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.
Ephesians 4:2 …with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love…
Colossians 3:13 …bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
A grandmother celebrating her golden wedding anniversary, once told the secret of her long and happy marriage. “On my wedding day, I decided to make a list of ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook,” she said.
- Undeserved – I really offended God. Forgiveness was granted to me when I deserved punishment. He could have “chewed” me out and been absolutely right to do it –but He didn’t do it to me — and I shouldn’t do it to a brother or sister who sets me off.
- Unrestricted – He included each and every offense in His forgiveness of me. He never says “that’s it, I’ve had enough! I’ve had all I can stand!”
- Unending – He never changes His resolve to forgive. I am not forgiven, then later reminded of all the things He has overlooked. He will not give forgiveness then retrieve it at some time in the future.
Romans 12:4-5 For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.
Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, putting away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.
During a hike through the woods, a troop of Boy Scouts came upon a short stretch of abandoned railroad track. One by one they each tried to walk the rails from one end to the other, but every one of them lost his balance and fell off. Suddenly, two of the boys, after considerable whispering, bet that they could both walk to the end of the rails without falling. The others laughed and challenged them to prove it. The two got on the track, one on each rail, grasped each other’s hand, and started walking. This time they had no trouble keeping their balance and managed to walk the entire length of the track without falling.
God never intended that we walk alone through life’s ups and downs. In Romans 12:4, the Apostle Paul explains this truth by comparing the members of a church to the different parts of the human body. Drawing on this metaphor, Paul says that Christians are each members of the body of Christ — each of us serving a different purpose in keeping the church alive and healthy. But he goes deeper — much deeper: we are also members of each other!
This truth is the foundation for “reciprocal living”. Because I am intimately bonded to all other believers through the person of the Holy Spirit (Who lives inside every Christian), it becomes immediately clear that whatever I do to you — I am really doing to myself!
Paul illustrates this fact in Ephesians 4:25. He instructs us to put away lying and to speak truth always. Why? “For we are members of one another”. If I lie to you — I am lying to me!
Do you sense the bond you share with all Christians? Is your heart tender towards your brothers and sisters who are hurting or in need? They are family… they are part of you because they are part of Him.