Pride, the Devil, and how to endure suffering as a Christian

So the point yesterday from 1 Peter 5:7 was:

Humbly trust that God is able to give grace because his hand is mighty, and he is willing to give grace because he cares for me; and he gives such grace to those who are humble.

Today, we’ll look at verse 8:

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

So what is the connection between humility and pride in verses 5-7, and sober thinking and vigilance against the devil, in verse 8?

The imagery in this verse is not insignificant. Peter is painting a picture of pride for us: the lion is a powerful and proud beast, much moreso when it struts and stalks its prey, confident to destroy it. So, he says, be “sober-minded,” — think of yourself rightly, clearly, as you ought to— under God’s mighty hand. Do not become puffed up, proud, and full of the swagger of the lion who does what he pleases and submits to no one. The devil in his pride made himself out to be God and hates God. He loves his ways and his strength, and he would rather you compete with him in your pride than submit to God in humility. The point is, you are not mighty; God is mighty! The devil fell into the trap of pride and now all he does is consume others.

This verse is not merely meant to warn us against the devil who is “out to get you”. Peter already warned us against that in 3:11, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” In some cases, to be sure, the things the devil would have us give ourselves to in the “passions of the flesh” are the tools he aims to use to devour and destroy us. On the other hand, I think what is in view here that the devil wants to do to us to devour us is more like what he did to Job: to strike us with suffering and pain so that we will deny and reject God. He is looking for weaknesses in us to exploit, a chink in the armor of our faith, whereby he can instigate doubt and unbelief through pain. A win for the devil here is a denial of God’s love.

How does this connect to the theme of 1 Peter?

I do not want to miss that this is not the first time the phrase “sober-minded” has been used in this letter. Rather, there is a theme in the letter that this is a part of, a refrain almost, for Peter.

The context of the letter seems to be present suffering as a believer. I note a few such observations:

  • they are “elect exiles” (1:1, 17; 2:11)
  • they are under trials (1:6; 4:12-16)
  • some were suffering as slaves (2:18-20)
  • they were experiencing “various evils” (3:9)
  • they were suffering for righteousness’ sake (3:13-14, 17)
  • they suffered “in the flesh” (4:1)

And so Peter puts forth a call to sober-mindedness as these Christians endure trials. Here are a few such examples:

  • believers should “prepare [their] minds for action, being sober-minded, and set [their] hope fully” on future grace (1:13)
  • since the end is near, believers should be sober-minded and self-controlled for the sake of their prayers (4:7)
  • believers should be sober-minded and watchful against pride and against the proud devil who wants to devour them (5:8)

This refrain of sober thinking marks a pattern that is present in the book. First, a description of their suffering (1:1, 6-7; 2:18-20; 3:17; 4:4; 4:12-14; 5:9-10), then a call to sober-mindedness and reflection on Christ’s sufferings (1:13, 18-21; 2:21-25; 3:18-4:1a; 4:5-7; 4:13; 5:10), then a description of how to live as Christians enduring suffering (1:22 – 2:17; 3:1-16; 4:1b-3; 4:8-11; 4:15-5:9; 5:10). This pattern is not lock-tight, but if you follow the passages in each category, you’ll see how this theme develops.

So to put these observations together, I think the theme becomes clear:

When you face suffering, and you may already be, consider Jesus and his sufferings for you and through such considerations, have a clear mind that is set not on your earthly trials and pain, but rather be filled with humility and self-control as you hope in the future grace God will supply, fully confident that God’s mighty hand is able and willing to be all you need for life and joy. That is how you endure trials as a Christian.

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