Thursday, May 31, 2012

Live Out Loud (practical Christianity as explained by an orthodox rebel)

"Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your husbands.... Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with your wives with understanding, giving honor unto the wife as unto the weaker vessel.... Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one for another. Love each other as brethren...."
I Pet. 3:1, 7, 8

So far, Peter has laid down and unpacked the precedent that we are those who are different and therefore we should be different. We should live differently in this world; not because we have to, but because it is who we are. The only question now is what exactly this different living looks like. Anticipating this, Peter gives three examples that help us flesh out what it means to live differently. (NOTE: The two uses of "Likewise" and the use of "Finally" show that these examples are all a part of the same flow of thought from chapter 2.)

The first example is the submission of wives to their husbands' role as familial head, a very unpopular notion in our egalitarian-to-a-fault and hyper-individualistic democracy. What is interesting, however, is that the same idea was unpopular to Peter's readers as well. Peter was writing to believers living in Rome, and there was no other place in the ancient world that epitomized the same over-bloated egalitarianism and individualism of modern America. Case in point: Rome was home to the cults of Artemis, Isis, and Dionysus, all of which encouraged a wild and raucous lifestyle for women (think "Girls Gone Wild," Ancient Rome edition). Thus, the believers that Peter was addressing lived in a culture that was absolutely saturated in sex and a desire to act-out in every immoral way imaginable. (Does that sound familiar?)

In order to counter this culture of degradation, in order to live differently, Peter commands the Christian women to "be in subjection" to their husbands. How, exactly? By their "chaste manner of living" coming from the fear of God, who is above all husbands (vs. 2). The idea is that the Christian wives let their husbands (who were most likely unbelievers in this case) know that they were different, that they feared God and God alone by living a chaste life, full of a "meek and quiet spirit" (vs. 4). Such a life would sharply contrast (and thus completely counter) the Godless culture surrounding them, and such a life would show that they were not like everyone else. They had been made different by God.

The second example is for husbands to understand and honor their wives. This is an interesting pair of admonitions for two reasons. First, to "honor" a wife was an outrageous idea at the time. It is well known that the ancient world (in spite of their sexual cults) viewed women as lesser beings than men (and even as the property of men sometimes) precisely because they were the "weaker sex". Peter, however, turns the whole thing on its head: you honor your wife because she is the "weaker vessel" (i.e., physically weaker). To the ancient Roman culture, that logic made no sense; but to those who are different, it makes perfect sense. This is where the "understanding" part comes in. Peter tells husbands to live with their wives "with understanding". This understanding was not just an understanding of their subjective personalities as human beings but also their objective reality as a believer, i.e., "being heirs together of the grace of life" (vs. 7). That was the "understanding" that they were to have, viz., although their wives are physically weaker, they are still the daughters of God and heirs of His salvation, and on that basis husbands were to honor them. That is how they lived differently.

The final example Peter gives is for all believers to love each other, a principle that he laid down before (2:17) and that was first stated by Christ when He explained to His disciples how the world would know that they were different (John 13:35). Their love for each other was not (and is never) based on mere sentiment or shallow toleration. Rather, it is a direct result of the love of Christ being shed abroad in our hearts by His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 5:5-8). In short, we love each other for the same reason that husbands are to honor (and by extension, love) their wives: in Christ, we have all been made new, we have all been made different. And in that common difference, we love each other as heirs of the same salvation.

Perhaps now we will better understand a rather famous (and perhaps misunderstood) verse: "Always be ready to give an answer to every man that asks you for a reason for the hope that is within you" (I Pet. 3:15). A favorite verse of apologists (who are not entirely wrong for commandeering it), Peter actually has in mind something less specialized and more practical. We are to be ready to give an answer to "every man that asks" us about the hope within us. The question is: Why would they even ask? The answer should be obvious by now: they ask because they see that we are different. Our lives so sharply contrast with their own that they cannot help but ask what makes this contrast so. Herein we see that Christian living is not just a matter of holiness; it is also a matter of evangelism. Or to put it another way, holiness is evangelism. Christian living is not rule-keeping but a declaration, the main way that we "show forth the praises" of God. How we live is meant to be both our worship and our witnessing. Our life is the loudest voice that we have, and as those who are different we would do well to let it live out loud.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2012

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