Ephesians 5:19-21 …submitting to one another in the fear of God.
1 Peter 5:5 …all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
Submission. What images come to mind when you think of this word? Are any of them positive? In our culture we value independence and self-preservation — submission is viewed as destructive to our personal worth. Submission exposes us to abuse. It is demeaning.
Yet Paul and Peter direct us to submit ourselves to each other. Far from being destructive, submission to my brothers and sisters is a pathway to an increase of God’s grace in my life and the growth of His church.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “It is the picture of soldiers in a regiment, soldiers in a line under an officer. The characteristic of a man in that position is this, that he is no longer an individual; he is now a member of a regiment; and all of them together are listening to the commands and the instructions which the officer is issuing to them.”
In a war there is no safe place for self-seeking, individualistic soldiers on the front line. Not only will the individual be in danger — but so will the entire company! We are called to submerge self-interest in a pursuit of the highest good for others. That’s why we are here. That is our mission. That’s why we are told to submit “in the fear of God” — not to do so is a denial of His purpose for our lives.
So what does it look like when I do this “submission”? Paul prefaces the command to mutually submit with these directions…
- to daily let God control my decisions, actions, and speech — His Spirit will guide my “submission” in serving others in my church family (Ephesians 5:18);
- to engage in meaningful, heart-felt worship with other Christians — with a focus on encouraging others in their efforts to live for God (Ephesians 5:19); and
- to maintain a sense that all I am and all I have is a gift from God — to be continually conscious of what He has done for me in Christ (Ephesians 5:20).
Think about it. If you are seeking God’s rule in your life, why wouldn’t I take care to listen to what you have to say? If you are trying to encourage my walk with God, why wouldn’t I try to encourage you in return? If I am daily conscious of the cross (where Jesus gave His life for me), how could I do less than lay down my life for you? If I have already been given everything I really need, why would I try to get more at your expense?
The implications are endless, but the point is clear: when I have found all my joy in Christ, I am free to serve you. You can come first. I no longer have to look out for “number one”!
One more thing… what about abuse? What about occasions where we are asked to do what is sinful or illegal? Submission does not mean we should commit sin, facilitate the sinful behavior of others, or compromise our faith. On those occasions we must stand firm with grace, kindness, a quickness to listen, and in the Spirit — but we cannot participate in evil.