Submission as Resistance: Reflections on 1 Peter

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Submission as Resistance: Reflections on 1 Peter

“I hate bureaucracy.” Have you heard that? Have you thought it? Is it necessary in the church that is supposed to be an organic body? Idealists often shout from the rooftops that we don’t need organization. I’ve even heard sermons condemning “church structure.” The irony is that those who oppose it either: (1) function within some other type of structure to oppose “the bad one” or (2) struggle to fulfill, from outside the confines of structure, all the Biblical counsel of how the church should function. I think a better question that reading Peter generates is “What is the purpose of an organized body of believers?”

Just think, if there’s no ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency) what would be the church’s national response to natural disasters, especially since the world’s disaster relief agencies require certain criteria to help in crises of a great magnitude. What about all the counsel from Ellen White on our international mission? Hopefully, we are beginning to see that grudges, grievances, or disagreements with church policy or practice shouldn’t be considered a catalyst to deconstruct church organization. We first must understand what the word says is the purpose of being organized.

La Résistance – Organized for Battle

I suppose we all have various reasons for why we think being organized is necessary or unnecessary, but Peter’s divinely inspired counsel challenges us to think of working together as the platform for resistance—that is resistance to the devil, not each other. Admittedly, before learning how to listen to the biblical text in its broader context I often quoted the text “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” I often missed how that resistance was to be forged. Did you ever note that Peter and James almost say the same thing? If you read both books together, you get a sense of how they understood Christian resistance.

James says,

Submit (hypotasso) yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you… Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you (James 4:7–10).

Peter says,

“Likewise, you who are younger, be subject (hypotasso) to the elders…Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…Resist him [your adversary, the devil], firm in your faith… (1 Peter 5:5–10)

If we believe the word of God to be inspired and cohesive in its message, then it should be clear from the parallel statements that

  1. We are to resist the devil
  2. We are to humble ourselves before God
  3. We are to submit to God/elders

Submitting to godly leadership is, in essence, submitting to God’s authority and thus God. Peter’s pronouncement is encouraging us to understand that godly leadership functions as a standing rebuke to Satan’s purpose to cause disunity, distrust, and confusion.

Shepherd the Flock

The way Peter expects his fellow elders to shepherd the flock is expressed in three ways. But, did you notice the singular “flock”? If you remember, Peter’s letter was initially to pilgrims in the wide geographical area of Asia Minor. So, for such a large body of people from so many backgrounds to be called the flock means two things: (1) the people have the same Shepherd (v. 4), and (2) the people are unified by the same rod (for protection and guidance) (in this case it’s the experience of suffering for the same reason, v. 9b).[1] Our individualistic mode of functioning, especially in the West is often a hindrance to fulfilling much biblical counsel, not the least because much of that counsel addresses groups, not individuals. As the church reached out in mission to Asia Minor,[2] the progress report was “So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily” (Acts 19:20). This overview is a summary of how God was fulfilling His word from Acts 1:8. Yet, when one reads the New Testament letters and considers how society at large functioned in the various regions of Roman territory, it becomes painfully obvious that with growth came growing pains that necessitated a structured approach lest chaos ensue.[3] Much counsel is given on spiritual gifts (Rom. 12:3–8), but even more is given on leadership.[4] So, in what way does Peter say an elder should function? 1 Peter 5:2 says by Exercising oversight:

  1. Not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you;
  2. Not for shameful gain, but eagerly;
  3. Not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

Peter expects the elders, as faithful shepherds, to provide for the safety, sustenance, and growth of the flock.[5] In a megalith like the Roman Empire, going at it “off the cuff” in an attempt to fulfill the mission of the church would present more challenges than it would solve. More to the point, in a global church that spans 5 continents with 13 divisions with colleges, hospitals, bookstores, health institutes, churches, community centers, etc. to provide the type of leadership Peter is speaking about requires a church structure. In this context, on the world stage, resisting the devil becomes even more necessary.

Resist him, Firm in your Faith

That was a lengthy yet needed introduction to Peter’s purpose in setting forth his statement on leadership. Godly leadership instills in the faithful a sense of the magnitude of Jesus’s love, grace, power, and Lordship for every individual believer. Have you ever noticed that caribou, deer, bison (most animals of prey) move together in herds? Why? Because a solitary animal is easier pickings for a predator. I’ve watched nature documentaries on lions enough to know that they are crafty. They usually don’t run after a pack and try to catch whatever they can. They seem to focus on the vulnerable first, who aren’t as swift and experienced as other members of the herd. Their objective then becomes to separate the vulnerable from the pack, so their chances at success and a meal are exponentially higher. I assume Peter uses this simile for that reason and because the ferocity of the predatory lion presents the most frightening image to those who would suffer being caught by one. In the gladiatorial games, Christians were often thrown into the arena with wild animals and ripped to shreds.[6]

Resistance is a corporate function just as much as an individual one. Most of the verbs Peter uses are in the plural, but so are the groups “proud” and “humble” in v. 5. “Humble yourselves” (plural)! How? He just said, “be subject to the elders, Clothe yourselves, all of you with humility to one another.” This is the most profound point. What is the problem with proud people? They assume they don’t need help. Humble people usually acknowledge their need of help and receive it gladly. Please indulge me for a moment in suggesting that, among others, one reason why the enemy is at times successful (maybe more than we want to admit) among us (as a body of believers) is that he divides and conquers. We are easily flattered that we can do it better alone, but instead of being a part of the team to improve things we often set off on our own course thus fracturing another important piece of God’s body, us. Ellen White gave the most encouraging word on the old ship of Zion, and its fits perfectly in the context of 1 Peter. Note the corporate identity as she writes,

“Satan will work his miracles to deceive; he will set up his power as supreme. The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out–the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place. None but those who have been overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony will be found with the loyal and true, without spot or stain of sin, without guile in their mouths…. The remnant that purify their souls by obeying the truth gather strength from the trying process, exhibiting the beauty of holiness amid the surrounding apostasy.” (Selected Messages 2:380, Emphasis Added)

Let’s press together in God’s truth and encourage one another as we go through trials and tribulations!

Read the Sabbath School Lesson for this week, “Servant Leadership.”

Read more commentaries on this quarter’s Adult Sabbath School lesson.

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Notes.

[1] We learned last week that God’s purpose is to refine us, preparing us to live in His presence for all eternity.

[2] The peninsula which reaches out between the Black Sea on the North and the Mediterranean on the South, forming an elevated land-bridge between central Asia and southeastern Europe.

[3] Historians note that while the ascetic practices of the ‘Desert Fathers and mothers’ expressed a deep spirituality, the church grew exponentially within the structure of the Carolingian Renaissance spearheaded by Charles the Great (Charlemagne). His administrative system established a functioning bridge within his vast empire and allowed Christians from opposite sides of the empire to communicate in a common vernacular (Latin), with a common text, school curriculum, and councils (cf. Second Council of Nicaea). Admittedly, his policy of forced conversions was not according to the church’s mission as outlined in Scripture. See Rosamond McKitterick, Charlemagne: The Formation of a European Identity (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008).

[4] Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11–16; 1 Tim 3:1–13; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Cor 14:26–15:11; Heb 13:7–17. A computer-generated survey found over 75 passages related to church leadership.

[5] Francis D. Nichol, ed., The Seventh-Day Adventist Bible Commentary, vol. 7 (Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1980), 585.

[6] “A reference to Paul being rescued from the lion’s mouth (2 Tim. 4:17) alludes to the use of such beasts being turned loose on prisoners in spectacles at the Roman Colosseum.” Ilse U. Köhler-Rollefson and Mark Allan Powell, “Lion,” ed. Mark Allan Powell, The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (New York: HarperCollins, 2011), 562.

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About the author

Jerome Skinner, earned his Ph.D as an Old Testament scholar at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. He focuses on the Psalms and Wisdom literature and on practical Christianity. Jerome is active in following American Christianity and social issues.