What about our rights? In America, individual rights are of great value, even when those individual rights negatively impact our communities. Individual rights are not all bad. For example, I am glad our country has evolved to give all adults voting rights. On the other hand, large problems can arise when we turn our rights, those authorized or perceived, into demands and when we do not consider the consequences our demands have on other people. Interestingly, the higher we go in social/economic class, education, or business structures, the more we turn our perceived expectations into rights. Therefore, we must be cautious when considering the impact that our decisions and behavior.
We must guard ourselves against being harsh and commit to ethical leadership. Godly, ethical leaders have a clear focus and expectation, while at the same time considering the needs of others. The means of leading well and living in harmony with our co-laborers is mutual submission. The act of submission is something that all believers, both leaders and followers must consider and intentionally practice.
Paul writes in Ephesians 5:21 that we should “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21 [NIV]).”
The Apostle Peter writes several instructions about submission to the leaders God has given authority over us. In 1 Peter 2, we are taught to:
1. Submit ourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted by men (v 13-14)
Reasoning: “It is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men (v 15).”
Sometimes leaders are foolish, and we are called to silence them, not by defending ourselves, demanding our rights, or engaging in a war of words. We silence them by doing good and exhibiting godly behavior.
2. “Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil (v 16a)”
Reasoning: “live as servants of God (v 16b)”
In other words, knowing our rights and exercising them can give us freedom, but we should all consider whether or not we are using our freedoms for righteous purposes or for evil. Peter writes that we should use our freedom as a means of submitting to and serving God.
3. “Show proper respect to everyone (v 17a)”
Reasoning: “Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king [or any political leader] (v 17b)”
This passage is followed by the difficult passage about slavery which I will not get into for the context of this post, but verse 18 follows the same teaching of verse 17: Show proper respect to everyone. In verse 18, Peter writes that slaves should “submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh (v 18).” What’s Peter’s purpose in writing this?
Reasoning: “It is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God (v 19).”
Should slaves submit themselves to harsh masters? This is a difficult saying. It falls right in line with Jesus’ teaching, “But I tell you. Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well (Matt. 5:39-40).” He continues, “I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matt. 5:44).”
Through his writing, Peter is only echoing the lessons taught and modeled by Christ. These lessons call us each to humility and there is no way we can submit in this way without the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us. In these humble acts, Christ is our teacher; he is our strength; he is our model.
To this [we] are called, because Christ suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example, that [we] should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate [or defend his rights]; when he suffered, he made no threats [or demands]. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds [we] have been healed (1 Pet 2:21-24).
None of us have suffered in this way. When Christ faced the adversity of harsh leadership, he submitted, humbled himself; he went lower. He did not engage with his words, but rather entrusted himself to his Father, God. He died to himself, so that we could have true freedom and receive healing in the midst of difficult circumstances.
Could we be like him? Could we humble ourselves? Could we go lower?
© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2013