled, and humiliation. Many people who define themselves as humble are everything but that. Some people get too big for their proverbial britches and need to be humbled or brought back into reality. But for others there comes a time where their lives end up at a screeching halt because their pride has written a check too big for their…britches to cash. Then comes humiliation. A force greater than them applies pressure and knocks them down a peg. We often cheer at those who do the knocking down and jeer at those who find themselves in the humiliation that (in our humble opinions) is much needed and deserved.
Peter’s advice – really the Holy Spirit’s advice, since this is Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17) – is that the way the church needs “to be subject” to each other and especially to God is for them to “clothe [themselves] with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5). He clarifies that this is not just some or they thought should have to; no, he says to them “all of you” (1 Peter 5:5), which goes from the pastor to the back pew. To back this up, he quotes from Proverbs 3:34 and reminds them that “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble”. That proverb sounds like a tough warning from stern God, but, really, it is a proverb of pleading. It is a reminder of our need of grace and how dangerous a distractor our pride is, especially when we need to repent of our sin. This is seen in the command that Peter follows up with in the next paragraph: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God” (1 Peter 5:6).
If we hold to one of the views of the hand of God that we looked at earlier, this is a frightening image. If it is the hand from the Sistine Chapel, we cannot reach it nor can He reach us, leaving us hopeless instead of humble. If it is the hand hurling lightning bolts and smacking sinners about, we can hope for humiliation and hurt instead of help. And the weak and soft hands of the European shepherd, the hero we need is nowhere to be found.
The “mighty hand of God” that Peter tells these exiles about is different altogether. The call is not to humble oneself out of fear or shame. The call is to humble oneself in recognition of the hand of the mighty God of the Bible. It is the “mighty hand” that Moses spoke over that represented His “greatness” and begged the question, “What god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours?” (Deuteronomy 3:24) It is the “hand of God” that was “on Judah to give them one heart to do [what was] commanded by the Word of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 30:12). It is the “good hands” of God that were on Ezra when he got to leave Babylon and come home to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:9). It is the hand of God that Nehemiah said had been upon him “for God” and gave strength to the hands of those involved in the “good work” of rebuilding Jerusalem after returning from Babylon (Nehemiah 2:18). It is the same hand that Israel was taught to sing of that God would “lift up [His] hand” and “forget not the afflicted” (Psalm 10:12).
Yet it was the same hand that was upon Jeremiah that “filled [him] with indignation” (Jeremiah 15:18). It is the same hand that was raised at His enemies to strike them down. Yes, the same hands that the writer of Hebrews wrote of when he said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
Which hand is reaching out to the humbled in 1 Peter 5?
The reality is that it is the same hands. The hand that punishes is the same hand that protects; the same hand strikes and saves. All of God’s attributes work together in harmony. He is everything the Word says about Him. And this is the reason we humble ourselves. We recognize that He is greater. We recognize our sin as we recognize our need for a Savior.
We humble ourselves because our pride cannot earn us heaven as we have “fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) and realize that “the wages of sin” – all that we can earn or accomplish – “is death” (Romans 6:23). And in that humbling, we submit to Him – are willing “subject to” (1 Peter 5:5) Him – as our Lord and Master (Romans 10:9).
Peter’s call for people to humble themselves “under the mighty hand of God” is to submit to Him that “He may exalt you” – to lay down their lives at the offer and promise of His Life and Righteousness (John 3:16, 2 Corinthians 5:21). And the hand that reaches out – the mighty hand of “our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness” (Titus 2:13-14).
Wrath and love are intertwined in that mighty hand. You see, the same hand that reaches out to the humbled was the same one what was “pierced for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). The God who people expect ready and waiting to smite the wicked with curses “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’ (Galatians 3:13, cf. Deuteronomy 21:23). He is the God who loved us enough that He showed “His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8), dying for us to pay for the forgiveness of our sin. He saves sinners “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands…nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:14).
That’s good news!
God’s Mighty Hand & You
Look back at that picture from the Sistine Chapel. More frightening than any anger or weakness would be a God who would not or could not reach down at all. God not only reached down, He came down, “became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). He set the example in humility:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on the cross.”Philippians 2:4-8
And that hand reaches out to us offering eternal life in the grandest gesture of love to ever be found. The hand that punishes wickedness and sin is the same hand that reaches out “at the proper time” to lift us up (1 Peter 5:7). It is not weak for forgiving but even stronger, the same hand of care still shows strength as Jesus said of those who are His, that He gives them “eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27).
The mighty hand of God is better than the Sistine Chapel. It is stretched out in love to those who repent and believe in Him. It represents the God who is not far off but close enough to cast your anxieties on. It is reached out “because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).
That’s good news!
STARTING NEXT WEEK!
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Pe 5:5–7.
What a start to 22. It makes me want to shake your HAND. (Not hold it as suggested by those great theologians, the Beatles.)
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