In the previous sermon we spent time going through Mark 10:32-45 and talking about God’s view of how the world works, and how it flies in the face of our individualistic mindset. We are told all the time that we need to “stand up for our rights”, “assert ourselves”, “show our independence”, “be our own highest authority”, and ultimately “set our own rules because we are our own god”.
Individualism is the rule of the day. Anyone can be whoever they want to be, everyone is special, and no one needs to bend for anyone else. Obviously this can’t work out in reality, but it doesn’t keep people from trying.
Bruce Jenner and Transgenderism
Perhaps the greatest, and most glaring recent example of an individual’s power to make their own decisions today is that more and more people are starting to believe that something as binary and static, formerly unchangeable and absolutely inarguable, has become… fluid… changeable… based on opinion.
What I’m talking about is gender. More and more people are starting to believe that the gender they were given at birth, doesn’t really determine what gender they really are. You can have male anatomy, and still feel like (and be called) a female – and vice verca. This was most recently made popular by the famous American, Olympic Gold medal winning athlete, making a very public transition from the man known as Bruce Jenner into the woman known as Caitlyn Jenner.
This is a growing issue in Canada too. Perhaps you remember the story that made news a while back about the 23 year old model that might have won Miss Universe Canada, but was disqualified because she used to be a man – even though she changed her body and legal status to be officially(?) female. And just a couple of years ago, a bill came across the House of Commons that made it formally illegal for a person to be discriminated against based on being transgendered. This isn’t just something that’s happening in the shadows, but is making national headlines now.
This opened up a can of worms for a lot of people who are worried that this basically eliminates things like men’s and women’s public washrooms, since anyone can decide what gender they are at any time. They can be born as a man, dress in slacks, but self-identify as a female, and therefore use the “women’s bathroom”. It’s all very confusing.
I don’t pretend to understand all of what’s going on there, nor do I fully grasp the psychological and legal intricacies of the transgender movement. I certainly agree that we shouldn’t target people who have gender dysphoria or gender confusion. These people are clearly hurting and in a great state of confusion, and they need our love, not our malice or unkindness.
But this kind of thinking does give us a great example of the western people think about individualism: “I am my own god and I can determine everything that is right for me – even changing my own gender, if I choose to believe that God gave me the wrong one.” But it doesn’t have to be gender, it can be almost anything that we believe we are solely in control over, and that we have the only right to determine what is best for. Our money, time, relationships, religion, activities, hobbies, internet usage, sexual habits, career, vacation, charitable giving, tithe, eating habits – anything. The question isn’t whether we believe we individualists who believe we are our own gods, but what areas of our life we believe that we are gods of.
As I said last week, God’s answer to individualism, as we find it in scripture, is submission to the authorities that God has given us. And just as a review, the five arenas that God tells us to submit are First to God, then to Government and Church Leaders, Wives are to Submit to Husbands and Children to Parents, then there is the mutual submission we are to have for one another. That is the God-given structure that we are to be living by in this world, and when we do, we are not only obeying God, but are worshipping him – and, I believe, save ourselves a lot of grief.
Examples of Mutual Submission
I promised that, because we didn’t have time last week, I would spend some time this week talking about how mutual submission works practically, and I’m sure that will give us a lot to talk about. If you recall, I said that Mutual Submission is all over scripture. It’s basically the default-position for Christians: When in doubt, put yourself last – and it’s not just a matter of humility before others, but ultimately out of obedience and love for God and thanksgiving and reverence for Christ.
- Ephesians 5:21 says we should be “…submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
- 1 Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’”
- Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
And remember, this all comes from what Jesus said in Mark 10:42-45,
“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
This thinking kills the individualistic, me-centred, selfish, “my way first” mentality. But how does it work out practically. Here’s a few examples of how mutual submission works – and these are equally for married couples as they are for church relationships, the only thing that changes is the intimacy level:
1. By Being Accountable to One Another
The first way that we mutually submit to one another is to readily practice being accountable to one another. In other words, allowing other people to speak into our lives, giving us encouragement and correction, when we need it. We make ourselves part of the Christian community by joining a church, growing in relationship to the other believers there, being honest with our troubles and struggles, and then being open to listening to what those people have to say to us.
Our first instinct, driven by fear, is to hide ourselves from others – pretend to be something we’re not. Our second instinct, driven by individualism, is to believe that we are better than others, and that they have nothing to say that can help us. Our third instinct is to think that we are worse than everyone else and that we have nothing to offer to others because we are such a mess ourselves. All three of these are wrong.
We need to take the risk to start relationships, or we run the greater risk of falling into error and having no one around to pull us out. We need to repent of our belief that we are better than others, because that’s pride and it separates us from God’s will. And we also need to understand that just because we are messed up doesn’t stop us from coming alongside other messed up people who need our help.
The Bible is extremely clear that it is the responsibility of every Christian to not only worship alongside other believers, but to be actively engaged in helping one another grow closer to Jesus.
- James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
- Galatians 6:1-2 says, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
- Jesus makes it abundantly clear in Luke 17:3 where He says, “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him…”
A note on this one: this also means we keep one another’s confidences. We don’t spread gossip and slander about people, especially when they have come to us and obeyed God in confessing their sins to us, asking for help.
2. Serving One Another
Another way we show mutual submission toward one another is serving each other. Simply taking the time to do something for someone else, putting their needs before our own, is a way of showing love for them – which is showing love for God. Jesus was the perfect and ultimate example of this, as He loved and served so many people in His earthly ministry – and ultimately by putting humanity’s needs before His own and dying for our sins.
But these gestures don’t have to be huge, and there’s no static way to do it. Yes, we’re all supposed to be hospitable to one another, but that doesn’t mean we all have to it the same way. Some will write cards, others make food, others visit, others teach, others contribute financialy, others clean… we work and love as a team, as a family.
Romans 12:6-10 says it this way,
“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
3. In Sharing
Along that same line of thinking, another way to show mutual submission is to share resources. Take something we have and give it to someone who needs it more. That could be our time, money, possessions, or homes. We put our self-interest second, and do without for a time, so that someone can have something they need.
We already talked about stewardship before, but consider that whenever we give something away to someone in need, we are in fact saying, “I am choosing to go without because I believe that person’s needs are more important than my own, their joy is more important than my own, their comfort is more important than my own, their family is just as important as my family, so I want them to have the same opportunity I have.” Sharing and giving are a way to submit ourselves to others.
- Hebrews 13:16 tells Christians, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
- Jesus gave a promise and a warning that we must share when He said in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
- And in Matthew 10:42 Jesus makes sure we know that even our smallest gifts given to other believers are seen by God and credited to us, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
4. In How We Dress
Last week we talked about Crop Top Day, so it sort of fits that we would talk about how we dress as a way to mutually submit to one another. One of the thing that bugged me about Crop Top Day was not only that it showed no regard for authority, but no regard for others. How their actions affected others didn’t seem to enter into their thinking.
What about the young men and young women struggling with lustful thoughts? What about the young women who struggle with body image issues? What about the teachers who just wanted to teach their classes, but were forced to contend with hundreds of defiant students, breaking the school rules all day long? What about the principal who now had to field dozens of phone calls about a private conversation he had with a student? What about the children who weren’t allowed to dress that way, but participated anyway? What about the parents of the other students?
Now, believe it or not, I can sympathize with these young women, and the issues that they brought up through Crop Top Day. They are sick of living in a world where every time they look at the clothes in their closet, they have to worry about what they will look like that day, who they will be judged by, how much skin they can/must show, whether they’ll be sexualized by all the animalistic, porn-fueled, drooling males out there… it must be exhausting trying to decide what to wear in the morning. Plus, when it gets warm in the classroom, it’s fairly natural to wear less fabric so one can feel cooler. I get it.
But we have to realize, even in the church (and this applies to both men and women), that what we wear does affect people, and God does have a say in what we wear. It is not a single-person decision, but one in which we submit to God first, and then submit ourselves to others, dressing so that we can love our neighbour in the best way possible – whether that’s the neighbour in the desk next to us, the house next to ours, the car parked next to ours, or the pew next to us.
So, we must ask ourselves – both men and women – a lot of questions: Is the look I’m projecting (and the smell I’m producing too – let’s not forget about cologne) obedient and honouring to God, and loving and respectful to others. Is it “modest”, does it show “self-control” and “humility” (1 Tim 2:9)? Am I wearing it for the glory of God? Is this an attempt to compete with others or to puff up my pride? Am I being sensitive to the weaknesses of others?
This isn’t about getting our own way, and having our own style. It’s about loving God and submitting to others, even when that means we don’t get to wear what we want to wear.
5. Overlooking One Another’s Foibles
Another way that we show humility and mutual submission to one another is to choose to overlook and work with one another’s foibles. “Foibles” is a great word. It’s not really used to describe a person’s sins, but their weak points. It’s used by swordsmen to describe the weakest part of the blade of the sword, from the mid-point to the tip. Swords are still dangerous, but like anything, they have a weak-point, and a good swordsman knows what it is and deals with it accordingly.
Similarly, when used to describe someone, it speaks of that person’s weak points, an eccentricity in their character, a limitation or a flaw that they have. We’re not really talking about sin, but perhaps an area of weakness that the person is tempted in most, or something built into their genetics or their personality that they have little or no control over, but it causes inconveniences or annoyances for others.
There’s a million of these, so I can’t list them all, but I promise you that your friends and your spouse can list yours fairly quickly. You may dislike how a person dresses, or their strange way of talking, their inability to show up on time – or their pathological need to always do everything perfectly. Some may drink wine with dinner, others have dietary restrictions. Some have a hard time hearing, while others seem to shout every word they say – or talk very quietly all the time. Some people stutter, others talk like they swallowed a thesaurus, some people love puns. Some are afraid of technology, others get distracted by too many things going on.
Some are more serious. There are people with physical handicaps, learning disabilities, addictions, psychoses, struggle with depression, irrational fears, emotional scars, and more.
For example, I know I’m weird and that you guys put up with a lot. I’m a biblical theologian who loves watching My Little Pony with my four kids. I struggle with occasional bouts of depression and have at least some level of social anxiety disorder. I can talk for days about some subjects, but can’t start a conversation to save my life. I’m in a position where I need to be social, but I find going to parties, meeting new people, and having to make small talk basically paralytic. I have weird eating habits that change constantly. I love reading classics and writing books, but also popcorn movies, loud music and pinball.
I know all my quirks and foibles cause no end of problem for people – but I’m not alone because I know everyone here has their own. And what’s amazing is that Jesus loves us anyway, and that He’s given us a church to be a part of that is supposed to love us too!
Actually, the scriptures are very clear that when it comes to our differences, we need to be willing to give each other a LOT of grace – in marriage and in the church. Let me return to Luke 17:3-4 and finish what Jesus said there.
- He said, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
- Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Might I suggest that we might gain a new respect for a person, and learn something about submission, if we are willing to walk a mile in their shoes.
- Jesus said, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
What a great way to respond to someone’s foibles. Let’s ask ourselves, How would I want to be treated if I was in the same position as them, came from the same culture, struggling with the same issue, faced with the same upbringing, dealing with the same difficulties? How would I want people to treat me?
How to Learn to Submit
So let me close this way: Many of us struggle in the area of submitting to God, to God’s appointed authorities, and to one another – so how can we cultivate the humility we need in order to learn to submit.
First, we need to realize that we are sinners in need of a Saviour.
- Jesus said, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12)
- David said, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17)
- “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Ps 34:18)
- James said, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:10).
As long as we think we can save ourselves, exalt ourselves, heal ourselves, then we will never be able to submit to anyone else. As long as we think we are greater and smarter than anyone else, then we will never ask for help. And we need Jesus.
Realizing we need Jesus means, second, realizing that we can’t do this on our own. We need to be close to Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit in order to have the humility necessary to obey God. So we need to read about Jesus, talk to Jesus, and listen to Jesus every day. He is our example, our motivation, and our source of strength. As Ephesians 5:21 said, it is our reverence for Christ that is our ultimate motive for submitting to Him and one another. And as we submit in reverence to Jesus, God starts to form our characters to look more like Christ’s.
Third, we have to realize that God’s plan of authority and submission isn’t meant to frustrate us, or take things away, but to be a blessing and a protection to us, because He loves us. Children are protected by their parents, wives are protected by their husbands, citizens are protected by their governments, churches are protected by their elders, and they are all protected by God.
We must realize that when we resist God’s plan for how the world is supposed to work, we are not only resisting God’s purpose, but also God’s protection for our lives. None of us are greater than anyone else, but instead, we need to realize that God has created us to need one another – and that we each have a role to play so this world can operate properly. When we get outside of God’s authority structure – when we are not under godly authority – that’s when our lives go off the rails. And God has given us what we need in order to have the guidelines, the proper tracks to run on, because He loves us.