Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 2 June 2020

Slaves, in reverent fear of God submit yourselves to your masters, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh. 1 Peter 2:18 (NIV).

Here’s another bitter pill to swallow.  Don’t just submit to the government:   like it.   More than that, if you’re enslaved, submit fully.   Pray for your slave masters.   Do it as if you’re praying for the person you love most.  Seriously?

Seriously.

Who are we enslaved to now?   Are the rioters enslaving innocent business owners?   Is the government enslaving the rioters?   Are you or I enslaved by our employers?   Are children enslaved to their parents?   Here in the West, who enslaves us?

Fact is, there actually are people who enslave us.   Real slavery is still occurring, even in America, when people are trafficked.   It happens in every major city and hundreds of smaller ones.   Be on the lookout because it may even be happening in your neighborhood.   What’s worse, in many places, legal authorities are in on the trafficking.  The victims who are trafficked sexually, even vocationally, aren’t free.  They are used and abused, and when their captor master is finished with them, most often they’re killed.   We who learn of these things must dedicate ourselves to combatting this evil where we can, ending it where we can, freeing the enslaved.

Until this happens, are these modern slaves supposed to submit?   The hard but true answer is “yes.”   Yet even in this, submission is also submission to God, trusting that He will provide what they need, including an exit.  Pray for endurance; pray for peace and healing; pray for your captors that they might be changed or disposed to help you; pray for help; be ready when it comes.

Yet don’t forget, too, that Peter reminds us to be slaves to God, and that Paul encourages us (in Romans) to be slaves to righteousness.   We should fully, willingly submit ourselves to God and all He asks for.   Our lives should be lived honor-bound to Him who redeemed us.   We must look at ourselves as having only the freedom that God gives us through His love because, when we do, we find we are truly free indeed.

I suppose that I live in a Pollyanna-type of life here in the north Dallas suburbs.   Bad things happen in the world and I seem sheltered from them, blithely sailing along from one bland moment to another.  Yet all around me are people who live their lives as slaves to God, and they’re leading lives of rich meaning.   And all around me are others who suffer, people who are mistreated.   What can I do to help them?   Whatever it is, it starts with submitting to God.   Seriously.

For further reading:  Romans 6:18, Peter 2:19

Lord Jesus, I’m Your slave.  Use me for Your work today.   And, Lord, help those who are victims of real earthly slavery.   Protect them, heal them, and show me ways I can help stop this evil.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 28 May 2020

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves. 1 Peter 2:16 (NIV).

In the Lord, freedom is slavery.   Huh?

We’ve seen rioters on in our country this week; riots over the death of a man at the hands of a policeman.   Rioting isn’t freedom and living under police isn’t slavery.  Yet those police can’t be free to kill people and we of society can’t tolerate it when they do.   To do so would be to be enslaved by the police.

I’ve also been watching a documentary on U.S. Grant.   Grant was the most successful general in the Civil War, and one of the more upright, moral, and effective presidents in spite of the corruption by officials in his administration.  He opposed actual slavery, fought against the government instituted specifically to preserve it, and fought to end the persecution of former slaves.

In Peter’s time, slavery was still a real and accepted norm.  Peter’s people, the Jews, had been slaves in Egypt a thousand years before, and they were enslaved to the Romans in Judea “now.”   Then as now, slavery was seen as a moral evil.   Yet it was accepted that those who were conquered were enslaved.  Their rights were taken away.   They became forced labor, property, unequal.  

And yet Peter tells us to live as God’s slaves; to openly, enthusiastically live as free people because the truth of Jesus’ salvation has set us free.   Indeed, there is no freedom, secular or not, without the saving grace of Christ.  Yet in the very same sentence, Christ’s right-hand-man implores us to live as slaves to Jesus.

Huh?

In the verses immediately prior to this one, Peter tells us to submit ourselves to all authorities, even the police, even the corrupt government that wants to physically enslave us.   Even slave owners.  Peter isn’t telling us to live in favor of slavery, but he’s telling us that God is at work through slavery.   It is we people who tolerate slavery, but it is God who works His will through even our toleration of this and other evils. 

So, Peter tells us to take the example of being enslaved to an evil concept – human chattel – and use it as our example for following Christ.   To be owned by Christ.   To submit everything, body and soul, to Christ.   To give up all freedom, even the freedom He gives us, to Him.   To understand that even when we are abused, we allow this to happen out of submission to Him.

May God today move our hearts to remember this as we try to respond to things happening in our world.   Men like Grant fought against slavery.   And there are those in our world today who are still being wronged, even killed.   We need to stand for them, but peacefully, in slavery to Christ, as He would.  As He does.

For further reading:  Romans 6:22, Peter 2:17

Lord Jesus, I’m Your slave.   Work peace in us today.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Peter, 30 April 2020

He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  1 Peter 1:20 (NIV).

Have you ever considered what it would be like to live in a world without Christianity?

Peter did.   He lived a large chunk of his life without knowing Jesus.   Judaism’s special bond as God’s chosen people had tarnished long before.   It wasn’t God’s fault:   it was humanity’s.  God still revered the Jews, all people in fact, and so He put into motion the plan He had designed since before He spoke it all into existence.

So, have you ever considered what our world would be like if God hadn’t done that, hadn’t sent His Son, Jesus, to live, die, and live again for our sake?   It’s a historical fact that Christian monks preserved the ancient knowledge from Egypt, Greece, and Rome through the Dark and Middle Ages.  Almost definitely, what we know as western traditions, respect and reverence for children, universal human rights, women’s rights, the abolition of slavery, and representative republican democracy wouldn’t exist (at least not as they do).   Most likely, there would be more tyranny because, before Jesus, that was the norm.   Quite possibly, our world would be far more carnal and violent and more attuned to our most base human instincts.  It’s even very possible that methods of western hygiene and medicine would not have developed as they have.

This faith called “Christianity” is responsible for preserving most of the things that we hold as good and true in our twenty-first century world.  It’s true there are many who think the world would be much better without religion, stating that religion is responsible for so many of the world’s woes and wars.   They miss the point:   people are responsible for that, not faith in God.    Indeed, live in a place where Christianity is banned, say in Iran or North Korea or Communist China, and you’ll find the human spirit to be crushed and debilitated.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.   Before this world was even created, God knew what we would eventually do and that we would need a Savior.   Before you or I were even born, God knew we would be both His very good creation and that we would reject Him time and again.  In what may be the last epoch of our world, God revealed Himself to us personally, through His Son and through His Spirit so that we might not live apart from Him.

If He hadn’t done that, imagine the world as a North Korean gulag.

Pretty dire prediction?   Maybe.   None of us knows what the world would be like without Jesus.   All we can know is that we wouldn’t be saved from our own self-produced damnation.

For further reading:  Matthew 25:34, Ephesians 1:4, Hebrews 9:26, 1 Peter 1:21

Lord Jesus, thank You for looking ahead to see we would desperately need You, then for dying and living again to save us from ourselves.

Practical Proverbial, from Philemon, 26 September 2019

Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.  Philemon 11 (EHV).

Slavery is useless.   Paul just said so.

In his life as a slave, Onesimus had been useless to Philemon.   Whether this is in the context of the work he performed, Onesimus’ attitude toward his master, or even Philemon’s use of Onesimus as a slave we don’t know; that context isn’t provided.   What we do know is that Paul calls it out and says that Onesiums, as a slave, was useless to Philemon.

Ditto your job.   Ditto your house.   Ditto your marriage, your kids, your pride, your everything.   EVERYTHING that we value here on the Third Rock it serves following Jesus Christ.

That’s a bitter pill for me to swallow.   It wasn’t always so, but these days my family is my most important earthy matter.   Years went by before I realized that my children and grand-children are the legacy I will leave behind.   We never truly own anything since God places our things on loan to us.   When we die, others get them.  I won’t live here forever; someday I’ll be gone and the only physical reminder of me will be a stone in a Dallas cemetery.  Yet I’m going to live forever because Jesus is my savior.   What’s more, I’m going to live on here in the memories, habits, and lives of my kids, grandkids, and whoever they meet.

That’s going to happen because God opened my eyes and revealed that everything else is useless compared to Him.   It took years of sin and more years of repentance for me to realize what He was telling me.   As Jesus said in Mark 8, what good is it to gain everything but lose my soul in the process?   He revealed to me (in a hundred different ways) that the real inheritance I can leave to my kids & grandkids is Christ Himself.   Inspiring them to follow Him.   Inspiring them to live lives in service to Him through living out the behaviors described in Galatians 5.   Inspiring them to act in ways that point others to Christ through kindness, understanding, patience, and Godly wisdom.  Love, joy, peace, patience and the rest:  those behaviors that spring from following Jesus are the inheritance He wants us to leave for those after us.   So that they can learn to follow Him too.

Everything else is meaningless; everything else is useless.   Every possession, every person, every thought, every dollar here is useless if it isn’t in service and acknowledgement of Christ the King.   In many fewer words, that’s the message Paul sent to Philemon.

For further reading:  Ecclesiastes 1:1-11, Mark 8:36, Galatians 5:22-23, Philemon 12

My Lord, may all my thoughts, words, and actions be only in service to You.   May others see You through how I live today.

Practical Proverbial, from Titus, 31 July 2019

Encourage slaves to submit to their masters in everything, to be pleasing to them, not to be argumentative with them, not to steal from them, but to demonstrate their complete trustworthiness, so that they may show the teaching of God our Savior to be attractive in every way. Titus 2:9-10 (EHV).

It’s about submission, not slavery.

Slavery is an off-limits topic in our politically-correct culture.   We aren’t allowed to acknowledge that slavery happened except in terms of denouncing it in the most vociferous tone.  No doubt:  slavery is an abomination and a wrong.   No doubt, too, that more people than just Americans were or held slaves throughout human history.   Indeed, it’s occurring, still, today, on every continent except, perhaps, Antarctica.

How does Paul advise us to deal with slavery?   Encourage slaves to be submissive.  WHAT?   Yep.   Encourage those suffering through the degrading misery of human bondage to submit to their masters as a reflection of submitting to God.   Demonstrate patience and endurance.   Demonstrate honesty and trustworthiness.  Demonstrate these qualities that slaveowners, through their very role, are lacking.   Do so as a way that the slave owners and others may see Jesus through us, through the example of trust in Him.  As Jesus said, “let your light sine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Right on, right on.

God didn’t make slavery, but He allows it to occur so that people may learn to depend on Him.   God didn’t make cruelty but He allows it so that others may learn love for Him instead.   God didn’t invent political-correctness but He allows this modern slavery to ideology so that we might see He’s so much bigger than our nonsense.   We get to see that by first submitting to Him.

It isn’t PC to talk about positive things that resulted from slavery.   Historically speaking, after emancipation, the black community in America was the most cohesive, familial, dignified and faith-based community across all demographics up until the advent of the 1960s Great Society.  Even under the oppression of Jim Crow, former slaves rose to overcome that oppression with dignity and honor; if only those oppressing would have done the same.   Perhaps God’s message (through Paul) to us today is to endure the unendurable with that same dignity and honor.   He encourages us to submit to Christ by submitting to those who would put us in bonds in a thousand different ways.   This so that, to God may be the glory.

For further reading:  Matthew 5:16, Luke 1:47, Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:11.

Lord God, to You be the glory in all things, even the worst that humanity can conceive.  Remind me always to submit to You in all ways.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 5 February 2019

Those who have believing masters should not show them disrespect just because they are fellow believers. Instead, they should serve them even better because their masters are dear to them as fellow believers and are devoted to the welfare of their slaves.  1 Timothy 6:2 (NIV).

Perhaps none of us in America can imagine this kind of predicament:   being a slave who follows Jesus while serving a master who also follows Jesus.   It’s true.  We can’t truly imagine it because we aren’t slaves.   There is no American citizen alive today who was an American slave, is the child or grandchild of a slave, or has any personal experience with legal slavery in the United States.  It was outlawed as a legal institution 154 years ago.   Yet, back then, it was very real.   There were real slaves and masters believing in the same Jesus while one lived in cruel servitude to the other.   Yes, slavery still does exist as a criminal exercise on this planet, even within the United States.   But that isn’t what we’re talking about (yet hold the thought).

Perhaps the closest parallel we of the 21st Century could draw is supporting a boss who you know believes in God.   We aren’t talking about supporting someone who says they believe yet says or does things to rebel against Him.   I’m more talking about supporting a boss who is harsh, tough, demanding.   Perhaps a leader or manager who insists that you always give your best, always hold to the highest standards, always demand more from you.

You know, like Jesus would.   Jesus could be hard and demanding of people who were egregious offenders, people like the Pharisees.   Yet He was also demanding of His closest friends, even as He usually interacted with a softer approach.   You and I, we like to say that we’d give Jesus worship, faith and (at least) respect, right?

Perhaps He has given us hard taskmasters in our lives to serve purposes that we don’t fully see.   Perhaps He allows others in our lives to push us to do things that reveal the best in us; iron sharpening iron.  Perhaps God works on us, collectively and individually, through authorities (as my pastor friend, Phil, recently reminded in a sermon).    Perhaps we should respect the boss, the CEO, the leader, the US President, because God is working even through them.  Perhaps God even still allows slavery in our world so that others might be reached by Him, through it.

Perhaps?   Yes.   Yes indeed, Jesus does all these things to us and for us and for our overall good in His Kingdom.   Knowing that, shouldn’t we do our best to render respect and honor to those above us even if they sometimes seem like slave masters?   Perhaps.   You know the answer.

For further reading: Philemon 16, Proverbs 27:17, 1 Timothy 6:3.

Wonderful Savior, we often fail You through things like slavery.  Thanks for Your patience, and teach us today to respect authorities, bosses, and leaders over us.

Practical Proverbial, from 1 Timothy, 31 January 2019

All who are under the yoke of slavery should consider their masters worthy of full respect, so that God’s name and our teaching may not be slandered.  1 Timothy 6:1 (NIV).

Slavery was officially outlawed in the United States on Dec 6, 1865 when Georgia ratified the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.  That amendment was ratified in less than a year; 309 days, and only 240 days after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.  Yet 154 years later, slavery is still a sore subject in America for many reasons.

Did you know that, even under slavery, black culture was the most devout, Christian culture in the nation?  As a matter of fact, all through out the history of America, it is the African American community that has held closest to the core values of Christianity.  That’s an amazing fact, and an amazing testament to both the power of Jesus Christ and the strength of character of good people who were subjugated but followed Jesus anyway.   Today, much time in our society, especially in our popular culture, is devoted to doing what we can to make amends for the national sin of slavery, even though it ended so many generations ago.   Why is that?

Perhaps the answer to that is found in re-reading verse 1.  How could any people not feel the guilt of history on them when they see that those subjugated as slaves often kept Paul’s hard advice better than the advantaged population that subjugated them?  Indeed, it’s a tough thing to do, considering your ‘masters’, often regarded as adversaries, worthy of respect.   Yet that’s what Paul asks us to do.

Indeed, slavery was commonplace in Paul’s time.   The Romans and Greeks conquered vast reaches of territory and enslaved those they conquered (if they even let them live).  Every nation in history, up to that point, had practiced and known slavery.   To break the cycle of hatred, Jesus commanded us to respect our masters, giving them honor as God’s representatives.   A slave master God’s representative?   Yes.

That is nether an acceptance nor toleration of slavery.   It’s simply a way of honoring God by honoring the people put over us.   Not many people in America are enslaved today; that 13th Amendment outlawed it.   Yet a dishonorable truth is that slavery – human trafficking, prostitution, drug runners, even people in common workplaces – still does indeed exist in the United States.  In fact, it exists in many areas of the world.   We who aren’t enslaved should use our righteous position to work against slavery.   And when we do encounter it, it’s up to us to remind those afflicted to give God honor in all aspects of their lives so that they may draw nearer to Him in true freedom.

For further reading: Ephesians 6:5, Titus 2:5 & 8, Colossians 3:22-24, 1 Timothy 6:2.

Lord, Your example is for us to not enslave others.   Help us to honor you by honoring those above us, even our ‘masters.’