In a portion of Peter’s first letter, he directly addresses the elders of the churches in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia with an unfocused shotgun blast of wisdom (1 Peter 5:1-7). He challenges them to be good examples. He explains that they should watch over the flock out of desire, and not out of obligation. He advises them to be honest, and eager to serve. He tells them not to lord their authority over those subject to it.
But in the second part of the passage, he focuses like a laser beam on the concept of humility. In fact, the whole passage seems colored by it more than anything else — perhaps because he mentions the concept four times in the space of two verses (1 Peter 5:5-6). He tells those who are younger to submit to their elders (submission requires humility). He tells everyone to “clothe themselves” with humility. He reminds them that God opposes the proud but extends grace to the humble. And finally, he commands them to humble themselves beneath the mighty hand of God, so that God can then lift them up.
Why such a focus on the concept? The answer is in the DNA of humility. Humility is a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance. When we recognize who God is, we approach a more accurate estimation of our own importance. It is a lack of humility that causes us to be selfish. It is a lack of humility that causes us not to get along with others. It is a lack of humility that pushes us to do the opposite of everything Peter asks in his shotgun blast of wisdom. But most importantly, it is a lack of humility that can cause us not to go down to the altar, or to refuse to ask for forgiveness, or to refuse forgiveness to someone who asks for it. This lack of humility causes us to ask what others might think. This, in turn, creates anxiety because we don’t want to be seen as less than what we think we are, or as less than what we think everyone else thinks we are (or should be)! Sometimes when we are suffering with anxiety or worry (not all of the time) we can’t move because we’re worried about status. But if we humble ourselves, and realize there’s someone so much greater than we are that our silly comparisons here on earth are meaningless, then we will submit, cast that anxiety on God, and realize that he truly cares for us. We will then be appropriately exalted (1 Peter 5:6).