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How You See Humility in the Church
Direction for young men and the entire congregation–1 Peter 5:5
Let me tell you how I got it wrong. Turn to 1 Peter 5:1-5. About seven years ago, in the process of training men for ministry, I was teaching my men Greek–how to use the original language of the New Testament to help them determine the author’s intended meaning of any passage. As my students were preparing to teach on 1 Peter 5:1 to 5, I was preparing my own Greek breakdown of the passage, using the method I was teaching them, and was shocked by what I found. The author’s intended meaning was not what I always thought it was. I love elders and leadership, yet this passage is not merely about the key function of elders shepherding, but something far greater.
You see, looking at the Greek made it obvious that there are three groups of people in view in these verses, which I never really saw before, and each unique group is given one command each. The focus in 1 Peter 5:1 to 5 is not merely elders but the entire Church, which Peter breaks into three groups. And the key here is not shepherding or submission, but humility. You see the broad purpose of this letter is to teach believers how to survive during a hostile time. Let me show you what I mean, then explain the text as God intended.
Open your Bibles to 1 Peter 5 and take your outline. In either one, circle the three groups—“elders” in verse 2, “young men” in verse 5a, and “all of you” in verse 5b. Circle the three verbs—“shepherd”, “submit”, and “clothe yourself”. Peter is not merely talking to elders, but to the entire church body. And when Peter wrote this letter, he was giving instruction to believers who have been scattered around Asia Minor in ten to twenty churches who are currently experiencing persecution. It is the time of Nero, and the Church is taking some painful hits–life and ministry are hard and there is great suffering, so Peter exhorts them all to stand firm.
As he wraps up this letter, he exhorts group one the elders, group two the young men, and group three the entire congregation to stand firm. But how are we supposed to stand firm when it gets difficult? Answer—humility . . . notice how Peter begins in verse 1:1, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder.” Stop! Peter is an apostle, but instead of asserting his authority he joins them as a fellow shepherd–he aligns himself with them, he takes his place as a part of the elder team. And in doing so he is showing them humility–Peter is giving them an example of humility. He’s demonstrating humility.
Now check out how Peter ends the paragraph in verses 5 and 6, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time.” Peter ends the paragraph with a command to be humble. Now when a writer begins a paragraph with an example of humility then ends with an exhortation of humility, what do you think he is talking about in between the example and exhortation? Humility. You all are very quick–sharp as a tack.
Yet in the context of the entire letter of 1 Peter, the passage is not merely about humility but emphasizing the importance of humility, especially when life gets difficult for the Church. What is God’s secret for a church experiencing tough times? The answer is to practice humility. The key to a great church is to be saturated with humility. What kind of church avoids splits, divisions, harshness and politics? Churches that are drowning in humility. So how do churches practice humility, and how do we?
ELDERS–you shepherd the people God’s way
YOUNG MEN (non-elders)–you submit to your elders, and
EVERYONE–clothe yourself with humility
And that is the author’s intended meaning of this passage and the goal of Faith Bible Church of Murrieta, California? Our goal as a church is to think less about ourselves and more about Christ than any other church. Not to be better than any church, but to think less of us and more of Him. Get this–we want to be the church that thinks less about itself than any other church. Let’s close in prayer.
What is humility? Let me borrow from CJ Mahaney–in his book Humility he says, “Humility is honestly assessing ourselves in light of God’s holiness and our sinfulness.” Humility is not, “I am a worm . . . everyone is better than me,” but an accurate assessment of yourself and God. Right now you may not be passionate about humility, but you should be. Why? It is a desperate need of our church, and an urgent need in your life. What was the first sin in the universe–pride. What is the favorite sin of the devil–pride. What is the worst sin in your life–pride.
You say, “Chris I am not so bad.” Really? Don’t you recognize pride in your life? You and I should! Let me give you some of the more obvious evidences of pride in your life–would you say this about yourself? See if this is you:
I tend to be self sufficient in the way I live my life.
I don’t live with a constant awareness that my every breath is dependent upon the will of God.
I tend to think I have enough strength, ability and wisdom to live and manage my life.
I am often anxious about my life and the future.
I tend not to trust God and rarely experience His abiding and transcendent peace in my soul.
I am overly self-conscious.
I tend to replay in my mind how I did, what I said, how I am coming across to others, etc.
I am very concerned about what people think of me.
I think about these things constantly.
I fear man more than God.
I am afraid of others and make decisions about what I will say or do based upon this fear.
I am afraid to take a stand for things that are right.
I am concerned with how people will react to me or perceive my actions or words.
I don’t often think about God’s opinion in a matter.
I primarily seek the approval of man.
I often feel insecure.
I don‘t want to try new things or step out into uncomfortable situations because I’m afraid I‘ll fail or look foolish.
I am easily embarrassed.
I regularly compare myself to others.
I’m performance oriented.
I feel that I have greater worth if I do well.
I am self-critical.
I tend to be a perfectionist.
I can‘t stand for little things to be wrong because they reflect poorly on me.
I have a hard time putting my mistakes behind me.
I desire to receive credit and recognition for what I do.
I like people to see what I do and let me know that they noticed.
I feel hurt or offended when they don‘t.
I am overly concerned about my reputation and hate being misunderstood.
I want people to be impressed with me.
I want people to notice my looks or strengths or clothes and to be attracted to me.
I like to make my accomplishments known.
I am overly competitive.
I always want to win or come out on top, and it bothers me when I don’t.
I am self-serving.
When asked to do something, I find myself asking, “How will doing this help me, or will I be inconvenienced?“
I find myself wallowing in self-pity.
I am consumed with how I am treated by God and others.
I am pretty insensitive to others.
I have a know-it-all attitude.
I am impressed by my own knowledge.
Are you proud? Answer: yes you are. Many theologians view pride not only as one of the worst sins, but pride is at the core of all sin. John Stott writes, “Pride is not only the first of the seven deadly sins, it is itself the essence of all sin.” And the only cure for pride, your desperate need–is humility, which is what Peter wants you to cultivate personally, and for us to cultivate corporately. You need it, and we need it–so let’s pursue humility.
God loves His followers to be humble. Do you remember what God said of Moses? Numbers 12:3, “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth.” And Christ told us that one of His attributes is humility in Matthew 11:29, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Christ is humble in heart, so the only way we can truly glorify God, please Him, and be like Christ is to also be humble in heart.
Do you want to become doers of His Word and grow humble? I hope so–but remember no one here is going to write a book and title it, Humility and How I Attained It. Be warned, developing humility will not be easy. Because God loves the humble, the world hates humility. Your non-Christian friends view humility as a weakness–as dumb, as wimpy, as stupid or as a bad self-image. The humble need counseling.
In business they tell you to be self-assured and aggressive. In school you need to brag about yourself and focus on your looks. You have all been taught how important it is to feel good about yourself. I know of a pastor who went into Starbucks, was asked by the staff, “How are you doing today?” He answered, “Better than I deserve,” and the entire coffee shop, staff and customers, launched into an exhortation on how to improve his self-image.
I watched some of the first year of American Idol and could not believe how some people who sang terribly (horribly) thought they sang wonderfully–then they were shocked when they were told the truth. To really develop humility, you have to be willing to be misunderstood, not liked and made fun of. You have to swim against the raging rapids of pride that is our culture. It will not be easy.
If you are a non-believer or a religious, self-deceived churchgoer, you won’t be able to cultivate true humility, because you do not have the inner resources that came with genuine salvation in Christ. But where do genuine Christians start? We look to our Lord Jesus, who was humble in heart–we depend upon His Spirit moment-by-moment, and we saturate our thinking with His Word found in 1 Peter 5.
How does the Church, and each Christian in it, function in humility? Peter starts off verse 1 with an example of humility, “Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed.” Peter exhorts, not commands, though he has the right to command. Humility treats all others with respect.
Peter calls himself a fellow elder, though he is an apostle. Humility does not focus on authority or position or power. Peter reminds them of his own sin, his greatest failure, his biggest mistake when he refers to himself as a witness of the sufferings of Christ–that’s when Peter denied Christ three times. Humility wears its failures, weaknesses and mistakes like a wreath. It doesn’t hide sin, it talks about failures as if to say, “See what God saved? See what God’s grace can do with a sinner like me? See how God can glorify Himself with such a weak vessel?” Humility does not focus on your godliness or maturity as a believer–it is a focus on Christ’s righteousness given to you by grace/gift.
Next Peter tells them his hope, desire and attention are not on this life, but on the life to come. He’s not a fan of this world. Peter is not investing in this world. Peter’s not in love with this life, Peter is not crazy about some team, a sport, a vacation spot, a TV show, a new phone or a movie. Peter is crazy focused with joy on his home in heaven and the return of Christ in glory–the better life, the good life, the best life is eternal life. Peter says he is a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed. Humility is focused on Christ, heaven, and God ruling this planet–not on now, comforts, pleasures, or the joys or sorrows of this life.
Peter displays true humility in verse 1, then he charges three different groups of people in the church with a command to follow, which will result in humility in the church. The first command is given to the elders.
#1 Elders are commanded to shepherd the flock
Churches led by distant boards of business men do not cultivate humility. Churches led by godly men who are among the sheep, they shepherd displaying hearts that are willing, eager and meek, and are longing for reward in heaven and not merely good things now, and will cultivate a church saturated with humility.
Listen to what Peter says in verses 2 to 4, “Shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.”
Elders have two duties–verse 2, the main command to shepherd, and Peter also calls elders to lead by telling them to exercise oversight. Peter makes certain that their shepherding and leading are truly Spirit-empowered by evaluating their hearts by giving elders three major attitudes to cultivate, three major character issues that will make their shepherding and leadership like Christ and not like the world. Elders are not forced but willing, not resentful but eager, and not controlling but meek.
Elders don’t control the church, don’t take advantage of the church, nor do they work for position or pride. They don’t shepherd because of pay like a hireling, but they shepherd from a heart that is passionate to care for others, desirous to please Christ, and humbly seeking to be an example for others to follow. And the driving motivation for this work is in verse 4, to hear from the senior Shepherd, the one they love more than life itself, “Well done good and faithful undershepherd–here is your eternal crown.”
The final two groups are found in verse 5, and God through Peter gives each of these groups one command to obey which will cultivate humility in the church, especially when life gets hot. Who does Peter focus on after elders? Group number two.
#2 Young men are commanded to submit to elders
Verse 5, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders.” Peter says “likewise”–marking a change of focus from one group to the next, and even though there is a lot of debate as to exactly who Peter is talking to, both ESV and NASB agree it is the younger in the congregation, and in that culture the focus would have been men.
Why does Peter say young men submit to their elders? Jay Adams says because, “It is often hard for them to do so.” The hot blood of youth may run so strongly that younger members of the congregation find it hard to move as slowly and deliberately as their elders. They want changes now. It is possible for the elders to become too conservative in their thinking, acting and decision-making, but often younger men fail to recognize that careful cautious judgment is often required in the church as spiritual leaders. That is why they must submit. They should respect the judgment of their elders and be willing to learn from them. It is also true that the elders must listen to the voice of youth which, at times, may bring freshness and insight into the deliberations. Submission does not require silence as long as the young are respectful, speak directly to elders and maintain a submissive heart.
Spiritual young men are described in the New Testament as those who fight for truth, are ready for battle, stand firm on convictions, but are often hardheaded and full of juice. So Peter wants them to learn humility. And they need to do so for the Church to survive.
The word likewise in verse 5 means “in the same way.” In the same way the elders will learn to show humility by shepherding the way Peter has described, the young men likewise are to learn to show humility–by submitting to their elders. Peter says humility is shown when men submit to their elders.
Picture yourself as a soldier in Iraq. You’re at war, you’re at checkpoints with the threat of bombs going off any moment–at times you are in a firefight and some of your fellow soldiers are wounded and killed. Picture that scene, and you will understand what Peter is saying. The Church is being persecuted and Christians are dying. What do you do? Peter says, “Follow your officers.” Submission is a military term meaning to rank yourself under. Follow the leadership and obey the orders of your commanders. Why? Not because they’re always right, but because it is the only way to be humble, and the only way to show God off.
Submission is what you find in the trinity–though they are completely equal and one, God the Son submits to God the Father. This is how the Son glorifies the Father, and this is how we glorify the Father, through submission. Peter has already talked at length in chapter 2 about submission, so he says here, like a child to a parent, a citizen to a police officer, a wife to a husband, a slave to a master–men in the church, express humility through ranking yourselves under your elders.
How do you know when submission is happening in a church? Submission is more than obedience–it is an attitude, a willingness, and a hunger to do what the Lord wants us to do. In most churches, submission is great–everybody loves it until you want to sin and are confronted, until there is something you want but are denied, until you think your leaders are unloving, until you get overlooked, passed by, or are not asked, until your kids act up, don’t like something or feel left out. Then submission is dropped and what I want is supreme.
But God says something totally different. Unless they are commanding you to disobey God’s Word, Peter says to the men of the Church, be subject to your elders. First Corinthians 16:15 to 16 puts it this way, “Now I urge you, brethren (you know the household of Stephanas, that they were the first fruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves for ministry to the saints), 16 that you also be in subjection to such men and to everyone who helps in the work and labors.” Only the humble submit, and only those born again in Christ and daily dependent upon the Holy Spirit can submit. Are you humble like Christ–do you submit? Lastly, Peter focuses on group three in the church.
#3 Every believer is commanded to wear humility
Verse 5, “You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders, and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Peter says, I command you to wear humility like a garment. I command you to saturate yourselves with humility, show humility, live humility, long for humility, and love humility.
I have some favorite jeans–now I have only one favorite “Jean”, but I do have one pair of blue jeans that are so comfortable I could sleep in them–those jeans with a sleeveless, thick cotton beefy T-shirt are my favorite outfit. Peter says, “I want your favorite outfit in the church to be humility–you wear it, show it off, serve in it, and talk with it.
The third group of people is the rest of the congregation–the elders, men, women and children . . . all of you clothe yourselves. “Clothe” is a command, and it is in the middle voice, meaning you act upon yourself. God expects you and I to clothe ourselves in a particular way–to wear humility. The verb clothe in verse 5 actually means to tie something on oneself, such as a work apron worn by servants. Peter is painting a powerful picture to this body of believers. In the first century, slaves would wear a white scarf or a white apron or unique overalls to distinguish themselves from freemen–they wore the clothing of a slave that made them distinct.
Peter is actually thinking of a very humbling event, because one night Jesus Christ Himself actually put on the white garment of a slave and served others like a slave when He washed the disciples’ feet. That’s what Peter means by “clothe yourself with humility”–it is to treat each other the way Jesus did when He wrapped himself with a towel and washed the disciples’ feet. Peter is telling the Church then and the Church now–in order to survive difficult times, withstand attack and remain healthy, spiritually wrap yourself in slave clothes and serve each other.
If Jesus Christ, God Himself, would leave the perfection of heaven to live on a fallen earth among sinful people, then serve us like a slave in the lowliest manner, be obedient to the point of death, even the death of a cross, which was the only way you could be forgiven, cleansed, given a new heart, new purpose, new life and a new home in heaven. If He would do all that, then can we not wrap the towel of servanthood around us and care for those who don’t appreciate it?
Our church is to be saturated with people willing to serve each other, take on the lowliest duty, die to self, consider others more important than ourselves, because that kind of humility is how God makes us strong enough to survive any test. To be humble is not to “hang down your head, Tom Dooley.” To be humble is to serve others like a slave does his master. Is it all that important?
Look at how Peter wraps up verse 5, “For God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” The Greek is telling us two important facts (two indicatives):
1 God is against the self-sufficient and the self-reliant, but
2 God gives His grace to “the God trusting” and “God dependent”
You may roll out of here today thinking pride is not that big of a deal. You may roll your eyes at anything biblical–I just saw it recently. But it does not change the fact that God hates your pride. Proverbs 8:13 says, “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil; pride and arrogance and the evil way and the perverted mouth, I hate.” Why does God hate pride? When you, as a sinful human being aspire to the status and position of God, and refuse to acknowledge your dependence upon God, then it lifts your heart against Him and contends for supremacy–and God hates that.
There are some students here at FBC who are opposing God. You are doing your own thing under the radar of your parents. You are doing what you and your friends want, and you need to know today that God is against you. There are some adults here who are opposing God. You hear God’s Word, but you dismiss it by excusing yourself or comforting your convicted heart with some alternative idea. You come up with anything other than repentance, and in your pride you don’t obey. God is against you.
God hates pride. What do you hate? I actually don’t have a lot of things in this life that I hate. I do hate drivers that don’t use their turn signal. Lexus drivers and Cadillac drivers are the worst. Get a Lexus, I don’t care, but use your turn signal. I hate calamari and clams in the shell. I hate snails in my backyard, which is the same as clams in the shell. I hate guys that wear speedo bathing suits at the beach. I hate abortion, child abuse, racism and men who abuse their wives. And I hate my own sin–I hate it. But all that is nothing compared to God’s hatred of your pride.
John Calvin wrote, “God cannot bear with seeing His glory appropriated by the creature, in even the smallest degree, so intolerable to Him is the sacrilegious arrogance of those, who by praising themselves, obscure His glory as far as they can.” And because God cannot bear with this arrogance, He tells us in verse 5 that He actively opposes the proud. This opposition is a fact, it’s real, it is present tense, ongoing, continual opposition. God Himself is opposing you, and opposed literally means God is “hostile” toward you when you are proud.
Pride is your most dangerous enemy–it is the sin you should be most alert to and most afraid of. God opposes you, is hostile toward. Jonathan Edwards called it the most difficult sin to root out of your life. Pride will undermine you, destroy you, ruin you, lead to more sin, push you into compromise and keep you enslaved to lusts. And pride is what will ruin our church and the churches that Peter was writing to. Pride is the direct cause of complaining, criticism, division, quarreling and more.
The good news is, Peter says, “God gives grace to the humble.” Peter is quoting Proverbs 3:34, where the Hebrew uses different words but has the same meaning, “Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted. God is hostile toward the proud, but ‘God gives grace to the humble.’” Have you been given grace? To become a Christian you have to come to the end of yourself. You have to realize you can’t save yourself. You have to be completely and totally dependent upon Christ, you depend completely on Him, His death on the cross for your sins, His resurrected life, His Word, His character and not your own. You must come to a point of broken humility to even become a Christian–and as a Christian now, God expects you to live that way.
You came to Christ in saving faith, you now live by faith. You came to Christ in repentance, you now live repentantly. You came to Christ in humility, you now live humbly. You came to Christ by His grace, and you now live by His grace. And God’s grace, which is giving you what you don’t deserve continues while you live humbly, dependently, by faith and repentance–but live independently, by the flesh, proudly, and refuse to turn from your sin and God is opposed to your pride.
That is why Peter says the key to surviving and thriving as a church is to practice humility. Elders to shepherd, young men to submit, and all of us to put on the apron of the slave and serve each other the way Christ served us. Before you ask if FBC is a humble church or a proud church, you have to ask yourself, “Am I a humble believer or a proud one?” How can you tell, in addition to what verse 5 teaches? Ask yourself . . .
1 Am I a learner?
A humble heart doesn’t say, “I want you to train me, use this book and lets cover this topic.” A humble heart says, “My life is an open book and I desire to learn from you in every area.” A humble, submissive heart asks questions from those who are more mature and actually applies what they learn from them. A humble heart realizes you don’t know anything about marriage before you are married, so you learn from godly marriages. A humble heart knows you don’t know anything about parenting your baby, so you ask those who have been parenting many babies, toddlers, yard apes and teenagers.
To come to Christ, you had to come to a point where you said, “I can’t do anything, I don’t know anything, I am nothing and now I follow you. And you follow Christ often by following those who are more mature than you in the faith. Are you a learner, no conditions?
2 Do I live the Word?
In order to be a mature Christian, you have to learn the Word of God. You need to know all of it, understand sound theology, be able to study the Bible on your own. Mature Christians feed themselves. But mature Christians do not merely know the Word, they live the Word, apply the Word, seek to display the Word in and through their lives, in their marriages, homes, parenting, work and ministry. Don’t call Jesus “Lord” and not do what He says. To be a part of Christ’s family, you will do God’s will. The humble do not merely quote verses, they live them.
3 Am I a servant?
To clothe yourself with humility means to put on the apron of the slave and serve others. If you are humble, you will serve others in the church, and if you are proud you will not. We are to be clothed with service toward each other. We have many at FBC who passionately pursue serving others, and some who continue to ignore God’s commands to serve their gifts in the body of Christ. Which one are you?
4 Do I focus on others?
The proud boast about themselves, talk about themselves, and think about themselves. The humble boast about God, talk about others and think about others–where is your focus?
5 How do I view myself?
The proud admit they sin occasionally and need a Savior. The humble admit they are the worst sinner they know. The humble know they deserve death daily and hell for eternity. The humble know they’ve received grace, getting salvation which they didn’t deserve and mercy, not getting hell that they do deserve and all that came from Christ, to themselves who are undeserving. Are you proud or humble–have you turned to Christ alone?
Every one of us battles with pride–if we don’t deal with it, we will find ourselves working against God–or worse than that, God is working against us. What should we do about it? Live humility by . . .
First Stop thinking about yourself so much
We are surrounded by individuals motivated by self-interest, self-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency for the purpose of selfish ambition and self-glorification. Don’t be one. What’s your mental focus? What occupies your time when your mind us free? Philippians 4:8 tells us what we’re to think about, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.”
A friend of mine was ministering to a wife who that day had lost her husband–he asked her, “What are you feeling?” and she shared about her fears and sorrow. He asked her what she was thinking about the future, the kids, the coming funeral. Then he asked this profound question, “But what do you know?” She knew that Christ was with her and that Christ would take care of her and her family. The key to healthy thinking is to move away from what you feel, even to what you think, to what you know–the truth of God’s Word.
Isn’t that what God says in Proverbs 3:5 and 6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding [your own thinking and feelings]. 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” If we don’t control our thinking, if we don’t stop thinking about ourselves, our problems, our issues, and focus on what we know, we won’t be humble, dependent people.
Second Serving others as a way of life
If Christ would put on the garb of a slave and wash others’ feet, who are we not to serve others all the time? Again, according to Jesus the greatest person in this room is the servant–the one who serves all the time. Yet some of us have compartmentalized our service. We have a group we serve, or a ministry we give ourselves to. Praise God for that, but then sadly, sometimes in every other area we think we deserve to be served, forgetting that service is a character quality. Yet being a servant is what we are to be if we are going to be like Christ. That means we never stop being a servant at home, at work, with the lost and at church. You may not be able to permanently join every service ministry long term–no one can. But you can be a servant all the time, in every situation. If you are humble, then you will be a servant all the time.
Third Focusing on the cross
As one great theologian said, “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross? If we are to become the Christian and the church God wants us to be, then we need be consumed with what Jesus did for us.”
Because of His great love for you, even though you were destined and deserving of hell, He became a man, lived as a servant, showed us what God is like, then offered Himself to pay the penalty of death for our sins. He was and is perfect. He never sinned, but Christ took your place. He did the work. He suffered what you should have suffered. Then He rose from the dead and will now give life to all who turn to Him in repentance and faith. When He changes your heart, you will change direction (repent), and follow Him and not yourself. You will also depend (faith) on Him and not yourself.
You will, like Jesus who says, Matthew 11:29, “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.”