When I was a little boy, I spent the night with a friend. As it got late we got ready for bed. He had bunk beds, a special treat for me. We laid in our beds and read comic books and talked. His mom announced that it was time to go to sleep and turned out the lights. When she had left, he leaned over the top bunk and looked down at me and said, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."
I remember being so confused. "What?" I asked. He explained how his mom could turn out the light, but she could not make them sleep. That was the first time I remember really thinking, "Hey, I don't have to do what you said."
When Moses was leading the exodus from Egypt, God called the children of Israel, "a stiff necked people". Things have not changed much. We often find it hard to bow to someone's wishes, wants, or ways. We don't want anyone to tell us what to do. We want to do it our own way.
Just the word, submission, raises the hair on the back of our necks. Our first response is "Hey, I don't have to do what you say." But Peter says that submission is a part of a Christian's life and gives us the ultimate example of submission, Jesus.
At the end of chapter two and the beginning of chapter three Peter talks about the relationships we have. In all of them, He urges us to be submissive. In relationship to the government and rules, he tell us to "submit to every human institution" (2:13). He talks about slaves and masters, but in our day it would be employees and boss. He tells employees, submit yourself to your masters (2:15). Then there is marriage: "Wives in the same way submit yourselves to your husbands," and "Husbands in the same way, live with your wives" (3:1, 7) Finally, Peter mentions the relationships within the church: "Now finally, all of you should be like-minded and sympathetic" (3:8). Peter urges us to be submissive, but why?
In the middle of these passages on relationships, Peter talks about Jesus. He tells us that Jesus is the ultimate example of submission and we are to follow the pattern set by Christ.
I. The priority of submission (v. 25)
Peter says that we are called to submission. In Matthew 8:18-22, a scribe and a disciple come to Jesus and desire to follow Him. Jesus does not say to them, "Come on along, the more the merrier. This is going to be so much fun!" To one He says, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head" (8:20). When the other asks for permission to remain with his father until he dies, Jesus replies, "let the dead bury their own dead" (8:22). Quite literally Jesus tells one of them to consider the cost and sacrifice required in following Him, and to the other He demands that He be first priority. The message of Jesus is that you must be submissive to Him to follow Him.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer begins his book, The Cost of Discipleship with these words: "Cheap Grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly-grace" (Collier Books, 1963, pg. 45). Bonhoeffer wrote those words in the 1930s and they still ring true today. Peter says that if we call ourselves Christian, then we are called to submission. If we think that we can pledge our allegiance to Jesus, but not submit to His Lordship, we cheapen the grace of God. When Bonoeffer says the enemy of the church is cheap grace, he is talking about the lack of submission.
I am often shocked to discover people who complain about how hard life is, and in the next breath say, "I just thought following Jesus would be easier than this." What they mean is, "I thought I could live without submission.
Dr. Stephen Olford make a profound statement: "If Jesus is not Lord of all, then He is not Lord at all." Peter says if you call yourself Christian, then you are called to submission. We do not have a choice in it.
II. The path of submission (vv. 21-23)
But how do we live submissive lives? Peter defines a submissive life by the example of Jesus. According to Peter, submission is not retaliating for wrongs suffered. It is not saying one thing but doing something else. Submission is not vowing to get even or threatening to return suffering.
Oftentimes in the high pressure world of politics and business, the motto is "get them before they get you, and make sure you take care of number one." I have heard people talk about why their marriages fell apart. They talk about how the other person did not make them feel something anymore, or they wanted something else. I have heard people complain that my preaching was too dry, too long, too short, too shallow, too deep, too many illustrations, and not enough illustrations. And all that was from the same Sunday sermon. In business, politics, marriages, and church if we are not careful everything will center on how it benefits us. It is easy to become a stiff necked-people who scream, "I am in control here, and I will get what I want."
In the Old Testament there was the "Lex Talionis" or the Law of the Claw. The Law of the Claw states, "an eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth." Have you ever looked at the talons of an eagle, hawk, or some other predatory bird? Those things could inflict some major damage and pain. Most of us live by the Law of the Claw. If you hurt me, then I will sink my claws in you and hurt you.
Jesus addressed the Law of the Claw when He said, "You have heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth', but I say to you…Give to the one who asks of you and don't turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matt. 5:38, 42). But what if they are mean? They can't be trusted. Do you know what they have done in the past? Jesus says to not repay evil with evil. The ends do not justify the means.
Peter points out these are not just words to Jesus. When He endured the agony of the cross, He was beaten, mocked, tortured, humiliated, and killed. And for what? Pilate said that he found no fault in Jesus. A man who had done nothing wrong suffered a horrible, gruesome punishment, yet He did not demand His way. Paul says that, "He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross." Jesus tells us to be submissive, and then He models submissiveness as He suffers and dies on the cross.
III. The person of submission (v. 23)
If you are like me, everything in you says "That's not fair." And you know what? You are right. But Peter points out that the object of our submission is God, not the figure before us. He says that Jesus submitted "Himself to the One who judges justly." That is God.
If you have spent very much time around children you know that one of their favorite phrases is, "That's not fair," which is usually followed by a temper tantrum. You would think things would change as we get older, but sadly that does not seem to be the case. We have become a nation that screams, "That's not fair." If things don't go our way or we think we have been mistreated just the least little bit, we cry "Not fair". But instead of throwing a temper tantrum, we file a lawsuit. In the church it is not any better. There is jealousy, bitterness, anger, backbiting, slander, gossip, and all forms of dissention.
I know that I sound like a broken record, but let me tell you why. Years ago something happened to me that I did not think was fair. To be honest, I don't even remember what it was. That shows you how big a deal it was. Anyway, I was complaining to God about how I was not being treated fairly. I said to God, "It's not fair." But it was not fair for God's Son to die for my sins, either. He did nothing wrong. I did.
It was then that I realized an important lesson. I only cried "not fair" when I got the short end of the stick. I never shouted, "not fair" when I got what I did not deserve. Mercy is not getting what you deserve, grace is getting what you do not deserve, and both are not fair. But we don't complain when we receive God's grace or mercy.
I do not serve God so that I can be guaranteed fair treatment. I am not a Christian because I want be able to get even with someone. I follow Jesus because I realize that His love for me is so great that He died for me, and that without Him I would be eternally lost. The greatest gift I ever received was an unfair gift that cost Jesus His life.
The next time you are not treated fairly, think about how they treated Jesus. The next time you want to cry unfair, think about how Jesus died unfairly for our sins. This is not about fairness, this is about gratitude. Fairness is about ourselves, and gratitude is about submission.
IV. The purpose of submission (v. 24)
Jesus endured His suffering for us. It was His submission that purchased our salvation. Peter tells us to follow the example of Jesus. As we submit to God, God can use our example to reach others.
Do you know the type of witness you could have if you did not demand fairness but lived in submission to God? Compare that witness with the one you would have if you demanded your own way all the time. The opposite of submission is control, and the opposite of humility is pride.
Peter says that by His wounding we are healed. How are things at work, in your marriage, in your church? Could you use some healing? Peter makes it clear healing does not come by trying to control the situation or by prideful demanding of your way. Healing comes when we submit to God and allow His Spirit to work.
By submitting to God we allow Him complete control of our lives. As he works in us and through us, we will also see Him working around us. And where God works there is healing, life, and restoration. You see, our submission is not to others, it is to God so that He can use our lives to touch the lives of others. Because Jesus submitted, you and I have salvation. If you and I submit, God can work through us to change governments, workplaces, homes, and churches. The purpose of submission is so that God can change the things around us, by changing us, and then working through us.
That awful word - submission. We dread it. We run from it. We try to ignore it. But once we see the submission of Christ and realize we are called to live like that, submission goes from awful to filling us with awe. Because of the submissive example of Christ, my life will never be the same. How about you? Have you accepted the unfair gift of Jesus, that He would die in your place? You can this morning.
Because of the example of Jesus and how He has changed my life, I want God to use my life to reach others. So I submit to Him, and allow Him to work in me, through me, and around me. What is your desire? Do you want your way, or will you give up your demands, and even your freedoms, so that God can use you to touch another life? Will you submit to God?