One of the results of rebelling against the Lordship of Jesus and His authority over all things is a humanistic obsession with power, hence the proliferation of the word “empower.” When human societies reject the power of the cross as oppressive and tyrannical, the whole point is to create a void for fools to rush into. Under the Lordship of Jesus, all lawful authority is established, delegated, and therefore accountable to Christ. But when Christ is rejected, everything is up for grabs, (and incidentally, when everything is up for grabs, you know that Christ is in the process of being rejected). And Christians are sometimes tempted, in the name of realism, to join one of the factions or embrace some of their tractics. Maybe biblical instructions to servants, wives, husbands, children are nice for ideal situations, but what about when authorities misuse their power? But the Bible is clear that we are called to embrace the Lordship of Jesus, and His assignments in our lives, through embracing His example of what Martin Luther called left-handed power.
The Text: “Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. For this is thankworthy, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully, For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? but if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God. 21For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously…” (1 Pet. 2:18-3:7)
Part of the problem we have with the commands of God is our flawed value system. We don’t value the things that God values and so His commands can seem strange. It would be a bit like suddenly arriving in a civilization where everyone scrupulously saved pennies but threw away all the quarters. It would seem backward and wasteful. But what if you grew up in that backward civilization and then suddenly arrived back in our present day? You might still have old habits of throwing quarters away and a strange attachment to pennies. This is what it’s like becoming a Christian. But in addition to the old man and the flesh striving with the Spirit and the new man, we have cultural norms and systems that reinforce various sins or virtues.
We see this throughout the passage: What are slaves to value? What are wives to value? What are husbands to value? And woven through the whole thing: What does God value? The consistent pattern is to value what looks like weakness, but which is actually power. The believing slave is to suffer injustice patiently by trusting “him that judgeth righteously” (1 Pet. 2:20-23) – this has the power to change lives (1 Pet. 2:24-25). The wife with a disobedient husband is to submit without a word, adorning her life with the beauty of holiness, trusting in God without fear (1 Pet. 3:1-6) – not merely to cope but that she might win her husband – for this is “in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:4). And husbands are to honor their wives as the weaker vessel, that their prayers might be answered (1 Pet. 3:7). A little further down, Peter says, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (1 Pet. 3:12). What is valuable? What is powerful? Patient obedience and trust in God.
No Guile in the Mouth
The central model for this left-handed power is Jesus, who suffered for us leaving us an example (1 Pet. 2:21). He of all people had the best excuses, the best argument for why everyone around Him was wrong and how they were all going down, but He did no sin, neither was any guile found in His mouth (1 Pet. 2:22). What is guile? Guile is cunning, craftiness, wiliness, slyness, deviousness, plotting, duplicity, or treachery. On the one hand, Peter is likely emphasizing just how perfect Jesus was – He didn’t even sin with His mouth. But the point is also to point out the place every man or woman struggles: the mouth. “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body” (Jas. 3:2). And as Jesus insisted: “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). And James again: “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (Jas. 1:26). Putting all of this together, the first result of a changed heart will be a changed tongue/mouth. But there are plenty of people who think they are very religious who are setting whole forests on fire with their words (Jas. 3:6). Bitterness is a root that defiles many (Heb. 12:15).
Some professing Christians are straight up bitter and foul – cursing and complaining like verbal terrorists. If this is you, you are self-deceived, and your religion is useless. But most Christians are more self-aware and careful, but they can still be self-deceived. And this brings us back to the idea of guile, which is closely related to the idea of dissembling (Ps. 26:4, Prov. 26:24). To dissemble is to conceal your true motives, feelings, or beliefs. When Jesus suffered unjustly, He was not dissembling. He was not pretending anything. He was not being crafty or duplicitous. His intentions and motives and plans were right out in the open for all to see. And this is the example for slaves, wives, husbands, for all Christians. Christian submission does not mean putting a brave face on it while freaking out inside, muttering threats under your breath, smiling in public while cursing in your heart, or passive-aggressive avoidance of conflict while pushing your agenda – all of that is guile in your mouth. And it is fundamentally not trusting God.
Trusting God Means Loving Him More
In Luke, Jesus says, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26). But remember that this is the same Jesus who affirmed the fifth commandment (Lk. 18:20) and condemned building campaigns that functioned as write-offs for financially supporting parents (Mk. 7:10-13). Clearly the point is that Jesus requires absolute loyalty. Love for Jesus must be ultimate, supreme. In Sheldon Vanauken’s book A Severe Mercy, he recounts what it felt like when his wife “Davy” became a Christian before him. He describes her going to church and bible studies without him feeling like “unfaithfulness.” Love for Jesus will sometimes appear dismissive, even hateful of good gifts of God. Why? Because You love Jesus way more.
The biblical name for anything that feels threatened by Jesus is an idol. An idol need not be an actual statue or image. It can just as easily be an image in your head, a scene of happiness, desire for respect and leadership, a theological conviction, a longing for a certain job, church, spouse, sex, children, family, house, friendships, whatever. That’s still a graven image; it’s still an imagined reality that you are placing your hopes in for your joy, happiness, pleasure, or success. But what if that is not God’s plan for your life? What if His assignment means long-suffering with a difficult spouse, poor health, wayward children, an unfulfilling job? What if that is the place where He has determined to display His power in you? The point is not to have low expectations or do a soccer-flop of apathy. The point is true and complete submission. Do you love Jesus more than everything? Do you trust Him to work His power in you?
Left-handed power is God’s power working in history, through men, women, slaves, Christians who trust and obey Him in the midst of injustice, disobedience, weakness, trouble. And that trust is evident in their words that reflect honest, trusting hearts. There is no guile in their mouths because there is no guile in their hearts because they have new hearts. We love Jesus more than anything and anyone because He suffered for us, and now we have died to sin and by His stripes we are healed. We had gone astray, but He has brought us home. And so we trust Him with it all. He is watching. He is listening. And He will judge righteously.
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