19 August, 2009

Willing Slavery

The husband and I have been reading the letters of Peter over the last couple of weeks. I had forgotten how great they are. So many wise words and so many ideas; it would be easy enough to spend a year studying just those eight chapters.
Peter sets out the impossible as an expectation (be holy, as God is holy – 1 Peter 1:15) and leaves no room for excuses. But this is a man who understands how hard it can be, he understands that there will be adversity to face. He tells us to add goodness, knowledge, self-control, patience, godliness, kindness and love to our faith (2 Peter 1:5-7), but he doesn't expect us to get it right every time. He is even the first person to make the complaint that thousands of Christians have made over the last two millennia: some things in Paul's letters are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). If Paul is the grand lecturer, the celebrated professor, of early Christian writing, then Peter is surely that teacher that everyone likes, even if they don't let you get away with not handing in your homework.
There are many themes in Peter's letters: living as an example to others, not being tempted by the ways of the world, not listening to false teachings, striving towards the end times... And through it all, you get the feeling that he's rooting for you somehow. If you mess up then he would be right there behind you, spurring you on to bigger and better things. If you get something right, then he'd be there on the sidelines waving pompoms.
Of all the verses in the letters of Peter to catch my eye, 2 Peter 2:19 would be the most glaring.

“They promise them freedom, but they themselves are not free. They are slaves of things that will be destroyed. For people are slaves of anything that controls them.”

At that moment he is talking about people who teach lies and try to lead people away from the Truth, but I think it's a poignant passage for people of any time. For aren't we all slaves to something? It is traditional, when talking about the slavery of the world, to mention the obvious evils such as addictions and gambling and then to make some sage comments about how we are immersed in a culture that is a slave to money and possessions. No doubt this is true. We are surrounded by adverts implying that we could be happier/richer/more popular/better people, if only we were to own a particular car/sofa/deodorant/box of chocolates... These things promise so much. They promise freedom, but they themselves are not free. But it is not just material possessions that enslave us. Our desires to be rich may control some of our actions, such as our choice of job, but what controls our thoughts and our words and the way we treat other people? It will be different things for different ones of us. Maybe it is a dissatisfaction with where we live, our desire for our relationships with our parents or spouse to be like those of our friends, our obsession with finding our own perfect partner because all our friends have got married, our need to make our voice heard in the workplace. Whatever it is, if it controls our behaviour in some way then we are slaves to it.
We have been given our freedom by God, but we must become slaves to something, we must find something that will dictate the way we live our lives. Of course, we could let that thing be God himself. We could give back that freedom and say, “You know what God, if I'm going to be a slave to anything, I'd kinda rather it was you than my need for a perfect husband/job/friends/house...” Sound a bit hard? Well, the beautiful thing about grace is that we are given perfect freedom to both try to be slaves only to God AND to get it wrong time and time again without fear of punishment. In the words of Peter:
“I wrote to encourage you and to tell you that THIS is the true grace of God. Stand strong in that grace.” (1 Peter 5:12)