Over the last few weeks we’ve been taking a look at the ways in which submission to earthly authorities can influence our ability to effectively share the Gospel with others. Perhaps you’ve even come to agree that obedience to the laws of men (like paying taxes, driving within the speed limit, and complying with “No Swimming” signs) is, indeed, a good idea. But what about those rules which seem to violate our rights as human beings? What happens when the laws put in place by our congressmen or the store manager don’t respect our individuality or personhood? Is it okay to take a stand when submission gets warped into a form of slavery? Christians have been struggling with this question since the very beginning… and the answer can be a bit complex.
In order to make a Biblical judgment concerning whether we should defend our rights, we need to take a close look at the concept of suffering. According to Scripture, the ultimate purpose of all believers is to bring glory to God. We also know (from the accounts like those of Job and Ruth) that God is often glorified more by our response to suffering and sacrifice than by our comfort and ease.
Why? Because it’s in the difficult times that both our character and the object of our faith is revealed. Romans 5:1-5 reminds us that, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
That submission to the point of sacrifice and suffering can have positive consequences is something that the Apostle Peter (and many of us since) had difficulty grasping. When Jesus informed him of His intention to go to the cross, the Apostle objected saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.” (For the whole story, see Matthew 16:21-23.) Indeed, he fully intended to prevent such an injustice when he drew his sword in the Garden of Gethsemane and carved off the ear of the High Priest’s servant. (John 18:10)
Yet Jesus’ response was quite different. Instead of fighting the armed mob or petitioning for His rights and presenting the case in His favor, He simply submitted Himself to the authorities and allowed events to take their course. Why? Because He recognized that in sacrificing His own rights, He would be benefiting others and, more than that, He would be glorifying God. (John 12-17)
It’s a hard path to follow, but it’s one that we as believers are called to walk as well. In Philippians 2:3-8, the Apostle Paul admonished us to, “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The truth is, sometimes in our “giving up” of our basic human rights (whether it’s allowing our boss to encroach upon our time off or willingly submitting to discrimination), we do more good both for God and for others than we would be able to do if we took a stand to defend those rights.
So does this mean we should always submit to earthly authorities even if the result is a form of slavery or injustice? Hardly! But it does mean that if we want to know whether we should take a stand we need to begin by looking at the situation from God’s perspective rather than our own.
In Matthew 16:24-25, Jesus says to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Only when we’re willing to seriously consider the implications of true sacrifice will we be able to make a reasonable decision about which sacrifices of submission Jesus has or hasn’t called us to make.
Next week, we’ll take our discussion a step further as we discuss the boundaries that exist between submission and slavery. Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!