Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Submission and Happiness

I recently preached a sermon that included some thoughts on submission. A friend from church had some good questions about this. I've included here an excerpt of my reply.

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One can be submissive and yet disobey. Peter and the others did it in Acts 4.19,20 and 5.29. If the Council had said, ‘You need to be sure to get a permit before you do street preaching’, I’m sure that the Apostles, as an expression of an attitude of submission, would have gotten a permit. But they demanded that the Apostles not preach at all. At that point, there was a conflict: ‘Obey God, or obey the Council?’ Easy to answer. We must be submissive (which has to do with the attitude of the heart and not merely outward actions) to those in authority over us but that does not mean that we blindly obey. There are times when we will have to be disobedient to those in authority over us – though still respecting their authority. (That is, needing to disobey is no excuse for a bad attitude to those in authority.) We may have to pay the consequences – the Apostles were flogged, Bonhoeffer was executed – but better to honor God (and that’s what the issue needs to be when we disobey) and suffer than to ignore Him. And we take the drastic step of disobeying those in authority over us knowing that the Father will ultimately decide whether that was a good course to follow.

As to the Gentile woman [of Matthew 15]: this is a variation on the ‘trying to change God’s mind’ thing. A person can be assertive and submissive. This woman was both. It must have been okay because Jesus blessed her. This explains some more what the Bible means by ‘submissive’. But her example is not a promise that whenever someone is assertive and submissive (or even just submissive) that he will get what he wants. Doing everything right (being righteous) is no guarantee of a smooth life filled with happiness. Peter’s first letter is about the call to submit to authority, particularly slaves to masters, who were often just plain evil. Even though the slaves were doing what is right, they just might suffer. And many of them did. Godliness is no guarantee of happiness in this life, though it is a guarantee of happiness in the next. Here let me offer two thoughts. First thought: Most people who have ever lived have not had happy lives. Most people who have ever lived have had hard lives, very hard lives – and a number of them were Christians who lived the right way before God but still were not happy. The American culture of our day expects happiness as a right and a reasonable expectation. It isn’t. Second thought: Jesus didn’t have a happy life. It was a life filled with suffering, emotional, physical and spiritual suffering; a life filled with suffering. You will never find a verse about Jesus laughing while He was here. He was not happy then. But He’s happy now. And that’s how it works. God promises to bless our submission to Him. Some Christians who submit to God get happiness here. And thank God for it! Then there are some Christians who are equally submissive or even better at submitting to God, who don’t get happiness here. But we all get happiness later, just like Jesus. One thing that is promised for here to all who submit is joy and contentment.

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