Submit to One Another, Part 3

I concluded yesterday’s post with a summary of what biblical submission means: submitting to one another is not about blind obedience, or being taken advantage of or a weapon by which we rationalize taking advantage of others. It is a mindset in which we are led to honor God by serving one another in the capacities and roles that we have for Christ, in love, in humility, and for their good.

So we know what submission is in theory, but what does it look like in practice?

We see submission in action with How David related to King Saul. Even though Saul had basically lost his right to be king to David, and David had been anointed as Israel’s next king, even with Saul trying to kill him, he refused to harm Saul because he too was God’s anointed king. He always related to Saul as a loyal subject, not as a rival to be feared.

We see submission in Joseph’s willingness to submit to the places God put him: under the authority of Potiphar, the Jailer, and to Pharaoh. Now, you might stop and say well could not that be surrender and not submission? I think there is genuine submission here. In my mind, the poster child for surrendering to God is Jonah. He did what he was told, but it was all under duress. He did nothing out of love, humility, or from a concern for the good of the people of Nineveh. If God had not made him go, he never would have gone.

Now, Joseph certainly had to surrender to his brothers and to the slave traders that they sold him too, I am sure that he did not go willingly…that is surrender. But the love for God that marked his life, the humility with which he accepted his circumstances, the diligence and excellence that made his work stand out, and how he was looking for the good of those he served even when it did not turn out well for him, speaks of submission.

Thinking about the examples of Jesus, Paul, David, and Joseph have helped me a lot as God continues teaching me about what it means to submit to one another.

While submission does not mean letting people walk all over you, it does mean that sometimes your plans or desires need to be put on the back burner for a while. For instance when Mandi found out I was going to be doing this series on submitting to one another, she made it very clear that I could show my submission to her by not using her in any illustrations I might be thinking of using. I thought it best to comply with that request. =)

When I came home early two and a half weeks ago from the CCCC (Conservative Congregational Christian Conference) Annual conference, I was looking to stay home and help Mandi while she was sick. What I ended up doing that night was spending it with my daughter Anna at the hospital. Anna did not need a dad who grudgingly took care of her; she needed a dad who was clearly submitted to her and was committed to caring for her.

What I have been learning is that when Mandi and the girls and I are all working to submit to one another, there is more grace, more patience, more kindness, and more peace than when we are not. Submission does not take the joy out of things, it puts joy into things—even things you would not expect to find joy in. That is what we learn from Joseph, David, Jesus, and Paul.

Another thing I have been learning is that when I find myself not doing a good job of submitting to people I inevitably realize I am not submitting to God either. If you are working at living in submission to God, you will be learning more and more about submitting to one another. There may be particular people or particular circumstances that you struggle with more than others, but the person who is committed to living in submission to God will produce the fruit of submitting to others.

When we are not submitting to God, we inevitably end up like Saul or Jonah.

Saul wanted people to think he was submitted to God when the truth was that he was not. Because Saul was not submitted to God he did not want to submit to anyone, and abused his power and authority to get what he wanted. That is what happens when we do not live in submission to God, we end up trying to get life to submit to us. But when we live that way, like Saul, we end up being very destructive, because the reality is we are not in control, God is. When we try to take control, we only end up messed up, with a trail of mess behind us. We need to be very concerned when people say we are controlling, domineering, manipulative, or forceful. Those words are not descriptive of Christ and therefore cannot be descriptive of a person who is living in submission to Him, let alone to others.

Some of us are more like Jonah than Saul. Jonah surrendered to God and did what He wanted, but because he was not submitted to God he could not see why God wanted him to go to Nineveh, and was angry when, despite his best efforts to the contrary, God used him to bring mercy to that city anyway. When we are being obedient out of duty, or begrudgingly, or under duress we may indeed do some good and God way well work through our lousy obedience, but like Jonah, we are not going to have much to commend Christ to the people around us and we will not have much, if any, joy in our obedience, and as a result our walk with God will become slow and stagnant, He will appear very frustrating instead of gracious and loving. Jesus is not put off or put out by His Father’s wishes. Jesus’ obedience was not out of mere duty, nor was it done under duress. Therefore if that is how we feel, it is a sign that we may only be surrendered to God, but not submitted to Him. Surrendered obedience leads to a very malformed obedience that misunderstands the place of love, humility, and doing good to others.

Let us instead follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God…and Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ in the capacities and roles that we have, in love, in humility, and for their good (Ephesians 5:1-2, NIV).

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