Last week we were looking at Gospel submission in regards to the government God has placed over us. Living out good Lives as Gospel citizens. We considered several different things in order to understanding more about submission and how it brings Glory to God. One of the key thoughts was that when we live well as Gospel citizens functioning for the benefit of society, then people will see God in us. We also considered how all authority was granted by God and that societal structures are used by God. As long as those in power over us never require from us anything that is against from us God’s will, then we should honour them so God is glorified and people have nothing negative to say of him, we should honour him because he is our source, our strength and our identity.
This week we are looking at submission within a different context, to a different authority but one still appointed by God. We are to be “subject to our masters.” Like last week, this is not simply a call to submit to good master (or bosses) and getting preferential treatment because we are the bosses pet: this is a call to submit to people who we find us no matter how they might treat us.
One of the biblical characters who best models this is Joseph. Think of all he faced and how he faced (with Gods help) all trials and frustrations that came his way – never losing his faith: When he was the favourite at home he submitted to the blessings of his Father; when found himself hitting the bottom of a pit he submitted to the will of his brothers; when he found himself being taken by slave traders he submitted to their authority; when he was in Potiphar’s house he submitted to the will of his master (his master trusted him like no other) and then as we all know the wife of Potiphar took an interest. Joseph had a choice he could submit to her will, knowing it was wrong but hoping it would all work out or he could submit to God. He could choose comfort or God: He chooses God and found himself in prison, before eventually rising to power again. In everything that Joseph faced, he never lost sight of God’s faithfulness. If times were good he knew it was God. If times were bad, he knew God was still good and working it for his good.
We find ourselves in a different Culture with a different economic system. There is no capitalism, there are no notions of freedom of employment of the right of the worker. There are two types of people in the Empire:
- Free: People who would have been Roman citizens and the elite of the society.
- Slaves: People would serve different households and preformed many different functions; not just manual labour and tended to be highly educated. (Some people choose to become slaves in order to provide for family)
However, we are not naive to assume that everyone would have been treated well or chosen this pathway. Peter writes about such concerns because such concerns exist. Slavery as a practice is condemned in the bible and something that goes against Gods design for humanity – it is a product of the fall.
“Whoever steals a man and sells him, and anyone found in possession of him, shall be put to death.” – Exodus 21:16
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. – Galatians 3:28
The command to endure in such situations is not an invitation for the church to consider it an acceptable practice. For the church to choose comfort, over the call of God. However, this passage doses not specially deal with the churches response It is a passage that calls Christians to endure where they find themselves because God has placed them where they need to be. It is a passage that speaks particularly to Christians today when they consider their everyday situation in work or school. Situations where they have a choice between comfort or God.
Gospel Endurance where we are (18-20)
18 – Endure
One of the first things we should note is the people Peter is writing to, everyday people in everyday situations. In an empire where around 30% of people would have held the status of slave, Peter is writing to the poorest of society and the heart of this passage speaks of one Truth: Trust God where you are, because he has you where you are. He does not write “now you are free in Christ you must become free in this world, take up arms and rebel” his call to the individual is to accept the situation and seek to honour God in it. Seek to choose God over comfort. This passage should give us encouragement that where ever we find ourselves and whatever we are doing it is not outside of the sovereign will of God. Whether we teach, work in Tesco, work in a church or have spent times in the depth of the African Jungle proclaiming the Gospel the only thing that matters is that we are faithful to God in such situations and know that he values every act of witness equally. Furthermore, Peter compels them to ‘Submit with all respect’ because in doing so they will honour God and allow people to speak well of him. The call to submit with all respect is a call to choose God over comfort, it is a call for us today as Christians in whatever situation to go the extra mile, to go against whatever the culture of the workplace is. It is a command to respect with all that we can offer, regardless of what we receive in return. Whether in school, University or work we must give our all regardless of the state of those whom we are offering our all to, because we want them to see God.
I was once in an African school and the children had been invited to do dramas for us, it was raining outside so they were simply to provide entertainment for me and the hundreds of other children as we waited patiently for the storm to pass. They worked their way through different dramas, again and again, the place was filled with booms of laughter, some of the children were choking they were laughing that hard. I was a bit lost in translation, John a thirteen boy sat beside me and did his best to keep me up-to-date. Then my eyes captured something that horrified me, the skit had changed and now one of the children was on the floor, with fear carved into his face, curled up like a worm recoiling from the midday sun, above him, stood another child with a Hand held high, standing tall like the Empire state building, arched over him with the authority of a policeman. This time, the laughter erupted and children were falling off their seats. What they had been acting out was a scene that featured a well know teacher in the area, a scene that was normal to them, of a teacher who would dish out punishment disproportionally and randomly in order to ‘maintain control.’
When I witnessed this, I was enraged, I wanted to do something – to be the hero. Because I was not the receiver of the unjust, which, I think must be the response of the church in situations where our brothers and sisters are suffering. Hitherto, God calls us when we find ourselves placed in similar situations to endure it and trust him. To choose God over comfort. Now there are points we should no longer submit with all respect if submitting means going against the will of God or is damaging our Gospel witness.
19 & 20 Why do Gospel work
A question I think that emanates when we consider this passage and would have been considered back in Peters day, ‘Why?’ – In our own modern context, we always tend to think of the worst situations as examples or excuses as to why we should not submit to someone whom we deem unworthy. We think of the power hungry teachers, bosses, colleagues who seem to get away with murder when we have worked ourselves to exhaustion with no recognition. Verse 19 and 20 paints a contrast between two images.
The first, it is a good thing if we bear unjust situations because we are aware of God aware of our faith and the impact that any adverse action might have on our Gospel witness – We trust God. Not because we are weak, fear conflict, or think that turning the other cheek means having to take whatever comes our way. No, we bear because above all else, we are so aware of the presence of God – our Higher authority and our higher purpose.
The second, Peter writes that there is no witness if we endure punishment or suffering because we are due it. This is an adverse witness because we proclaim Christ, yet look no different to the world around us. No one will see God in us receiving something that is due to us. If we have been lazy in our study or work and then receive just punishment, it is not gospel witness – it is the opposite
The truth is, if we are the picture of verse 18, submitting regardless of our treatment seeking to honour and respect and to do all we can because we are aware of our faith, we will be shining lights drawing people to Jesus. If we are working in light of the Gospel, then we should never be due punishment – so if we receive it and endure it then we will show even more of God. Today it might mean, looking different to the culture of the place you find yourself working or studying in a place where gossip might fill the silence, yet we remain silence or if the bare-minimum is the acceptable standard, then we raise the standard. If we are Gospel people, then no punishment should ever be due to us – which is what Peter is getting at in verse twenty. We should never be punished for bad work because our motivations and purpose come from God. We are not just there to make money but to honour God. Recently I was working in a place, providing some temporary cover, I was told on my last day to head on home early because no-one would know. But I would and I knew I would be stealing time. I had a choice then and we have a choice every time. Do what is acceptable or Do what is Gospel.
The life he lived (21-25)
As always our example in everything is Jesus. Here he is the ultimate reason we submit to unjust situations because Jesus did. Verse twenty-one is the mountain peak of the passage. It is the Pinnacle of Peters thought and reminds us; it is all about Jesus.
(21) We are called to this as part of our call to Christ. Unjust suffering because of our faith, is part of the Christians calling and witness. It is also part of living in this world, we have the blessing in doing it in light of our heavenly citizenship. Not only are we called to this, but Christ was called to it, for us, as we are called to it so for others. He suffered and did not relent for our sake and became our example. The original word used for example used here, (hypogrammos) is found nowhere else in New Testament and technically refers to a model for copying a writing or drawing. It refers to a model for copying perfection because this was not the age of the printing press everything was done by hand. Only when a work was perfect was it worthy of being copied. Christs example is perfect and must be copied.
(22) Now we find ourselves jumping back to the Old Testament, where Peter Quotes Isaiah and alludes to the ‘Suffering Servant’ (Isaiah 52-53). Jesus redemptive Death can never be repeated, nor ever needs to be repeated, but, his example in doing such is our example – He was the perfect example. Without sin in every way, no deceit was ever found in his mouth, he spoke only truth and only when required. No matter the situation he never spoke falsely. Think of Jesus before Pilot, never speaking or reacting to his words. Only offering truth. We must model our mouths on Jesus. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, striving to speak only truth. We must follow the cruciform example of Jesus. (23) When they hurled insults at them he returned with silence. A silence that was coated with love and confidence, a silence that was aware of God and the witness he was having. Consider the audacity of the situation, if our belief is true. Jesus, the creator of all that can be known and all that can be understood, is sitting through various stages leading up to his crucifixion. Having insults and threats spoken against him, his friends and family yet he remains silent. There is a different between the words of Christ and ours, his have power. In Genesis One God spoke the world into existence, by his words he created and by his words he could destroyed. Yet he didn’t, this is our example. Once the powerlessness of the words became true, they turned to physical abuse. They beat him, tortured him, assaulted him and stripped him of any dignity. Yet he never returned with a threat of revenge such was his faith in God, such was his awareness of a higher calling, a higher authority and a higher purpose. The King of heaven did not react with threat’s; he did not call down an army of angels to fight his battle. He simply received what was not due to him because he knew he must in order to fulfil Gods plan of redemption. He chooses God over comfort.
Jesus did not react because he trusted the will of his Father. He knew that God “would work all for the Good of those who love him.” To be aware of God in every situation means trusting him to use such a situation. Think of Joseph again and that moment when his brothers stood before him, to them a stranger who has complete power over their lives. Yet, when we view the story: They stand before someone they have wronged and what they are asking for equates to Grace and Mercy, they stand before someone they have wronged and ask for something they have no right to receive, and they receive it. Like Jesus, instead of seeking revenge he offered grace and mercy.
Not only does Jesus not react in his situation, he goes further: he “personally bore our Sins, in his own body on the cross so that we might be dead to sin and alive to all that is good” [i]’ It is the sin-bearing death of Jesus that frees us to be able to honour and love no matter the situation, because our worth is found only in him and people can never take that. (25) We were once lost sheep, with no purpose and no guidance. Now we have returned to the Sheppard and overseer of our souls, the guardian and sustainer of our faith, Let us choose God over comfort.
It is counter-cultural to suffer unjustly and not react. However, it is one of the most beautiful witnesses we can make, when we refuse to allow ourselves (through the working of the Holy Spirit in us,) to react to suffering in Sinful ways and it makes us more like Jesus. By Christ redemptive suffering, we know that all suffering in this world is only temporary. Furthermore, what this passage speaks: is hope in moments when the good we do, not only goes unrecognised but may receive punishment. It is in these moments we learn what we value, the things of this world or God. It is these moments, the World will see what we value more our God or our things. Ask yourself today:
- what are you striving for, God or comfort?
- What do you find value in, God or material Things?
- Who do you trust to provide for you more, God or the world he created?
Because it is only when we can answer these Questions we can truly represent God well and show people him. Take a moment and bring before God, all the things or moments in life where you have chosen comfort or freedom from oppression instead of choosing to honour him. And pray from this moment for Strength to honour Christ and represent him well when whatever suffering comes your way and go out into the day, weeks, months and years ahead choosing God.
[i] 1 Peter 2:23 JB Philips Translation