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When Submission Turns to Slavery – Part II

15 Mar

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!

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When Submission Turns to Slavery

8 Mar

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!

Sin, Submission, and Stan

1 Mar

Take a moment to join me at the coffee bar where Nate and Stan are having a conversation.  Nate has waited most of the year for his opportunity to share the Gospel message and Stan has just thrown the door wide open:

Stan: So you’re telling me that any time we disobey God, it’s a sin?

Nate:  Yes.  And sin requires punishment – eternal separation from God.  Since all that is good comes from God, nothing good can exist in this place of separation.  We call it Hell.  But Christ came and took that punishment for us.  All we have to do is accept His gift.

Stan:  And then we can do whatever we want?

Nate:  Of course not!  When you receive a gift like that, you want to show the Giver that you appreciate His sacrifice.  We do that through obedience to God’s commands.

Stan:  Doesn’t the Bible say that you’re supposed to obey those in authority?

Nate:  Yes.  Why?

Stan:  Because I saw you parking in the main parking lot the other day… not the staff parking area.  The boss was pretty explicit about where we were supposed to park.

Nate:  Well, that’s different.  The staff parking is so far away from the door.  Management can’t really expect us all to walk through the cold to get to work.  We’d all get sick!

You can probably see where this dialogue is headed.  While Nate talked boldly about sin and its consequences, it was clear that the way he lived (and his justification of his lifestyle) reflected a less-than-serious attitude towards sin.  His failure to obey “every human institution” (as commanded in 1 Peter 2:13) reflected an even more serious problem in regard to his submission to God.

As Christians, we need to be careful about how we live – especially if we want the opportunity to share the good news about God’s love with others.  That’s not to say that we’ll get it right all of the time or even that we’ll clearly recognize every sin as sin.  But it does mean that we need to be open to admitting sin when we recognize that what we’ve done directly contradicts God’s Word.

It also means that we can’t just pick and choose which laws we will or won’t obey… regardless of whether they are constitutional (as in my objection to paying taxes in last week’s post)… or good.  This may mean that at times we have to sacrifice what is rightfully ours to unjust management or a corrupt official.  We may have to bend our will to that of congress or the city council, even when the actions they take fail to align with our views of righteousness.  Scripture is clear that unless a law directly contradicts God’s Word, those who follow Christ are bound to obey it.  To do otherwise is sin.  And none of us should take that lightly.

Politics and Evangelism: The Question of Submission

22 Feb

“Then I’ll go to jail!”  I stormed away from the table in a rage.  Couldn’t my parents understand what I was saying?  What the government was doing was wrong!  How could I comply by giving them money from my hard-earned income?

When questioned about paying taxes to Caesar, Jesus had replied, “Why are you testing Me, you hypocrites? Show Me the coin used for the poll-tax.” And they brought Him a denarius. And He said to them, “Whose likeness and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” Then He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”  (Matthew 22:18-21)  Since Washington, Lincoln, and Grant were all dead, it was clear that this command did not apply to me as a U.S. citizen.  For the government to demand that I hand over part of my salary to support all sorts of nefarious activities wasn’t just unconstitutional: it violated God’s written Word.  And I would have none of it!

I’ll admit that my motivation had more to do with wanting to retain my pay than any desire to avoid funding sin. I’ve come around since my teen years and I have paid taxes ever since I got my first job… despite my concerns about what they might be funding.  Why?  Because God said to.

Perhaps one of the hardest commands Scripture gives us is that of 1 Peter 2:13, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…”  Such submission doesn’t come naturally to most of us.  We want to see, do, and know for ourselves … even when that seeing, doing, and knowing might harm both ourselves and others.  What do we do when we don’t understand the purpose for a rule or, worse yet, that rule is unjust?  We break it.

Of course, this may not be our intent at first.  After all, most of us want to be viewed as law abiding citizens, even if we don’t like the laws by which we must abide.  So we look for wiggle room or try to find a loophole.  Yes, the speed limit is 25, but police officers only stop drivers if they’re going 30 … so it must be okay.  Of course the sign says “No Swimming”, but the city put that up to warn weak swimmers, not Olympic quality athletes like myself … no problem!

While these little “fudges” may not look like much to us, they are often a very accurate reflection of our attitude towards sin … an attitude which can make or break our efforts to share the Gospel message.  Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at what the Bible says about submission and how our actions and attitudes influence the way others view our faith and, more importantly, our God.  We’ll examine some common pitfalls and take a look at practical ways to avoid them.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below!

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