Philippians 2:3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
The man was seen on national television by millions each week. Bill had acted in 25 feature films with superstars. He made more money in a month than I made in two years. He was continuously reading scripts on upcoming film roles and commercials — he was a success by every material definition. And I was sitting in his dressing room on the backlot of a major studio.
For two years Bill had been attending our worship services in Beverly Hills, California. He would come in and sit in the back, slipping out during the last song to avoid talking with church members or pastors — he was painfully shy! He had recently committed his life to Christ. I called him to see if we could place him in a service role in the church — due to his shooting schedule he apologetically asked if I could drop by his dressing room on the studio lot. “Sure!” I said.
Bill was overwhelmed that I would take time out of my busy schedule to come see him at work! He hated to bother me, but was willing to serve if we had a place for him. I was dumbstruck by his attitude, which was absolutely void of pretense or condescension. He felt unworthy to do what we wanted him to do. He valued highly his relationships with others in the church — some wealthy, some on welfare — it didn’t matter. In his mind they were light years ahead of him in their walk with God.
I left the studio with a sense of brokenness that afternoon. Bill valued my position as a child of God more than I did. He greatly honored and treasured his church family. He truly “esteemed others better than himself.”
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.