Today we are finishing up our series on Life Rules where we have been looking at the rules God has given us for the relationships in our lives. If you haven’t been with us, the idea is that we all have rules that we follow in relationships and these are rules we have picked up from our families, friends or the culture around us and many times we don’t even know what the rules are – but they are there. In fact, if you haven’t thought about what the rules are that you follow in your relationships with others I would encourage you to do that. What are the guiding principles that motivate you in relationships and are these principles in line with God’s desire and God’s will for our lives?
The guiding principle that has given shape to all the life rules we have been looking at come from this idea that we don’t treat others they way the deserve to be treated or to get something in return or even as we want to be treated, we are to treat others the way God has treated us. What I have been calling the God rule is to do unto others as God has done unto us. We love others because God has loved us. We forgive others because God has forgiven us. We accept others, we serve others and we encourage others because God has done all of these things for us. Today we are going to end with the life rule that probably makes us the most uncomfortable and that is to submit.
The reason this life rule makes us so uncomfortable is because it has been misunderstood and misused in too many situations. For women especially, this rule is difficult because for generations, too many men have quoted the verse from the Bible that says, wives, submit to your husbands and they have used this verse to tell women they should stay in marriages that are abusive and unhealthy. Let’s be clear from the beginning and understand that while the Bible does say, wives submit to your husbands, it goes on to say, husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church. Now how much did Jesus love the church? He loved us enough to take on our sin and die in our place. So the greater call to serve and sacrifice and submit really falls on the men.
What many people also forget is that before the Bible says that wives should submit to their husbands and husbands should love their wives it says this: Ephesians 5:21 Submit to one another.
So submission isn’t one side or the other. It’s not women to men or men to women or young to old or old to young – it is everyone submit to one another. To submit to someone is to put ourselves under someone else’s authority. It’s to give up our rights for the benefit of someone else. Let’s define submit this way: I will put you first. I will put your needs first, your interests and rights before my own. Submitting to one another, therefore, means: I put you first and you put me first.
The truth is that we don’t usually do this. In fact, the life rule many of us follow is to put ourselves first. In relationships we often look for what we want and what we need and what we can get out of it. At work we often try to figure out how to make ourselves look good so that we can move up the ladder and get that promotion. In school we have to figure out how to make ourselves look the best we can in order to win friends, make it onto the right teams and into the right social circles and even into the right college. When so much of our world is about self promotion and looking out for #1, this idea of submission seems very strange.
For many people submitting to others also makes no sense because if I am constantly submitting myself I will constantly be taken advantage of. I had a roommate in college who was a Christian; in fact we were both leaders of the Christian Fellowship we belonged to. In my effort to serve him, when the bills came I would tell him what he owed me and then I would pay the bill. The problem is that he would never give me his share of the money. I would go to the store and buy food and when I cooked dinner I always offered him some and he would graciously accept – but he never repaid the gesture. That year I ended up paying a lot of his bills and feeding him a lot of meals.
By putting him first and serving him and submitting to him, I was taken advantage of and my guess is that some if not all of you could tell a very similar story. When we have been willing to put others first we have gotten burned and so this life rule doesn’t really make any sense. Now sometimes we are willing to go through this and to submit to someone for a period of time because we believe that the other person will someday see what we are doing and change their ways. I was convinced that in time my roommate would see all that I was doing for him and suddenly change his heart and thank me and then change his ways and begin to serve and submit to me – or at least pay his way. Well, guess what? That never happened.
Marriages fall apart because one person constantly submits to the other hoping it will change their spouse and when it doesn’t there has been so much damage done that the relationship is over. People leave jobs because they feel like others are taking advantage of them. People drop out of groups and lose friends because they have submitted for so long with no return and no results that they burn out and give up. Many of you may have experienced this or maybe you are there today and so this life rule of submit is not something you are interested in even hearing about.
Please, before you tune me out, let me ask us all this hard question. If we are submitting to someone in order to get something in return or to bring about a change in someone else’s life that will in turn improve our lives, what’s our real motivation for submitting in the first place? When we submit and don’t get what WE want and don’t see the change WE want to see – what’s our motivation? It’s US. For a while we may be able to focus on the needs of others, but in time the focus shifts back to ourselves and as long as we submit to get something in return – as long as WE are the motivation, submitting to others will fail, which is why Paul says from the very beginning that our motivation in submitting can’t be us.
Let’s go back and look at Ephesians 5:21. Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Paul doesn’t say we submit so that others will notice us or in order to change someone else’s heart and life, we submit out of reverence to Christ. We don’t put others first because they deserve it or because it will motivate them to change their lives or because in time we will get recognized and rewarded for what we do, we do it in reverence to Jesus Christ who submitted himself for us. We submit to one another in honor of Jesus and in thanks and praise to Jesus who was willing to submit himself for us. So let’s look at what it means to submit.
In another letter that Paul wrote he talks about submission in more detail and shows us what it looks like. Look at Philippians 2:3-4. So this is what it means to submit. We consider others better than ourselves. Now let me be clear and say that other people aren’t better than we are, that is not what Paul is saying. This is not a call to demean ourselves, put ourselves down or deny our own self value and self worth. Other people aren’t better than we are, but Paul says we need to consider them that way so that we will put them first. I want you to think about someone that you truly admire. Maybe it’s a sports hero, movie star, politician or world leader. Now think about that person coming to your home for the weekend. How would you treat them? How would you prepare for them?
Last summer the Bishop of Sierra Leone stayed with me. I’ll be honest and say I didn’t know that much about him before he came so I did a google search and learned about all he had done and how well respected he is around the world. He wasn’t just a church leader, this man was a world leader and I suddenly wanted to make sure everything was in order and he had everything he could want or need. I made sure he had his own little suite – which was the downstairs of the parsonage. I made sure he had snacks at all times of the day and night and breakfast in the morning. I laid out towels and toiletries like in a fancy hotel and when he needed an iron I made some quick phone calls and had an iron and ironing board delivered to my house, because I don’t own either one. I went out of my way to take care of the Bishop. I tried to consider him better than me and put his interests and needs before my own. This is a picture of what it’s like to submit to someone. It’s considering them better than we are so that we will do all we can to care for them.
When I was in Seminary I wrote out this verse and placed it above my desk because once again in the apartment that I shared with two other seminary students, I was often the one who cleaned the bathroom and the kitchen and shared my meals with others and unlike college when I just became bitter and angry for being used – I wanted to keep the right attitude in submitting to and serving my roommates.
So Paul teaches us a bit here about what it means to submit, it means we humble ourselves, set aside what we want and what we think we deserve so that we can look to the needs and interests of others. We consider them better than ourselves. Then Paul goes on and tells us why we do this. We don’t do this to get something in return; we do this because this is what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. As we keep reading in Philippians, Paul paints for us a picture of just what it looked like for God to submit himself to us.
This next section of Philippians is one of the oldest writings of the New Testament and is called the Christ Hymn and it dates back to the very early church. It was probably written before the gospels were put together so it helped people see who Jesus was. It painted a picture of his life and showed people how he lived and how he humbled himself and submitted himself for us. Philippians 2:5-11.
So Jesus had everything. He was God himself which means Jesus had all the power and authority of God and yet he didn’t use that power and authority for himself. Jesus let it go to enter into this world. And once he got here Jesus could have still used his position and power for himself. Jesus could have leveraged or used his right as the son of God or his power as God in the flesh to get for himself the best homes, the finest food, all the servants and all the wealth, power and glory the world had to offer. It all belonged to him, but he didn’t use what was his for his own benefit, he let it go. Jesus put others first. He put us first and became a servant. Jesus didn’t leverage his position as God to gain power in this world. He made himself nothing and was willing to serve.
To submit means that we don’t leverage the power and position we have for our own benefit but that we do use it for the benefit of others. We use what we have and all we have to put others first. What power do we have that we can use for others. What power do we have as a parent, a teacher, a manager at work, a leader in the community, what power do we have that we can use to help others. In some way, we all have power and we all have the choice of using it to promote ourselves or to promote others. Now left on our own, many of us will use that power and position for ourselves but Jesus shows us that all power and authority and position need to be used for the well being of others. We need to put others first.
Now the question that always comes up when we talk about submission and putting others first is how far do we go? How far do we take this word submit because it can quickly and easily lead to us being taken advantage of and even being abused. So how far do we go? I can’t answer that for you – I have a hard time thinking about it my own life. And the thing is that Jesus didn’t answer this question directly, instead he gave us a picture, an example, of how far He was willing to go. Philippians 2:8b – Jesus became obedient to death – even death on a cross!
That’s how far Jesus was willing to go. Jesus was willing to go to the cross and die. Does this mean we should be willing to submit ourselves to the point of death? Well, let me answer that by saying that #1 – we aren’t God, so maybe not. #2 – let’s also remember that there were many times leading up to this moment where Jesus chose not to die. There were times earlier in his life when Jesus could have submitted himself to religious leaders or the angry crowds or the political leaders in a way that would have lead to his death, but he didn’t do it. There were times Jesus walked away, so submitting ourselves to the point of death can’t be a one size fits all rule. Instead what Jesus gives us here is a picture to guide our hearts and minds in making that decision. He says, this is how far I was willing to go for you.
The other thing this picture of Jesus on the cross does for us is remind us of our motivation. We submit to others out of reverence for Christ who was will to go this far for us. We submit to others because Jesus was willing to go to the cross in order to place us first. The cross is not only a guiding principle which helps us reflect on how we are to submit to others but it reminds us that our motivation isn’t us or even others, it is Jesus. The cross also reminds us that we can’t submit ourselves to others in any relationship in a healthy way until we are first willing to submit to Jesus.
It’s making Jesus our own, it’s accepting what he was willing to do for us and trusting in his power and love that gives us the strength and wisdom to submit to others. The power to submit doesn’t come from inside us. If left on our own we would promote ourselves and put ourselves first, so the only way to really submit to others in a healthy way is to first submit to Jesus and accept what he has done for us on the cross. When we surrender ourselves to the grace and love of God who loved us so much that he sent his son to submit himself and die for us, the Holy Spirit is then able to fill us up so we can follow this life rule.
When we accept the work of Jesus on the cross where He paid the price for our sin and died our death we find the power to live a life that is characterized by humble submission, encouragement, service, acceptance, forgiveness and love. We can treat others the way God has treated us but only if we are first willing to accept what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. We all can and need to submit more of our hearts and lives to God in order to follow this life rule and all the life rules God has given us. Will we submit to him today?
Life Rules ~ Submit
1. Identify the positive and negative images that the word “submit” brings to your mind.
2. What personal experiences of submitting to others can you identify? How did these situation turn out?
3. Submitting to others means putting others first and leveraging our power for others. Read Philippians 2:5-11.
• Name all the ways that Jesus submitted himself for us?
• How did these situations help us?
• What power do you have that could be leveraged or used to help others?
4. Identify one relationship where God is calling you to submit and put this person first? Identify one specific action that will help you submit to them this week?
5. If you are in a relationship where your submitting to someone is hurting you, talk about it with someone this week. (Remember, we submit to lift others up – not to put ourselves down.)
6. The life rule that guides all others is: do unto others as God has done unto us. Reflect on the following specific life rules and identify ways to keep them as part of your life.