“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” 1 Peter 2:13-17
This passage has been on my mind lately, especially in light of current events concerning the virus. When I read it I’m struck by my initial reactions. I bristle at the words, be subject to…the emperor, honor the emperor. It seems foreign to my sensibilities as an American. We don’t have emperors. We have duly elected presidents and representatives. We have free elections.
This kind of discomfort can happen with other passages as well, and for other reasons. Because I’m a woman, I may react with discomfort at the passage in 1 Timothy 2 that begins, “I do not permit a woman…….” Children may react negatively at first to Ephesians 6 which begins, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.”
What should we do with these reactions? Do we start with the assumption that our initial reactions and observations are right and let them control how we read and interpret the Bible? Or do we start with the conviction that God’s Word is true, authoritative and ultimate and we need to submit our reactions, bristlings and discomfort to it?
The right place to start is with a recognition of the uniqueness of God’s Word. As Christians we believe that God’s Word is true, that it is inerrant. It also has the power and authority to change us. It is truly unlike any other book. Psalm 19:7-11 says this: “The Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” And Hebrews 4:12 says this: “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
When we start from this perspective, acknowledging the tremendous value of God’s word and its power to transform, we can avoid the mistake of placing ourselves over the word of God and having our initial reactions be the judge when we encounter difficult passages. We should allow the Bible to judge us, not the other way around.
Having acknowledged the authority and power of God’s Word, the next step is to evaluate my discomfort and figure out where it’s coming from. I call this reading with awareness. We need to be aware of the different perspectives we bring to our reading of the Bible. Our different perspectives are like glasses we wear. Now, if you wear prescription glasses or contacts you know they make your eyesight better, but the glasses I’m talking about here in regard to Bible reading can actually hinder your spiritual sight and blur your understanding when you read Scripture. And we must be aware of these different perspectives.
We all bring different perspectives to our Bible reading because we are all different people. I’m a 48-year-old, college educated, white married woman with children who lives in the suburbs of an American city in the South. These things shape who I am and my perspective, and there are many more: I used to be a professional musician; I love sports; I am the youngest of two children; my family moved around a lot when we were kids. How I grew up and all my experiences since then have worked to make me think in certain ways, and they all influence the way I engage with the Bible.
I can’t change how I grew up and the experiences that have shaped my perspective, but I need to be aware of all these things and actively work against letting my perspective control the way I read and interpret the Bible. Next time I’ll talk about how being an American can tempt us to read and react to these verses in 1 Peter 2 in a certain way.