power

Money, Power, And Church Elders (1 Peter 5:1-5)

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  A guy named Lord Acton is credited with saying, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”  It’s part of a longer claim (and here’s the actual quote): “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority…”

Some recent brain research has given a window into why Acton may have been on to something.  From “Power Causes Brain Damage”:[1]

  • Subjects under the influence of power suffered noticeable changes in the areas of the brain that controlled impulsivity, risk-awareness, and, crucially, and the ability to see things from other people’s point of view.
  • They were worse at identifying what someone in a picture is feeling, or guessing how a colleague might interpret a remark.
  • They stopped mimicking or “mirroring” others, an action which builds empathy by triggering the same feelings those others are experiencing. There is an “empathy deficit.”
  • They increasingly view everything 1stperson (George Bush famously held a flag backwards to an audience because it looked right to him).

 I want to talk today about power. We all have it – we all have influence and impact – but some of us are in positions where the influence and impact expands. As Christians, it’s crucial we recognize the dangers of it, but also the solutions that allow us to use the power God has given us in a way that honors God and builds the Kingdom of His church.

When Peter writes to the church about leadership, he focuses on this issue. That will be our starting text for today. 

To the elders (church leaders) among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherdsof God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherdappears, you will receive the crown of glory[2]that will never fade away. Those who are younger, in the same way be submissive to those who are elder (church leaders or simply ‘older’). All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 1 Peter 5:1–5

 

In the New Testament there are three terms used to describe the same office:

  • Elder focuses on the character qualities; he must be a mature man of God (See 1 Timothy 3:1-7and Titus 1:5-9)
  • Overseer (or bishop) is used interchangeably with elder (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7) and has to do more with church governance.
  • Pastor (shepherd) builds on the shepherd metaphor: care, ‘feeding’, and protection of the ‘flock’

The apostle Paul gives quite a list of qualifications for being an elder (see 1 Timothy 3), but Peter is more focused. Other than mentioning that nobody should be forced to lead (good advice in a time when leadership might mean death), his advice revolves around character: specifically, how leaders are to handle money and power.

Not Greedy For Money

An elder dare not have money and riches – “filthy lucre” as the KJV would say - as a purpose or goal of being in church leadership. If leaders ever turn the church into a personal money-making enterprise, we are in trouble.

Frankly, I think church elders are under a higher obligation to consider what is an appropriate wage from the church. I don’t mean they shouldn’t get a decent or good wage – Paul tells Timothy not to “muzzle the ox” because the laborer is worthy of his hire. But Paul told Timothy that elders were not to be covetous of riches – that is, in love with money, serving it rather than Christ.[3] I think Proverbs gives the reason:

Two things I ask, O God. Sometime before I die, grant these humble requests: Eliminate any hint of worthless and deceitful words from my lips. Do not make me poor or rich, but give me each day what I need; For if I have too much, I might forget You are the One who provides, saying, “Who is the Eternal One?” Or if I do not have enough, I might become hungry and turn to stealing and thus dishonor the good name of my God. (Proverbs 30:7-9)

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=coHKdhAZ9hU[/embed]

Not lording over others.[4]

 2,000 years ago, Jesus warned Peter that His Kingdom was not of this world. Both Peter and Paul, by the many ways in which they put structure around those who lead in the church, were warning us about the problems that can accompany power, even in the midst of God’s people.

Leaders in the church cannot become lords. 2,000 years of history has proven the practical wisdom in this.  Whenever the church has become intertwined with national power, the church has become either oppressive without and compromised within.[5]

Constantine legalized Christianity in the early 300s for selfish political reasons, and that combined with his reputation for violence hurt the reputation of the church even as Christianity spread.[6]The Anabaptists claimed the fall of the church began during Constantine’s reign. “By recognizing Christianity as a legal religion (including making Sunday a legal holiday), he slowly strangled what was once a vibrant, close-knit, committed fellowship of persecuted believers, and turned it into a religion that would become, by law, at the end of that century, the official state religion of the Holy Roman Empire (HRE).”[7]Within less than 80 years from Constantine’s legalization, the “Christian government for the first time executed Christians that deviated from the government-endorsed orthodoxy.” [8]

Thousands were killed by the Church’s Inquisitional courts[9]in the Middle Ages.

In early America, Christians who fled here to escape persecution by the powerful suddenly had power - and did the same things:

  • Puritans banished people for not being Puritan
  • Protestants denied Catholics property, voting rights and even holding public office – but then again, in the 1500s the Spanish Catholics had slaughtered hundreds of French Huguenots in the New World.
  • Then there was the coerced conversion of Native Americans; the Salem Witch Trials; the hanging of four Quakers in Boston in the mid-1600s for being Quaker. In the mid-1800s there were Bible Riots in Philadelphia, where two Catholic churches were destroyed, houses were burnt, and 20 people killed.[10]

Unfortunately, the problem of power we see in the big picture or national politics occurs in individual churches and church leaders as well. As a leader in a church, this concerns me deeply. I want to talk about what I’ve been reading from Christian leaders concerning ways to make sure power does not corrupt, and also talk about how this plays out in our church.

Surround yourself with “toeholders.” “Power Physically Damages the Brain, New Research Reveals”[11] gave some examples of "a toeholder" who tugs you back towards reality whenever you threaten to float away on your inflated ego.

  • Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, once wrote to him, “My Darling Winston. I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner; & you are not as kind as you used to be.” He had been acting “so contemptuous” toward subordinates in meetings that “no ideas, good or bad, will be forthcoming.” This was written on the day Hitler entered Paris.

If a church leader is surrounded by "yes men", it's a problem. There have to be people who have no problem confronting, challenging, grabbing them and pulling them back when they begin to stray in orthodoxy (right doctrine) or orthopraxy (right actions).

Be transparent and accountable.Some Christian leaders I intensely admire have been falling from the pedestals on which I (wrongly) put them. They have lied about qualifications, misused money, and contributed to the #metoo movement by harassing, using and even abusing women. Beth Moore wrote a heart-wrenching open letter a week or two ago about how men in power in church circles have treated her for decades. [12] How did they get there? I suspect it was in large part due to a lack of transparency and accountability.

Welcome feedback from everyone. Everyone. It does not mean everyone is right, but it’s possible for anyone to have valuable insight. It's up to leasers to take that feedback and present it to the rest of the leadership (see the next point), as well as and to those who are close to them. This group filter helps leadership to process feedback in a healthy way and respond appropriately.

Serve in plurality of leadership.[13] In both the Old and New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders. Plurality brings a variety of gifts: finances, organization, relational wisdom, hospitality, teaching, preaching. Itprevents burnout; it brings accountability (in life and doctrine); it increases the reach of the ‘shepherds’ and increases wise decision-making.

Practice empathy and 3rdperson thinking. LISTEN!! Spend time talking with people in order to genuinely understand and love them. Practice “walking a mile in another’s shoes.” Learn what it’s like to hold up a flag so it makes sense to other people. I personally have found fictional books, movies and TV shows to be very helpful in broadening my understanding. Not every story is a good story - obviously - but as authors, directors, and writers create stories that can't help but reveal their experience of the world, we can put on the lense of a biblical worldview filter and grow in our understanding and empathy as we pray for wisdom on how to effectively reach everyone with the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 Follow in some area of your life and leadership. Don’t lead everything. Look for ways to divest of power appropriately. Don't micromanage every aspect of the church. It's a good idea to answer to others in our organization about something - maybe even many things.

Get over yourself.It’s God’s gig, not yours. All good things are His. If the church genuinely flourishes, it's to God's glory, not the glory of leadership.

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcVdq5Q-Paw[/embed]

But Peter speaks to the church here also.

“Those who are younger, in the same way be submissive to those who are elder(s).”

In other words, be respectful and considerate, and seek to serve the leadership even as the leadership seeks to serve you.

  • “Respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13)
  • “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

Respect does not mean you are timid in speaking truth. Respect is not avoidance of confrontation or criticism. I’ve heard some leaders use the phrase, “Don’t touch God’s anointed”[14]as a means of bullying people into silence. That’s silly. That was specifically, “Don’t kill my prophets because you don’t like what they say.” The Bible itself tells you how to confront someone in leadership who is in sin (Matthew 18; 1 Timothy 5). Respect has to so with approach and attitude.

Submission does not mean you follow and obey anyone blindly especially me. We are all to be Bereans[15]when it comes to examining Scriptures for ourselves. You are not lemmings; we are all priests and kings (Revelations 1:6).

“Being subject” is primarily an attitude of respect and cooperation with the elders as they do their best to follow what they believe is the Lord’s will for the church (Heb. 13:17).

Everyone: Be clothed with humility

To the Greeks, what you wore outwardly signaled what you were inwardly. If you were a slave, you wore slave garb. If you were noble, you wore the clothing of nobility. To be clothed with humility was not a false cover up. It was identifying who you were.

2 Cor. 3:5: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”

 Don’t let selfishness and prideful agendas take over. Embrace true humility, and lift your heads to extend love to others. Get beyond yourselves and protecting your own interests; be sincere, and secure your neighbors’ interests first.”(Philippians 2:3-4)

“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 2:19-21.

Humility is not feeling stupid; that’s shame. Humility is not underplaying our strengths; that's disrespectful to the God who gave us those gifts. Humility is not devaluing yourself; we are all bearers of the image of God, and if we have given our lives to following Jesus, we are now His spiritual children. Humility is a commitment to having an attitude that says, “I do not have more value or worth than you do. I offer whatever I am about to do or say because I think God has something for me to offer in this situation for your good and God’s glory.”

If we can all do this together, we will be flourishing in God’s model for the church.

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[1]https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/07/power-causes-brain-damage/528711/

[2]An Olympic reference. Winners of the Greek games received a garland that would shrivel and die; this crown for “running the race” (to use another Pauline reference) would last through eternity.

[3]Paul says that “the elders who rule well [should] be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). “Honor” (in Greek) meant both “respect” and “price.” As 1 Timothy 5:18makes clear, elders who labor at preaching and teaching should not only be respected, they also should be paid.  http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/5-17.htm

[4]  “Lording it over” the flock (5:3) recalls the silly debates the twelve had about who was the greatest, and the Lord’s teaching about the greatest being the servant of all. “Be clothed with humility” recalls Jesus taking a towel and girding Himself as He washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). The word about Satan (5:8) recalls Jesus’ warning that Satan would “sift” Peter like wheat (Luke 22:31). The verb, “to perfect” (5:10) is the same word translated “mending their nets” (Matt. 4:21) when the Lord called Peter to follow Him. http://biblehub.com/commentaries/1_timothy/5-17.htm

[5]“The historian Paul Johnson concludes, “Attempts to perfect Christian societies in this world, whether conducted by popes or revolutionaries, have tended to degenerate into red terrors.” ― Philip YanceyChristians and Politics Uneasy Partners

[6]To quote John Wesley from 1791: 'After the empire became Christian, a general corruption both of faith and morals infected the Christian Church; which by that revolution, as St. Jerome says, "lost as much of her virtue as it had gained of wealth and power.’"–

[7]https://simplychurch.com/2005/12/28/313-ad-the-death-of-christianity-and-the-birth-of-the-christian-religion-2/

[8]Read more at this sobering article: “How Christianity Became Aligned With Politics Under Constantine.” http://butnotlost.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-christianity-became-aligned-with.html

[9]http://www.themichigancatholic.org/2016/11/inquisition-50-68-million-killed-church/

[10]https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/americas-true-history-of-religious-tolerance-61312684/

[11]https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/power-physically-damages-the-brain-new-research-reveals.html

[12]https://blog.lproof.org/2018/05/a-letter-to-my-brothers.html

[13]"In the New Testament, there is always a plurality of elders (overseers, pastors) over the church in a given location. Acts 14:23 reports how Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (plural) in every church (singular). Acts 20:17tells how Paul called to him “the elders of the church” in Ephesus. In Titus 1:5, Paul reminds Titus how he left him to appoint elders (plural) in every city. In the New Testament, the church in a city was viewed as a unit. Thus you have the church in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Antioch, etc. Each church may have been broken down into house churches that met all over the city on any given Lord’s Day. But over each church there was a plurality of elders or pastors." (I don't know where I got this, but it's not my original words).

[14]Psalm 105:15; 1 Chronicles 16:22

[15]Acts 17:11

Living With Honor: Part Two (1 Peter 2:12–3:7)

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13 For the Lord’s sake, accept the decrees and laws of all the various human institutions, whether they come from the highest human ruler 14 or agents he sends to punish those who do wrong and to reward those who do well. 15 You see, it is God’s will that by doing what is right and good you should hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish. 16 Live as those who are free and not as those who use their freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as God’s servants. 17 Respect everyone. Love the community of believers. Reverence God. Honor your ruler. 18 If you are a slave, submit yourself to the master who has authority over you, whether he is kind and gentle or harsh as he deals with you. 19 For grace is clearly at work when a person accepts undeserved pain and suffering and does so because he is mindful of God. 20 For what credit is there in enduring punishment you deserve? But if you do what is right and yet are punished and endure it patiently, God will be pleased with you... The Anointed One suffered for us and left us His example so that we could follow in His steps. [he goes on to describe this more]

3 1-2 In the same way, wives, you should patiently accept the authority of your husbands. This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live. 3 Don’t focus on decorating your exterior by doing your hair or putting on fancy jewelry or wearing fashionable clothes; let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights….

In the same way, husbands, as you live with your wives, understand the situations women face as the weaker vessel. Each of you should respect your wife and value her as an equal heir in the gracious gift of life. Do this so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers.

 

We talked last week about how honoring others for the sake of Christ accomplishes at least four important things:

  • “hushing the gabbing ignorance of the foolish” by doing what is right and good
  • displaying God’s grace
  • “persuading [toward Christ] by the way we live
  • supporting, not undermining, our prayers

Today, we are going to move further into this call to holiness.

 We talk in the United States about a government this is of the people, by the people and for the people. The church is of Christ, to the glory of God, by the power of the Holy Spirit…. and still for the people (the world…think the Great Commission).

The biblical language that explains our presence in the world is that we are to be salt and light. Salt preserves and protects; light shines into the darkness. We are here as Christians to preserve and protect truth, purity, love, peace, and hope to the glory of God and through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are here to shine the glory of Jesus and truth of God’s Word into even the darkest places and hearts in our culture. We are here to be of service to others on God’s behalf.

Honor was our focus last week. This week I want to look at how Peter gave some specific instructions on how to do this that I believe are meant to be applied to us all for the sake of our witness for Christ.

The advice to servants is advice to us all: display the grace God has given to us in the grace we give to others.

There is a parable of servant who is forgiven a debt he could never pay, who then promptly turns around and demands a petty debt his servant owes him (Matthew 18:21-35). His experience of unfathomable grace did nothing in him to bring out a desire to pass that grace on to others. Luke records Jesus teaching about how we are to pass on what God has given to us:

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6)

It’s easy to love those who love us. Anybody can do that. But what about genuinely loving those who don’t love us? When we do that, we are salt and light: we step into a world that is all about “I will get what is owed to me!” and model grace (undeserved mercy). In the darkness of revenge and hate we shine the light of mercy, grace, and forgiveness.

The advice to wives is advice to us all: develop a gracious and quiet spirit. Biblehub.com defines the Greek used for these terms (2272  hēsýxios) in this way:

  • quiet, still, steady (settled) due to a divinely-inspired inner calmness.
  • "appropriately tranquil" by not misusing (or overusing) words that would stir up needless friction

It’s a God-inspired, Holy Spirit-empowered calm in our attitudes, words, and actions. This is a challenging one, because it has a lot to do with our inner life and the expression of emotions. If the other ones in my list were purposeful actions, this is purposing to have ‘appropriately tranquil’ reactions.

  • Your boss chews you out for something you didn’t do (or did do?)
  • Your kids tell you what a terrible parent you are
  • Your spouse breaks your heart with a poorly chosen word (or perhaps a carefully chosen one)
  • Your parents push your buttons once again
  • Someone publicly shames you on Facebook

How do we respond? Do we have a Holy Spirit-empowered calm in our attitudes, words, and actions? To have a quiet and gracious spirit, we must actively surrender to the work of God within us, and surrender our pride, our anger, our demand for fairness, our need to look good or be right in the eyes of others. “This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live.”

The advice to husbands is advice to us all: Protect and defend those who are ‘weaker’ than we are. The context of 1 Peter likely had to do with social clout or physical strength (the gymnasiums were for men; women rarely had any kind of significant public voice). I am going to broaden the principle.

If we have areas in which we are stronger than others, that is not an excuse to dominate or bully. It’s the opportunity to serve.

Everyone in this room is strong in some way, in the sense that we all impact someone else’s life. One of the definitions of power is this: “the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.” That’s all of us. Our very presence directs or influences the behavior of others or the course of events.

We can be strong or have power in a lot of ways that are more specific than just our presence.

  • Have we thought about the power of our eyes? A look of contempt vs. a look of love. A guarded look vs. an open look. Dismissive vs. engaged. Honoring vs. dishonoring.
  • Our posture is powerful. Body language speaks volumes. We can lean in or lean away from people. Even things like wearing headphones or isolating ourselves on a phone can send a very clear message to people.
  • Our clothes are powerful. According to an analysis of “over 30,000 articles on fashion published throughout 2017… ‘power’ is the word that appeared the most frequently.” [1] We can steer someone’s view of us or invite someone’s gaze with a carefully chosen outfit. If I wear a suit vs. my “drug rug” (apparently that’s what my fun new sweater is called by the kids these days), I can change the impression people have of me or encourage them to view me a certain way just by what I wear. A T-shirt with a slogan will invite or direct people’s eyes to the wearer’s chest; so will a skin-tight T-shirt. That’s power. In Chicago and Costa Rica, we are told how our clothes will invite certain responses or send certain messages. There is power involve just in choosing what to wear.

Then there is personality, money, words, prayer, listening, muscles, reputation, intelligence, empathy, spiritual gifts… These are all ways we “direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.”

We are more powerful than we know.

Here’s the key biblical principle: The purpose of strength isn’t to be strong. That’s just what strength is. We might say, “I want to be strong or have power,” but then the obvious next question is, “Why?” As a Christian, I can’t just say, “So I can be strong.” Biblically, there is a purpose to our strength. I know this because there is a purpose to God’s strength.

  • Psalm 18:1-2 “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust...”
  • Psalm 22:19 “…O LORD, do not be far from Me; O My Strength, hasten to help Me!”
  • Psalm 28:7-8 “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped… the LORD is their strength, and He is the saving refuge of His anointed.”
  • 2 Samuel 22:3 “The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge…”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3 “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.”
  • Ephesians 6:10 “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”
  • 2 Corinthians 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, because my power is strongest when you are weak.”

God uses His mighty power for our good. He did not design power for us to use to separate us from others or so we can dominate, exploit or use them, or so we can isolate ourselves. The power and strength God gives us is a tool to accomplish His purposes by helping those weaker than us to the glory of the God who has made us strong.

As Christians, we can’t just say…

  • “I want to be rich.” Why? For what purpose? Whom will you protect and build with your money?
  • “I want to be smart.” Why? For what purpose? Whom will you protect and build with the knowledge you gain? How does what you now know express itself in loving care of others?
  • “I want to be a powerful communicator.” That’s not enough. Powerful communicators can learn very quickly how to bully or seduce others with their words. I’ve said before how I had to come to grips with the reality that I can overwhelm people with my words. I have to keep this question in front of me: How am I using my words to protect and build those around me? (By the way, that means speaking truth with grace and humility. The solution is not to stop communicating. It’s to use the power of words in a godly manner)
  • “I want to own my own business.” Why? So nobody can tell you what to do? That’s not an option. God has things for you to do. If you are a Christian, your life is God’s. Everything you have belongs to Him, and that includes your time. I suspect God wants you to use the power over your schedule for the good of those around you, especially those who have some degree of powerlessness in your life. Maybe you have time to volunteer more. Maybe you have time to fill in for your employees occasionally and give them a surprise break.
  • “I want influence. I want to be known.” It can’t be just for the sake of being known. How will you use your influence to protect and defend?
  • “I want my kids to immediately respond to me.” Why? Is this for your sake or theirs? Why do you want that power? Is it to make your life easier, or is this actually part of a very purposeful plan for their good, to protect them from…what?
  • “I want the power to prophecy, or speak in tongues, or heal.” Why? Who do you plan to serve with that gift? Paul is clear in his letter to Corinth that these are gifts of service, not gifts meant to cement authority or build one’s own reputation.

Do you remember why Peter told husbands to honor their wives? “So nothing would hinder their prayers.” If I am understanding this correctly, Peter means a husband will undermine what he is praying for if he misuses his strength. He can pray all he wants that God is glorified, but it will be hypocritical and grating if he is living in a way that makes it so that Christ is not.

This is the ultimate purpose of all of our power: to point people to Christ, to use our power to serve in order to point toward Jesus, God in the flesh, who served us at such great cost.

From “All The Poor And Powerless,” by David Mathis: [2]  You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)

 Christianity is not for the self-sufficient. It’s not a religion for the rich and the strong. Jesus didn’t come to comfort the well-to-do and rally those who have their lives all in order. He didn’t come to gather the good, but the bad. Jesus came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Mark 2:17). This is one of the great paradoxes of the gospel.

 It’s the poor he makes rich, the weak he makes strong, the foolish he makes wise, the guilty he makes righteous, the dirty he makes clean, the lonely he loves, the worthless he values, the lost he finds, the have-nots who become haves. Not mainly in this age, but in the new creation to come. It is not the emotionally endowed that he blesses, but the poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3). It’s not the buoyant and boisterous he comforts, but those who mourn (Matt. 5:4). Not the prideful, but the meek (Matt. 5:5).

 He prophesies in Hosea 2:23, “I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people.’” God loves to show himself strong by being the strength of the weak, by showing mercy to those who otherwise receive no mercy. To take people that typically would hear “not my people,” and make them his people…

There is a great beauty to our God being the strength of the weak, and the riches of the poor. This is truly good news to those who of us who will acknowledge how needy we really are, how weak are hearts can be, how poor we really are in spirit. What good news that we have a God like this: who takes the foolish, the weak, and the lowly—like us—and makes us into trophies of his grace, for our joy and for his glory. ___________________________________________________

[1] https://www.wmagazine.com/story/fashion-word-of-2017-was-power-woke

[2] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/all-the-poor-and-powerless/

 

Life Together: Submitted to Christ (Colossians 3:16-4:1)

“Submit” and “obey” are two words that don’t usually bring out the best emotions. Perhaps we think of submission as something we endure from some overpowering bully, like a mixed martial artist who submits his opponent. Perhaps we think of a family, school, a church or a business where all that mattered was authority and obedience, and it was experienced in a way that was mean, cold, harsh, or demeaning. Perhaps we think of obedience or submission as being weak, or being told not to think for ourselves. Perhaps we think of being a victim, abused by those who want to dominate and control us rather than compel or love us.

So here’s a question: What does the Bible say about power and submission?

 Let’s go back to Paul’s letter to the Colossian church.

  • Paul began Colossians by demonstrating the supremacy of Christ in every area of life.
  • Because Christ is above all, we are not enslaved to human traditions and expectations about what it means to be righteous or holy.
  • We are free – from the power and condemnation of sin, and to become people who “put on” compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience and forgiveness.
  • In this life of freedom in Christ, the differences that we cite to create division and pride – race, nationality, gender, and social position – are gone.
  • We are to put on love as the thing that holds together all the goodness we are free to have and to do in Christ.

Next, Paul gives a very practical demonstration about how this looks in their community:

Let the word of God richly inhabit your lives. With all wisdom teach, counsel, and instruct one another. Sing the psalms, compose hymns and songs inspired by the Spirit, and keep on singing—sing to God from hearts full and spilling over with thankfulness. Surely, no matter what you are doing (speaking, writing, or working), do it all in the name of Jesus our Master, sending thanks through Him to God our Father.” (v. 16-17)

 

So the Colossian Christians were to do at least four key things: Let God’s Word richly inhabit their lives (read, listen, think, and absorb the truth found in God’s revelation); teach, counsel and instruct each other (challenge and encourage others with love); sing with gratitude (respond to God in thankfulness for who He is and what He has done); and do everything in the name of Christ (live transformed lives). Sounds great! What will happen when we do this?

Wives: be submitted to your husbands as is appropriate in the Lord. Husbands: love your wives, and don’t treatthem harshly or respond with bitterness toward them. Children: obey your parents in every way. The Lord is well pleased by it. Fathers: don’t infuriate your children, so their hearts won’t harbor resentment and become discouraged. Slaves: obey your earthly masters in all things. Don’t just act earnest in your service only when they are watching. Serve with a sincere heart , fearing the Lord who is always watching! So no matter what yourtask is, work hard. Always do your best as the Lord’s servant, not as man’s, because you know your reward is the Lord’s inheritance. You serve Christ the Lord, and anyone who does wrong will be paid his due because He doesn’t play favorites. Masters: treat your slaves fairly and do what is right, knowing that you, too, have a Master in heaven. (3: 18- 4:1)

 

Hmmm. Two thoughts strike me. First, this seems like an odd thing to write at this point in the letter. Second, this section seems to have a lot to with power: those how have it and those who don’t. In order to understand what is happening here, we need to know something about life in first century Colossae.

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 As far back as the fourth century BC, there is record that the Greeks viewed the household to be a miniature version of the order found in society, the realm of the gods, and ultimately the universe. Aristotle even identified the three key relationships within the household that mattered: “The smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”  Aristotle believed free men were by nature intended to rule over their wives, children, and slaves because they were created by the gods to be better. His writing is pretty clear on this point, noting that “the one gender is far superior to the other in just about every sphere,”  and that “the slave has not deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature.” .

Considering this type of philosophical background, it's probably worth understanding how life looked like for women, children, and slaves in the Greco-Roman world before we look at Paul's Christianized household code.

Women existed to please the men around them, and a husband could do with his wife (or wives) whatever he wanted. Marriages were typically based on economic considerations. Wives were often young teens who married much older men. They were more important than slaves, but in many ways they were just property of their husbands. The reason for marriage was not “love” in our usual sense, but to bear legitimate children and to keep the family line going. Demosthenes noted: Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children."

They had almost no voice in the home or in the city. They could not testify in court because they were considered unreliable liars (that was true in Judaism as well). Some were educated; most were not. They rarely joined their husband and his friends for meals, which was where all the important conversations happened. They had to be faithful while the husband could be promiscuous.

The father also had authority over his children no matter their age. They were to submit to his will even after they had families of their own.  Once again, his children existed to serve and please him. He could set them outside the city to die when they were babies if he didn’t like what he saw.  He had absolute control over their lives.  They were meant to bring him honor and perhaps wealth.  It was all about him, not them.

The head of house was also free to beat his slaves, servants, wives and children, into submission (see the posts on Philemon for a more nuanced look at the reality of slavery at the time).  

This is what had formed the perspective on Paul’s audience. In this cultural milieu,  Christians were already finding themselves butting heads with both the culture and the law as they came to grips with what it meant to follow Christ. They were now part of a "new humanity" in which the divisions of race, gender and freedom were meant to dissolve in mutual love toward Christ and each other. For example, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women, were sharing common meals together in their meetings (1 Corinthians 11). This was unheard of.  Meals separated the free men from everybody else.  While the Romans passed laws forcing widows to get remarried, the early church helped the widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16) without insisting they get remarried.

This was not necessarily sitting well with Rome. The early Christians were called “haters of humanity,” because they so willingly broke down the structures that the Greeks and Romans believe brought stability to the nation and honor to the gods. So when the husband/father became a follower of Christ, his conversion brought him and his household shame and suspicion in the eyes of the Romans and Greeks. They were pretty sure this man and his family were on the verge of being traitors to their country, the gods and the order of the universe.  

So Paul has his work cut out: he does not want to add shame, suspicion or even persecution by dismantling the structure of the household. What he needed to do was show believers how to enter into an imperfect Greek culture and apply a gospel of love and servant hood that reflected the heart of Christ.

This brings us back to the question of power vs. submission and authority.

 I have heard this passage quoted as an example of how Paul just wanted men to be at the top of every relationship. That kind of observation misses the point. Paul was not imposing a new power structure onto marriage. He was showing them how to redeem a flawed cultural reality so that they could live at peace in their city while offering everyone the dignity and honor they deserved.  This may seem like an odd conclusion to reach from this passage, but let's go back to Genesis.

The power struggle between people entered the world as a result of sin entering the world. We read of women in in Genesis 3:16 that, as a result of the fall: “With pain you will give birth to children. You will want to control your husband, but he will dominate you.” (NET Bible). I saw a website for wives that posted this verse with the comments: “Could your desire for your husband be a little stronger? Could you let him rule over you a little more than you did last week?”

They are missing the point badly. This verse is not a promise of blessing; that’s an observation about how life will not look in a fallen world.  Rebellion broke the world. Genesis 3 is not a list of how things ought to be; It's an explanation of how things have become.  One thing we learn right away: The fallen nature craves power and hates servanthood. But the New Adam, Jesus Christ, came to redeem not just people but the ways in which people have grown comfortable in their fallen state.

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, did not seek the position His power offered him. Instead, he became a servant and gave his very life for those he loved as an example for how we are to live. Three examples from Scripture:

  • Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8). 
  • In speaking to them about authority he said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25–28). 
  • When his disciples argued amongst themselves about who would be greatest in the kingdom, Jesus told them that “anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:35). 

In Colossians, Paul is showing how redemption looks in relationships. Now men (the culturally privileged and powerful) have to care for the people within their household for their own sakes with the same level of committed self-sacrifice that Christ himself showed for us all. Men must learn to genuinely love and serve those whom their culture said they could use and control. The redeemed nature chooses service over power.

This was unprecedented in the history of household codes.

 No one is told that they are better. No is told they have a right to rule. No one is told what their rights are, or what is owed to them. They are all told what their responsibilities are to those around them: mutual service to honor Christ. The language is different, but the principle is the same.

From this perspective, there is much we can learn from the household codes about confronting our own lives.

  • Do we feel like we actually are better than others because they don’t have the same education, level of success, background, appearance or spiritual training?
  • Do we feel like we deserve to be in a place of privilege?
  • Do we feel like our spouse, kids, parents, employees, or friends are there to serve us and make us happy? 

When we follow Christ, we are called to sacrifice power, pride and privilege.  Are we learning how to genuinely love and serve those whom we assume we can use and control?

 When we all find ourselves kneeling at the foot of the cross, we look up and see only Christ, not other lording over us. If we look up and see our spouse, or our parents, or our boss, something has gone wrong.We look down and we see only the ground, not people we are lording over. If we look down and see our spouse, or our kids, or our employees, something has gone wrong. And when we look around, we see everyone around us eye-to-eye, remembering that God so loved the world – and we are called to nothing less.