I looked down at the caller I.D. and cringed. It was my boss. Again. It was my day off and I could guess why she was calling. The company had a notable difficulty retaining employees and we almost constantly had someone on sick leave. Every time someone called in, I got called out. I knew that I wasn’t their slave, but at this point I was definitely beginning to feel like one!
The truth is that most of us have faced similar situations in which someone with authority over some aspects of our lives (in this case, the hours I was scheduled to work) has felt that their authority extended to all aspects of our lives. The situation can be a sticky one regardless of your religious convictions. After all, if we don’t take a stand, the odds are that others will take advantage of us. But if we do draw a line, the authority has the power to make our lives miserable! So what do we do? Do we obediently show up every time we’re asked? Do we work overtime during our scheduled vacation? Or do we say no and risk not having a job at all?
If you were paying attention, you’ll notice that there is one common factor in each of these questions: fear. Fear of being mistreated. Fear of someone taking advantage of us. Fear of being without an income. And when fear is a factor, slavery isn’t far behind. In fact, if I were to be asked where the boundary lies between submission and slavery, this is where I’d draw the line.
According to Romans 8:14-15, “… all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” Indeed, in God’s sovereignty He has ensured that, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) If this is true and God’s hand is present even in our suffering, we can be certain that there is no reason to fear. Nothing that touches us does so without His approval and nothing we encounter is beyond His control. (See: Romans 8:38-39) The Apostle Paul urges us, “therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1b) As believers, we will face trials and frustrations, but we do so with the knowledge that, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free.” (Galatians 5:1a)
With this in mind, we can approach commands like that of 1 Peter 2:18-19, “Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable,” from a different perspective. Why? Because according to the Apostle, this obedience “…finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly.” The difference between submission and slavery isn’t in the action, itself, but in what motivates that action – a desire to glorify God or a fear of the potential results of that decision.
Where does this leave me staring at my ringing phone? Quite simply, with a choice. A choice between freedom and slavery – not by the action I take, but by the attitude with which I take that action.
The decision isn’t always an easy one. Sometimes we need the day off. Sometimes God is better glorified by our willingness to help out in a pinch. Each person and every situation is different. But whether we choose to go to work on our day off or not, if we make that decision with an understanding of God’s sovereignty and a desire to glorify Him, we can’t go wrong!