Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fly the Flag

I love the 4th of July. I love the smell of meat on the grill, outdoor picnics, and fireworks. But what I love best of all is the plethora of American flags decorating lawns, houses, and storefronts. Seeing the red, white, and blue proudly displayed always makes me smile.

On the afternoon of 9/11, like most Americans, Steve and I sat at our kitchen table trying to take in the trauma the country had just experienced. Such senseless acts of terror, so many innocent lives lost. Steve could see the plume of smoke rising from the Pentagon as he left his place of work that morning when his agency shut down. We stood in solidarity with those who had been directly affected in the loss of a loved one. How could we express our sympathy, our support? I suddenly had an idea. "Let's hang our American flag," I said.

My husband nodded. "I already put it out."

Flying the flag makes a statement. It expresses loyalty to the country and to our fellow countrymen. It is a declaration of our commitment to freedom and democracy.

We as Christians have a banner to fly as well. Peter urged his readers to do just that for the unbelieving community around them. "Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that ... as they observe your good deeds, [they will] glorify God in the day of visitation." (1 Peter 1:12) Our actions, as observed by the world around us, are our flag. With them we display what we believe.

So what was the excellent behavior Peter urged his readers to display? Not preaching at the unbelieving with eloquent and persuasive speech. Instead, Peter's goal for his readers was a bit more subtle. The banner he wished his readers to display was submission.

"Submit yourself for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority or to governors sent by him... servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable...wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives."

These were probably hard words to swallow. The original recipients of Peter's letter were not living in a democracy. They were living under a Roman emperor, a tyrant. It wouldn't be long before their king would make their lives miserable with his relentles persecution of Christians. Slaves were at the mercy of their masters, who could be abusive and unfair. Wives had few rights in first century society. They were the property of their husbands and at their mercy for much of their well-being.

Those in authority had tremendous power and often abused it. Submission was no guarantee of fair treatment or reciprocated kindness. Besides, Peter had just written they were heirs to the kingdom of God. Why should they submit?

Peter anticipated their doubts by reminding them of the example Christ had set before them. "While being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously." Christ suffered on our behalf. He chose to set aside his power and privilege and submit to those who sought to kill him. But his submission was done from a position of power. In the garden, as the Roman guard and Temple officers arrested Jesus, Peter swung a sword, ready to fight to the death to protect Jesus. Jesus turned to him and said, "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?" Make no mistake about it, Jesus was no victim. He willingly set aside his power and authority and purposefully laid down his life. In fact, he lived his entire life in perfect obedience to the Father. Submission marked the life of Christ.

What better flag to fly, then? If we are living to follow Jesus, we must follow him in the ways he lived. We must display his kingdom principles in our actions. Our banner, therefore, should be our servanthood, selflessness, and submission to "every human institution." It should be flown in response to our love for God and our commitment to what we believe. And as those who have yet to believe observe the flag we fly, they will see God in us.

"Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven." Matthew 5:16

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