Silence of the Wambs
Those are some of my favorite scenes from that movie where Bruce Willis, in his hard-hearted personality, tells whiners to call the “wambulance.” Do you ever feel like that? I do sometimes. I especially feel like that when I hear some of the criticism that the world has for the church today. I feel that way when atheists or agnostics accuse Christianity of murdering people or starting wars in the name of religion. Well, I’ll admit that while some misguided Christians have, in the name of Jesus, done unspeakable things, I think the atheists have a few misguided adherents of their own. Can you say Stalin? Can you say Hitler? Can you say Chairman Mao? When someone starts that noise about the bloody history of Christianity, I want to say, “Hey, just call the “wambulance.”
But the siren of complaint continues. They say that believers are unscientific and that we “stand in the way of progress.” That just reflects their ignorance of the men of the reformation who spurred the progress of the Renaissance and whose scientific discoveries gave birth to the same scientific method we use today. Can you say Francis Bacon? Can you say John Kepler or Sir Isaac Newton or Blaise Pascal? When I hear the modern scientist call the church regressive I laugh. Listen its not the church which is endangering science, it is, in fact, postmodern relativism that is endangering the possibility of knowing any scientific truth. So when they tell me that Christianity is dangerous, I just want to say, “Please!! Just call the “wambulance.”
But the criticism continues, and I must say that while it is sometimes unwarranted and even diametrically opposed to the truth, many times it is not. We have all been humiliated by the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. We have all shuddered at the fall of famous protestant pastors and grieved at the constant stream of materialistic preachers who brag of their leer jets and their fat bank accounts balanced on the backs of the social security checks of the elderly. No, quite honestly those critiques pierce our hearts and disquiet our souls, and saying “call the wambulance,” just won’t cut it.
Now, it’s tempting, I must say. It is tempting to respond to the criticism of our faith in several inappropriate ways. We’re tempted to defy our detractors. We figure that if they declare war on us, we’ll declare war on them. We decide to obey what the President said in the 08 presidential race. We decide, “if they bring a knife to the fight we’ll bring a gun.” We try to win a fleshly power struggle and it’s kind of light fighting a skunk. Hey, even if you win, you lose! The answer is not to defy our detractors. That certainly will not win them to Christ!
Neither is the answer to just defend our dogma. That’s also the temptation. We think we’ve got the best answers so we’re always doing more talking than listening. Sure! The philosophy of this world sorely lacks substance, but we cannot even love the person God has given us to reach until we hear them. Our job is not to defend our dogma.
Neither is the answer to disengage from the world. That has been the strategy of many. In fact, many, in the name of separation and holiness, have so shut themselves off from others that they are hopelessly isolated. And how can we win them if we don’t even know them. So if we are not to defy, defend nor disengage, what are we to do? How can we answer them? What is our rebuttal to a world highly skeptical of our faith in Christ? How can we “silence the wambs?”
Well the first thing we need to understand is that we’re not the only ones to undergo ridicule or accusation. Peter, the Apostle, wrote to a group of believers who were highly suspect. If you were here last week, you’ll remember that Roman historians writing of Christians in that era suspected them of murder, cannabalism, and incest, considering their “superstitions” to be “strange.” In fact, this book was probably written towards the beginning of the Emperor Nero’s reign, and it was Nero, you’ll remember, who set Rome ablaze and blamed it on the Christians. I think these believers could relate to our dilemma.
That’s why I love our text this morning. It really does speak to this issue of “silencing the ‘wambs.’” Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:15: For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— That is the key verse of this paragraph. God’s will is that we “silence the wambs.” So how do we do it? Well let’s read this whole paragraph and we’ll see how. Look at v 13:
Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, 14 or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. 15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men— 16 as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. 17 Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
Two strategies for silencing Christianity’s critics arise from these verses. In the first place, you can “silence the ‘wambs’” through
DIV 1: A FEARLESS SUBMISSION
Peter fearlessly begins his command to us with the “s” word, although in this case, it may be nuanced a little differently than in other places. You could say it like this, Therefore defer to every ordinance of man. The term “every ordinance” at first glance implies a law or statute. So some would interpret this to say that all believers should obey the law. Actually, however, the focus is much more personal. The word translated “ordinance” here is more correctly translated “creation” or “human creature.” What Peter is saying is that the follower of Christ should defer to everyone generally, but especially to those who are in authority such as the King, who is supreme, or their appointed leaders such as governors. Thus, believers are to be willing to defer to those in supreme authority because they are willing to defer to anyone.
Of course, the obvious question becomes, “Why?” Why should I defer to anyone else? After all, I’m an American. I have rights! Why should I defer to others. The reason is given in v 13. It is for the Lord’s sake. It is not that people such as rulers or masters have intrinsic authority. They are no better than you or anyone else. On the contrary, they are but creatures of God themselves. But Jesus submitted Himself to us and allowed sinful man to take Him to the cross and Paul the Apostle calls on us to let His mind be in us. We are willing to defer others because He deferred to us. That’s the reason for this submission.
But there’s also a realization you and I need to make about it. Paul gives us that realization in v 16: as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. You see, before you can truly defer to others the way God wants you to, you’ve got to come to a realization: This deferment is voluntary. That’s right! You are truly free. Redeemed by God and loosed from your bondage to sin you are able to obey. You are no longer bound by the taskmaster of this world. You are free. Your King lives in Heaven! His name is King Jesus and you are to worship no other. That freedom, however, doesn’t mean that you are free to do wrong and disobey earthly commands. Instead, your life is now committed to following Christ wherever He might lead you and in whatever He might want you to do. Submission to others is easy because your heart is completely submitted to God.
And you might be saying, “That’s great, Rusty, but is it practical? I mean, if I live my life deferring to everyone, how am I going to ever get ahead. What about when my boss wants me to cheat? What then? Hey! What about when my government wants me to do something that’s wrong? What then? And furthermore, How can submission to others really ‘silence the wambs?’”
Well, those are all great questions and let me try to answer them. I want to do that by giving you three principles that can keep your submission on track and make it effective. First, submission in the face of mistreatment reveals God’s grace. Simply put, you, as a believer, are to be willing to submit to the one who is in authority over you, even when they are not fair. Hey, Christian, you are to submit to your boss, even if he ridicules or sabotages you. Wife, you are to submit to your husband even if he is unfair with you. (Notice I didn’t say if he abuses you. There’s a huge difference. If your husband physically abuses you please get some help!). Citizens, we are to submit to our leaders even when we disagree with their decisions.
And again, the question you may ask is how? How can I submit to someone who is mistreating me? The answer is the grace of God. When I submit to my boss because he is good and kind and pays well, there’s no praise for that. Others would kill to have your job! But when I submit to someone who is mistreating me, that takes the grace of God. Submission in the face of mistreatment reveals God’s grace.
And, then, fearlessness in the face of persecution reveals God’s power. While we are to defer to authority and even suffer without retaliation when they mistreat us, we are not to do so out of servile fear. We are, as a matter of fact, to have great courage and confidence, even when being mistreated. Ours is not a cowering complicity, but a towering humility that is willing to bear reproach for the Lord’s sake. Now, the only reason we are able to do that is because, in the middle of our persecution, we turn to the Lord and He infuses us with the power of the Holy Spirit. Because He strengthens us, we can be fearless in the place of persecution. That’s what we are! We possess submission in the face of mistreatment and we possess fearlessness in the face of persecution.
But last of all, we are willing to challenge in the face of scriptural violation. Basically, this happens in a couple of situations. First, we are to challenge our leaders when they ask us to violate some scriptural principle. Last week I told you of Jennifer Keeton who was forced to attend remediation classes in order to change her belief about homosexuality. Instead, Jennifer refused because that would have violated her biblical belief. That’s just one example. There are many.
In fact The defense fund has handled similar cases the past few years. A Missouri State University social work student filed suit against the university when she was asked to change her views on same-sex adoption, French said. The university later settled. An Eastern Michigan University counseling student filed suit when the university threatened to dismiss her for her religious views. The case is still pending. "This is an emerging trend in education, social work and counseling," French said. "Schools are trying to ensure that their children graduate with a particular world view." When this happens, believers are to stand without fear and challenge what they are being asked to do. We must be willing to challenge in the face of scriptural violation.
Which leads me to one last application. Is there ever a time when a believer is to challenge their government? Is there a time when we are to take a stand against a particular governmental leader? Reading this passage of scripture, that might not be completely clear for us. For one thing, the governmental leader with whom the early church was dealing had ultimate authority. No one could stand against them and the people of the society were not expected to resist but to obey. A Christian, then, was to submit to their rulers unless their rulers asked of them something the scripture did not.
But we do not live in a monarchy. We live in a constitutional republic. Aside from God, and humanly speaking, from where does our government’s authority flow? We don’t have a King, but we do have a president. Is he the one we are to obey? It gets a little tricky when you and I try to pin down how these principles work in our system because in this system, the people are supposed to have the power. How then do we handle 1 Peter 2?
I wrestled with that question as I prepared this message and struggled with how we were supposed to react in a democracy. Finally, it hit me. So let me answer that authority question by asking you a question? When the president takes office, what is the first thing he does? That’s right, he swears an oath. To what or to whom does he swear that oath? It is to the constitution of the United States, and, therein lies the authority. We are to obey our leaders and offer them the respect that the constitution demands because it is the constitution that wields the authority in this republic. That also means that if we have a leader who is circumventing the constitution or is acting outside of it, we have the right, and even the obligation to hold that leader accountable. We do so lawfully; we do so respectfully; and we do so with great humility. But that is our obligation. When we submit to the constitution, we are submitting to our governmental authority.
And as we fearlessly submit with great humility, the world begins to take note that what we are doing is not done out of hope of personal gain or out of the hope to escape some pain. We do what we do with great courage and great faith. And the wambs are silenced!
That’s what it takes. It takes a fearless submission and then it takes
DIV 2: A FOCUSED SERVICE
This focused service flows out of our fearlessly submitted attitude. Freed from servile intimidation, we serve for a couple of reasons. The first is love. That love is not the emotional response we might have to the desperate condition of the one we help, but it is the response of the heart to God. Peter says in v 16 that our freedom from fear does not become an excuse to do as we please, but it rather makes us the willing bondservants of Christ. Throughout his letters, Paul is constantly talking about this kind of servanthood. He called himself a bondservant of God in many places, saying that his motive was love for Christ. In one place he said:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; 20 and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; 22 to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. 23 Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.
It is this love that is my motive. I serve out of a great love for God that drives me to answer His call to reach out to others. That’s the reason for my service.
But what is its reward? What is the benefit of serving others? Well, just what we’ve been talking about through this message: It silences the “wambs.” That’s what is said in v 15, For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men– As we consistently, compassionately and genuinely serve, the criticism we receive begins to ring a little hollow. Our critics are laughed from the stage. It’s kind of like now. Whenever the government tells us that 9.5 % unemployment is somehow an encouraging sign and that spending trillions we don’t have makes sense, there’s something inside you that goes, “What??? Did you really just say that?” They may sell it hard, but the facts don’t back it up and after a while people stop listening. That’s what happens with Christians and criticism. As you consistently serve, those who are trumpeting your intolerance and lack of love are tuned out and the wambs are silenced. That’s the reward of service.
The only question that remains is how. How can we make this work in our lives and, especially, in this church? Well, there is a balance that has to be maintained and you see it reflected in the four short commands of v 17. It says:Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.
These four short sentences give us two concerns which must be balanced in our service. First, there is the balance of involvement. In a persecution-rich environment, one of two extremes tempt us. The first extreme when being attacked for our faith is to withdraw into the Christian community and keep a low profile. In this extreme believers only connect with and care for the people who agree with them, who are not persecuting them, and with whom they feel safe. Peter speaks against this extreme with his first command. We are to Honor all people.
But the opposite extreme is also a possibility within the persecuted church. Some are tempted to withdraw from the church. If being identified with the body means persecution then distancing one’s self from it could possibly avoid that pain. From a human perspective, at least, that would make sense. Against this, Peter says that we are to Love the brotherhood. In other words, we are to unashamedly take their stand with their persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.
So can you see the balance, we are to honor all people refusing to withdraw from those who are not like us, but we are also to love the brotherhood, refusing to deny other believers to make our own way easier. That’s the balance of involvement.
But there’s another balance described here: It’s the balance of respect. The source of persecution for these believers probably flowed from their refusal to call Ceasar, “Lord.” In that day, many cities required its citizens to worship the emperor in order to be accepted in the culture or to even hold a job. Refusing to do this resulted in trouble and persecution and the temptation was to “go along to get along.” That was an extreme that was to be rejected. Against it Peter says that instead of worshiping and “fearing” the Emperor, we are to worship and fear God. Only Jehovah is worthy of worship. Out of that fear and worship of Jehovah, a Christian offered the Emperor proper respect. Instead of serving Ceasar because he was God, the Christian serves Ceasar out of respect for the real King and he is not intimidated by the risk of persecution.
But, if he is not intimidated, neither is he rebellious. That’s the other extreme: seeking to “make a statement” against Ceasar the believer would so fear God that he would not honor the Emperor. That’s why, in v 16, Peter says that we are not to use our liberty as an excuse for vice, or in this case, rebellion. We are to maintain the balance of respect, worshiping God alone, but respecting the ruler that He has ordained.
Which just leads us to this question: How does this kind of service “silence the wambs?” How does a focused, loving service cause the world to change their opinion of Christ? Well, in the first place, when I serve with the right motive, God’s love is seen. People come to understand that I am not serving to get something in return, or even because I want to make a statement. I serve because I genuinely love God and that kind of love makes me love them. I am convinced that this kind of service would win our world.
Nathan Barlow was an unusual medical doctor who used his skills in Ethiopia for 60 years. He dedicated his life to helping people with mossy foot. Mossy foot is thought to be caused by barefoot contact with the red clay soil of the country and it is a debilitating condition [that] causes swelling and ulcers in the feet and lower legs. I would show you pictures but I thought it best not to do so. They were, shall we say, unpleasant. The subsequent deformity and secondary infections makes people with mossy foot social outcasts equivalent to lepers.
Nathan was so committed to these people that once when he got a toothache and had to fly away from the mission field to get medical attention, he had his dentist pull all of his teeth and make him a set of false teeth, because, as he told his dentist, he didn’t ever want to have to leave the mission field for the sake of his teeth again.
When his health began to fail, his daughter flew Nathan home from Ethiopia. After only a few weeks, he couldn’t handle being in the states. The people he loved were in Ethiopia, so his daughter flew him back home so he could spend his last days there..
Now, may I ask you a question. Do you think the “wambs” were silenced? That’s what happens when you serve God with the right motive. His love is seen in our lives. Focused service silences critics because when I serve with the right motive, His love is seen. But, also, focused service silences critics because when I serve with the right balance, God’s holiness is seen.
A Christian doesn’t serve to fit in with the social gospel crowd. A Christian isn’t concerned so much for social justice as they are motivated by the fear of God. Because a Christian fears God, he is willing to submit not only to those who are in authority, but He submits himself to everyone and becomes a servant. He doesn’t do anything because he fears authority. No! He fears God and out of that fear he respects those who are in authority over him, and then he reaches out to serve others.
This is what sets us apart from what I call “do-gooders.” I mean no disrespect by that title, for I know that many people have been helped by those whose concern for “social justice” has built homes, fed the hungry and met many needs of humanity. But the motive of righting society’s wrongs isn’t sufficient. Some people get so caught up in this crusade or that crusade that they lose their balance.
J. Allen Smith is considered by many to be one of the fathers of the many modern education reforms in this country. He recently commented on the following story
In Teneck N. J. a teacher asked for volunteers to share their experiences in honesty. He did this as part of an exercise dealing with “values clarification.” A girl in the class had found a purse containing $1000 and returned it to its owner. The teacher asked for the class’s reaction. Every single one of her fellow students concluded the girl had been “foolish.” Most of the students contended that if someone is careless, they should be punished.
What was most interesting, however, was what the teacher said when he was asked what he said to the students. He responded, “Well, of course, I didn’t say anything. If I come from the position of what is right and what is wrong, then I’m not their counselor. I can’t impose my views.”
That statement caused J. Allen Smith to conclude, “The trouble with us reformers is that we’ve made reform a crusade against all standards. Well, we’ve smashed them all, and now neither we nor anybody else have anything left.”
Now my point is not to comment on values clarification. What I want us to see is that trying to do good apart from Christ leads inevitably to an imbalance that ends up doing harm. It is the connection in my heart to the fear of God that keeps my service properly focused. It restrains me from excess, but it also liberates me. Knowing God’s power and His holiness and His grace sets me free to serve.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in Manhattan, shares the story of a woman in his congregation who was learning how the grace extended to us through Christ's work on the cross can actually be more challenging than religion. He writes:
Some years ago I met with a woman who began coming to church at Redeemer and had never before heard a distinction drawn between the gospel and religion [i.e. the distinction between grace and what is often a works-based righteousness]. She had always heard that God accepts us only if we are good enough. She said that the new message was scary. I asked why it was scary and she replied: If I was saved by my good works then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with "rights"—I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if I am a sinner saved by grace—then there's nothing he cannot ask of me."
She understood the dynamic of grace and gratitude. If when you have lost all fear of punishment you also lose all incentive to live a good, unselfish life, then the only incentive you ever had to live a decent life was fear. This woman could see immediately that the wonderful-beyond-belief teaching of salvation by sheer grace had an edge to it. She knew that if she was a sinner saved by grace, she was (if anything) more subject to the sovereign Lordship of God. She knew that if Jesus really had done all this for her, she would not be her own. She would joyfully, gratefully belong to Jesus, to whom she owed everything.
And there’s the balance! We serve God because of Christ. He saved us from hell and we serve Him because we are simply responding to what He did for us. That brings us into balance. We don’t neglect the world nor the church. We don’t respond in fear, nor simply to please our society or complete some crusade. We simply follow where God is leading us and prioritize His work in our lives. Our service is focused on Him. And it is this fearless submission and this focused service that silences the “wambs.”
Steve Sjorgen wrote in his book, Changing the World through Kindness
Not long after we moved [into our first house in California], my wife, Janie, and I picked up on the tension between a couple of neighbors. One was a very outspoken churchgoer, while the other was an unbeliever. I knew I was in the hot seat when the unchurched man struck up a conversation with me as we were both working in our yards.
"Say, Steve, aren't you a pastor?" It seems implicit in the public's understanding that pastors exist to serve as referees in times of conflict, so I reluctantly listened as this troubled man opened up about the neighbor he'd never understood. He unfolded a long history of numerous conflicts over small issues. …
Then he looked up and sighed, "But the most recent problem takes the cake. We received a letter from his attorney threatening to sue us if we don't trim a tree that borders his yard. It seems strange he didn't just come over and ask me to take care of the tree before he went to his attorney." …
With a little wink this streetwise unchurched man continued, "You know, I was getting ready to trim that tree, but now there's no way I'm going to do anything until he forces me. I will gladly go to court just so I can have a story to tell about being sued by Christians over an orange tree." He summarized his thoughts with a haunting observation: "I guess sometimes Christians love us—they just don't like us.
Now church, that’s what’s out there. We are criticized, sometimes legitimately, for being reactionary, self-absorbed, and hypocritical. The only way to overcome the noisy criticism is to submit with godly fear, and to serve with focused love.