Is religion the opium of the people?
Was Karl Marx right when he suggested that religion makes people push over’s?
Does submission in relationships make you a doormat or is there some counter intuitive wisdom behind submission?
This is the topic for my next couple of posts as we follow the Apostle Peter’s teaching on general submission, submission within marriage and later submission and church.
11Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, 14or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. 16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. 17 Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
18 Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. 19For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 20For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 2:11-25
Reasons we don’t like submission
There is a little lawyer/ theologian that rises inside of me whenever I hear someone talk about submission and it says: ‘why must I be submissive?’ ‘This guy just wants something from me’. Many people react this way and here are a few reasons why:
1. We’ve had bad experiences of abuses of power through authoritative parents/partners/ or even government officials.
2. We are sons & daughters of Adam & Eve and like our 1st parents we don’t like doing what God has said.
3. Culturally we celebrate liberation and many fear authority because of past abuse.
4. And generally Western society kinda expects that all 1st year/ high schoolers will get drunk, date loser’s, and smoke pot at some stage as a ‘coming of age’. It’s like a weird unsaid passage of right’s into adulthood. No one makes the papers for being good law abiding citizens, husband of one wife, loving his kids and working hard! But when some 24 year guy decides to ride nude through Cape Town! Or a priest marries anyone in 10 min at the Sexpo, well that’s considered news worthy. We celebrate rebellion.
But actually submission, while counter-culture is good for our souls and for the witness of Jesus. And pride and rebellion will hinder our spiritual growth.
11Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.
So, submission and practicing humility is actually good for the soul. But it’s much bigger than just personal spiritual health. Ultimately God is looking for people who are willing to lay down their rights so that he can work through them.
13 Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution,[a] whether it be to the emperor[b] as supreme, 14or
to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. 15For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people.
Submission is not powerlessness. Submission is not weakness. No, submission has power to effect change in the hearts of people. It is God’s will that through our submission he will “silence the ignorance of foolish people”. Its the very opposite of what Marx suggested.
When I was going through my teenage years I totally rebelled against everything in authority. I got suspended from school. Got into lots of fights. I was a really hard, stubborn, ignorant and foolish. But in the end it wasn’t the threat of landing up in jail, or getting into fights with my dad, or talk of me getting shot because of my lifestyle, it was the spiritual authority of my humble mother that melted my heart. I chose God because I had seen a beautiful lifestyle, an authentic holiness in my mother that I couldn’t find anywhere else.
The power of submission is to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Submission in relationship is not being a doormat. Just because I don’t fight to make my voice heard doesn’t make me weak, or a walk over, no! What Peter is saying is that God uses people who are strong enough to be submissive to change hearts. Submission is a sign of huge faith in God’s power to work in those around you.
Six times in this text Peter says that God is at work through you when you submit. So be conscious of what God is doing through your submission:
Vs: 13 “Be subject for the Lord’s sake” God is at work, so for his sake submit.
Vs: 14 Those in power are “sent by him” God is in control
Vs: 15 Suffering while others lord over you is the “will of God”
Vs: 16 “living as bondservants of God” obey God freely
Vs: 19 be “mindful of God” and his plan when you submit to bad treatment
Vs: 23 Jesus entrusted “himself to God” and God redeemed him from the grave. So should we.
Submissions requires faith
Most of us will experience one of two emotions when we encounter conflict: fight or flight.
I’ve got the natural temperament of Tyson. My closing line for debates at high school was normally ‘let’s take this outside’. That’s honestly what my natural temperament, I’m a fighter. Many people will attack and fight even when they are fearful. That’s just your temperament.
Some of you are on the other extreme. You avoid conflict with everything. Personally I don’t get you but I’ve met you. You go quiet, you retreat, you change the subject, you just avoid conflict at all costs. I don’t understand you at all.
But, sometimes we may think that the one is better than the other. When couples hang out the fighters will always come across the flighters and feel really bad because so and so doesn’t ever fight or argue. ‘We never have arguments’, the flighters will boast. And on the way home the fighters will justify themselves by saying something like, well at least we are dealing with the stuff, we are real. But there’s a third way. It’s not fight, it’s not flight, its faith. Faith that God has the situation under his control.
Faith completely changes the way we approach conflict. It protects us from fear. It helps us to see that we don’t have to hide away from conflict, we don’t have to be afraid to speak things out. God will hold the people and the situation in his powerful hands. It also means that we don’t have to fight with everyone and beat them into submission. God is at work in their lives too. He is arranging things, and connects people, and changes views and perspectives. Submission becomes easier when you know that God will work in the person or institution on your behalf.
Submission is conditional
Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
Peter isn’t being simplistic about this either. Too many over the course of history have used these verses to legitimize slavery, the oppression and abuse of woman and apartheid. That is immoral. And even though we are called to be submissive, we are free people. This is so radical because he speaks to slaves in a culture that had no problem with slavery and no concept of the kind of human rights that we have today.
We are created in the image of God, which gives every single person irrespective of age, gender, born or unborn equal value and dignity. Every single life is holy. Slavery is wrong, abortion is wrong, discrimination against women is wrong because it elevates one class of people above another. Apartheid was wrong because it elevated one group above another. And discriminating against woman is wrong because it lifts one gender above the other.
Furthermore a Christian is truly free because we have been freed from the bondage of sin and now we belong to God. We are children of God, through adoption by the Holy Spirit. Peter calls us bondservants of God. That’s revolutionary. We do not ultimately belong to any human institution; our ultimate allegiance is to God.
The subtlety in his rhetoric is this; when your submission to authority compromises your submission to God then you need not submit. In verse 13 he said ‘be subject to every human creation or institution’ but in verse 16 he adds the corrective, your submission is ultimately to God and for God. You belong to God, you are free, so if submission to a person or a group means compromising your submission to God then you don’t have to submit. This is where boundaries come in. For example:
If you have a job that forces you to work on Sundays and it’s affecting your faith, then perhaps you consider finding a job that is less intrusive to your faith. Or if your work actually requires you to sin, perhaps lie, bend the rules, discredit Jesus or the church unfairly.
Taken to an extreme civil disobedience too is legitimate, but only when our submission to God is being compromised. When Peter was told that he couldn’t preach Christ, did he submit to the Roman officials? No, he submitted to Jesus and kept preaching (Acts 5:9). Legend has it that as a result the Emperor hung him upside down on a cross for his civil disobedience.
If you are being abused and you hear the command to submit don’t be confused. You do not have to endure the abuse. If your husband or boyfriend, or uncle is abusing you physically or sexually you tell someone and you do not submit to that. If submission leads you to enter into sin then don’t submit because ultimately God is your final and greatest authority.
16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.
You are free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil. Peter is a pastor. He knows what people are like. Most of us are not being forced to sin. ‘Maybe I’ll just not clean my room for Jesus and defy my mom. I’m free mom’. ‘I’m not cleaning my room for Jesus and praying instead’. ‘I’m free’ we may cry! ‘I get to do whatever I want’. No, Pastor Pete knows. Do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil. ‘I’m free I don’t have to listen to my friends challenge me about dating this guy’. ‘I’m free pass the hubly’. ‘I’m free’. No, don’t use your freedom as a cover up for evil.
Ultimately, Jesus was submissive towards those who nailed him to a cross for you and me. And God came through for him. He was raised back to new life and has received the name which is above every name. If you still need a reason to submit then remember what Jesus did for you. If the submission of Jesus is anything to go by then Marx is certainly wrong. He changed the world through his submission. Who knows what God will do in your relationship if you let him?!
21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.