The Scripture commands husbands to love their wives, wives to respect their husbands, children to honor their parents, citizens to obey the authorities, employees to follow their employers, and believers to subject themselves to the elders of the Church.
None of this has anything to do with how much or well the other party deserves it. There are plenty of unlovable wives, disreputable husbands, dishonorable parents, unworthy governments, ill-willed employers, and untrustworthy church leaders out there. I’m sure any one of us could run out of fingers just counting the ones we know if given the opportunity.
Deserts, just or otherwise, have little to do with it. God is trying to knit together a world of mutual submission, all of it in submission to him. That requires something from each of us in whatever station we find ourselves.
The word “submission” means to go where someone asks you to go, to follow their direction, to go their way and not your own. Words like “hard,” “dangerous,” and “risky” come next to mind when I think of that. What might I lose? What am I forfeiting? Possibly everything. And by losing — in the inscrutable asymmetry of the gospel — we gain.
“Among Christians such are the conditions of victory,” wrote Basil the Great, “and it is he who is content to take the second place who wins a crown.”
A world of radical, mutual submission looks like one united by grace and peace. Consider these words from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
[F]ulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
It also looks like a world in which our sanctification is realized through humility.
Paul’s very next words to the Philippians are these: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus,” this mind of preferring others to ourselves, of lowliness in mind, of subjecting our personal ambitions. God desires that our hearts be shaped by humility, and we take on its contours as we learn submission. Jesus learned obedience by the things he suffered, as Paul says in Hebrews. And so do we if we can say with Jesus, “Not my will, but yours.”
What of that undeserving spouse, parent, governor, boss, pastor? A few verses later in the same passage, Paul tells us to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”
We have no idea what we that person needs for their salvation. But that’s not our concern anyway. We’re to work out our own, and in the context of the passage, it’s clear Paul wants us to start with radical submission and Christlike humility.
Question: How does Paul’s statement that we’re to esteem others better than ourselves strike you?