The Slave's Dress
1 Peter 5:5
Likewise, you younger, submit yourselves to the elder. Yes, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility…

Be clothed, or, according to the Revised Version, "gird yourselves." It is a remarkable word, occurring only here in the New Testament. It means to put on a certain article of dress which according to one view was a kind of "overall" worn by slaves above their other clothing, anti according to another was a white scarf which was part of the slave's dress. In either case it was a mark of servitude; therefore the exhortation is not merely to wear the garment of lowly-mindedness, veiling all other graces, but specifically to put on the badge of menial service. There may be a still more touching allusion in the peculiar word. Did not Peter's memory go back to that scene in the upper room, which he had understood so little then, but had, as his Lord promised, come to "know" in some measure in the "hereafter" of his many years of service? He recalls how the Master had girded himself with the towel, and stooped to the slave's task of washing the disciples' feet. Surely in this text, especially if we adopt the reading and translation of the Revised Version ("gird yourselves with humility to serve one another), we trace a reference to that wonderful act of stooping love, and hear an echo of the solemn lesson which Christ himself taught in connection with it: Ye also ought to wash one another's feet."

I. THE CHRISTIAN SLAVE'S GARMENT. Whatever was the exact form of the article of dress referred to, it was worn by slaves, and was a badge of their condition. We, too, are slaves, bought and absolutely possessed by our Owner and Master, Jesus Christ. The fitting garb for us is that lowliness of mind which he himself manifested, and which Christianity has throned as in some sense the queen of all the virtues. It is purely a Christian virtue; the very name for it in the New Testament is a Christian coinage; for new things need new words, and this was a new thing. The modest grace of humility looks, by the side of the splendid virtues of Greece and Rome, like some homely brown bird among the gorgeously colored birds of the East, or a dove among eagles. The gospel has brought to us such a clear revelation of what we ought to be, and has so quickened the sensitiveness of men's consciences as to their failures and sins, that a lowly estimate of one's self is for a Christian the only possible one, and is felt to be for all men the only true one. The more clear our vision of what we may become, and the more ardent our enthusiasm after yet unattained stages of progress in character, the more lowly will necessarily be our estimate of ourselves. Whoever has seen himself as he really is will have no heart to blow his own trumpet, or to hear other men singing his praises. We do not need to affect to be ignorant of, or to depreciate, what we are or can do. It is no breach of humility to be conscious of power, but it is to be so conscious of it that we forget our Weakness, and forget that the power is a gift, or are ever expecting recognition from our brethren, and thinking more of ourselves and of our claims than either of our obligations or of our weaknesses. If we would obey this injunction, and be rooted in humility, we must seek to know ourselves as we are, and to that end must study our own fees in the glass of God's Word and Christ's example. These mirrors will show us what will put us out of conceit of ourselves. We must further reverse the favorite mode of comparison with others, and search into their good and our own evil. We must further remember that all on which pride or self-conceit can build their flimsy castles is God's gift, and that therefore thankfulness anti not self-exaltation should be our temper. To wear this servile dress goes clean against the grain of human nature. It is the victory of unselfishness when we truly put it on. It is not pleasant to flesh and blood to go about in the garb which proclaims that we are slaves. But what true Christianity can there be in a man who has not learned that he is poor and blind and naked, and that all his wealth and sight and vesture he must owe to undeserved, unpurchased grace? And how can a man who has had to kneel before Jesus a suppliant penitent, and confess himself leprous and beggared and lost, get up from his knees and go out among his fellows, carrying his head very high and bearing himself as if he were somebody? If we are Christ's, we must wear the dress that proclaims us slaves, and gird ourselves with humility, the livery of his household.

II. THE PATTERN WHICH WE HAVE TO FOLLOW. Our thoughts are carried back, as we have already suggested, to the memorable incident of the foot-washing. In that incident was condensed, and as it were presented in an acted parable, the spirit of Christ's whole mission. The evangelist emphatically marks that supreme instance of condescension as being the outcome of our Lord's clear consciousness of his Divine Sonship and of his universal authority. Just because he knew that he had come from God and went to God, and held all things in his sway, he bowed to serve us. And it was also the outcome of his ever-flowing love to his followers. So his whole work on earth, in every stage of its humiliation, is based on that unique consciousness of Divinity and imperial sway, and is animated by love. As he then laid aside his garments, so he has put off the glories which he wore or ever the world was; and as he then girded himself with the towel, so he has voluntarily assumed the coarse and lowly body of our humiliation, stooping to be a man. As he then assumed a menial garb in order that he might wash his disciples' feet, so he has taken the form of a servant and become obedient to death that he might cleanse us all from our sins, by his own application to conscience and character of his own cleansing blood. In all these points we have to follow his example. Our humility must not only be a lowly estimate of ourselves, but it must be a practical stripping off of distinctions and prerogatives and an identifying of ourselves with the lowliest. It must lead to service. That service must have for its end our brother's cleansing. Jesus is not only our Pattern, but also our Motive; and not only our Motive, but by his indwelling Spirit he is the Power which moulds our selfishness into the likeness of his perfect self-surrender. In the deepest sense of the words, the "mind which was in Christ Jesus" must be in us, if we are truly Christians. If we have not his Spirit, we are not his servants. If we have that Spirit, we too, like him, shall be girt with humility, and do for others what he has done for us.

III. THE PURPOSE FOR WHICH IT IS WORN. According to one view of the word, the piece of dress here referred to was, as we have said, a kind of loose "overall" put on in preparation for work, and, according to another, a scarf which served the purpose of a girdle. So this grace of humility may be regarded as keeping all the other virtues which robe the Christian character in their places. It adds luster to them all, as rich attire and flashing jewels are harmonized and beautified by some sober-tinted cloak thrown over them. Nay, more, it is their very life, for nothing more surely destroys the charm of all other excellences and withers them when they grow than self-gratulation and self-conceit. Moses was all unaware that his face shone. But the great purpose for which humility is enjoined on Christians is that they may be ready for service. The man who flaunts about in gay clothing of self-conceit is usually slow to put his hand to work in anything which will not advance his reputation, or will soil his bravery. Fine clothes and hard work do not go well together. He is generally more ready to insist upon his claims than to respond to his brother's claims on him. We must put off that gaudy robe, and be content to hide our excellences with the wrapper of humility, as a servant puts on some coarse apron for coarse tasks, if we are to be rightly attired for the work we have to do. The humble mind thinks not of its claims on others, but of its duties to them. It is ready for the lowest service, and is kept by no false dignity from placing itself by the side of the feeblest and the foulest. Like the Master, it will take beggars by the hand, nor shrink from the touch of publicans and sinners. It will regard the meanest task done for Jesus as an honor and a mark of the Master's favor. Diffident of its own power, it will depend, and not in vain, upon him for all its efficiency; and, so depending, it will be enriched with all necessary helps, while self-conceit, trusting in its own power, will do little, and that little mostly barren, for, as the next words tell us, "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble." The rains and dews run off the mountain crests, which are always sterile and often struck by the lightning. It is down in the valleys that the broad rivers glide and spread fruitfulness and smiling plenty. - A.M.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.

WEB: Likewise, you younger ones, be subject to the elder. Yes, all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

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