The ancient Greek warriors had a motto: “To Rule and to be Ruled”. Perhaps that will help us more easily understand these words of the Apostle Peter. At first glance, the commands to live as free people and to live as slaves seem to present a contradiction. Isn’t it one or the other? How can we be free and slaves at the same time? Isn’t the first order countermanded by the second? Which order should we obey? Both.
One order declares our freedom. The other order defines our freedom. Those in service to defend our country are free Americans. But they are not free from authority. If confused before, the recruit quickly learns this to be true. In all of life, the chain-of-command goes all the way to the top—way above the national commander-in-chief. Above every dictator, president, and king is the King of kings. His word is absolute. He owns us.
Saint Paul has written, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (I Corinthians 6:19,20). That’s true! Christians live not for themselves, but for him. We submit our wishes to his will. He is our Master. We are slaves of the holy God—and glad of it! We are not ground-into-the-dirt slaves. Listen to how the Apostle Peter describes us: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession…” (I Peter 2:9) We are people of powerful privilege. We enjoy the freedom of the redeemed. Jesus has declared, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31,32). He drives home the meaning of this with these words: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:31,32,36).
But not free to sin! Not free to ignore the Master’s will. Not free to use freedom as a cover-up for evil. Instead, we are free from the death-grip of evil. Satan, sin, and death rule us no more. We need not bow before them. But that does not mean we obey no one. From the vault of heaven comes the standing order to the heirs of glory: “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors...” (I Peter 2:13) To every human authority? Even those who issue foolish orders? Even those who do not
acknowledge that God lives and rules? Yes.
Except—except when they give an order that countermands one of God’s orders. This same Saint Peter once told Jewish authorities who they demanded that he stop preaching about Jesus: “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29) We must obey God. Love for him makes us want to do this. Jesus set the example. As the Son of God, he was free to do whatever he wanted. Yet, he conformed his will to what his Father wanted, even when this brought him pain and death. We want to do the same. When we freely follow the orders of our Savior God, we make that motto of the long-ago warriors our very own.
“To rule and to be ruled.” That’s living free.
We pray in the spirit of Jesus: Our Father who art in heaven…thy will be done. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer, WELS National Civilian Chaplain
and Liaison to the Military, Cape Coral, Florida
Provided by WELS Ministry to the Military