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A Good Argument


1 Peter 2:13-17
April 19, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
Sean Higgins

The sermon starts around 16:35 in the audio file.



Or, You Are Always Submitting

God, thank God, does not give the gift of contrarianism to every member of His body. Contrarianism, turns out, is not even a spiritual gift, though some of us would like to think so. There are times, though, when you want a contrarian on your side, if you can actually get close enough without him pushing you away, and that’s because being contrary to vice is a virtue.

Courage is good, and a willingness to stand for what is right against a mob is good. Courage is connected with truth, and a being contrarian toward lies and liars, deception and illegal acts, even to feelings-driven fear, has its place.

Not all our sheep walk around looking at things backwards, but we’ve got a good number of them. In some sense this was probably inevitable, because like attracts like, birds of a feather like to fight with each other, and I myself am native to contrarian country. I was voted most argumentative of my class as a senior in high school. So I can tell you first hand that it’s hard always being right, seeing how everyone else needs to be fixed. And, I can report, I have often been wrong.

There is, as you know, sin in all of us, and sin has always told us that we are right, that we have rights, and that we get to define right. The deceit of the serpent was not only in getting Adam and Eve to disobey, it was getting them to believe that they could be the judge. “Knowing good and evil” wasn’t an intellectual deficiency, it was a dilemma over jurisdiction. Satan was telling them, in other words, that God was out of His lane.

The history of mankind since then has been a long attempt at usurping the Judge’s seat, and every lesser throne underneath. The world God made is full of hierarchies and domains and authorities, and they have been competing and clashing and killing over it (James 4:1-2). Debates about sphere sovereignty will continue until Christ returns and reigns on earth. Wives will want to rule their husbands (Genesis 3:17), children will want to resist their bedtimes, and men will want to tell their governors to stick it.

Now there are times (—and see how our inner lawyer is always on call—) of exceptions. Some patriarchs are jerks, fathers don’t always know best, idiots get elected or inherit a seat, and godly courage is the demand of the day. When men have power over other men, it often leads to hurt (Ecclesiastes 8:9). Jesus not only knows that it happens, He submitted Himself to death in order to save His people out of their own deadly failure to submit. Talk about rulers executing orders (and ordering an execution) that were out of their lane.

What are we supposed to do? The default as Christians is to submit to Jesus, follow His example of submitting while suffering, even if unjustly. The default as Christians is resistance…to sin, especially sin in our responses to crooked authority. Beloved, that is what God’s Word declares. When Peter urges the sojourners to wage war against the passions of their flesh (1 Peter 2:11), that doesn’t just mean to resist lustful second looks at an immodest ad on a website, it also means to resist knee-jerk anger at authorities.

Appealing to authorities is not the same as refusing to submit to authorities. And, as the Bible clearly reveals, we must obey God rather than man under certain circumstances (Acts 5:29), and it is possible to make the laws of man more important in your priorities than the Lordship of Jesus (Mark 7:6-13). But the Bible also clearly reveals God’s will for how to make a good argument. God Himself, for the sake of honoring Jesus as Lord, leaves no doubt as to the behavior He expects from us. On this point we don’t need wisdom, we don’t need to pray about it, we need to submit. Submission is right, and, by God’s grace, submission is powerful.

Hear the word of the Lord again.

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:13–17, ESV)

Submission Is Imperative

The primary command is be subject, or “submit” (KJV, NASB). The Greek word (Ὑποτάγητε) calls for recognizing one’s subordinate position and respecting and obeying the person higher in structure. It is summarized with a variety of imperatives in the last verse in the paragraph, but the key word subject is repeated in 2:18 to slaves and in 3:1 to wives.

It isn’t obvious in English translations, but the verb in 2:18 and 3:1, while the same vocab word, isn’t the same verbal mood. Rather than imperatives, both are participles, which is a grammatical way that Peter connects them all together. The relationships are comparable in terms of a recognized hierarchy with two directions of responsibilities, though the relationships have dissimilarities in important ways. In every human institution, every “authority system” or governance of man, the various spheres and groups and households and governments, start with submission.

This is not because the governor (or master or husband) deserves to be obeyed on his merit. The reigning emperor, whom Peter elevates as supreme, was Nero, perhaps the most nasty Caesar toward Christians. Masters could be “unjust,” skoliois, crooked (2:18). Husbands may not “obey the word” (3:1), so none of the examples Peter provides are themselves submitting to what is right in God’s sight.

But we are subject to them for the Lord’s sake. The great confession of every Christian is: “Jesus is Lord.” Which also means, as I try to step on some virtual toes, you are slaves.

I agree, and I appreciate, that in the United States we don’t have an emperor or a king. I appreciate our Constitutional Republic, which means among other privileges that I am not the legal property of any one man. But nor am I subject to whatever I think is right. I am not the Boss. Both my passport and my confession require more. I am a slave of Jesus Christ. When I say Jesus is Lord, that makes me His own. He bought me with a price (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). The freedom from sin that He’s given is a freedom to live as a slave of God (verse 16). And as His slave, He requires me to submit to various men, both with honor and dependability.

You Are Always Submitting

Beloved, you are always submitting.

It’s true that we will never become our own Creator, even if you could buy a personal island and be the Commander in Chief of a private army to protect your island. It’s also true that you are always showing everyone around you what it looks like to submit, whether Fox News interviews you about it or not.

Under so much of our normal circumstances we can forget that we have that responsibility, at least to our actual governor. In some ways, that is good, but in other ways, it sets us up to have little else to do but complain when a governor flexes his muscles in a way that we see too much skin. He’s like, “Look at this!” We’re like, “Look away!”

What I’m saying is, whatever was on your lesson plans this spring to teach your kids, the Book of Providence has flopped open in front of you to the chapter on submission. Have you been wondering how to show your wife the kind of respect you’d like at home, but haven’t been sure how to do it without seeming a little on the nose? Here you go. You tell her that respect bestows respectability, but do you live like respect is only earned?

“But,” you say, “I disagree with how we’re being governed!” And I say, exactly. Agreement is not submission, agreement is temporary alignment of wants. That said:

  • Appealing when you disagree is submission, perhaps even persistent appealing. Think of the parable of the widow and judge who “neither feared God nor respected man.” He got the point after her persistence, and decided it would be for his own benefit not to be “beat down…by her continual coming” (Luke 18:1-8). Most of our kids wrote letters to the governor appealing that he change his mind.
  • Asking questions when you disagree is submission, though a questioning spirit isn’t. “Please, help me to understand.” You might not get an explanation you want, or even any explanation at all. But submission isn’t necessarily silence.
  • Asking other, closer authorities to help is a means of submission. When a distant ruler causes grievances, seek local support. For example, under normal circumstances, a wife doesn’t need pastors, or the police, to deal with her husband. Sometimes she does.

We submit, again, for the Lord’s sake. We do it because we are “mindful of God” (2:19) We do it “in God’s sight” (3:4).

Full Body Submission

Our mission as a church includes joyful labor to cultivate worshipping and maturing disciples who acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord over all the world. We want the whole body of Christ to attain the unity of faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, so that we won’t be tossed to and fro by waves of false teaching and liberal bias and scare charts.

A mature person doesn’t need to have his hand held in order to cross the street, and a mature person also doesn’t need to be told not thumb his nose at the policeman on the corner. We want to see men grow into responsibility, we believe that authority flows to those who take responsibility, and that means you better know how to submit with every fiber of your being if you’re going to lead others well.

Submission As Argument

You want to make a good argument, that’s good. The Lord says where to start. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people (verse 15).

The first good, in context, is submission. It is God’s will, written in the middle of the page, not even a footnote.

God’s will includes the existence of foolish people. God’s will includes their ignorance. And God’s will includes how ignorant fools only close their mouths when they want to breath through their nose. Fools delight to talk. They delight to open the face spigot and spew opinions like a dog giving itself something to return to later (Proverbs 18:2). Fools love predictions, and fancy fools use computer modeling and call it science. They love to comment, criticize, tell stories, change their stories, claim they didn’t change their story, and ignore when their story is proven false.

And consider: who are these foolish people? They could be the neighbor reporters tattling on one another. They could be the news reporters. They could also be the governors.

Imagine putting these fools to silence. It is doable, by doing good. Doing good is like the metronome of submission. Every time there is a lull in this section on submission, Peter picks it back up again with doing good. (See 2:12, 15, 20; 3:1, 2, 6, 11 [quoting Psalm 34:14], 17.)

It is so tempting to fight fire with folly. And here is a spot where our President cannot help us. We do not ask, WWTD (What would Trump do)? Jesus, when reviled, did not revile in return. He did not threaten. And He is the example for us to follow in His steps (2:21).

We live in a world where resurrection trumps death, where good trumps ignorance and evil. That is God’s Word. It’s not blind submission, but powerful submission.

But build your case by submission. Time will show who you are submitting to, especially if it’s just been you.

Conclusion

This situation is perfect. It’s perfect because doing good to silence the ignorance of fools is our work until Jesus returns, not just until we can go to a dine-in restaurant again.

At the seminar on politics, I asserted that we have been given great political wealth. I asserted that Christians should care, and many are caring now. But Reformation will not be built on a rotten foundation. Reformation, in which we call others to obey the Lord, cannot be built on our disobedience.

We are not asking Governor Inslee to submit to us, but to the truth, truth found in the Constitution and in the actual conditions of COVID-19 cases. We must be the first ones to act like truth isn’t relative or arbitrary or subjective, whether or not a leader does.

The question is not “do we have to submit?”, the question is, “to whom/what must we submit?” Here are some additional questions:

Has God given the church a command to meet? And if so, is it possible that Christians are in rebellion against God by not meeting? I’m not saying that there can’t be exceptions, but just asking if it is possible.

Has the U.S. Constitution given citizens the right to assemble peacefully? And if so, is it possible for a Governor or other government official to be the one in rebellion against the law? If the assembly is protected by law, how is assembling rebellion?

Of course there are tensions when different jurisdictions (or spheres) overlap, and in the current context, there are a number of those tensions. In fact, that is part of the reason that I’ve been reaching out to our local officials and asking for their input and help, because they are in a position of civil authority.

We are not blind, but we are not fighting to do whatever we want. That’s what got our culture into its condition. Having a badge, or a State seal on your letterhead, does not make you right. And Christians need to listen with both ears, and with their brain. Do good, which most of the time will find a way within what’s allowed. If it comes to it, do good and take the punishment for it.

In Doug Wilson’s sermon notes on 1 Peter 2:13-17, he said:

“once we know the whole thing is a grotesque and illegal power grab, we are to draw a firm biblical and constitutional line and begin the necessary task of civil resistance and disobedience.”

But that sort of “disobedient obedience” is the nuclear option. Our church exists because of abused authority, but pursued for years, with many conversations and appeals and prayers. In a related way, I hate worship services that set up a faith gauntlet. Worship should stimulate faith, not doubt. There should be a gauntlet, however, for calling “resistance” submission. It can be done, but it is painstaking.

Pushing for answers is not actually cathartic. It requires you to engage. Typing out a complaint with your mask over your eyes is benefiting you and other people who fellowship with your grievances.

I’m not trying to have it both ways, I am acknowledging the tension and saying Jesus really is Lord, He really is reigning, and He will have questions for us when this is over as well. Did Jesus die to enable you to be snarky? Maybe. Maybe He died because of it.

May submission to the Lord go viral, and may our church be full of it.


Charge

Remember that you are always submitting. Remember that you are always demonstrating to others what you think the standard of submission is. Remember that by God’s grace, your submission is powerful. Don’t waste it.

Benediction:

For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
 what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

Therefore let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (1 Peter 4:17–19, ESV)