Godliness Vs. Ambition: Pt 2
“Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)”
1 COR 7:21
God teaches us to submit to our circumstances in order to be occupied with the pursuit of godliness, as we covered in Part 1. In light of us understanding this, it is important that we also understand what this does not mean, in order to have peace within such things. If you have not read Part 1, I advise doing so, otherwise you will not understand the context for everything written below.
First, and often most important for us, submitting to our circumstances never means that other people have some superiority over us. Many people have assumed that because God calls people to remain in the condition in which they find themselves this somehow means that others are superior to them. And that these people in certain circumstances must accept this “superiority” of others as part of their submission to God. It can look as if these things somehow condone classism, racism, sexism, or ageism. This is an evil lie. It is important for us to understand that submission to God is never the same as submission to evil man. These doctrines teach us to have peace from God in such circumstances, not to accept them as true. In all things, a person submits to God, not man, as superior. For someone to make this submission about themselves rather than about God is great wickedness.
In addition to this, nothing about our submission to circumstances condones the evils done to us therein. And nothing about it shows that God condones such evil acts. Rather, it shows where we are to direct ourselves within this life, despising that which tries to provoke us away from the right pursuit in our lives: godliness.
Secondly, nothing about this contentment within our circumstances means we should not resist evil—that we are not permitted to seek to change unjust circumstances. Rather, we must be rightly balanced within these things. Many people today make their whole ambition about correcting unjust circumstances, and this is actually wrong. We must be balanced in our pursuits of such things, ensuring that even in the face of injustice our mind is still fixed upon God and godliness. We must not compromise this for anything, and that includes trying to correct injustice. “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.” (Ps 119:23)
There is still value in fighting to change circumstances that are unjust. We can see this within the history of the church fighting to bring slavery to an end. God has also brought about much change for women and children—bringing many women into equality with men and delivering children from much oppression such as child labor, etc. There is still much injustice in the world, but we must continue to walk in this with the right balance, not losing our focus upon God. For more on this, please see When Healing and Justice Don’t Happen: Part 1 and Part 2. Circumstances are not the highest importance in our lives; rather, godliness always is.
The third point we must bear in mind is that we always have the right to know that what is evil is evil. It is a great cruelty and injustice that in the name of godly submission we subject people to evil rather than to God. Many people are very confused on this point and it very often brings great harm upon those who are in most need.
The way in which this happens is twofold—firstly, by a person being denied the right to simply see that which is evil as just that: evil. Rather than a person being allowed to see this correctly, a perverse “morality” comes in and obligates them to deny reality in the name of “love” or “goodwill” towards people. It is quite literally an expectation that a person gaslight themselves as to the reality of their circumstances. This completely robs them of the truth and the opportunity to respond to the truth of their circumstances accordingly.
The second problem is that people are denied the right to act accordingly to the evil and harm being done against them. This is where godly submission is turned into enslavement, calling people to endure harm and evil as if this is godly in and of itself. Such people fail to realize the difference between varying circumstances. Suffering evil is not inherently pure; rather, it is suffering for Christ that is pure. To call people to suffer evil simply in the name of endurance entirely misses the point. These people fail to comprehend the difference between suffering evil to bring the Gospel and suffering the evil of abuse in some misguided belief of overcoming a person’s sin. In addition to this, they fail to realize that there is a great difference between submitting to God in circumstances that we cannot escape and that of submitting to God in circumstances that we can escape, and that availing oneself of the opportunity to do so is godly. “Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)” (1 Cor 7:21)
What is central at each of these points is the welfare of God’s people. Those who insist upon continual subjection to evil are foolish and naive about the true nature of evil and the harm it causes. These people are often merciless in their “mercy” for those who do evil. Our ideas of subjection in the name of some “heroism” are very twisted and cruel, and yet they are all too common in the church today. What an evil thought that a person who is being harmed shouldn’t have permission to escape! We go terribly wrong when we insist that submission means this. People must understand that what is done to them is still evil when they are “enduring evil” and they must know they possess the right to act accordingly to such evil. Or was Paul escaping (Acts 9:25) sinful? Was Paul’s turning away from those who persist in their own sins a crime (Acts 13:51)? And was Jesus wrong to pass through the midst of those who sought to harm Him (Luke 4:29-30)? The trouble with this thinking is failing to realize whose altar we suffer upon—evil man’s, or God’s.
In all of this we must realize again the distinction between the circumstances we cannot escape and the ones we can. For many people have not been able to escape, and to such people God speaks peace to them, telling them to not be anxious about such circumstances. Yet there are most certainly circumstances that we can escape and we are foolish to believe that God has not permitted us to “avail ourselves of the opportunity.” (1 Cor 7:21) This is a gross misunderstanding of the goodness of God.
God calls us to submit to circumstances that we still might not like. We must discern the difference between what is an evil circumstance, working to our harm, and that which is affliction that is working to our good. An example of this would be the difference in a marriage that is unhappy versus a marriage that is abusive. These are two entirely different things, and to confuse either with the other is most certainly sinful.
Here we circle back to the matter at hand: contentment rather than ambition. Discernment is, as with all things, much needed here. May we continue forward in the freedom of Christ rather than the enslavement of misapplications of what contentment means, with a steady pace in step with the Spirit through all things. And, where it is right, may we submit to God in our circumstances, seeking godliness in all things.
November 30, 2020