Tag Archives: submit

How to submit to God when life is hard

12 Jul

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There was Jesus on the worst night of his life, knowing that horror was just hours away.  He is kneeling, praying to God, experiencing human pain and anxiety, wishing like we all do that there might be another way, some escape from suffering.  What do you when you don’t want to do what God wants you to do?

You do what Jesus did.  That’s what Peter teaches next. What did Jesus do?  Let’s find out.  Peter’s third and final illustration of the principle “submit to human created authorities, for God’s sake” is found in in verses 21-25 of 1 Peter 2.

He starts by saying: “To this you were called.”  Called to what?  “Followers of Jesus,” Peter has been declaring through his letter, “you have been saved, you have been reborn into his family.  You citizens of a new nation, God’s nation.  You are his holy, royal priests. You have a totally new identity and responsibility.  To this you were called!”

That means Christians will live in a way that is different.  Christians submit to and respect human authorities, even when those authorities mistreat you.

And look at who Peter brings up as the epitome of this.  Jesus.  That’s what the rest of the chapter is all about.  From the rest of verse 21 through verse 25, Peter is glorying in Jesus.  He says Jesus is our example, and we should follow in his steps!  We can submit our lives for the cause of Christ, because Jesus submitted his life for us.  When faced with the darkest day of his life, though he looked for a way out, he still said to God, “Not my will, but yours be done.”

So I urge you, submit yourselves to God first. Make that your daily priority the moment you wake. Pray: “Lord, I submit my life to you today.  I want to live every waking moment for your sake, for your cause, for your mission, so that as many people as possible that you bring across my path today, even if I am struggling hard, will be pointed to you by my respectful, loving attitude and actions.”

And then every moment throughout the day, live that kind of life, for God’s sake.  Throughout each day, who knows what we will be faced with? Meanness? Unkindness? Difficult situations? How will we react?  Will we take up arms and try to maim and injure and hurt back?  Will we take to social media and try to destroy?  Will we unleash venom from our tongues?

Peter says, “Live good lives.  Be respectful.”  The way of the world is to erupt and rage and react with vengeance.   Peter says that is unbecoming of a follower of Jesus.

Stay focused on Jesus, our example.  In the face of intense persecution at his arrest and crucifixion he did not retaliate.  Peter was there!  He saw how Jesus handled it.

Of all people, Jesus had the right to retaliate and call down fire from heaven.  But he did not.

Yes, this is hard teaching to swallow.  Is Peter saying that we should just take abuse if we are being abused?  No!  You have to remember that it was a different cultural situation.  Peter was talking to slaves who were Christians.  Peter was talking to Christians who were being persecuted.  Facing severe bodily mistreatment was a real possibility in their daily lives.  Peter wasn’t saying that the abuse was okay or justified.  Peter was simply speaking to a situation that was their daily reality.

You and I don’t live in that situation.  In our culture, abuse is illegal and wrong, as it should be.  We have legal recourse and means to deal with abuse.  First, get away from it.  Second, take appropriate legal action.  But in the midst of our response to abuse, we can still apply the principle: be respectful and considerate for God’s sake.

Make the mission of the God your priority, even when you are being abused.

This passage also applies in many situations in our daily life when, maybe we are not being abused, but we are being overlooked or treated unkind or unfair.  And in some cases we try to take appropriate measures to address the situation, politely pointing out to a boss, for example, that we have not received a raise, while others have.  What if the boss still denies us the raise?  Peter would say, “handle that situation with the cause of Christ as your guide.  Be respectful.”  Peter isn’t saying, “Stay at that job and be mistreated.”  Peter isn’t saying, “Be a doormat for Jesus.”  He is saying, “Handle yourself with kindness and gentleness.  You represent Christ first and foremost, so represent him well, and it will be especially noticeable how you handle yourself under the pressure of mistreatment.  People will notice!”

But how do we know if we Christians should stop respecting and obeying our government?  What would we do, for example, if America outlawed evangelism like they did in Nepal last year?  What will our Nepalese sister churches do?

I will tell you what we will do, and what our sister churches have already started doing.  We’ll do what Peter said to do: “Obey God rather than men.”  I pray we never have to make that choice.  But there are plenty of places around the world, like Nepal, where this is an issue.  That’s why there are underground churches all around this world.

So while we praise God we are living in a country where we are free to worship and to speak our opinions, let’s communicate in respectful, God honoring ways.  As Peter reminds us, we Christians are not really free to do as we please. We are, like Jesus, bound to the mission of God.  As much as possible, we submit ourselves, we bind ourselves to obey and respect all authority, so that the cause of Christ might advance.

Are you facing a situation where you are being mistreated?  How will you respond with respect to that authority, for God’s sake?

How Peter could tell slaves to submit to masters without dignifying the institution of slavery

11 Jul

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Does the Bible condone slavery?  The passage we are studying this week, in particular 1 Peter 2:18-20, seems to do just that.  As I mentioned in this week’s first post, Christian slave-owners used this passage to support slavery.  Imagine being a slave hearing sermons telling you to submit to your master, even when he beats you.  Here’s how authors Powery and Sadler describe it:

“The God [slaves] met in these sermons was firmly on the side of their tormentors, opposing their freedom, reifying the status quo.  The religion they were offered did not emphasize the love of Christ in response to their choice of will, but the subjugation of their wills as a divine duty to other humans who laid claim to their bodies.”  – The Genesis of Liberation, page 1

It is a wonder that Christianity became and remains so prominent among African-Americans.  Is there perhaps more to the story?  Let’s see what we can uncover.

What we are looking at this week is a key principle Peter taught in 1 Peter 2:13: “submit to created human authority, for the Lord’s sake.”  Yesterday’s post examined how Peter applied the principle to government.  In the second of three illustrations, today Peter mentions something incredibly hard for us to hear.  In 1 Peter 2:18-20, he speaks to Christians who were slaves, and he says “submit to your masters, even to those who are harsh and maybe beat you.”  Whew. That is a tough passage.  What was Peter thinking?

First of all, slavery in the Greco-Roman Empire had some differences from slavery in our American history.  Our slavery was racial.  In Peter’s day, it was often not racial.  Slaves in the Roman Empire could earn their freedom, become citizens, purchase land, and rise in society.  Slavery was very widespread, however, and as Peter indicates, it could be brutal.

From our vantage point in 2018, given what our nation went through and still struggles with, to hear Peter say to a slave in verse 18, “submit,” and in verse 19, “it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering,” we cringe.  We want him to say, “Slave, you throw off your chains and be free!”

But Peter doesn’t say that and you can see a Southern slave owner in 1850 pulling out his Bible and proclaiming, “Look, it says right here in 1st Peter 2 that slaves should respect their masters.”  And that’s exactly what those slave-owners did!  Their way of interpreting the Bible, and the racism inherent in their interpretation, is a factor that led to our bloody Civil War.  Those slave-owners were wrong.  They interpreted this passage wrong.

Peter is absolutely not trying to support slavery and beatings.  Peter is talking to Christians who were currently slaves, giving them advice on how to handle the difficult situation, from a distinctly Christian perspective.

Peter says to them, “submit.”  Why though?  Because when they consider the freedom they have in Christ, they will best serve the cause of Christ by being submissive and respectful to the authorities around them.  God is the focus once again, as Peter notes in verses 19 and 20.  “Be conscious of God,” he says, and “This is commendable before God.”  The principle has nothing to do with whether or not slavery is right or wrong.  The principle is simply, submit for God’s sake.

Peter is laser-focused on the mission of God.  “Christian slaves,” he is saying, “you have a grander mission, the mission of Jesus, to see people become followers of Jesus, and so therefore, you give every part of your life to that mission.”

But maybe that doesn’t help you understand Peter’s heart.  Maybe you’re still thinking, “Yeah, but Peter still could have told those slaves that the mission of God also included their freedom from slavery.  God wants slaves to be free.  And therefore, he should have told them to rise up and rebel.”  If you’re thinking that, you’re not alone.  There is a significant portion of the my thinking that agrees with you.

But let’s give Peter the benefit of the doubt, that he too likely thought through this.  He had already in verse 16 said that they were to live as free men. And yet, Peter knew what would happen if Christian slaves chose to take their freedom from their masters.  Think about the slave rebellions in our American past.  They generally didn’t go well.  They almost always led to increased pain and suffering for slaves.

I suspect Peter was well aware of this and had witnessed this.  If the Christian slaves chose to embrace their freedom in Christ and not submit, they would not only face increased beatings, but they would also forfeit just about every opportunity to win their masters for Christ. Peter sees a much improved situation for slaves who are respectful, submit, and through their good lives provide a much greater chance of reaching people for Christ.

But isn’t Peter, then, preserving the institution of slavery?  Shouldn’t he still condemn it?

Even though Peter doesn’t condemn the institution of slavery, and in fact, no biblical writer does so, they did however, lay an ingenious groundwork for slavery to be abolished.  Biblical theology absolutely supports abolition of slavery and the total equality of all humanity. That discussion goes beyond the scope of this post, but I do think it is important to mention it briefly.  The biblical writers talked about racial equality, about freedom in Christ, about how in Christ there is neither slave nor free.  But we are all one in Christ.  They made a culturally-shocking theological argument against slavery.

As Christians we should passionately pursue abolition.  Thankfully slavery is no longer a part of our American situation, but the reality is that there is more slavery, globally-speaking, now than there was during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.  There is much work to be done, and we Christians should be leading the charge for abolition.

Check back in tomorrow as we look at the final illustration Peter uses for how to submit to authority for the Lord’s sake.

Why and how to submit to governing authorities

10 Jul

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Yesterday we looked at Peter’s principle in 1 Peter 2:13a, “Submit to human created authorities, for the Lord’s sake.”  As he continues teaching, Peter illustrates this principle three ways:

  • Illustration #1 – verses 13b-17 – respect and submit to the governing authorities.
  • Illustration #2 – verses 18-20 – slaves respect and submit to your masters
  • Illustration #3 – verses 21-25 – Jesus as the ultimate example of submission

Starting with this post, and continuing for two more, we’re going to examine each illustration to see if we can discover why Peter would have mentioned that.  What was going on in the life of the church and in the Roman Empire that might have caused Peter to bring this up?

Read 1 Peter 1:13-17 and you’ll find Peter teaching that those Christians need to submit to the government.  He mentions the king, which is the supreme authority, and in that day it was the Roman Emperor.  In verse 14 he mentions governors, which would have been regional authorities.  And finally in verse 17 he says, “show proper respect to everyone.”

Do you remember the king Peter is talking about here?  We know exactly who he is referring to when he mentions the king, the supreme authority.  It was the Roman Emperor, Nero, who was a bit crazy.  He persecuted Christians.  Wait a minute.  Submit to Nero?  I want to say, “Peter, that is ridiculous! You should be telling these Christians to rise up and rebel, not submit!  They’re being persecuted.”

When you are being persecuted, life is hard, and certain personalities will just react, and fight back.  Perhaps Peter is hearing talk about Christians who are sick and tired of being persecuted, and there are whispers of starting armed conflict.  When we read 1 Peter 2:13, I can hear Peter saying “Woah, people time out.  I know all about what you’re going through. You do not want to pull out your swords, believe me.”  You know why I think this?  Remember what happened when Jesus was arrested in the garden?

Travel back in time with me another 30 years.  Jesus and his disciples, one of which was Peter, had been traveling around Israel, and Jesus was a rockstar preacher, gaining crowds with thousands of people.  Right around the end of his third year as a traveling preacher, things had started to get a bit heated between Jesus and the religious establishment.  The people were fans of Jesus but the religious leaders were not.  The religious leaders were jealous of Jesus’ popularity, and they hated how Jesus regularly confronted them and they couldn’t win arguments with him. They were eager to take Jesus down.

When Jesus enters the city of Jerusalem for the beginning of Passover week that year, the people want to make Jesus King.  They’re ready to start a war.  The Jewish religious leaders see their moment.  If they can convince the Roman authorities that Jesus is a rebel, they could get Jesus killed.  Jesus knows this.  He’s not surprised.  At the end of the week, after spending a last supper with his disciples, Jesus goes out to the Mount of Olives, just outside the city.  He brings the disciples with him, minus Judas who had mysteriously left the dinner early.  The disciples also are getting a sense that something is brewing.  Jesus has not been quiet about his fate.  He’s been telling the disciples straight up for weeks that he is headed to Jerusalem and a confrontation.  But the disciples didn’t get what he meant.  Jesus was so popular.  That night in the Garden, though, suddenly Judas shows up, now a traitor with a kiss, and with armed soldiers to take Jesus captive.

Peter has a moment of clarity.  This could be the day of Jesus’ ascension to the throne.  Peter whips out his sword, ready to fight!  He cuts off the ear of a guy in the group who had come to arrest Jesus.  Peter is ready to start a rebellion.  Until Jesus rocks Peter’s world.  Jesus looks at Peter and says, “My kingdom is not about that.  Put your sword away.”  Then Jesus heals the ear, allows himself to be arrested and taken away.  Peter is utterly shell-shocked.  His whole conception of Jesus and the mission of God’s Kingdom is now in shambles.  You know what Peter does next?  Maybe an hour later?  He denies even knowing Jesus.  Peter got it wrong.

I suspect 35 years later, Peter is remembering that awful night.  He does not want these new Christians to think that the Kingdom of God is advanced by fighting and war.  Because it is not!

Peter was writing to Christians about how to handle themselves while living in a nation that did not always treat them kindly.  So how should Christians respond to government, even a repressive one?  As much as possible, Peter says, they should obey. Submit. Follow the law.

But you might ask, “Should they give up their faith or break God’s laws if the government said so?”  No way.  Absolutely no.  How can I say that?  Because Peter also had to deal with that too.  A few months after Jesus died, rose and went to heaven, Peter was a changed man.  Jesus had brought him back in to the fold, and now Peter understood the mission of God’s Kingdom.

In Acts 4:19 the authorities in Jerusalem arrested Peter and John for preaching Christ, and do you think he denied Jesus then?  Nope.  He said to them, “Judge for yourselves whether is it right for us to obey you rather than God.”  Jesus had given them marching orders to make disciples, preaching the good news of the Kingdom, and the religious leaders were telling them to stop.  Then a few months later, they were arrested again.  This time Peter says in Acts 5:29, “we must submit to God rather than men.”

So how do we know where to draw the line about when we should submit and when we shouldn’t?  Has Peter changed his mind 30 years later?  I would submit to you that Peter has not changed his mind.

In Acts 4 and 5 what was happening?  These are the first times Christians were persecuted for their faith.  The leaders were essentially saying to the Christians, “Give up your faith in Christ.”  Peter responds, “No we’re not going to do that.  Come what may.”  What came was a severe beating, but Peter and the other Christians kept right on preaching Jesus, totally disobeying and not submitting to the religious leaders.

But in 1 Peter 2, 30 years have gone by. Peter is writing to Christians in the Roman Empire who have already been persecuted for their faith.  Those Christians didn’t need to hear “obey God rather than men and keep the faith,” because those Christians had already been faced with that choice and they had remained faithful.  What those Christians needed was guidance about how to keep the mission of God thriving.  Therefore Peter is essentially saying to them, “Don’t rise up, rebel and start a war.  As much as possible, follow the rules, live good lives.”

Look at verse 15. He teaches them to do good in the face of ignorance.  Don’t go tit for tat.  Do good.  Silence the ignorant with your goodness. If you are being mistreated, handle it with kindness.  When you are good and kind and peaceful in the face of poor treatment, it makes a huge statement.  It makes Jesus attractive!  That’s powerful!  People take notice when you handle mistreatment with grace and kindness.

Then in verse 16 he continues this thought.  He says, “You are free,” which means free to disobey government, “but don’t use your freedom for evil!”  Christians are not citizens of an earthly country. We are citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, so we could say that we don’t have to follow any rules of an earthly country.  We are a holy nation, the people of God.  But to that, Peter says, don’t abuse your freedom in Christ.  Instead, practice submission to the governing authorities.

He concludes with a very expansive statement in verse 17: show proper respect for everyone.  Love the brotherhood of believers, Fear God, Honor the King.

Peter is covering three major groups that Christians should practice respect.  First, the church family, which is a repeat from what he said in chapter 1, verse 22.  “Love one another deeply from the heart.”  Second, fear God, which is a repeat from what he said in chapter 1, verse 17. “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.”  And third, honor the king, which is a repeat of what he said in chapter 2, verse 13 and 14 which we read today. “Submit to the King and governors.”

Peter is desperate for these Christians to be respectful.

Respect the authorities.  That doesn’t mean you need to agree with all the behavior and choices of the authorities.  In their day, Nero was a wicked man.  Of course they didn’t need to agree with him.  But as much as is possible, respect and honor and submit to the King.

It has become something of a test of authentic Christianity to be disrespectful to our leaders on social media.  I think Peter would be appalled.  So, Christians, respect authorities.  Disagree if you disagree, but do so with humility, grace and respect.  Too many Christians have damaged the cause of Christ by being out of control with their approach.  “Submit yourselves, for the Lord’s sake.” And remember that the Fruit of the Spirit is to be flowing through out: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.