A side note on handling such matters -
When I was working on that Japanese translation at Gettysburg College, I came across a word that had no clear equivalent in English. If I remember correctly, the word referred to the feeling that some evil or gloom was clinging to a person like an evil spirit. A few months later in grad school outside the Hornbake Building, I was thinking to myself - if evil is clinging to my back like a backpack, and the sword of God's wrath is about to be thrust upon me, is there any way to separate myself from that clinging evil to avoid death? [Yes, praise Jesus!] In matters of myself and sin, I need to carefully listen to God's word and allow it to divide "soul and spirit" (Hebrews 4:12) and to divide my sin from my soul. I don't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, as they say, but I also don't want to be found with sin clinging to my soul in the face of my Holy Redeemer.
So, in this matter of my passive personality, I need to carefully consider which aspects of it are in accordance with God's word and which are not. I need the Physician to carefully cut the cancer out from the healthy flesh. So, where do I need to draw the line with regards to submissiveness and passivity in my life?
The thesaurus lists many synonyms for "meek". Here are some of theirs and mine:
Flexible/Compliant/Easy to please
How do I act during a typical day?
Upon passing an acquaintance in the hall, they ask, "How are you?" "Ok," I respond, "and how are you?" Signing into the timesheet booklet, my friend comes over and says, "Let's get coffee." So, I go. Later, another friend asks, "Would you edit my document?" So, I do. That evening, someone calls and says, "Let's get dinner." So, we go eat. I cheerfully, willingly go along with the flow, whatever that might happen to be. I'm fearful of "rocking the boat", upsetting others' feelings, harming others, making wrong decisions, messing up stuff, and interrupting a conversation. I feel much more comfortable if I can instead steady the feelings of the moment, comfort others, help others, simplify situations, and support conversations with hearty head nods and mmm'hhhs to keep the discussion running. I'm like the cartilage that smooths the junctions between bones. When the situation calls for strength and action, I'm at a loss for what to do.
Loving submission is good, sometimes.
It's good to give generously to those who ask "and whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two." Matthew 5:41 I rain down burning coals upon the head of my enemy if I "...do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Matthew 5:39-40 The parable of the good Samaritan teaches that I should always be ready and willing to serve my neighbor in love for his good (which is also for my good).
But loving kindness by itself is not always beneficial. When Jesus told His disciples about the death that He was soon going to face, Peter acted in a seemingly loving way. "Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 'Never, Lord!' he said. 'This shall never happen to you!' But He turned and said to Peter, 'Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.'" Matthew 16:23 Wow, what a sharp response! Couldn't Jesus have been a little kinder? I thought Jesus was a nice person who "came to serve"...?
Jesus as an example.
Let's look some more at Jesus. In some matters, Jesus was not resistant but was very gentle and kindly. He healed those who were brought to Him, even when many, many people came. Jesus had compassion on the people and began to teach them even when they interrupted a possible out-of-town vacation trip that he intended to take with His disciples (Matthew 6:31-35). At the same time, there were times when Jesus did not simply "go with the flow." When He was tempted by Satan to turn stones into bread, He refused and resisted the devil. When the Pharisees and Sadducees asked Jesus for a sign, He refused and resisted them. It must have been clear that Jesus responded to a higher authority besides what could be seen. "...'Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any.'" Matthew 22:16
So why was it that Jesus was sometimes submissive and sometimes resistant towards people? It was because He was always obedient to God. He knew the things of God, considered the things of God, and choose in light of the things of God.
This seems to be the key!
In Jesus' humble, non-resistant behavior, He was actually making a conscious choice to do so. And when He resisted others, He made a decisive choice to do so. Both types of behavior were performed as a matter of choice to obey God first and foremost. His entire life was marked by such decisiveness. Before facing His crucifixion, Jesus showed that He submitted Himself out of a decisive choice: "No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again..." John 10:18 Later, He said, "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" Matthew 26:53 Jesus' submission unto death was not out of weakness or an inability to save Himself, but out of total and complete decisive obedience. And before His death, each one of Jesus' actions were chosen in a very mindful, conscious, and proactive manner - whether those actions were gentle or sharp towards men. All of this stands in sharp contrast to my tendency to "float along" through the day on the currents of mood and apparent "niceness" without the slightest consideration of what I am actually doing. I think this is the piece that is missing from my life.
How do I know how to respond to people? What is the decision and how do I choose?
Joshua 24:15 says, "But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD." Before submitting to or resisting men, I must choose whom I will serve - and I must choose to serve God. I cannot serve two masters. But if I "love the the Lord [my] God with all [my] heart and with all [my] soul and with all [my] mind", the second will follow: "Love [my] neighbor as [my]self." I must never reverse them in my mind. I must "live by faith, not by sight." 2 Corinthians 5:7
Also, if I choose not to decide at all, then I will fall into serving my own motives, whether they be fear, selfishness, or ignorance. I must choose in order to obey. I must willingly submit myself to God for good works and willingly resist opportunities that would put myself at odds with God. I must build my life upon the Rock, the Word, the True Foundation. I am a daughter of light and as such I should live soberly and mindfully in this life. (1 Thessalonians 5:4-6)
These are very difficult matters because they lie behind the surface of what "appears" good or bad. They are the hidden matters of the heart. If I rely on myself, which is tainted, the spring of motives welling up in me will lead me into sin. But if I rely on the word of God, and trust God to guide my desires, fears, and motives, then He "will become in [me] a spring of water welling up to eternal life." John 4:14
It's a word that terrifies me. I hate making decisions. Do I want to get married? Eh, unsure. Do I want to live in NC, PA, DC, or overseas? Umm, I dunno. Do you want chocolate or raspberry ice cream? Uhhh.... I hate making decisions. Just give me something and I'm content. I've taught myself to be content by avoiding decisions. That's simply not good. It makes me weak in both big and small matters. It makes me an infant, a little boat "tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind" Ephesians 4:14. I am not called to be indecisively submissive, but to be decisively submissive.
I feel like I need to panic because I have no idea how to choose anything. In myself, I have few strong preferences, and so I lack any guidelines by which to judge and choose. But I don't need to fear, because I have all that I need. "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God" 2 Corinthians 3:5 "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17 This sufficiency comes from God - He thoroughly equips His children through His word. His word had the power of creation, the power of healing, power over evil spirits, power over the wind and water, and power to change my heart. "...Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God - that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption." 1 Corinthians 1:30 Christ is my wisdom. The Word is my wisdom. I have all that I need to be equipped for any and every decision, any and every choice, any and every act - whether it be submission or resistance to men, it can always be obedience to God by the power of the Spirit of Christ.
I need not fear, for God is with me. I read an excellent article on the topic of the Presence of God yesterday: The Real Presence - What Is It? by J C Ryle
God's word is living and active - it washes me and feeds me. (Hebrews 4:12)
God's Word is living and active - He intercedes for me at the throne of the Power when I fail. (Mark 14:62)
God's Spirit is living and active - He lives inside me and enables me to grow by God's word. (John 14:15-17)
May God teach and lead me into all holiness - whether it take the form of gentle submission or strong resistance. Amen.