[Submission] is the ability to lay down the terrible burden of always needing to get your own way.
Richard Foster (Celebration of Discipline)
...and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. Ephesians 5:21 b NET)
Loving Not Conforming
Submission allows us the joy of partnering with others on the journey. It lets us share our insights without controlling one another’s actions. Unfortunately, submission has gotten a bad name today due to abuses of it. Some church leaders mistakenly teach that submission demands that believers capitulate to their leaders blindly. This can lead to people questioning the loyalty of others to Jesus Christ if not loyal to established leadership.
In this type of environment relational needs can suffer when conflicting with institutional needs. Asking the wrong question or pointing out a problem can move a person from being a wonderful gift to a dangerous rebel! Remember, the only way to deal with those who try to steal your reputation is to forgive them (1), keep on doing what is right, act with humility and integrity and trust God with the outcome.
Realize, trying to please people and living in Christian service are two different paths. We must make institutional needs a distant second to healthy and supportive relationships. Submission is not a power game. Submission never asks anyone to subordinate his or her will to another. Leaders demanding submission are usually asking for unquestioned obedience which ultimately is destructive because there are no perfect leaders on Earth.
Partnering in the Journey
While we remained there for a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, "The Holy Spirit says this: 'This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will tie up the man whose belt this is, and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul replied, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be tied up, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." Because he could not be persuaded, we said no more except, "The Lord's will be done." (Acts 21:10-14 NET)
Even though the people did not believe it was best for Paul (1) to go to Jerusalem, they freed him to do what was in his heart. Realize “submission” is not Christian jargon for trying to control others to do what we think is best. Submission in the Body of Christ does not reduce decision-making down to majority rule. Submission does allow us to partner with others in the process of being changed by Jesus. Paul was indeed arrested in Jerusalem; however, God utilized this to further the Gospel in Rome. In seeking to confirm God’s will we can share our choices and motives with others, we can discuss them amongst them. We can pray about them together and we should give weight to what others say. Nevertheless, we are still free to do what is in our own hearts.
...By the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter will be established. (2 Corinthians 13:1 b NET)
God enjoys confirming His work by two or three voices so we can walk in confidence. When He is teaching us something, we will see or hear this truth in the Bible, other books, other people, and sermons, etc. Ask God to confirm every new understanding of truth by two or three scriptures and He will.
As iron sharpens iron, so a person sharpens his friend. (Proverbs 27:17 NET)
Submitting our thoughts and insights to others allows us to expand our seeing and hearing by including the eyes and ears of those around us.
Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet's own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:20-21 NET)
The different vantage points that people have on our life or actions can often help us distinguish between God’s leading and our own desires. None of us has been asked to make our journey alone. A wealth of knowledge and insight awaits in the lives of believers around you. Partnering with others, through submission, allows us to experience the deepest joy human relationships can offer.
Letting People Have Their Journey
Jesus had the right to command obedience during His Earthly ministry. However, He simply presented the truth and gave others the option to follow His way or not. He wanted them to follow out of the conviction of their conscience, not because he could threaten them into conformity. He modeled the love of God to everyone knowing the joy of participating in the Father’s family was far more effective than strict obedience. Submission from the heart can only be voluntary. Paul demonstrated the same wisdom and compassion as he spread the gospel. He renounced secret and shameful ways of manipulating people into God’s life. He knew the power of the Gospel did not lie in making people “act Christian”. The power of the Gospel lies in putting others in touch with the mystery of the Gospel:
Christ in them, the hope of glory! (Colossians 1:27 b)
This means we can help others be transformed not by getting them to conform to our rules but by encouraging their dependence on Christ Jesus. Demanding the submission of others actually, will subvert the working of the Holy Spirit. Paul told the Colossians to not let anyone judge them regarding what they ate or what celebrations they attended (Colossians 2:16). He reminded them that those who try to command others prove by their actions that they have lost connection with the Head of the church – The Lord Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:6-10). People that lose sight of this truth end up trying to tell others how to live which is a fruitless and abusive endeavor. Submission allows us to offer input and receive it from others while still recognizing that they and we are free to use it as Jesus leads us.
By letting others have their journey and not forcing them into ours we can be honest about where we see things differently, and we can continue to love them even when they do not do what we think is right. By freeing others from our judgment, our friendships can continue to grow instead of being snatched away from us by disagreements. God will work with others, even utilizing what we consider mistakes, to draw them deeper into His life and make them more sensitive to His voice.
Our freedom in Christ allows us to go into any situation with the ability to get along with others while still living authentically. Submission means I will go along with what others have agreed to do as long as I do not have to violate my conscience. If I can not go along then I will honestly tell them why I cannot and excuse myself – that too is submission.
Patience with Everyone
Submission will allow us to get along with everyone – even those who are weaker in the faith (Romans 14:1). As brothers and sisters, we do not tell one another what to do but maintain an honest dialogue that respects God’s working in our lives. We are to follow Jesus not intermediaries who tell us what God wants. Jesus is the head of the church, and before Him, each of us will stand or fall. The early apostles never saw themselves above others in the body of Christ. They saw themselves alongside others to share the journey. They never asked anyone to violate their conscience. Our conscience, the voice of our spiritual heart, is how God primarily leads us (Romans 9:1). Never talk others out of following their conscience even if wrong. Letting them follow it is the fastest way to God changing it. Paul would not do things in front of others if it offended their conscience (Romans 14:2-23). True freedom is when you are both free to do something or not do it!
Therefore speak to them and say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When anyone from the house of Israel erects his idols in his heart and sets the obstacle leading to his iniquity before his face, and then consults a prophet, I the LORD am determined to answer him personally according to the enormity of his idolatry. I will do this in order to capture the hearts of the house of Israel, who have alienated themselves from me on account of all their idols.' (Ezekiel 14:4,5 NET)
Realize, God also answers us according to what we desire strongly or covet in our hearts because this is the quickest way for us to see He is right and we are wrong (Remember, covetousness is idolatry – Colossians 3:5). Again, submission is not something we demand of others but what frees us to serve others. Be cautious when following God’s leading comes at someone else’s expense. When God has really put something on your heart. He is asking us to take the risk not to put it upon others (e.g., unless you support my ministry it will go under!). True submission allows us to live out our lives in the freedom of God working out His life in us. We do not have to scheme to make things turn out the way we want. The joy of submission will displace selfishness and independence in our lives. (2)
Authentic Relationships Series:
- Authentic Relationships: Introduction
- Authentic Relationships: Loving One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Forgiving, Accepting and Bearing with One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Being Devoted to Another and Honoring Another Above Ourselves
- Authentic Relationships: Greeting and Being Hospitable to One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Being Kind, Compassionate and Sharing with One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Serving, Carrying Burdens and Building Up One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Instructing and Admonishing One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Praying for One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Confessing Your Sins to and Being of the Same Mind Toward One Another
- Authentic Relationships: Submitting to One Another
(1) Left-click on the underlined phrase to open another article in a different tab with more explanation.
2) This blog adapted from Authentic Relationships: Discover the lost art of “One Anothering” by Wayne Jacobsen (http://www.lifestream.org) and Clay Jacobsen. ISBN-13: 978-0801064517
(3) See attached PowerPoint that can be used to lead a class through this study.