All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility.
1 Peter 5:5
I have met two classes of Christians: the proud who imagine they are humble, and the humble who are afraid they are proud!
There should be another class: the self-forgetful men and women who leave the whole thing in the hands of Christ and refuse to waste any time trying to make themselves good. They will reach the goal far ahead of the rest.
The truly humble person does not expect to find virtue in himself, and when he finds none he is not disappointed. He knows that any good deed he may do is the result of God’s working within him.
When this belief becomes so much a part of any man or woman that it operates as a kind of unconscious reflex, he or she is released from the burden of trying to live up to the opinion they hold of themselves. They can relax and count upon the Holy Spirit to fulfill the moral law within them.
Let us never forget that the promises of God are made to the humble: The proud man by his pride forfeits every blessing promised to the lowly heart, and from the hand of God he need expect only justice!
Lord, it is very difficult to “put on humility” in a culture that idolizes self-promotion and individuality. I invite You to do a work in me, Lord, molding my life to be a useful instrument in Your hands.
5:5 Those who are younger, whether in years or in the faith, should be submissive to the elders. Why? Because these overseers have wisdom that comes from years of experience in the things of God. They have a deep, experiential knowledge of the word of God. And they are the ones to whom God has given responsibility for the care of His sheep.
All believers should be clothed with humility; it is a great virtue. Moffatt says, “Put on the apron of humility.” Very appropriate—since the apron is the badge of a servant. A missionary to India once said, “If I were to pick out two phrases necessary for spiritual growth, I would pick out these: ‘I don’t know’ and ‘I am sorry.’ And both phrases are the evidences of deep humility.” Imagine a congregation where all the member have this humble spirit; where they esteem others better than themselves; where they outdo each other in performing the menial tasks. Such a church need not be imaginary; it could and should be an actuality.
If there were no other reason for being humble, this would be enough: God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (Peter is quoting from the Greek version of Prov. 3:34.) Think of it—the mighty God opposed to our pride and determined to break it, contrasted with the mighty God powerless to resist a broken and contrite heart!
Once again Peter issues a set of instructions and exhortations (compare 2:13, 18; 3:1, 7, 8). In verse 1 he addresses the elders, in verse 5 the younger men, and in verses 6–9 all the readers. In concluding his epistle, the apostle first instructs the elders and then the next generation.
- Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
Observe these points:
- Subjection. Peter turns to the young men and writes the phrase in the same way. In Peter’s epistle this phrase may indicate nothing more than that the writer makes a transition in his discussion (see 3:1 with its explanation). The phrase, then, is more or less equivalent to the connective adverb also.
Accordingly, Peter first instructs the elders to demonstrate willingness to serve and to be examples to the believers. Next, he tells the young men to be submissive to those who are older. Is Peter discussing first the office of elder and then an office filled specifically by younger men? Although Scripture introduces the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9), it mentions no office for younger men. True, in the early church the younger men performed duties in burial services (Acts 5:6, 10); and Paul instructs Timothy to “treat younger men as brothers” (1 Tim. 5:1) and Titus to encourage them to be self-controlled (Titus 2:6). But the New Testament provides no evidence that these young men were serving in any official capacity. Therefore, in view of this lack of evidence we cannot prove that Peter thinks of these young men as deacons.
When we consider this verse, we see the clear lines of subordination. The cultural background is evident. The first-century Jewish writer Philo observes that the sect called the Essenes separated the older men from the younger. On the sabbath in their synagogues, “arranged in rows according to their ages, the younger below the elder, they sit decorously as befits the occasion.…”
Does the Greek word for “elders” (“those who are older” [v. 5]) refer to function (see v. 1) or to age? Because Peter mentions no specific office for the younger men in verse 5, we infer that he thinks of age and function. The one interpretation does not rule out the other. A word can convey two meanings when a writer provides indications to that effect. For example, Paul confirms such a shift in meaning for the word presbyteros in 1 Timothy 5:1 (“older man”) and in 1 Timothy 5:17 (“elders”).
Peter teaches that in the church the elders are called to positions of leadership; he exhorts the junior men to be submissive to them. And he urges these young men to show respect and deference to those who are more advanced in age. By implication, they learn obedience and humility from their elders and at the same time are trained to assume leadership roles in church and community.
- Humility. For both the older and the younger generation, humility ought to be the hallmark of Christian living. Peter writes, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” Is the word all restrictive or comprehensive? In the restrictive sense it applies to the younger men, so that verse 5a and 5b form one unit. But this combination leaves the rest of the sentence grammatically unrelated to the preceding. Most translators, therefore, have opted for the comprehensive meaning of all. They have combined verse 5b and 5c, so that 5a forms a separate sentence.
“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” The Greek gives an interesting description of the act of putting on humility. The word clothe means to tie a piece of clothing to oneself. For example, slaves used to knot a white scarf or apron over their clothing to distinguish themselves from freemen. The suggestion is that Christians ought to tie humility to their conduct so that everyone is able to recognize them. Peter exhorts the readers to fasten humility to themselves once for all. In other words, it stays with them for the rest of their lives.
What is humility? Jesus invites his followers to learn humility from him. He invites all those who are weary and burdened to come to him and learn. For, he says, “I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matt. 11:29). Humility comes to expression when we consider others better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). Humility is one of the Christian virtues, next to compassion, kindness, gentleness, and patience (Col. 3:12). Scripture also warns against false humility, which has the appearance of wisdom and demonstrates its worthlessness in a show of “self-imposed worship” (Col. 2:18, 23). And last, Peter instructs his readers how to live as Christians by telling them, among other things, to “be compassionate and humble” (3:8).
- Authority. “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Peter supports his exhortation with an appeal to Scripture. He quotes Proverbs 3:34, which in the Hebrew differs slightly from the Greek in wording but not in meaning: “[God] mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.” Perhaps this passage circulated in synagogue and church as a proverbial saying, because James also quotes this verse (4:6).
The believer ought to know that God has provided for him everything he needs. “He possesses nothing he has not received, is nothing but for the grace of God, and, apart from Christ can do nothing.” Should he attribute anything to himself, he would not only rob God but also meet him as his adversary. Hence, the Christian lives humbly with his God (Mic. 6:8).
You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; (5:5a)
As he did earlier in the letter (3:1, 7), Peter uses homoiōs (likewise) as a transition word. In the prior verses, the nasb renders the word “in the same way.” In all three usages, the word marks a change of focus from one group to another. In 5:1–4 Peter addressed church leaders; now he turned to the congregation. As shepherds submit to the Chief Shepherd, so the flock submits to their shepherds.
The foundational attitude in the life of the saint must be submission, a relatively familiar theme already in this epistle. In 2:13–20 and 3:1–7 Peter commanded believers to be submissive to employers, civil authorities, and within marriage. No less is required of those under the leadership of the divinely instituted office of pastor in the most important entity on earth—Christ’s own church.
Although no one is exempt from Peter’s exhortation that everyone is to be submissive to their elders, he targets specifically the younger men. Though it is not stated in the context why he singled them out, probably he did so because it is so obvious that they generally tend to be the most aggressive and headstrong members of any group. There is no reason to view them as some recognized faction or fixed association in the church. The matter of submission would not likely have been as much of an issue for the women or older people in the church; they were more experienced and more spiritually mature (cf. Ps. 119:100; Prov. 16:31; 20:29).
In calling the young to be subject to those over them in the Lord, Peter again used the military term hupotassō, “to line up under.” He calls everyone in the church to put aside self-promoting pride and willingly and respectfully place themselves under the leadership of their shepherds (cf. 1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:7). Clearly, given the previous context (vv. 1–4), elders refers to the spiritual leaders, the shepherds and pastors, not merely to older saints. That the entire church has the obligation to submit to those God has placed in authority over it, is a theme in Paul’s letters:
Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors. (1 Cor. 16:15–16)
But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. (1 Thess. 5:12–13)
As seen in the broader context, Christians are to be submissive to all in authority, but especially in the church. The process of spiritual growth flourishes among those who have an attitude of submission. An unsubmissive flock, on the other hand, makes the shepherds’ ministry difficult and forfeits a critical feature in sanctification: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).
and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, (5:5b–6)
Inseparably linked to and underlying a submissive attitude is a mind given to humility (cf. Ps. 25:9; Dan 10:12; Mic. 6:8; Matt. 5:3–5; Eph. 4:1–2; James 4:10). Because always the truly humble—and only the humble—submit, both of Peter’s commands encompass all believers.
Clothe (egkomboomai) literally means “to tie something on oneself,” such as a work apron worn by servants. Here it describes figuratively covering oneself with an attitude of humility as one submits to authorities over him. The word for humility here is tapeinophrosunēn, “lowliness of mind,” or “self-abasement.” It describes the attitude of one who willingly serves, even in the lowliest of tasks (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1–5; 2 Cor. 4:7; Phil. 2:5–7). Perhaps even more so than today, humility was not an admired trait in the first-century pagan world. People saw it as a characteristic of weakness and cowardice, to be tolerated only in the involuntary submission of slaves.
As Peter wrote this verse, he likely recalled Jesus’ tying a towel on Himself and washing the disciples’ feet, including his own, as recorded in John 13:3–11 and applied by Jesus in verses 12–17, as follows:
So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 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, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (cf. Ps. 131:1–2; Matt. 25:37–40; Luke 22:24–27; Rom. 12:3, 10, 16; Phil. 2:3–11)
To reinforce his exhortation for humility, Peter quoted from Proverbs 3:34, God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (cf. James 4:6). Peter’s quote differs slightly from the Septuagint by substituting God for the Septuagint’s “Lord,” but the names are obviously synonymous. Without question, that the Lord is opposed to the proud (cf. Prov. 6:16–17a; 8:13) is the greatest motivation for saints to adopt the attitude of humility. Pride sets one against God and vice versa. On the other hand, God blesses and gives grace to the humble (cf. Job 22:29; Ps. 37:11; Prov. 22:4; 29:23; Matt. 11:29; Luke 10:21; 18:13–14; 1 Cor. 1:28–29; 2 Cor. 4:7–18). The prophet Isaiah stated the principle well, “For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, ‘I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite” (Isa. 57:15; cf. 66:2).
The apostle Paul knew the grace that comes to the humble:
Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:7–10)
Based on the above verse from Proverbs that Peter mentioned, this command comes forcefully: therefore humble yourselves in submission, not only to avoid divine opposition and to receive divine grace, but because the authority over all believers in the church is none other than the mighty hand of God. Or as James stated it, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord” (4:10a).
The mighty hand of God is descriptive of God’s sovereign power at work in and through the elders of the church, as well as in the life experience of His people (cf. Isa. 48:13; Ezek. 20:33–34; Zeph. 1:4; 2:13; Luke 1:49–51). Whether for deliverance (Ex. 3:19–20; 13:3–16), for testing (Job 30:20–21), or for chastening (Ezek. 20:33–38), God’s might is always accomplishing His eternal purposes on behalf of His own (cf. Pss. 57:2; 138:8; Isa. 14:24–27; 46:10; 55:11; Jer. 51:12; Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:28; 9:11, 17; Eph. 3:11; Phil. 2:13). In their time of persecution, suffering, and testing, that assurance would encourage Peter’s audience to persevere (cf. Ps. 37:24; Prov. 4:18; Matt. 10:22; 24:13; Rom. 8:30–39; Heb. 12:2–3; James 1:4, 12; Rev. 3:5), knowing that all their suffering is only so that He may exalt them at the proper time (cf. 5:10). Even as Jesus Christ was born at the appropriate time (Gal. 4:4; Titus 1:3) and died a substitutionary death at the exact time God designed (1 Tim. 2:6), God will exalt (hupsoō, “to raise or lift up”) believers out of their trials, tribulations, and sufferings at His wisely determined time. Some have suggested that this exaltation could be a reference to the final eschatological glory that comes to believers at the Second Coming, the “last time” Peter referred to in 1:5 (cf. 2:12); but the Greek phrase en kairō is literally “in time” (cf. Acts 19:23; Rom. 9:9) and is not an eschatological term. It is better to see this as the appointed time when the Lord lifts the humble and submissive believer up out of difficulty.
If the foundational attitude for spiritual growth is submission, humility is, then, the footing to which the foundation is anchored. To become proudly rebellious, fight against the Lord’s purposes, or judge His providence as unkind or unfair is to forfeit the sweet grace of His exaltation when the trial has fulfilled its purpose (cf. James 1:2–4). It is the Lord Jesus Himself who promised, “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11).
Challenge to the Young Men (5:5a)
5a Peter then turns away from “elders” and addresses “young men” (neōteroi). This designation in the Greek text is somewhat ambiguous. Who precisely are these young men? Are they potential leaders or simply the younger people in the community? Peter admonishes these individuals to “be submissive” to older people “in the same way.” But in what way? Given the earlier pattern in the household code, which calls for submission at several levels (cf. the admonition to wives, “in the same way be submissive” [3:1]), a natural interpretation of 5:5a is that younger people in the community must order themselves after the older out of respect for them. Mounce, 85, captures the spirit of this admonition: “The point is that submission to those who are older (and presumably wiser) is socially appropriate for young men.”
- Challenge to All (5:5b–9)
5b Following the words of instruction to elders and young men, a call to humility is presented to everyone in the community. As has been his custom throughout the epistle, Peter supports this exhortation with a citation from the OT; here he borrows from Proverbs 3:34: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” One is justified in calling humility the “law of the community,” as Barclay, 258, does. The admonition to “clothe yourselves with humility” is vivid, for it calls to mind the servant putting on an apron, such as Jesus, in fact, did as an example to the disciples (Jn 13:4–5, 14–15).
 Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2280–2281). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 195–197). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 276–279). Chicago: Moody Publishers.
 Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 353–354). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.