Zebras’ coats seem to be an odd color choice for the African plains. Those black and white stripes pop against a sea of brown. But their stripes also serve a purpose. From a distance, the zigzagging patterns make a herd of zebras look like one large animal. Their stripes blend into one another, making it difficult for predators to single out a single animal from the herd.
As Peter closes his letter, he reminds us that we also have an enemy: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (1 Peter 5:8-10).
The Bible never calls us zebras. That’s not too surprising–there probably weren’t a lot of zebras running around the hills of ancient Palestine. But like zebras, we are also safer in the herd. And Peter gives us the surprising secret that helps us stay safe in the herd where we belong: humility.
Peter warns church elders to be humble: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them–not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2-3). If God has raised us to leadership, it’s not for our own benefit–it’s for the benefit of those who serve. Ministry is not an excuse to fleece the flock. Nor is it a one-way ticket to a power trip. Ministry is a privilege. We are to serve joyfully, and humbly. Our humility as leaders keeps us in the midst of the herd–both protecting and being protected from our prowling enemy.
But leaders are not the only ones Peter tells to be humble: “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourself with humility to one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6). All means all. All of us are to clothe ourselves in humility as we interact with one another.
Clothing ourselves with humility means that we wrap humility around ourselves in our thoughts, our actions, and our conversation. We resist the temptation to act like our priorities are more important than anyone else’s. We work to make sure those around us succeed. We let other people go to the front of the line and save them a seat at the table. We speak kindly of others–refusing to make ourselves look better by tearing other people down. And by practicing humility, we keep the herd circling close. Close enough that when the lion comes prowling, all he meets is our zebra hooves.
We have an enemy, and we face him best together. We should neither elevate ourselves above others or let our pride drive fellow believers away from the herd. Instead, we humbly serve each other. We outdo each other in showing honor. And as we do, we trust that God will lift us up in his time.
Let’s be zebras together.
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