Preferring Others to Oneself

“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to the governor 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. Honour everyone … “

1 Peter 2:13-17 (ESV)

In the last few years we have witnessed increasing acts of lawlessness accompanied by growing levels of fear across the world. When threatened, we humans are fairly predictable in our response. We either attempt to help others or ourselves; we welcome or we shut out; we flee or force others to flee; sometimes we simply freeze.

Cries of racism and prejudice attempt to arrest control of public debate by silencing any opinion contrary to the loudest and proudest. Someone is accused of racism when what they are really pointing to has more of a religious tone. 

Underlying many of the concerns being expressed or suppressed in today’s media (social and corporate) is the personal desire to remain safe wherever we live and work. This basic desire is a principle upon which most modern societies are founded; so too is the desire to be able to choose how we will live.  Safety and freedom to choose are enshrined in modern thought. 

The problem of lawlessness emerges when how I want to live conflicts with someone else’s version of how I should live. When unrestrained by concern for the well-being of others, individualism tends to undermine society. Exercising restraint for the betterment of society has always been a struggle for those committed to the ideal of individual choice, because the individual is at heart self-centred. Our preference is ‘I’ not ‘we’. It is made even more difficult when the basics of communal living, which had been acknowledged and observed for centuries, are pushed to one side as being out of date with modern thought. 

 What is it that is wrong about the Ten Commandments as a standard for communities to live with dignity and respect? Is it because the time-proven values limit personal choice? Are universal absolutes rejected because they limit personal behaviour? 

Modern opinion consistently ignores that we live before God and will one day give account of how we have done so? As Christians, we are instructed to live as servants of God. This instruction alone reminds us that we are not the centre of the Universe and that our opinion may not be the most important. It reminds us to see our behaviour in the context of the Creation in which we dwell - see vv 18-19. 

There will be a time in the history of the world when people live by The Lord’s values. Until then the Apostle Peter’s advice is timely and helpful; look to God, look beyond yourself, show dignity towards men and women entrusted with governing, seek to do good. Doing these things strengthens our conviction that we are free in Christ and able to sacrifice self-interest for the betterment of all.                                                                                                                                       

Peter T