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Submission to Rulers and Masters May 17, 2014

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 2:13-25.

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting his readers to submit to all civil powers, since God has:

  • appointed civil government as a common good among men
  • commanded believers to obey it.

Moreover, God desires that believers submit to all civil powers so that they can muzzle those who speak evil of them. While He has given them Christian freedom, they should not use it to live in disobedience to any civil power; instead, they should be obedient to Him. Since they do not want to displease Him, they should honor all people; they should display a special love for other believers and obey all civil powers.

Peter then exhorts Christian slaves to keep their place under their masters – even masters who are enslaved to their own passions. Now diligent slaves who keep their place under their masters may still suffer at their hands, yet since they know God and do not want to displease Him, He will reward them. Also, they should maintain their diligence since the actions of Christ on Earth should be copied by His followers. As an example, Peter quotes from Isaiah 53:9 – since Christ was perfectly holy, all of His words flowed from a pure spring. He maintained His holiness in silence when He was tormented, since He placed His life into God’s hands. Now the sins of all people were transferred to Him when He was crucified – enabling them to hate sin and delight in God’s will; His suffering has opened up a way for people to repent and be freed of God’s wrath. Peter concludes by reminding his readers that although they had wandered from God, they have now come to Christ, who provides for them and heals them.

Thoughts: In verses 13-17, Peter exhorts believers to obey the governing authorities – thereby vindicating themselves in light of the accusations of non-believers. Leighton offers some insights on this point:

One of the most false yet common prejudices the world has had against true religion is that it is an enemy of civil power and government. The enemies of the Jews made this accusation as Jerusalem was being rebuilt: “In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place of rebellion from ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed” (Ezra 4:15).

It is safe to say that believers in the United States have little difficulty submitting to their government, which is not the case for believers in nations such as China, Indonesia and Egypt. On one hand, believers who are subject to oppressive regimes can draw great strength from this passage in the midst of their suffering, as they can readily identify with Peter’s original readers. On the other hand, believers who are not being persecuted by their government can feel rather disconnected from this passage; should they merely file it away for future reference? Perhaps this passage should remind them to give thanks to God for His blessings in allowing them to reside in a particular country, and it should spur them to consider how they can be better political subjects.

In verse 25, Peter notes that Christ guides believers as their Shepherd. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

Young and weak Christians, and also older ones when weak and weighed down with problems, are led gently and with the tenderness that their weakness requires. The Shepherd provides for his flock, heals them when they are injured, washes them, and makes them fruitful.

I thought about Psalm 23, which portrays Christ as the Shepherd of believers, who are His sheep. We picture Christ leading us in a peaceful setting with an abundance of green grass and gently flowing streams; brilliant sunshine and a beautiful breeze complete the picture. While this is assuredly the case in the next life – and also describes this life to some extent – it seems that the context of this passage implies that we, as sheep, experience many difficulties in this life. Perhaps this passage pictures Christ leading us through ravines and thickets, helping us navigate dangerous mountain passes, fending off a host of hungry wolves, etc. These sobering realities should spur us toward greater thankfulness to Christ as our Shepherd.

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Hagar and Sarah March 13, 2013

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 4:21-31.

Summary: Paul begins by using the following allegory from Genesis to make a point to the Galatians: Hagar and Abraham have a son, Ishmael; also, Sarah and Abraham have a son, Isaac. Now Ishmael was only born at Sarah’s request, while the birth of Isaac was foretold by the Word of God.

Paul then clarifies to the Galatians that he is using an allegory here: Hagar represents the law, as the law was given to the Jews on Mount Sinai (the Arabic equivalent of Sinai is Hagar) – yet the Jews are not the heirs of God. Indeed, the law is practiced in Jerusalem by a servile people. On the other hand, Sarah represents the church, as the church consists of free children who have the same Holy Spirit. He then cites Isaiah 54:1 to bolster this allegory: although the church is apparently forsaken by God, she has actually been fruitful – while those who hold to the law and appear to be fertile will not receive the inheritance that the church will receive.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they, like Isaac, are the children of Abraham based on God’s promise. Now the world hates the children of Abraham – just as Ishmael hated Isaac. Yet he infers from Genesis 21:10 that God will overthrow the world and preserve the children of Abraham. Paul concludes by reminding the Galatians that they are not under the law; instead, they have Christian liberty and have been justified by God.

Thoughts: This passage reminds the reader of the account in Genesis 16 where Hagar gives birth to Ishmael. Luther offers some interesting thoughts on this account in his commentary:

We see Sarah’s great humility in this temptation and trial of her faith. She thought, “God is no liar; what he has promised to my husband, he will certainly do. But perhaps God does not want me to be the mother of that seed. It will not grieve me that Hagar has this honor.”

This is certainly an interesting interpretation of the events of Genesis 16. Now I had always assumed that Sarah allowed Hagar to conceive Ishmael with Abraham out of a desire to maximize her personal happiness. In Genesis 16:2 we read that Sarah consented to this act and stated “…perhaps I can build a family through her.” One could interpret her statement as her desire to make the most of the present situation (she knew that she could not bear children). Of course, this interpretation is not necessarily more valid than Luther’s take on the situation, so it is possible for modern readers to view Sarah’s actions in a more sympathetic light. Perhaps allowing Hagar to conceive a child with Abraham was actually quite humiliating for Sarah (even if it reflected her limited understanding of God’s plans for her family).

In verse 29, we see that the children of the promise are persecuted by the children of the law. Luther offers some insights on this point:

But we must arm ourselves with the knowledge that the faithful must bear the reputation in the world of being seditious and schismatic and the originators of innumerable evils. Hence our adversaries think they have a good case against us, and indeed that they perform a great service for God when they hate, persecute, and kill us (John 16:2). Ishmael has to persecute Isaac, but Isaac does not persecute Ishmael in return. Whoever does not want to be persecuted by Ishmael should not profess to be a Christian.

Clearly Luther spoke from personal experience, as Catholics undoubtedly accused him “of being seditious and schismatic” based on his actions during the Protestant Reformation. Now, as noted in the Introduction to his commentary, it is actually based on 41 lectures that he delivered at Wittenberg University in 1531. One must wonder if Luther’s students were also actively persecuted by Catholics at that time. Were they regularly assailed – at least verbally – by Catholics who exhorted them to drop out of Luther’s class? Did Catholics occasionally interrupt Luther’s lectures and cause a ruckus? We can only hope that Luther’s students responded positively to his lectures and had their faith in God – and resolve – strengthened by his impassioned arguments, especially in the face of Catholic persecution.