This week's Bible Study - May 24, 2015
Quotes of the Week:
"How you respond to authority over you says a lot about what you claim to believe. When your standard of living is Christ-centered, you invariably live to honor others."
"Being submissive is not being oppressed."
What do you think of when you hear the word "Submission"? For some people, it is another word for 'giving up'. You can understand why some people are immediately turned off when they are told that they must submit. We learn early on that we have to learn to be submissive to authorities. As we were growing up, we learned that we must submit to our parents and even though we may not be submissive to them anymore, we should be respectful of their opinions. When we are in school, we learn submission to teachers (including substitutes), principals or coaches. As citizens, we learn that we should submit to governing authorities. If you are doing a project around your house, your design may have to be submitted and approved to make sure it is in line with the current the building codes in your area otherwise you could face a potentially unpleasant fine. Submission is something that drives our behavior.
Part of the reason why people are upset about having to submit is that they can easily point to situations where the person 'submitted to' was abusive (perhaps in many ways). There are parents that abuse their roles as parents to their children. There are abusive teachers and coaches. There are policemen and policewomen that may be abusive to the general public. There are laws that are in place that are meant to protect different types of abuse, although they are not always enforced, and in some cases, the line becomes blurred when there are different sides to the same story (which could lead to another lesson on bearing false witness). We have certainly seen examples where the police have abused their authority, but we know that by and large, this is not the case. There are some people that want to assume that every policeman is always abusive and there are others who want to assume no policeman is ever abusive. If honest, either side will find out that their 'all or nothing' assumptions were wrong. Regardless of the anomalies of an abusive of authority, we are called to submit by default. You can only imagine the chaos that would ensure if we assumed every authority was abusive and if we refused to submit at all. In fact, we have seen some of that chaos in the past year.
While the concept of submission is important for the betterment of a society as a whole, it is a crucial aspect of the life of a believer. Believers are called to be the light of the world, or at least to reflect the light of Christ. The world would tell us that believers don't do a very good job at being different. It is easy for us to fall back into our worldly behavior when we are primarily focused on self.
In his letters, Paul often reminded believers of who they were. As an adult, we can often think back to things that we did in our past and if we had the chance, we would never have the desire to do again. This is common for all types of people as they mature. Paul's reminder, however, is that there is a clear distinction between the person we used to be and the one we are now as believers. This distinction is more than simply being more mature. If you became a believer at an early age, your life before being saved and afterwards was probably not much different. However, if you became a believer as an adult, this change is more noteworthy. Regardless of when you became a believer, each of us struggles with the darkness of sin in our lives. Even though we will all continually wrestle with the human nature, we are called to live differently as light in the Lord.
Have you ever thought about what appears differently in the dark than in the light? In almost any place, whether indoors or out, everything seems 'creepier' in the dark. Even when you are in very familiar surroundings, and nothing else has changed from day to night, things just feel different. My wife won't watch certain criminal shows after dark when I'm out of town and she has to be home alone. She'll watch them in the daytime, just not that night. It's the darkness…there is just something about it that can be very scary.
Paul isn't writing about literal darkness and shadows, but a different perspective and spin that is in alignment with the world. This worldly thinking clouds our judgment and we can be easily misled. If you simply think of the moral downfall in our society today, you would have to agree that the world is on a fast track towards spiritual darkness in so many areas (although in reality, there is nothing new under the sun and our societal sin really isn't all that different than in decades past) And, certainly it has become increasingly apparent that we, as believers, are to be headed in a different direction. We know that the light of the Lord would have us live different than the world lives 'in the dark'.
The fruit of the light results in goodness, righteousness and truth. When a person is living in the light, they are mindful of the choices that they make and they live with a more selfless attitude. It might be difficult to understand what we should do in every situation so that we are living in the light but Paul writes that we are to find what pleases the Lord, and that is the key to our answer. This cannot be adequately described in detail for every specific situation we face. Are you seeking to find what pleases the Lord in the way that you live your life? Is the fruit of the light evident in your relationships, your career, your finances and in all that you do? It would take far too long to try to make a comprehensive list of all the ways that one would live in the light. It seems almost easier to try to make a list of the ways we might be living in the darkness, but we are called to live in the light and to let our light shine so that others may know we are different. Not just different because we say no to certain things, but different because the light within us shines to those that others might not ever think to associate with. Tony Campolo gives some great stories about shining the light in dark places. God calls us to be creative in how we love others and the light within us allows us to do that. Don't just say you live in the light because you don't (fill in the blank). Let others see your light because of the joy on your face and the beauty and truth in your heart that can't be kept shut away. Let others see your light because of the love you show and the grace you display. We need to be seen as people who 'do', not a group of people who 'don't'. Far too often believers are associated by what we are against, not what we are for. It's time we change that and that change starts within.
Paul continues to write that we are to have nothing to do with fruitless (of no worth) deeds of darkness. Each of us struggle with thoughts, deeds and attitudes that are of no value. Perhaps it is an addiction, a past wrong (done to you or done by you) or an attitude that you have regarding a situation or a person, or it could be a variety of other situations. Often, when we are in church or reading Scripture, we are convicted and made aware of some changes that we need to make in life. We may be convicted to start doing something, stop doing something or just begin to think about things differently. Unfortunately, rather than taking care of things that we are convicted by, many people end up nurturing their deeds, thoughts or attitudes. This allows them to take root and grow into harder to manage situations. You can imagine what happens in a flower garden when weeds start to appear. If you see them, but do nothing about them, they grow out of control. Are there weeds and deeds of darkness that you are hiding in your life? Last year we had some extensive landscaping done and it has greatly enhanced our yard and the time we spend in it. It has also greatly enhanced my ability to spot a weed from inside the kitchen. I've become the king of Weed be Gone. I see a nasty, unplanted stalk of grass or a dandelion growing up between my wife's Magnolia trees, and I'm on it. I get out there and spray those little devils until I'm certain I've snuffed their little seedy lives out. Wouldn't it be great if we did the same thing and had the same exuberance to get rid of the 'weeds' in our own lives? We have a plethora of ways we can do that and people who will lovingly help and hold us accountable, but we have to take the first step. We have to 'see' the weed for what it is and work to eradicate it from our life. We have to be willing to take some Weed be Gone to our own hearts and minds. While we are on the subject of yards and gardens, have you ever had 'that neighbor' who has a yard full of weeds and unkempt flower beds, but constantly criticizes the neighbor who has a bush that's overgrown? Some people are so focused on exposing others that they will not take the time to recognize their own issues. They see the unkempt bush in their neighbors yard but they don't see the dandelions in their own. This passage is not advocating witch hunts which expose others, but for us to expose these areas in our own lives. We need to understand our own issues and be honest about them. Have you ever wondered why it is always easier to point at someone else's problems and ignore your own? A key to getting past similar issues is to acknowledge that we have a problem. The first step in almost any change of behavior or attitude is being truthful about the situation. In many 12 step programs dealing with addictive behavior, the first step is to be honest about the problem. Along with honesty of the existence of our own problem, we need to admit that we are powerless to overcome addictions on our own. When people acknowledge their problem, but seek to 'handle' it on their own, they often end up returning back to their addiction, as if it is somehow the solution to the problem. I am reminded of Proverbs 26:11, which reads "As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly"
Paul offers the church a wake-up call, saying "Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Isn't it interesting to see that he is speaking to a sleeper, but rather than awaking form a slumber, they are sleeping in death? Sadly, many people do not see the sincere problems that they face and assume it is something that they can keep under wraps and handle. Many don't seem to realize that going on their own way leads to death. They may understand their own sinfulness, but view their behavior as a common cold, as opposed to leading to death. For us to truly live in such a way that we are enabled to practice any of the disciplines we have been called to practice, a change in direction is required for us to truly allow Christ to shine His light on us.
Paul writes that we should be very careful as to how we live - not as unwise, but as wise. There are times in our lives when we are more careful. I have always had a problem walking barefoot on gravel or other uneven surfaces, so when I have to do so, I am very careful as to where I step, unless I am wearing some form of shoe. Perhaps that can be called "foot" wisdom. However, Paul is more focused on wisdom that can protect our lives.
Would you classify your default reactions to situations as being wise and godly? Generally, our reactions are very self focused and without a lot of thought. There will always be effort required for us to live as we are called to live. As we mature as believers, the amount of effort required in some areas may be less, as we are transformed by the renewing of our minds. Romans 12:2 says "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect". Our minds are transformed, but we never 'arrive'. Some proper, godly reactions will get easier over time, but we all will deal with some level of worldly pull throughout our lives.
When Paul tells us to be wise and not be foolish, we should understand that this foolishness is not stupidity. In fact, many of us can become very smart in the things of God. Many have become scholars of the Bible as a textbook, as opposed to a user's manual. Even knowing the things of God, yet developing the application of our knowledge on our own is foolishness. Instead of relying upon our own wisdom, we are called to understand what the Lord's will is. Although every believer says that they would like to clearly understand the Lord's will for their lives, there is already much that He has given to us throughout His word. We need to understand what He has clearly said and apply what we know to our lives.
In this passage, Paul writes about the impact of being controlled. Specifically, he writes about getting drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Some choose to not have anything to do with alcohol, so they may assume that this verse does not apply to them. Alcohol consumption can be a personal choice, although the intention here is to not allow it to control you. I've heard people talk about how alcohol can be a great 'loosening' agent, in that people that are normally shy and reserved begin to talk freely. While this is probably true, I've never met someone who, under the control of alcohol, talks smarter or wiser. They simply talk more and often will say things that they never intended to say.
Perhaps the question that truly needs to be asked is "what does control you? " We will look at how it should be the presence of the Spirit. Some people are not controlled by alcohol, but they allow internal rage to be their controlling agent. Others are controlled by a relentless pursuit of what they assume to be in their best interests. While this lack of control may not come due to the effects of alcohol, we need to be cognizant of what is controlling our behavior.
Paul encourages us to consider the source of our control. Rather than being controlled by alcohol and speaking in wrong ways, we are called to be filled by the Spirit. When a person is filled by the Spirit, their speech and attitudes are impacted and the result is that God is honored and people are brought closer together. Our words become honoring to the Lord and we find ourselves being more thankful for what we have been given, rather than critical of what we don't have. Certainly, being filled by the Spirit does not guarantee that everything works as we would hope. Issues will still exist between people and the impact of sin on our world will still be problematic. However, we learn that in Christ, we are able to endure what we have before us and be honoring to God in the process.
Being filled with the Spirit is more than simply changing the way we speak. On our own, we would never be able to align our behavior, attitudes and thoughts with those appropriate for believers. Even with the presence of the Spirit, we wage a daily internal war between the Spirit and our human nature and in some areas, we struggle mightily to live as the Scriptures relate.
In this verse, we read that we are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.
As stated previously, the word submission turns some people off. Due to experiences of their past, they are leery of others to the point of being able to truly trust any other person enough to submit. We need to realize that we are not called to submit because of the person we submit to, but we are to do so out of reverence for Christ. There are times in our lives where we change our behavior towards someone else, for the sake of another person. For example, you may have real problems with even being polite to someone else (for a variety of reasons), but because of a relationship you have with a friend of theirs, you may do whatever is required to at least be cordial. When we think of what Christ has done for each of us, what reason do we have to not treat others as we have been asked to do?
Have you ever thought about how different your life would be if you truly submitted to others? Perhaps the hardest and most difficult thing for each of us to get over is our own selfish interest and pride. From a worldly standpoint, people are taught to look at each circumstance to find the best solution that personally impacts them positively. Certainly, we are called to take care of our own needs, but an attitude of submission would, in many cases, be the solution to conflict. The act of being submissive can be difficult. Not only is it what we are called to do, but it can have a positive impact on relationships and life in general. Wouldn't that be worth the difficulties that it might take?
In a perfect world, doing what we have been called to do would be easier. Submitting to any authority figure would be of great benefit, because they would have your best interest at all times. Adam and Eve showed us by their example in Genesis that, though God gave them everything they needed, they wanted more. Since sin entered the world, the world has had problems. When we think of submission, there can be some danger signs. If, in your situation, you sense danger, you need to protect yourself. There have been too many people that have been harmed when they have submitted to someone who is intent on hurting them in some way. If you need help in this area, please contact someone that can help you to get out of harm's way.
For most of us, submission does not entail dangerous situations, although it will cause us to put our own selfish interests behind us. It requires us to place our trust in someone else and we may not always get our way. Ultimately, however, our trust is being put in Christ when we set aside what we might 'normally' do to follow His will.
In this lesson, we learned at least a couple of things. We were told to find out what pleases the Lord and to understand what the will of the Lord is. We will each encounter situations through our days that will require some sort of response. In some situations, we are called to ignore things or people and walk away. In some situations, we may be called to offer an encouraging word or be willing to help someone. In some situations, we may be prompted to step up and speak for someone else who is being mistreated. As we grow closer to the Lord, we become more sensitive to what pleases the Lord. As we begin to understand what the will of the Lord is, we realize that we are called to do what He has clearly made known to us. What has God spoken to you recently, and was it merely head knowledge or has it impacted your life? Take an action to truly pay attention to what God speaks to you and write it down. Refer to it daily and find some way to implement the things that God is showing you.
We are to be filled by the Spirit. Certainly, in the area of submission, this will impact our speech, our attitudes and the way we live our lives. When we are following the Spirit, it makes it easier to understand what pleases the Lord in our situations. We are to submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. This is not only what pleases the Lord, but it is the will of the Lord. Now that we understand His will and what pleases Him, let us resolve to be the people that God has called us to be!