For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution,whether of the emperor as supreme, or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. Honour everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honour the emperor.
Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. For it is to your credit if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, where is the credit in that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval (1 Peter 2:13-20 (NRSV)).
So, Lesson Four, “The Help,” brings us to one of those “tough” passages in the General Epistles. If you managed to undertake reading all of 1 Peter by this point, then you will know, ahead of time, that there are seeds of hope for mutual partnership and equality to which the letter’s author points (no matter how subtly) in 1 Peter 3:8-22. In fact, we will draw a connection to that message and the “household codes” that precede it in Lesson 5, “The Ties That Bind.” As we encounter the passages for Lesson Four, however, we are not left with an obviously happy ending or thoroughly satisfying resolution to a major problem—what to make of a scripture that refuses to speak out against abuses of power in earthly institutions.
Sure, we may be quick to gloss over the implications of what 1 Peter 2 advises as antiquated or irrelevant (“we don’t have slavery in this country anymore, so it doesn’t apply to us;” “Jesus just wants everyone to be free—after all, that’s the overall message of the Bible, ultimately;” or, “well, all that slavery-talk is just a metaphor—no one expects it to be applied to human affairs;” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera…) Lest we be tempted to rest on those assumptions, I submit the following for your consideration:
Slavery was cruel, but as a result of slavery, we have African-Americans living in this country today who are living here in situations that are probably much better to endure than if they were living in Sub-Saharan Africa. If you had the choice knowing the lifestyle of people living in Africa and knowing the lifestyle of people living in the United States, which would you choose? Pure and simple.
--Arkansas Republican State Representative Jon Hubbard (in an interview with the Jonesboro Sun; source: http://talkbusiness.net/2012/10/hubbards-new-press-statements-present-more-problems-for-arkansas-gop/)
... If slavery were so God-awful, why didn’t Jesus or Paul condemn it, why was it in the Constitution and why wasn’t there a war before 1861? The South has always stood by the Constitution and limited government. When one attacks the Confederate Battle Flag, he is certainly denouncing these principles of government as well as Christianity.
--Arkansas Republican State Representative Loy March (in a letter to the editor in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette; source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/08/loy-mauch-arkansas-slavery_n_1948717.html)
Clearly, even in the 21st century, not everyone has “gotten the memo” on the fundamentally anti-Christian nature of the institution of slavery. (What is more, given that we are approaching Election Day in the United States, how vexing it is to stomach the notion that some of our civic leaders, whom we are called to honor, uphold such horrendous views). Sadly, across the globe, slavery is alive and well, even today. Even in the United States. You may recognize it by its current definition: human trafficking. Perhaps you have seen the following bulletin insert on this devastating global phenomenon:
Coupled by the existence of actual institutions of enslavement is, of course, the variety of metaphorical sources of slavery that plague individuals today: crushing financial debts, addictions, abusive relationships, and the like.
How might we, in tangible ways, bear witness to sources of freedom and hope, even as we are challenged by the scriptures in Lesson Four to obey those powers responsible for human bondage? What might be an apt “take-away” activity to engage as a part of our Bible studies, given the complexities involved? Along with the meaningful exercises lifted up by Magdalena Garcia in the “Suggestions for Leaders,” I offer a suggestion for an activity rooted in the process of prayer as spiritual formation. Inspired by an exercise introduced by pastors Amy Meyer and Caryn Thurman at a Bible Study Conference at Mo-Ranch last summer that involved crafting paper chains to remind us of our binds to Christ and to one another, I have imagined another activity making use of paper chains to use in tandem with Lesson Four that may bear witness to the liberating impulse of the Holy Spirit in the midst of those bound by what “chains” them. I call it “Praying Loose the Chains”:
strips of paper roughly the size of a standard bookmark, and enough for each
circle participant to have at least one strip
- Invite the participants to name something that keeps people in chains today, and to write it on their strips (someone may name "poverty," or “addiction," or "hunger," or "hopelessness," etc.)
- Have each participant link the strips, one to another, to make one long chain (similar to paper chains made to hang on Christmas trees, for example)
- As a prayer exercise, invite an individual to pray a prayer of intercession to God, asking God to break each chain (reading the word on each strip). As that person is praying, (s)he should rip apart the chain, thus symbolizing God's liberating work in breaking the chains of the things that bind us to hurtful and harmful things.
May our prayers to release us from what binds us to deathly influences lead us to life-giving actions in response to deep needs in our lives and in the lives of others. Amen.