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God is with you - Part 16

1 Peter 2v18

Christian Ethics, Part 2

30th June 2017

Last time, we read the part of Peter's first letter that talked about us being aliens and strangers in the world. We truly are, and truly feel like, aliens and strangers. Because the Holy Spirit now dwells within us, our values are different from the values around us. Christian ethics are utterly different from worldly, British or Roman ethics. Our sense of what is right and wrong, and how to live is utterly different from those of the people around us, which is why sometimes, when we're talking to somebody, we find it difficult to even relate to what they're saying. Their sense of what is right and wrong, moral framework is so different from ours, because we are aliens in this world. Our citizenship is in heaven.

We looked at two Christian virtues, which are not worldly virtues - the virtue of submission and the virtue of honouring everybody. We now move on to an even more difficult Christian virtue - the virtue of servanthood.

Again, the world will teach you to seek to be top dog. The world describes itself as a rat race, in which everybody is seeking more power, more money, more authority, more fame, more glory for themselves. But Christian ethics are about serving not ruling, about giving not taking, about obeying not bossing people around, about giving power away not trying to accumulate power.

This is so different from the world that the next passage may offend you. It may cause you real trouble:

1 Peter 2v18
Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and considerate, but also to those who are harsh.

The opinion pages of the Guardian do not express this sentiment. The BBC will never say this. But the Bible does. Christian ethics are different from worldly ethics. You and I need to decide if we're going to live a biblical life or a worldly life. And that isn't just about what we eat and drink and who we sleep with; it's about wanting to be a slave and not a master.

Because we're not perfectly formed in love yet, not like Jesus yet, there's a little bit of us that wants to rebel against this, to bang on the desk and say, "That's not fair". But the world isn't fair, and God isn't fair, but He is just, and God has allowed this person to be your master. If we're going to submit to the Roman Emperor and his governors, then we're going to accept Roman law, and Roman law was that slavery is OK.

We know slavery isn't OK. But it was the law of the land. And Peter says that because it's the law of the land, we should do it, and do it well, and do it for rotten masters as well as nice masters.

And I find this difficult to say, because I know enough about slavery that I'm really glad that a Christian man led the campaign to abolish slavery in our country 200 years ago.

Nonetheless, there are unjust laws in every country. And while it is right for us to seek to persuade governments and others to change the law, and right for us vote for the party that will promote the best laws. it's also important for us to obey the laws as they are. Not absolutely, of course, because we have to obey God before we obey the law of our country.

Once, Peter and John stood before the Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin ordered them to stop preaching the gospel. They said, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God" (Acts 4v19). There is a time for not obeying the Sanhedrin, or the Roman Emperor, or Teresa May, or whoever it might be. But we should be very careful that our disobedience is only because an even higher principle - obedience to God - is preventing us obeying the God-given, although hugely imperfect, authority over us.

The Christian heart is a servant heart, not a ruler heart, not a boss heart, but a servant heart.

In Mark Chapter 10 we can read the story of when James and John came to Jesus and asked if they could be second and third in the kingdom of God. Jesus replied, "You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all, for even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many". The Christian heart is not merely a servant heart; it's a slave heart.

And now and again, when you're the one cleaning the church toilets, and you're thinking "Why me? Why do I have to do it?" The answer is because the Christian heart is a servant heart.

Let us beware, when catch ourselves wanting equal honour with someone else, or equal opportunity to express our opinion. It's the most natural, fallen, earthly thing in the world, but the Kingdom of God is about service.

John 13v1-5
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love. The evening meal was being served, and the devil had already prompted Judas Iscariot, son of Simon, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel round his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped round him.

We serve not because we're weak but because we're strong. Again, the world doesn't understand this. Out there, in the fallenness around us, the strong force the weak to serve, the rich force the poor to serve, the powerful force the powerless to serve. But we - the Christians - have all the power, all the dignity, all the authority, all the dignity - were' children of God. We choose to serve, we choose to be slaves. Jesus, the King of Kings, chose to wash the smelly old feet of the people around the table, not because He was weak, not because He needed the money, but because He loved them.

And He did it to set us an example of how we should treat one another.

It's hard for us to even grasp this stuff. It's very seldom preached, but Christian ethics are the ethics of the slave, not the ethics of the boss. Jesus is the ultimate boss, the King of Kings, but He did the most menial job available to Him, because He loved.