The idea of submission to others is not a very popular American idea or contemporary concept. Asserting oneself and one’s rights is the wisdom of the age. We see it on college campuses where outrage exists almost for the sake of existing, rather than for some substantive injustice.
Bible passages with the word “submission” in them don’t tend to play well in the modern era, such as those that speak about husband/wife relationships. And there is no way to go to the original Greek and make the word mean something less than it sounds like it does. Peter writes…
5:5 – In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” [from Proverbs 3:34]
5:6 – Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
But God gives to us in these passages an order of doing things and living life, an order that places primary responsibility vertically. The greater and more difficult challenge is to be the one with the lead responsibility, rather than the one to extend honor and follow someone else.
Here we see a sort of juxtaposition of older/younger. Without doubt there is an assumption that generally the elders are going to be more toward the older age. What is old and young is a bit subjective and might look different in one context versus another. But in other passages about the qualifications of elders, those traits are generally those that develop over time and life experiences and extension of service.
And just as Paul does in the aforementioned passage about marriage, Peter here moves quickly to an even larger and more encompassing idea … that of everyone exercising humility in service toward one another. He says to “clothe yourselves” in this way, as if there is a uniform that is worn in all church family relationships — the humility of service uniform. You simply cannot find yourself in conflict with anyone who simply loves you so much that he wants to serve you and help you in any way possible. Get everyone doing that and you’ve got a system where it is no big deal who are the elders and who are not.
Peter quotes a well-known verse from the Old Testament that speaks of the over-arching truth that God blesses those who are servants, essentially those who model the servant life of the Great Shepherd. And so he says to do that as a general pattern of life … to make it a personal initiative.
What ALWAYS follows service is that the one doing it finds that his needs are surprisingly met in abundance when troubled times or circumstances rise to the surface.
I gave the illustration on Sunday about a man in my New Jersey church named Don. He was a little bit different in some ways, somewhat socially awkward and odd. But there was no doubt that he was exceedingly kind and that he genuinely loved everyone in the church. Don was interested in learning all about you and praying for any needs you had. When people were hospitalized, he visited all of them to cheer them up and pray for them.
One day, Don had an emergency appendectomy. The word got around the church that Don was the patient in the hospital this time. People rushed to see him. And before long I got a call from the Chaplain’s Office at the hospital asking me to get the word out somehow to the church that their visits to Don were simply overwhelming the system and creating havoc.
When you serve others, others are likely to serve you in return when your time comes. And if that is not true, as in verse seven, you can always put your own cares into God’s hands. He knows it all, he keeps score really well, and he is faithful for whatever care you may have.
Now go love and serve somebody else in the church today. And then do it again tomorrow, and so on …