The gospel of radical submission

The gospel of radical submission

homesbythomas, Flickr

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?

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • http://gailbhyatt.wordpress.com/ Gail Hyatt

    These are, in fact, hard words, but bring healing to the soul. Thank you.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Hard for me too. Hard things shape soft things, and I’m pretty soft I’m afraid.

  • http://www.williswired.com Randy

    Thanks for the reminder. “Radical submission” is certainly a good, albeit challenging, way of thinking about our discipleship.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Thanks for the note, Randy.

  • http://chriscornwell.org Chris

    Radical Submission and humility implies admittance to a fault. Fault implies blame. It’s so much easier to blame someone else for their faults rather than admit to ours.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Agreed. I think one of the quickest paths to spiritual maturity is just to start admitting your faults and stop making defenses for them. Mea culpa is a powerful phrase.

  • http://extraordinarychurch.org Denard Ash

    Great post. I have learned this lesson the hard way. The more I learn to submit, the greater leader I become. Thanks for the post.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Denard, thanks for the comment. I learned the hard way too. Maybe one day we’ll get there.

  • Pingback: SUBMISSION – What of that undeserving spouse, parent, governor, boss, pastor? « THE COUNSELING MOMENT

  • http://sheliamullican.com Shelia

    Truth!

    I’ve been told that Tony Evans defines submission (as regards wives) as “ducking so God can hit your husband.” :) Perhaps not the proper attitude to adopt when submitting, but instructive never-the-less. The vengeance we might like to exercise is strictly the prerogative of God. He understands when and where it is, or is not, appropriate. Our only job is to submit. He’s got the rest.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Amen. Do you remember the exchanges Aslan has with people in The Horse and His Boy? He gives them insight into their story but when they ask about someone else, he tells them their story is their own and they shouldn’t bother with anyone else’s story. Great reminder. God is at work in all of us.

  • http://shelaughsatthedays.blogspot.com carrien (she laughs at the days)

    For a year I lived in intentional Christian community traveling the west coast of North America with 6 other women. Our mutual goal was to live out the words of Christ, to put feet to our faith, and we did that. The surprise however was not in what we did, how we lived and served in the places we went, it was in how we learned to submit to each other. We were all strong, we were all opposites, we all got on each other’s nerves and practically hated each other from the outset. Yet we all loved Jesus and because of that we couldn’t just leave things as they are. Daily we struggled with and wrestled and even wept over those very verses in Paul that you just quoted. It was part of our group dynamic to gather together in the morning to worship and pray together which only highlighted the wrongness of our hearts towards each other every day.

    But we brought it all to the cross, with many tears and prayers and about 3 months in something unexpected happened, something miraculous even. We learned to love each other. We learned to submit. When we prayed for someone we were as well choreographed as a dance, each giving way to the other where they were strong and we were not. We loved in moments where the other was wrong, and we loved and were proud of them anyway. We learned to forgive, and we learned the art of asking for forgiveness even when we were sure the other was wrong. There is always something to ask forgiveness for, for none of us is perfect. There is where humility was found. there is where we learned to submit to each other.

    It was intense, hard, and the best experience ever. I literally felt like I was missing limbs in my sleep when that year ended and we went our seperate ways. I’ve felt bereft in a way ever since. It’s hard to find those who will stay long enough to press in toward letting Jesus do that work in us. My marriage of course is another sort of similar thing. But it doesn’t speak as well to the communal aspect of what Paul and you are getting at here.

    I think that if we all tried, really tried, and failed, and tried again to live by Paul’s statement the world would be a different place, and the body of Christ would be something once more something people are simultaneously drawn to and yet tremble to enter, as it was in Acts.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Wow. What a cool story. Thanks for sharing your experience. It’s a great inspiration.

      If the world will know we are Christians by our love, submitting one to another in love is a great way to start showing it.

  • Celia Zehr Kallas

    Great Challenge, Great Reminder! I have received a prodigal home and have felt foolish and shame from the responses of those around me. I have felt a tiny bit like the “Father” and yet been reminded in my “embracing” that I am no different than the one returning! I may even be worse. The Father let him ask, let him take the $, let him go and then his whole life was disrupted. He waited and prayed and waited and lost weight to be sure. But the return! It is all about the celebrating… in the “new life” and trying to figure out how “we” do this new life together it is about submitting to the One who is calling and working and I am required of and asked to do more than I think I can… so this day, I appreciate the challenge. The life of a believer, the calling for each of us is a daily, moment by moment surrendering to my agenda…to get up from up, to take off my garment and look for some kind of towel or basin-even if all is just internally…it’s not a matter of deserving. It’s a reminder of grace. So thank you for that challenge.

    • http://joeljmiller.com Joel J. Miller

      Thanks for sharing. It really is a moment-by-moment proposition. We must stay watchful.


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