By Christopher VanDusen
Believers in the Lord Jesus Christ are called to suffer insults, mocking, criticism, slander, and worse mistreatment for following Christ. This is due to the fact that they are children of God who live in a world that’s filled with children of Satan, who are in rebellion against God, and hate those who obey Him. So persecution is virtually inevitable for the Christian. But when we’re persecuted, how do we accept the fact that God is allowing us to be persecuted, and is using it for our good, and His glory, when we’re worried about how we’re going to live our daily lives through it? The apostle Peter answers this question in 1 Peter 5:6-11.
1 Peter is a letter that Peter wrote to multiple churches that were suffering increasing persecution for their Christianity. Many of their members had recently become Christians, and had had to stop taking part in the sinful practices that their unbelieving neighbors were still doing. As a result, their neighbors insulted, mocked, criticized, and slandered them in an effort to persuade them to stop following Christ, and to return to their old, sinful, lifestyles. Peter, who had a part in the establishment of these churches, heard about this, and wrote to encourage, comfort, and instruct these Christians that he calls “aliens” to respond in the right way.
Peter begins the letter by describing the amazing salvation that God has accomplished for them, highlighting the hope they have in the return of Christ. Then, he reminds them of the great anticipation that the Old Testament prophets had of this salvation, pointing out their privileged position as those who have experienced it.
After this, he begins to explain how they ought to live in response to their salvation. They are to be hopeful, holy, and reverent toward God. Next, he applies this instruction to their love for one another, which is to be as intense as possible, since they’re God’s children. To begin chapter 2, he commands them to stop committing certain sins against each other, and to instead long to learn God’s Word, so they can become more like Him.
In the next section, he describes how they’re to represent God on earth while they’re practicing His Word. It’s by serving Him as His holy priests, who serve their unbelieving neighbors by communicating His goodness to them. He then teaches that they’re to do this by avoiding giving into temptation, and by doing good before their unbelieving neighbors. This is done by submitting to every human authority over them, and by honoring all people. Peter then instructs servants, wives, and husbands, on how to obey these commands. He concludes this section by instructing all of the aliens to be united, and to bless those who persecute them.
In the middle of chapter 3, Peter explains why and how the aliens are to bless those who persecute them. First, they’re to do this because it’s better to suffer for goodness, then for evil. Second, they’re to do this because suffering is the pathway of God’s blessing, as the life of Christ shows. Thirdly, he begins chapter 4 by explaining that they need to view suffering the way Christ did, since they’re dead to sin, but alive to righteousness. Thus, they can’t go back to their old sins to avoid persecution. Peter ends this section by explaining how the aliens are to live in light of the nearness of the end. It’s by being sober-minded, loving one another passionately, and serving one another.
To end chapter 4, Peter forbids them from being surprised at fiery persecution, but to rejoice in it, and to trust God by doing good. He then begins chapter 5 by explaining how church leaders and their congregations are to work together to persevere through this persecution. His last instruction in this section is to be humble toward one another, since “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”.
In verses 6-11, Peter explains how and why the aliens are to humble themselves while being persecuted:
“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. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.” (ESV)
In this passage, Peter gives the aliens five instructions for humbling themselves through persecution:
1. Lower Yourselves Under God’s Hand (v. 6)
2. Lay Down Your Anxieties on God’s Heart (v. 7)
3. Be Lively and Alert for the Great Hunter (v. 8)
4. Look Around at the Afflictions of Your Global Household (v. 9)
5. Long for the Obtainment of Your Glorious Hope (v. 10)
Lower Yourselves Under God’s Hand
Peter’s first instruction for the aliens is for them to lower themselves in verse 6:
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you . . .”
His first command is for them to “humble” themselves. The word “humble” comes from a Greek word that literally means “lowly-minded”, and was used to describe the mindset that slaves were to have about their position under their master. Thus, to humble oneself means to lower one’s estimation of oneself, and to consider oneself as “low”, or no more important than one truly is. In this case, Peter’s not just commanding the aliens to “humble” themselves, but to do so “under the mighty hand of God”. The “mighty hand of God” describes God’s all-powerful control of their circumstances, which includes their persecution. He’s saying that they need to accept their persecution as suffering that’s coming from God’s all-powerful hand.
Next, Peter gives them the reason they’re to do this — “so that at the proper time [God] may exalt [them]”. The word “exalt” literally means “lift up” or “raise high”. It refers to the opposite of humility, which is loftiness, or high position. The aliens won’t experience this exaltation in this life, but in the next, when God will exalt them with Christ in His kingdom. This won’t happen until Christ returns, which will be the “proper time” that God has chosen to exalt them. However, He won’t exalt them unless they humble themselves under His mighty hand of persecution through their persecutors.
Lay Down Your Anxieties on God’s Heart
In verse 7, Peter explains precisely how the aliens are to humble themselves under God’s hand:
“. . . casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.”
The way they must humble themselves under God’s hand of persecution is by “casting all [their] anxieties on him”. The word “casting” could be replaced with “throwing” or “dumping”, so they’re not to do this hesitantly, but earnestly and urgently. The word “anxieties” comes from the Greek word meaning “distraction”. It means to be distracted by troubling thoughts. In the case of the aliens, these troubling thoughts would mostly be those of their suffering of persecution. Instead of entertaining these thoughts, Peter commands them to “cast” them on God. In other words, they’re to tell Him what’s worrying them, and ask Him to take care of it.
The reason they’re to let God take care of their anxieties is “because He cares for [them]”. The Greek word translated “cares” is similar to that for “anxieties”, since both describe objects of concern. However “cares” doesn’t convey the idea of distraction, but of intense interest. Thus, the aliens need to tell God about their anxieties because He cares about them, and is pleased when they entrust their concerns to Him, since their concerns are His concerns.
Be Lively and Alert for the Great Hunter
In verse 8, Peter begins to instruct the aliens on how they’re to deal with the outside source of their anxieties — the devil:
“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
The first way Peter commands them to deal with the devil is by being “sober-minded”. The word “sober” means to be “alert” or “clear-headed”, in contrast to dull or confused. It means to think rationally, logically, and realistically. Further, Peter instructs them use their sober minds to be “watchful”. The Greek word behind “watchful” literally means to be “awake”, and to stay awake.
But what are they to be watchful for? The answer is their “adversary the devil”. By “adversary”, Peter means someone who “opposes”, “fights against” them. He calls this person “the devil”. The Greek word translated “devil” literally means “slanderer” or “accuser”, but the definite article “the”, and the description of “your adversary” tell us that this person is the most powerful evil angel, who is in control of unbelievers, and is waging war against God and His people. The way he does this, as his name indicates, is by trying to make God’s children look like unbelievers, rather than believers.
Why are the aliens to watch out for the devil? Because he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”. This pictures him as lion who’s hunting the aliens, and roaring at them, in order to scare them, and destroy them spiritually. In the context of the aliens’ lives, the way the devil is trying to do this is by using unbelievers to persecute them. Peter’s teaching that the devil’s goal in persecuting them is to scare them into joining unbelievers in sin, so they’ll avoid persecution. This is why they need understand this situation, and see that they must not give in to this temptation.
Look Around at the Afflictions of Your Global Household
In verse 9, Peter explains how the aliens ought to fight against the devil’s effort to scare them into sinning:
“Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.”
First, Peter tells the aliens to “resist” the devil, or to fight against him. Then, he says they’re to do this by being “firm in [their] faith”. Everywhere that Peter uses the word “faith” in 1 Peter, it refers to believers’ trust in God and Christ, and that meaning fits here. Their trust is to be “firm”, or immovable and solid.
But why is their trust in God to be firm while they endure persecution? Because they know that “the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by [their] brotherhood throughout the world”. In other words, they need to trust God to take care of them while they suffer persecution for doing good, since they’re not alone. In fact, their “brotherhood”, or family in Christ “throughout the world”, are suffering the same things. Therefore, they shouldn’t think that what they’re going through is unusual, or unfair, but common for all children of God. If they remember this, then they’ll have one more reason to believe that God is with them, and will enable them to persevere in doing good.
Long for the Obtainment of Your Glorious Hope
Peter concludes this passage in verses 10-11 by encouraging the aliens to look forward to their reward for enduring persecution through righteous living:
“And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.”
First, Peter reminds them that they still need to suffer “a little while”. Their suffering will only last “a little while” because it’s nothing in comparison to their eternal futures of constant pleasure and joy. Then, he describes the God who will reward them for their suffering as “the God of all grace”. This means that He’s the Giver of all literally “favor” or “benefit” that they have. Also, He “has called [them] to his eternal glory in Christ”. This means that He’s invited them, and granted them participation in and experience of His eternal glory. By God’s “glory”, Peter means the display of His nature and character, which will be fully manifested through the new heavens and new earth, which will be inhabited by perfect and sinless believers in Christ. And this eternal glory is “in Christ”, or from the “Anointed One” of God, who is the Provider of God’s eternal glory for His people.
Finally, Peter promises that this God, who has promised to give the aliens a part in His eternal glory, will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” them. First, He’ll “restore” them. This means that He’ll eventually restore them to the moral, mental, physical, and spiritual goodness that Adam enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. They’ll no longer experience any suffering, but be “whole” or “complete”. Second, He’ll “confirm” them. This literally means that He’ll “make you stand firm”. Peter has in mind their endurance as believers in Christ at the end of their lives. Third, God will “strengthen” them, or make them strong, so they’ll never be weak again. Finally, He’ll “establish” them, or begin their participation in His eternal glory by providing them with their new bodies, and new roles in His new universe. But He won’t do these things until they’ve “suffered a little while”.
To conclude this passage, Peter expresses his assurance that God will do all these things. He does this by conveying his desire that God get “the dominion forever and ever”. By “dominion”, he means “control”. By saying this, he’s implying that God does have control over all things forever. Hence, it’s guaranteed that He’ll “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” the aliens after they’ve suffered persecution in this life. Peter affirms this ending “doxology” by saying “amen”, or “so be it”.
Get Rid of Worry, Be Watchful, Wage War, and Expect Victory
So, if you’re a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, how does this passage apply to you?
First, do you humble yourself under God’s mighty hand of suffering, so He’ll exalt you at the proper time?
Second, do you cast all your anxieties on God, since He cares for you?
Third, are you sober-minded?
Fourth, are you watchful for your adversary, the devil, who prowls around like a roaring lion, and seeks someone to devour?
Fifth, do you resist the devil by being firm in your faith, since you know that your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world are suffering the same things as you?
Sixth, do you remember that, after you’ve suffered a little while in this life, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you?
Finally, do you remember that God has the control over all things forever?
If you aren’t willing to humble yourself under God’s hand, are spiritually dull and confused about reality, or don’t resist the devil at all, but give in to his temptations, then you’re still a proud, asleep, and rebellious enemy of God. You’re heading for His eternal punishment. The good news is that He sent His eternal and divine Son to earth to become a man, Jesus, to live the perfect life, and to suffer and die on a Roman cross for our crimes against God. Then, He raised Him from the dead, and took Him into heaven as our King. He commands everyone to change their minds and trust in Him as Lord and Savior to receive His forgiveness, since He’s going to judge everyone perfectly through Jesus, and punish all His enemies for their rebellion against Him. Please make sure you’ve repented of your rebellion against Jesus, and are trusting in Him as your Lord and Savior to have God’s forgiveness, mercy, and peace. If you’ve done that, Jesus requires all of His people to be baptized in water by one of His people as an appeal to God for a good conscience, and a profession of their faith.