Summary: Self-centeredness and the 'me first' attitude permeate our culture. But Paul points us in a different direction.
“Building Quality Relationships: With Christians – Master Submission”
Phil. 2:1-11 & Eph. 5:18-21
Michael Hernandez has written a piece called “Property Laws as Viewed by a Toddler.” Included are the following toddler laws: “If I like it, it’s mine. If it’s in my hands, it’s mine. If I can take it from you, it’s mine. If I’m doing or building something, all the pieces are mine. If it looks like it’s mine, it’s mine. If I saw it first, it’s mine. If I can see it, it’s mine. If I want it, it’s mine. If I think I can play with it better than you can, it’s mine. If I play with it long enough, it’s mine. If you are playing with something else and you put it down, it’s mine.”
Cute for toddlers – but unfortunately the self-centeredness and ‘me first’ attitude is indicative of our entire culture. The Apostle Paul, however, points us in a different direction. As we saw last week, in verse 18 of Ephesians 5 Paul encourages us to “be filled with the Spirit.” And he points out that when we are filled three things will happen. We will speak in spiritual language with each other, live with an attitude of gratitude, and will “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” It’s critical to spend some time reflecting on these words.
Let’s look, first, at THE MEANING OF SUBMISSION. Paul said, “Submit to one another…” We need to understand THE DEFINITION. To submit is to acquiesce, to subject ourselves. It is to GIVE PREFERENCE TO ANOTHER. When we come to a four way stop the rules of the road suggest an order to follow so not everyone goes at once. So we acquiesce and subject ourselves to the others at the stop and to the prescribed order. Paul is teaching that there is a prescribed order in God’s world and God’s community and its foundation is our submission to one another. Paul was familiar with the destructive nature of selfishness and individualism. He address it not only here and in his Philippian letter but in his first letter to the Corinthians as well. In fact Paul used the word submission at least 23 times in his letters. And Jesus taught his disciples about desiring to be the least and to wash others feet. So Spirit-filled people are willing to give up their own interests for the health of others. It is the opposite of self assertion and an independent spirit. It is the desire to get along with one another, being satisfied with less than one’s due, a “sweet reasonableness of attitude.” (1)
Here’s another EXPLANATION. We value the rights, gifts, needs, wishes, and feelings of others above our own. We are to PLACE OURSELVES UNDER ANOTHER. During the great Reformation in Europe, Luther and Zwingli found themselves at odds in their concern for the movements they were leading. Early one morning, Zwingli walked out on the mountains of Switzerland and a soul-stirring sight confronted him. He saw two goats making their way over a narrow path on the mountain. One was ascending the trail, the other descending. He also noticed that they must pass at a point where the trail was so narrow that there was room for only one goat. He watched to see what would happen. The animals rounded a turn in the path which brought them in full view of each other. They backed up, as though ready for a lunge, and then the most amazing thing happened. The goat on the trail below lay down in the path, while the goat above him walked over his back. The first animal then arose and continued his journey up the trail. (2) If I can put it figuratively, we are to take on a goat-like nature, giving preference to and placing ourselves under one another.
But why? What is the MOTIVE FOR SUBMISSION? “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Paul is not talking about a forced submission that we grudgingly offer. Rather we submit to each other in response to and because of GOD’S LOVE IN JESUS – not because we have to but because we want to. Just think about God’s love expressed in Jesus. Consider what Paul wrote to the Philippians. He began by saying that Jesus was SELFLESS: (6) “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Jesus was co-equal with God. He was not a junior partner or an assistant; he was co-equal. Jesus was the Creator of the world; “For by him all things were created…All things were created by him and for him.” (Col 1:16) As co-equal and creator Jesus was all powerful, full of and surrounded by divine glory. He was worshiped and adored by all creation. But Jesus set aside his position of glory and possession of power; He refused to clutch it. Jesus stepped down. He resigned His position and let go of His power.