16. Characteristics Of Healthy Churches (1 Peter 5:1–5)Related Media
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 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.”
1 Peter 5:1–5
What are characteristics of a healthy church?
Here at the end of Peter’s epistle, he concludes this letter on suffering and being a pilgrim in an ungodly world with some exhortations and encouragements for the church. Even though the opening of the letter is written to the elect scattered throughout Asia Minor, we know he is writing to congregations because he starts off chapter 5 writing to the elders, the leaders of these congregations. He gives them and the congregants exhortations about how they should live as a community, especially in the backdrop of suffering.
I believe, as we look at this chapter, we find characteristics of a healthy congregation. In chapter 5, he challenges and encourages the leaders (v. 1-3). He encourages the congregations to submit to the leaders, to practice humility and servanthood amongst one another, and to practice faithful prayer (v. 5-7). He also cautions the congregations to be alert and prepared for attacks from the evil one (v. 8, 9). Finally, he encourages them to continue to persevere in their trials (v. 10, 11).
These exhortations endure today and are signs of a healthy congregation. These characteristics are important for you to know as you seek a godly congregation to join in the future. It helps you know what to look for, but it also helps you discern how you can make your current church better and healthier as you serve her.
In the same way that many today do not understand what a healthy family or home looks like because of bad experiences or models, many also don’t know what a healthy church looks like. We have so many unhealthy churches these days—churches that don’t preach the Word of God, churches that have no unity or the members aren’t serving. In today’s text, we will look at four characteristics of a healthy church.
Big Question: What are characteristics of healthy churches or church members in 1 Peter 5:1–7?
Healthy Churches Have a Plurality of Elders
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:1
This may not jump out to most people who are reading this text, but this is a very important truth. When Peter writes to the leaders of these churches, he doesn’t write to one elder or pastor. He writes to the elders of these congregations. Obviously, there are many elders because he is writing to many congregations that are scattered, but there is probably a plurality of elders in each local congregation as well. In the New Testament, when talking about the leadership of the church, it always refers to a plurality of elders instead of a single elder led local church.
We see this throughout Scripture. When Paul went to Ephesus in Acts 20, he contacted the “elders” of the church to have a meeting. “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church” (Acts 20:17). When Paul tells Titus to set up an eldership in Crete, he again uses the word “elders.” Listen to what he said in Titus 1:5: “The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” He was not to appoint an elder in every town but elders. Healthy churches follow the biblical model of a plurality of eldership.
Application Question: Why is a plurality of leadership in the church important?
This is significant for many reasons.
1. A plurality of elders creates balance among the leadership.
No single pastor has all the spiritual gifts needed to lead the church. One of the reasons that pastoral burnout is so common is because our spiritual leaders are doing too much. They are often working outside of their spiritual giftings, as they are expected to do everything. In a plurality of elders, you may find one elder that has a special gifting with finances, one elder has particular gifts in counseling, one excels in hospitality, one in teaching. They all may have some measure of ability in each of these areas but typically each will have certain strengths. This creates a balance.
2. A plurality of elders helps prevent hazards, like burnout or pride.
We saw this with Moses who was judging all the cases for Israel, big and small. His older, wise father-in-law said, “This is not good” (Exod 18:17). “You will burn out.” He recommended the ordaining of judges, a plurality of leadership, to share the load.
Moses’ father–in–law replied, “What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.
Exodus 18: 17–18
Around 1,700 pastors leave the ministry in the U.S. each month.1 Certainly, one of the primary reasons is burnout. Pastors are doing too much, and a great deal of this can be eliminated through shared leadership.
Also, a plurality may help with protecting the pastor from pride. Leadership is a ministry that can quickly lead to pride and then destruction. Having other godly leaders around helps those in leadership stay humble. Listen to what Paul said about hiring a pastor in 1 Timothy 3:6: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil” (emphasis mine). This pride can lead to lust, greed, being power hungry, or many other hazards. A plurality of shared leadership helps protect from these hazards.
3. A plurality of elders allows more people to be cared for.
Obviously when there are more people serving in leadership, this allows for more people to be ministered to and cared for. As a church continues to grow, they should add more elders for prayer, service, and teaching opportunities.
4. A plurality of elders gives accountability in the teaching of doctrine.
A pastor cannot just teach whatever he wants; there is accountability among other godly men of the church. Look at what Paul says about this in referring to prophecy in the church in 1 Corinthians 14:29: “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said” (emphasis mine). When a prophet would speak, the other prophets had to “weigh,” or judge, what was being said.
In the same way, the elders help judge and protect the church from error. When one of the elders teaches, the other elders should be testing what is taught. They must make sure it is biblical and healthy for the congregation.
In another sense, this is true for all believers in the church. The Bereans were called noble because they tested the teachings of Paul (Acts 17:11). Therefore, each church member must participate in this judging, especially the elders.
One of the specific jobs of an elder is to encourage sound doctrine and refute false doctrine. Listen to what Paul says in Titus 1:9: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (emphasis mine).
5. A plurality of elders brings victory and safety through their wisdom in decision making.
“For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory [or it can be translated “safety”] sure” (Prov 11:14).
Solomon said a nation will fall without having many wise advisers to make victory sure. A nation might have a president, but that president has a cabinet, a secretary of defense for war, a committee for budgeting, etc. They need a multitude of wise counselors. How much more does a church that deals with eternity and not just temporal matters need a multitude of counselors in leadership? There is victory, or safety, in the multitude of counselors.
6. A plurality of elders brings continuity to a church.
Often when a pastor leaves a congregation, there is a tremendous amount of instability. In the process of finding a new pastor, the church often loses many of its members. This doesn’t happen as much when there is a strong elder core that shares in the leadership of the church.
Often when a pastor leaves a church, they must hire someone they don’t know and who doesn’t know the church. This can often be very difficult. The most ideal setup is raising leadership up from within the church among the elders in order to have a stable congregation.
Application Question: What are your thoughts about the need to have a plurality of elders? Do you think Scripture supports this model over the solo-pastor model? Why or why not?
Healthy Churches Have Faithful Pastors
To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.
1 Peter 5:1-4
Interpretation Question: What do the titles elder, overseer and shepherd refer to in this passage?
In verse 1 and 2, we see that Peter uses three different terms for the leaders of the church. He calls them elders in verse 1 (to the elders), but in verse 2, he calls them both shepherds (pastors) and overseers (bishops). In some churches, these are three separate positions (elders, pastors, bishops), but in the Scripture, they are not. They are used interchangeably for the same office, just as Peter uses them in this passage.
We see Paul use these terms interchangeably in Acts 20. Look at Acts 20:28: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (emphasis mine). He calls them both overseers (bishops) and shepherds (pastors) in the same text. We see that he also calls them elders in Acts 20:17, where he initially calls to meet with them: “From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church” (emphasis mine).
These three titles simply reflect different aspects of the office. The title “elder” represents the maturity of these men serving in leadership; they should not be spiritual novices, but mature. The word bishop refers to the role of oversight over the congregation, and finally shepherd, or pastor, is a term that reflects care.
Who are these people that serve in the role of elder/pastor?
From 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, we see that these were men in the congregation. We see this by the masculine terms used.
He must be husband of but one wife and a man (emphasis mine) whose children believe (Titus 1:6). These men must have impeccable character; their homes must to be in order; they must not be given to wine or arguing and fighting. The primary skill set they must have is teaching (1 Tim 3:3). Therefore, they must know the Word of God in order to teach the church and also refute false doctrine. “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).
These men are called to care for the congregation, which includes all the roles of a shepherd. They should feed the congregation by faithful exposition of the Word. They must give the members of the church guidance. They must at times correct or discipline the church. They must also protect the church from all the works of the devil.
It is a very comprehensive and difficult position. What also stands out in the text is that they are shepherds of God’s flock (v. 2). It is not the pastor’s church or the pastor’s congregation. It is the Lord’s, but God has made these men to be undershepherds over God’s flock. Christ is the Chief Shepherd. This again says that these men must be abiding in God’s presence, knowing his Word, so they can best direct the flock according to God’s will.
Peter next gives us vices or bad tendencies that are common in the leadership of our churches, as well as virtues that should be encouraged in elders. Because godly elders are to be examples to the flock, these are also challenges for each member of the church to take to heart.
Observation Question: What are the vices our pastors (and members of the congregation) must be warned of and the virtues to be pursued?
Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (emphasis mine).
1 Peter 5:2-4
1. Faithful pastors must beware of laziness.
“Not because you must, but because you are willing.”
Peter speaks to them as a fellow elder (v. 1) who knows the difficulties of the office. One of the difficulties of the office is laziness. We know what laziness is, right? Laziness is when we know what we should be doing but we don’t want to, so we keep putting it off. Leadership in any organization can often be a place to hide and be lazy. There are others serving under them doing the work.
This is a tendency among pastors as well. There are many who hide behind the office of an elder. There are those called to be elders who are very inactive. Peter says a healthy congregation has elders who are willing, meaning they want to serve. They are not lazy or serving out of compulsion.
Statistics say that over 50 percent of pastors would find another job or profession if they could. When a pastor no longer feels a compulsion to serve, then they are on dangerous ground. They must serve because they are willing.
Let us again hear this is not only a common vice among those in the pulpit but also among the congregation. Often, it is very hard to get people to serve in children’s ministry, youth ministry, ushers or to lead a small group. Most churches have about 20 percent of the members doing all the work and 80 percent doing nothing. Each member should not be lazy but must be willing to serve. God has made them part of the body. This is one of the reasons many churches promote small groups. This allows each member to be serving one another in a small community, doing their part in the church.
2. Faithful pastors must not be motivated by gain.
“Not greedy for money, but eager to serve.”
One of the potential vices of the position is a desire for gain or to make lot of money. Now should pastors be paid? Yes, Paul clearly makes that argument in 1 Timothy 5:16, 17. He says those who excel in teaching the Word of God should be counted worthy of double honor, which can be translated “price” as in 1 Corinthians 6:20 (“for you were bought with a price”). It’s where we get the word honorarium from. He then says a “laborer is worthy of his wages.”
The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages” (emphasis mine).
1 Timothy 5:17–18
Elders who give themselves to studying and preaching the Word of God often do not have time to have another vocation because it is such a consuming task. The word work actually means “to work to the point of fatigue or exhaustion.”2 This is why other versions translate it “work hard.” They work hard in studying the Word of God to feed the flock, which is one of the primary responsibilities of a shepherd. These men should have double honor, not just respect, but pay. Yes, elders should be compensated and provided for.
However, there is a tendency for pastors to become consumed with the motivation of making money. Christ in calling himself the Chief Shepherd said he was not a hireling in John 10:12. He said the hired shepherd does not care for the flock. When the wolf comes, the hireling flees, but the good shepherd gives his life for the flock.
The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Let us hear that the church is full of hired hands, those who serve primarily for pay and not to care for the sheep. When trouble happens at the church, they bounce to a new church and take a new position. The first church I served at as a youth pastor split a year after I had been there. I was tempted to leave the church with the rest of the congregation, but God kept repeating the words from John 10 in my ears, The hireling cares nothing for the sheep. When the wolf comes, he runs away.
This must not be the motivation of a pastor; he must primarily serve because he cares for the sheep. Certainly, we often see this motivation for money in the prosperity gospels: “Send us one hundred dollars, and you will receive a tenfold blessing in your bank account.” In fact, Paul warned Timothy about this growing trend to use faith or ministry in order to feed one’s love for money. Look at what Paul told Timothy:
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (emphasis mine).
1 Timothy 6:9–11
He says, “But you, man of God, flee from all this,” flee this growing trend in the church to pursue money and instead of pursuing righteousness and godliness. One of the trends I love seeing in the church is how many of the pastors are putting their books out for free. John Piper’s books can be found for free and many others. It shows it is not about money but about serving others.
Instead of the motivation of the pastor being to make money, the elder must be eager to serve. Why does a person become a pastor? He wants to serve more. That’s what makes this office awesome. I get to be devoted to studying and teaching God’s Word. I get the opportunity to serve all day long. The money is not great, but we’re not here for the money. It’s for the privilege to serve. That is why one should desire to be an elder for the opportunity to serve more (1 Tim 3:1).
Again, let us hear this is not only a temptation for the elder but for the members as well. The New Living Translation, instead of saying “not greedy for money,” says “not for what you can get out of it.” Most people who come to church are consumer minded. They look at the church as they do any other business. What can they do for me? How is the youth ministry? How is the preaching and the worship? Certainly, all these things are important, but the problem is, this is most people’s primary motivation for joining the church. People look at churches for what they can get, instead of saying, “Where are the needs of this church? How can I make it better? How has God called me to serve?”
Consequently, most members of the church are just like the hireling pastor. When trouble happens in the church, when there is conflict with a member, when it feels like the sermons are no longer meeting their needs, what do they do? They move away. They are hirelings, just being at the church for what they can get. The church is full of members who are just seeking what they can get, instead of being committed to the body of believers God has called them to.
I’ll be honest, this is something I’ve struggled with. I am an MK, a military kid, meaning as a child, we moved every three to four years. Therefore, when I got on my own, I knew nothing about committing to a church and serving her. When I was in college, I bounced from church to church. When I became a pastor, I started getting an itch around my second year serving. It’s time to move. God had to train me to stay at my first church for seven years, especially as it was going through conflict. God is still training me. My upbringing gives me an itch, even if there are no problems; I have a problem called discontentment.
3. Faithful pastors must be careful of the desire for power.
“Not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.”
Another vice Peter warns about was the potential desire of the pastor to lord over people and abuse their power. This, no doubt, was something found in the disciples in their early ministry. You often found them arguing about who would be greatest in the kingdom of God. Because of this very conversation Christ rebuked them with this truth:
Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves (emphasis mine).
In the world system, leadership is an opportunity to have others serve you, but not in the ministry. The focus of a pastor’s leadership is not the exercise of his power but the power of his service. Peter said the primary way the pastor must lead is not by exercising his power over people but by the power of his example. The pastor is called to be an example in his faith, his purity, his conversation, even in his family life; he is called to be an example to the flock.
In fact, it should be added that because the elder does have authority in the church, sometimes people are prone to seek the position just for that reason. There is honor with that title. This seemed to be the case with the churches in the book of James. In James 3:1, he says, “Not many of you should seek to be teachers for you will receive a stricter judgment.” We see in chapter 4 that they were warring and fighting with one another, some had even died. Worldliness had entered the church, and therefore, people were seeking power and position to lord over people. Look at what James says:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God.
They were seeking positions of authority, and it led to fighting and discord among the congregation. This is not healthy.
Are there not times for the elder to use his authority? Certainly, there is, especially when there is false teaching, etc., but his primary leadership should be seen in his example. Peter says elders should not lord over people but instead should be examples to the flock (v. 3).
Faithful elders show us how to love the Word of God, and they push us in our desire to read the Scripture. They should push us in the desire to see the nations know Christ. They should challenge us with their faithful service and care for others.
Let us hear that these are not only marks of faithful elders in a healthy church, but they are also marks of faithful congregants, who are called to imitate the elders. Healthy church members are not lazy but willingly serve as ushers, small-group leaders, mentors, or any other needs the church has. You don’t have to twist their arms because they are willing. The church members are not consumed with what they can get from the church but what they can give. They are not consumer-focused people, but they are eager to serve. That’s why they do what they do. Instead of seeking to lord over people, they are examples of godliness.
4. Faithful pastors have an eternal perspective and motivation.
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”
I often meet men who don’t want to consider the role of an elder; they see the discord in the church, the extra work, and the lack of money. They say, “No way, not me.” But here we see that even though it is hard, difficult, and sometimes thankless, these faithful shepherds shall be abundantly compensated in heaven. They will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. In fact, we probably get a literal picture of this in Revelations 4:4: “Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads” (emphasis mine).
Here we see twenty-four elders crowned in glory. These cannot be angels, for angels don’t age. They seem to represent the redeemed of the church; these are elders who have been crowned and rewarded for faithfully shepherding the flock. They represent the people of God before the throne of God.
We may not understand fully what crowns and rewards in heaven represent, but we do know some things. Look at the reward given in the Parable of the Minas in Luke 19:16-17.
The first one came and said, “Sir, your mina has earned ten more.” “Well done, my good servant!” his master replied. “Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities” (emphasis mine).
Here the faithful are rewarded with overseeing ten cities in the coming kingdom. What is one of the things that reward and crowns represent in the coming kingdom? It represents the ability to serve God more. Those who are faithful with little will be graced with more in the coming kingdom, more ability to serve and honor God. Though this is promised only to elders, it is certainly true of all the redeemed. Those who are faithful in serving God now in his church, shall be rewarded with further opportunities to honor God in his kingdom. This is a characteristic of healthy church members.
I often meet congregants who have no comprehension of heavenly reward; however, this was a chief motivation used by Christ. Look at what he says to the disciples in Matthew 6. He talks about three things that should be in the life of all his disciples: (1) when you fast, (2) when you pray, and (3) when you give, don’t be like the Pharisees so you will not lose you reward. He motivated them by reward. Then in Matthew 6:19, he says to not store up riches on this earth but to store them up in heaven. Christians must have the motivation of eternal reward.
Application Question: Which vice are you prone to in your service to your local church? How is God calling you to grow in being a faithful servant?
Healthy Churches Submit to the Elders
Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older.
1 Peter 5:5
After talking to the elders, Peter talks to the members of the church. When it says be submissive to those who are older, it should probably be translated “elders” instead of “older.” This is how it is translated in the ESV and other versions. We can see this specifically from the phrase “in the same way,” or it can be translated “likewise.” Peter is saying that he is dealing with the same topic, and therefore, it refers to the young men submitting to the elders.
Interpretation Question: Why does Peter refer to “young men” instead of the whole church submitting to the elders?
There is a good amount of discussion over this. Some have said maybe there is a faction of young men rebelling in the church. This would be the group most prone to struggle with submission.
Often when there is trial or conflict, it is those in leadership who are commonly blamed or criticized. If you remember, while Israel was in the wilderness, the people turned against Moses and Aaron. We saw a faction of over 250 people, led by Korah, rise up against Moses and Aaron in Numbers 16. They complained against the leadership, and they complained against God.
We also saw this in the New Testament with Paul. In the Corinthian church, false teachers stirred up the congregation against Paul. In 2 Corinthians, one of the primary purposes of the letter was making an argument for his apostleship.
This is common in any organization where there is change or conflict. The employees point their fingers at and complain about the bosses. It is the same in the church. We must be very careful of this tendency to rebel against the leadership, especially when there is conflict or trials.
When congregations go through difficulty, we should not fall into the same sin as Israel or the church of Corinth. We must be careful of factions that rise up in the church against the leadership. Unless the leadership is leading us in contradiction with the clear teaching of Scripture, we should submit to them.
Application Question: How do we combat this desire to rebel against the leaders?
1. It is good for us to remember that the elders are God’s ordained leadership for the church. Listen to what Paul says to the elders of the Ephesian church in Acts 20:28:
“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (emphasis mine).
We see that every elder is handpicked by the Holy Spirit to oversee the flock. This even included bad elders. In Acts 20, Paul said that false teachers would arise even from among those elders (v. 30) and yet they were still selected by the Holy Spirit (even as Christ selected Judas). The only time we should not submit to the leadership in the sphere of church ministry is when they are disobeying Scripture. Scripture says that they will be held accountable by God for their care of the congregation.
Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account (Hebrews 13:17a)
2. We should submit to the elders not only because they are accountable for us but because God will hold us accountable for our submission or lack of to them.
“Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:17b).
Healthy churches obey and submit to God’s ordained leadership. The Holy Spirit has made them elders, and therefore, we should submit to their authority.
Application Question: Have you experienced factions and rebellion against the leadership of the church? How can we be salt and light in situations like this?
Healthy Churches Humbly Serve One Another
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5
Not only do healthy churches submit to their elders instead of complaining about them or disobeying them, they also serve one another. Peter uses a very interesting word when he says “clothe yourselves.” It literally means “to tie something on oneself.”3 It is a word used of a cloth a servant would put on right before serving. No doubt, Peter was thinking of Christ right before he serves and washes the disciple’s feet in John 13. Look at the narrative:
So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him (emphasis mine).
The servant apron that believers must put on is that of “humility.” What is humility? The word can also be translated “lowliness of mind.” Scripturally, it means to think of one’s self as lowly in view of God and others. Paul says something similar to the Philippians. Listen to what he says:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others (emphasis mine).
He says, “In humility, consider others better than yourselves.” In the rest of the chapter, he describes Christ who left heaven and took the form of a servant (Phil 2:7) and how the church must have this mind as well.
When the church is clothed with the apron of humility, they will go about seeking how they may serve others and help them know Christ. It means to think about meeting other’s needs over our own. People clothed with humility say, “What are the needs of others and how can I help them?”
One of the reasons most churches struggle with finding people to serve in children’s ministry, youth ministry, usher ministry or driving ministry is because most people are not clothed in the servant’s garment of humility. They are not saying, “How can I help the church?” Listen to what Paul said about Timothy:
I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ (emphasis mine).
Timothy was clothed with the garment of humility; he was consumed with the interests of others and of Christ. Paul said that even in the church, he had no one else like him. They are all consumed with their own interest. Churches that have this servant mind-set have to turn people away from ministries. “Sorry, we have too many workers in children’s ministry. We have too many people volunteering for the driving ministry.”
As mentioned, the ultimate picture of a humble servant is Christ. Even though he was God, he came to earth as a man taking the form of a servant. He served those who he was higher than. He humbled himself not only before God but before men. This attitude must be in us as well (Phil 2:5–11).
Observation Question: Why should we humble ourselves before others in the church as seen in the context of 1 Peter 5:5?
Peter quotes one of the proverbs: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The reason is twofold:
1. We should serve one another because God fights against the proud.
In a church where people are not serving one another but instead consumed with their own interests, there you will find a church that is prideful. Pride is essentially being independent of God and others. “God, I don’t need you, and I don’t need the members of your church.” It is the sin of independence. God fights against these kinds of Christians.
People who are fighting for their own way, their own rights, instead of being servants will find that they are actually fighting against God. Solomon talks about this further. He says in Proverbs 6:16 in the KJV: “These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood” (emphasis mine).
God even hates the proud look. Why does he hate pride so much? The proud do not acknowledge God. They say, “I have done this by my own strength, my own knowledge and will,” and they steal the glory from God. However, Jesus said even the food we eat and the clothing we wear God provides (Matt 6:25-31). Paul said he gives us life, breath and everything else (Acts 17:25).
The proud say, “We don’t need to serve God or his people.” Even if they do not say it with their mouths, they say it by their lives. They go each day not seeking his face, not recognizing their dependence upon him. Many churches are under God’s judgment. Why? It’s because the community is not a serving community, not a humble community.
Listen to what Paul told Titus in Titus 2:14: “Who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (emphasis mine). God redeemed us from slavery to sin to be slaves of righteousness—a people eager or zealous to do what is good. When his church does not act this way because of their selfish pride, he fights against them.
Many churches are going through discord and problems because of pride that makes them independent. It is not only the consequence of their pride that they are suffering but the judgment of God. People refuse to put on the servant’s cloth and humbly serve one another. “I’m too busy to get involved, too busy to serve others.” This brings God displeasure and ultimately brings his judgment.
2. We should serve one another because God gives grace to the humble.
What does it mean that God gives grace to the humble?
Grace means “unmerited favor.” God gives favor to their prayers. God gives strength when they are weak. He meets their needs. He is intimate with them. In fact, we see this with Moses. The Scripture says Moses was the humblest man on the earth and that God spoke to him face-to-face (Num 12:3–8). Moses had intimacy with God that others did not.
We also see that with Paul, grace meant to be empowered in his weakness. We see this in 2 Corinthians 12. In that section, God actually allows Paul to have a demonic thorn in the flesh, in order to keep him from pride so his power could be made perfect in him. Look at what it says:
To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me (emphasis mine).
2 Corinthians 12:7–9
Those who humble themselves before God shall find unmerited favor. This includes intimacy, strength, and empowerment to do God’s work.
A healthy church is a humble, serving church. They put on the garment of humility. However, a prideful church is not consumed with the interest of God or others. They are prideful and independent, and therefore, God fights against them. We are either a humble, serving church that God blesses or an independent, prideful church that God fights against.
Which will we choose? What way is God calling you to humbly serve the church?
Application Question: What way is God calling you to put the garment of humility on and serve his people?
What are characteristics of a healthy church?
- Healthy churches have a plurality of leaders. One man cannot lead God’s house.
- Healthy churches have faithful leaders. They are not lazy; they are not greedy or power hungry, but eager to serve. This should be true of the congregants as well.
- Healthy churches have members who submit to their leadership.
- Healthy churches humbly serve one another and receive God’s blessing.
Copyright 2014 Gregory Brown
Unless otherwise noted, the primary Scriptures used are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version ®, Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®) Copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version of the Bible.
1 “Statistics in the Ministry.” http://www.pastoralcareinc.com/statistics/ (accessed July 15, 2014).
2 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 1 Timothy. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (219). Chicago: Moody Press.
3 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (277). Chicago: Moody Publishers.