When a phrase that’s common in our world–for God’s sake–pops up in Peter’s letter (1 Peter 2:13), we pause. That Peter ties the phrase to submission is all the more cause for slowing down to a crawl.
‘Submit’ is one of those words the Bible tosses out like a hand grenade. The gut reaction? Not friendly: submission seems like an idea out of the dark ages; it associates with oppression. Mick Jagger’s Under My Thumb comes to mind.
To grasp the sense for this word from Peter, it helps to read of the paragraph–which ends with a mention of Jesus, who “entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:24). Peter is remembering the cross, where Jesus went–gladly, if Hebrews is to be believed. Why illustrate his point with the crucifixion? Because Peter wants us to understand that Jesus in His very nature was submissive. Humility is essential to divinity.
Paul agrees. Citing a popular hymn (found in Philippians 2) that used Jesus’ humility as its refrain, Paul made the same point as Peter: to be God is to give, to be humble, to submit. There is more to divinity, of course, but never less.
Michael Gorman unpacks this idea in a couple of books that take up the Orthodox theme of theosis. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God has been on my desk for months, a key reference as I ponder glory, and I am indebted to him for making this invaluable point with such force and tact. Now that he’s got me looking for it, I see it all over the place–like here in Peter’s epistle.
To submit for the Lord’s sake is to recognize that I can be like God when I willingly pour myself out for others. I find an interesting juxtaposition with my study of Genesis 34 & 35 for this week’s sermon: in the ongoing saga of Jacob’s sons, once again come situations where the boys press for their own advantage at the expense of others. They do not pause to consider what others need, or what it would take to bless a community; rather, they scheme, and then slaughter. It is graphic, violent, distasteful. There is no submission here.
A little later, Peter reminds readers that they can live like the free people they are (2:16); to mention this so soon after his call for submission is to show that Peter knows that the latter is not a rope that binds so much as an account that can be accessed for others’ benefit. We are servants of God, he will say, and as such, we are like Jesus who gave, often and freely.