His Submissiveness and Ours
Tom Wilson, Levin, New Zealand
Our lord, in submitting to the Father's will, also yielded to the injustices and violence inflicted upon Him by hostile men. We must also learn submission if we would be like Him. This is an important part of the continuing message of Peter's first epistle.
'Christ also suffered for us', he said, 'leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps', 2.21. The Greek for 'example' here is hypogrammon meaning 'underwriting', conveying the idea of students tracing letters or drawings from an original. Our Lord is the Original whose life we must trace. He 'did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously', vv. 22, 23. He never reacted aggressively to what others did, never spoke deceitfully (Gk. dobs).
Well did the prophet say of Him: 'He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth ... he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth', Isa. 53. 7, 9.
So it must be with us, cf. 2. 1. We must 'trace' His perfections by the way we live, doing this progressively as God works out His purposes in us. In Paul's words, 'For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren', Rom. 8. 29. Our Lord explained what this meant in practical terms; in a hostile world His own were to do good to those that hated them, bless those that cursed them, pray for those who treated them spitefully, give of themselves and their substance more than could reasonably be expected and without anticipating any return, cf. Luke 6. 27-31. It is with thoughts like these in mind that Peter wrote his first epistle. Those who received the letter were already suffering for Christ and their trials were to increase. How then were they to conduct themselves? They were to be subject as citizens, 2. 13-17; as servants, 2. 18-25; and as heirs together of the grace of life. 3. 1-7.
Citizenship, 2. 13-17 Peter anticipated that persecution would shortly increase. lie was writtng to give testimony to 'the true grace of God' so that they would be able to stand firmly in His love when that onslaught came, 5. 12. Ancient history tells us that Nero's persecution of the church began soon after this was written, probably within a year. Three years later, in A.n. 67, Peter himself was to die a martyr's death. His message to them was that no matter how hostile the world became, they were to submit to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake. That meant being subject to temporal authorities which were the means under God of maintaining law and order through punishing wrongdoers and upholding the rights of law-abiding citizens. It was the will of God that by their subjection as citizens they would silence 'the ignorance of foolish men'.
True, as citizens of 'a better country, that is, an heavenly', Heb. 11. 16, they were free from this world's legal strictures, yet that liberty should not be used as a cloak for evil. He summarized their duties as servants of God: 'Honour all ("men" is not in the Greek). Love the brotherhood (of believers in Christ). Fear God ("reverence" not "terror", Gk. phobeo). Honour (respect) the king.'
However, the laws they obeyed and the institutions to which they were subject would be consistent with the mind of the Lord revealed in Scripture. In the matter of divided loyalty, our Lord laid down the principle: 'Render unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's', Luke 20. 25. Peter himself had had to apply that principle when with John he was ordered by the Sanhedrin not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. They replied, 'Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard', Acts 4. 19, 20.
Many of us have enjoyed the privilege of growing up under a benign jurisdiction. Legislation and official attitudes have been conditioned by our Christian heritage. Yet that culture is now being affected by increasing decadence and revived paganism in the western world. There is less tolerance of Christians and many of us anticipate that this will develop into the overt antagonism and apostasy foretold by Paul, 2 Tim. 3. 1-5. How then should we live? As Peter taught his readers so the Holy Spirit now teaches us: submit to every ordinance of man which is not contrary to the will of God. And if persecution overtakes us, as it did Peter and his contemporaries, all that really matters in the end is that we shall be found blameless in His sight.
If being subject in this way seems hard, let us remember that our Lord suffered more than any other at the hands of men, yet He endured with quiet dignity the ignominy of their arrogant, contemptuous words and the physical violence with which they vented their hatred. They persecuted Him without a cause, yet He submitted to them. In so doing He has left us an example to follow, we who are citizens of an heavenly country called to live for Him in this present evil age, cf. Gal. 1. 4; Titus 2. 11, 12.
Service, 2. 18-25 Peter then turned from community to working relationships. As servants they were to be subject. The word oiketai used here refers to domestic servants rather than slaves (doubt). But the principle clearly applies in our day to employee-employer relationships. Servants were to be submissive regardless of how they were treated by their masters. The harsh as well as the good and gentle were to be respected and obeyed. Peter explained: be conscious that God is present in any situation and that He is above any human relationship. Submit to your masters as to Him. If this means being patient even when you are harshly treated, so be it. It is no credit to you if you are punished for doing wrong; no amount of patience can put that right. But when you bear injustice with patience, that is praiseworthy before God.
Our Lord suffered injustice patiently and in this has given an example for every servant to follow, 2. 21-24. He was the suffering Servant, not for His own wrongdoing-He knew no sin-but for ours. We were the cause of what He had to bear.
It is now for us to live by His example before others, following His steps. No matter how we are provoked, we must endure. Having done with sins, we must live righteously and without complaint. Do we resent those who deal with us unjustly? Then we should remember His example and follow His steps. Although we were like sheep going astray, we have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, 2. 25. Whether at large in the community or in the workplace, we must learn the path of subjection which means living as He lived. He will be the final arbiter and judge.
Marriage, 3. 1-7 Peter now applies the theme of subjection to the most personal human relationship, that between husband and wife. While all but one of the verses in this section deal with wives, 3. 1-6, the same principle of subjection is applied to husbands in the last verse: 'Likewise .. . dwell with (your wives) according to knowledge (with understanding), giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel'. That is, they were to surrender their self-interest in consideration of their partner. While the role of wives demonstrates submission more than that of husbands, that does not mean that wives are to be more subject than their husbands!
Peter emphasized the vital duty wives had to perform in the service of Christ. They had to adorn the gospel by being in subjection to their husbands who, if not themselves believers, could well be won by the influence of their godly lives. Their beauty was not cosmetic but that of Christlike submission; not dependent on coiffure, jewellery or expensive clothing, which are external and artificial, but reflected by the character adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit. This was of great price, very precious in the sight of God.
At this point the example of Sarah, in Genesis 18, was introduced. In reference to that passage it is interesting to note how Abraham used Adhonay for 'Lord', v. 3, the plural, proper name for God. This is distinct from 'Jehovah' or Yahweh in verses 1, 13, 14 etc., the covenant name for God signifying the Self-Existent or Eternal One (Strong). But the word used by Sarah in verse 12 in reference to Abraham is adhon, the singular, common name used of both God and people, meaning 'master'. Thus while the Hebrew distinguishes between the reverence that is due to God alone and, in Yahweh, the distinctively Jewish relationship to God, it also preserves the distinction between husband and wife. The use of adhon, 'master', is a clear indication of how Sarah bowed to the authority of her husband even when questioning what the Lord had just revealed. Modern efforts to equate the sexes are wrong. In a truly Christian marriage, the husband is subject to God, the wife to her husband. This order has not been rescinded. Yet this does not mean that the husband should not defer to his wife. He must love her as himself, Eph. 5. 33: or as Peter puts it, 'Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge (in an understanding way), giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel', 3. 7. Together, husband and wife are heirs of the grace of life.
We see therefore that the key to understanding 1 Peter 2. 13 to 3. 7 is in the word submissiveness (or subjection). The writer has given us the supreme example in our Lord and has called us to live as He lived, following His steps in our social, business and family life. We cannot do this in our own strength but we are not required to. His love has been 'shed abroad in (poured into) our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us', Rom 5.5. That love was seen in His submission, as it should be in ours.
O Jesus Christ, grow Thou in me,
And all things else recede:
My heart be daily nearer Thee,
From sin be daily freed.
Make this poor self grow less and less,
Be Thou my life and aim;
Oh, make me daily through Thy grace
More meet to bear Thy name.