Submission and Responsible Snooping

Any eavesdropper worth their spy camera will tell you that snooping is a difficult job. The difficulty with listening in on a phone call or reading somebody else’s mail arises not so much from evading detection but from attempting to piece together a coherent picture from fragmented evidence. Hearing one side of a phone call and reading one letter makes it hard to know everything about whatever may be going on between the correspondents.
That is how it is whenever we page through the Bible – we are reading somebody’s mail. The lack of clues such as inflection of tone and facial expressions renders the task even harder but there are ways around these obstacles. Firstly, it would help to read the entire letter before zooming in on favourite texts. Reading the whole letter gives the big picture into which each text can be fitted. 1 Peter is a letter written to believers living in the midst of hostility. They face accusations running the gamut from domestic disorder to sedition. This letter was written to encourage them and teach them to live in the midst of hostility.
Secondly, it would help to know about life in the time that they lived. This helps us build a mental picture of the original recipients of the letter. Insights into daily life, worldview, politics and historical events help us understand the mindset that wrote the letter and the mindset that read it. In a nutshell, by finding out what it meant, we can better apply it to our context. 1 Peter was written in a time when every family was entirely dependent on the father. Some sources say that even sons were not men until their fathers declared them such. Some households even had slaves; men and women who were considered personal property.
Throughout the Roman Empire, the Caesar was worshipped as a god. Judaism was one religion whose followers were exempted from this and as long as Christians were considered a sect of Judaism, this protection was extended to them. However, as time went on, Christianity came to stand on its own away from the umbrella of Judaism. Christians were expected to pay homage to Caesar just like everybody else and that’s where the trouble began.
Peter bent himself backward to exhort the believers to avoid unnecessary conflict with the unbelievers. Even today, this is wise counsel. Too many Christians make a habit of stepping on toes in the name of evangelism and holy living, stirring up hornets and closing ears to the Gospel in the process. Marching down quiet streets and knocking on doors to force Bibles on Muslims and prayers on Atheists, we are a troublesome lot yet we imagine ourselves oppressed when doors are slammed in our faces and authorities are called to turn off our intrusive PA systems.
Our submission, however, is not a cowardly retreat but a nonviolent protest seeking to coax those around us to a better way. Our cooperation with the government is meant to “silence the ignorant accusations of foolish people,” (1 Peter 2:15, FBV). The letter goes on to exhort wives to submit to unbelieving husbands as silent sermons, for the husbands “may still be won over without words by the way you behave, recognizing your pure and reverent behavior.” (1 Peter 3:1,2 FBV). The submission to authority, far from being an abdication of mind and will, is an object lesson meant to draw hostile minds to a paradigm shift.
That Peter’s “submission texts” have been used to silence the oppressed and justify the trampling of women says more about the great lengths that a sin sick imagination will go to justify and feed the insatiable lust for power. This should warn us against engaging in Biblical gunslinging contests in which the one with the most verses wins. It is far much safer to understand what the text meant and then intelligently apply that to ones own situation.
Jesus was rejected by His own because He refused to be a revolutionary leader. He chose instead to reach out to small groups with His radical worldview, a worldview He tasked us with spreading. He did not walk into Roman courts demanding that women be taken seriously as witnesses, He simply sent women as the first witnesses of His resurrection. He did not charge into Caesar’s bedroom and demand the eradication of slavery, He simply taught that we should all love each other. Jesus simply taught principles that if applied judiciously, would dispel social evils.
Unfortunately, His church has had trouble keeping up. It is much easier to stand on platforms and make eloquent speeches demanding change than it is to effect change in one’s own personal setting – gender equality hashtags are less demanding than loving our spouses. Jesus was anything but a revolutionary. He was a reformer. Why is it so difficult for Christians to be reformers rather than revolutionaries? We would be far more loveable and effective if we, like Jesus, were radical reformers rather than rousing revolutionaries.
Snoop responsibly.
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