Submission to Authority
From the genetic to the apocalyptic, whether allegorical or apologetic, poetic or prosaic, decalogical or doxological, hyperbolical or historical, evangelical or epistological, from the exodus to the exile, the consistent view of theologians which drives our piety, expository hermeneutics, and doctrinal declarations (from justification to sanctification to redemption to regeneration to sacramental to soteriological and more) has been the belief in the transcendent inerrancy and verbal plenary inspiration of the original autographs in the canon of scriptures.
Did you get all that? Put more simply says “God wrote the Bible”. It took me almost half an hour to craft that sentence – and would probably take me three hours to even start to explain it. I didn’t write that to impress you, nor to somehow elevate myself above you with all my jargon. I wrote that for fun and to make a point: Christianity has a lot of big words associated with it – and that we don’t need to be afraid of them.
Last week we I said I wanted to incorporate some of the older hymns into our music, and it had a mixed effect. Some folks really liked, while others were merely confused. I was on both sides of the fence myself. I enjoy singing some of the songs from my youth but got a little whiplash as I tried to sing the words while figuring out what a “royal diadem”, the “chosen seed of Israel’s race”, the “sacred throng” and the “terrestrial ball” was.
It started an interesting conversation in Overtime about whether we should push through and try to learn these songs and the meanings behind them, or whether we should simply realize that our society has changed and those songs don’t have the same meaning or weight as they used to. I think both points have some validity.
Personally (keeping in mind that I like big, complicated, theological words and scriptural allusions in the songs) I would much rather we keep singing these hymns and educate ourselves to the meaning, rather than relegate them to the past and opt to only use simpler music. I’d rather take the time to study the lyrics, plumb the depths of the language, and incorporate the concepts into my understanding of God, than give them up in favour of simpler songs.
Not that there’s anything wrong with simple songs! Don’t get me wrong! I’ve been brought to tears singing “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” What I’m advocating for our church is a mix – which will hopefully mean the best of both worlds.
But back to my complicated, little sentence full of big, Christian words. Here’s my take on it: I know that if I wrote a whole sermon using only that kind of language, never explaining what I meant, I’m not sure how much longer any of you would keep coming.
However, I’m also a big believer in making sure we know what we’re saying and use the right words when we’re talking about God. People have been studying the Bible and writing about God for thousands of years and if there’s one thing that the Christian church wants to make sure of, it’s that we are accurately representing God, His Son, His Spirit, His Will, His Plan, and His Word. We don’t want to leave room for errors or misunderstandings because that’s how people get themselves in trouble. Making up things about God, or simply being inaccurate or uncareful with our language is where blasphemers, heretics, and apostates and come from.
(A blasphemer is someone who says or does something that disrespects or shows lack of reverence for God. A heretic is someone who holds to different beliefs than have been established by the church. An apostate is someone who totally renounces and abandons their religion.)
God warns us over and over in the Bible that people are going to come up with all kinds of crazy, and yet right sounding things about Him, the Bible, and Salvation – and that those things are dangerous. He says flat out that false prophets and false teachers will rise up in the church and try to steer the faithful away from Him and the truth and toward sin and error (2 Peter 2:1).
When Jude writes his letter to the church he says in verses 3-4,
“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”
He’s talking about sneaky and deceptive false teachers that come into a church and spread wrong things about God. See how it says they “crept in unnoticed”. 2 Peter 2:1 says something similar when it warns, “…there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies…”. It’s going to happen, and God wants us to be ready for it.
And we also know that there are demons out there that are constantly at work trying to tempt us to sin and get us to believe lies, and therefore we are told in 1 John 4:1,
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
One Reason Why Christianity Is Not A Cult
This is one reason that we are not a cult. Have you ever heard that word used to describe the church? Some people start going to a Christian church and their family and friends start throwing around the word “cult”. That’s confused thinking. One of the signs of being a cult is that they tell you not to question what is being taught, that you have to stop studying outside sources, and that the only friends you’re allowed to have are within the group.
Christians don’t do that. We certainly believe that the Bible is the highest source of authority in this world, but we don’t teach that you can’t ask questions! God says, “test the spirits” and what all the teachers are saying. In Acts 17:11 it commends one group of people because they were doing that very thing. It says, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”
Paul would preach and they wouldn’t just take whatever he said as the truth because he said he was an apostle. No, they went back and studied to make sure that what he said lined up with what God had already said in the Bible. That’s what we encourage here too.
A cult will tell you to trust them for all truth, isolate you from other voices, and give you trouble for questioning authority. The Christian church tells you to study the Bible for yourself, talk to God yourself and have the Holy Spirit confirm what is said, seek good counsellors and teachers, read lots of books, and even challenge the local authority if they stray from what the Bible says!
If I start teaching things that aren’t in the Bible, or start doing things that don’t fit what a preacher is supposed to be doing, this church has a responsibility to hold me accountable, correct me, or even dismiss me. The one, most important thing here, is that the bible is taught fully and faithfully. Because once error and heresy starts to creep in, we lose God’s blessing and set ourselves up for trouble.
Jesus said it this way in John 8:31-32, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” We want to “abide”, or accept and remain in the words of Jesus, because they bring freedom. Other words that don’t agree with Jesus’, no matter now nicely they are said or how helpful they are meant to be, bring bondage.
This is why men and women of God have spent their entire lives studying the Bible and making sure we get it right. They dedicate their lives to prayer, study and teaching so that the people of God will know the truth and remain free.
The Danger of Dumbing It Down
Lies and false teachers are sneaky and deceptive and secretive, and worm their way into the church in surprising ways – and one way they do that is through language.
As our temptation to simplify and abridge biblical preaching and teaching in the church grows, so grows the opportunity for error. The more we dumb it down, the more chance there is for people to misunderstand. It used to be that a preacher had an hour or more on Sunday morning, another hour on Sunday Evening, Sunday school and a mid-week study to teach his church about the faith. They would work through catechisms together – which is a series of fixed questions and answers about what Christians believe – and would cover the basics of what they needed to know.
Today it’s different. Today preachers are told that their congregations can’t be expected to hold their attention for more than 22 minutes and that most of that needs to be entertaining stories and life-application. Sunday evening and mid-week bible studies are all but gone – and the ones that remain spend most of their time on “felt needs” like “building friendships”, “marriage class”, “singles ministry”, “youth group”, etc. Not that there’s anything wrong with those things – but if the only biblical teaching that a church gets is the 10 minutes on Sunday morning served between funny stories and application, then the church can’t help but breed heretics. People won’t know any better and they’ll fill in their knowledge gaps with whatever sounds good to them.
And this oversimplification, lack of personal study, and concentration of “felt needs” ministries, creates a group of Christians who don’t know or care about their Bibles. Sure, they’ll say that they believe the Bible is God’s Word, but most don’t know what’s in it. They’ll grab a couple of verses they like and live off of those. The souls of these Christians will be starving to death even if they come to church every week.
Not only will they be starving, but they are left wide open to believe those “false teachers… who will secretly bring in destructive heresies”. When someone does get curious about something about God, the church or the Bible, today they can simply go to Google and punch it in the search bar. The problem with that is that most folks don’t know the Bible well enough to discern if what they are reading is right or wrong, so they do what Jude says and “pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ”.
Can you see how dangerous that is? Instead of reading and studying the book that God wrote to explain everything we need to know, they get their knowledge from someone else – which means they are forming their beliefs about God not from God, but from man. In other words, they are no longer even worshipping the same God, but a human creation that is named God. They are no longer following the Jesus of the Bible, but a Jesus they have created in their own mind. They open themselves to becoming heretics who don’t believe what God says, blasphemers who disrespect what God has revealed about Himself, and apostates who are no longer part of the Christian church. That’s a big deal, isn’t it?
Ignorance in the Church
And I’m not talking about diverse opinions about the things that God hasn’t given us clarity on, or silly things like how many angels can fit on the head of a pin. I’m talking about the basics! In 2014 Lifeway Research did a study of Christians and it showed that there is a lot of theological confusion out there.
A significant number of people in Christian churches said they believed that Jesus isn’t equal with God, but was the first created being. Over half believed that the Holy Spirit is like the Force from Star Wars, and not a person you can talk to. A huge percentage thought they save themselves by seeking God, and too many believe they can lose their salvation.
Where do they come up with that stuff? Not from the Bible. They either heard it from a false teacher or made it up themselves based on what they thought sounded good to them.
I don’t want that for any of you. I don’t want you to go home full of platitudes and funny stories, but left wide open to believe lies that wreak havoc on your soul. I don’t want you to spend your life wondering if you are even saved, or if you can lose your salvation. I don’t want you to go home thinking that God doesn’t care about your day to day life and that the only connection you can have to Him is by singing and sitting in rows on Sunday. Above all I don’t want you to go home ignorant of the amazing grace and love that can be found in Jesus Christ, how to discover the mission He has for your life, and the peace that comes when you are in a right relationship with Him.
And the way I do that is by preaching the Bible. And when I preach the Bible, I think it’s important that I use the right words and then explain them – and then later, maybe even sing them together!
“But what does this have to do with 1st Corinthians, Pastor Al?”, some of you may be thinking. Everything. As I said before, life in Corinth was a lot like life today. Religious opinions and teachers everywhere, rampant sexual temptation, and a church full of people who didn’t know their Bibles very well who were being led astray by false teachers. Same deal.
These people had some huge issues in their life and their church, were falling into theological traps and sinful temptations and Paul needed to steer them back to God. After he left, some people started coming up with different ways to worship God, different ways of understanding salvation, different ways of doing the Lord’s Supper, different beliefs about who the apostles are, and different beliefs about what God expects from them. And Paul needed to correct them.
Let’s open up and read the first three verses together and see how Paul introduces this book, because he uses some very specific language:
“Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes, To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 1:1-3)
By The Will of God
Now at first glance that seems like a very flowery way to kick off a letter – like he’s buttering them up so he can make them feel good about themselves. But that’s not what he’s doing. Remember, every single word of this letter isn’t just something written by the Apostle Paul, but are also the words of God, written to give the Christian church something to guide them until He comes back again. This isn’t some ancient letter to a bygone church, but the Word of God that stands forever – and every single word is important.
Notice that he uses the term “of God” a couple times. The letter starts with who it’s from, Paul and Sosthenes. Sosthenes is likely the same person we met in Acts 18, the former ruler of the synagogue who was beaten by his own people in front of Gallio. It’s thought that he became a Christian and then was sent along with the delegation from Corinth to find Paul in Ephesus, tell him what’s going on, and give him the list of questions that sparked the writing of this letter.
But look how Paul addresses himself, “Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Jesus Christ…” and then look how he addresses the church: “To the church of God that is in Corinth…” What’s he doing? He’s setting aside his own authority and picking up one that is higher than his own. He’s saying, “Listen, you know who I am. I’m not just some guy. I’m someone who was hand-picked by God to tell you about Jesus and explain the Bible to you.”
You remember Paul’s story, right? He wasn’t on the path to apostleship; he hated Jesus! But Jesus had saved him anyway and showed him so much love and grace that Paul couldn’t help but sharing about him! And more than that, Jesus didn’t just save him, but made him His premier missionary to spread the gospel throughout the Roman world.
Paul was reminding them about what we’ve been talking about. He’s saying, “Guys, you’re getting some things wrong and you need to come back to the right. I’m about to write a whole bunch of things, and they’re not opinions. You need to read them, study them, pray about them and obey them. I’m an apostle by ‘the will of God’ and you are ‘the church of God that is in Corinth’. You are saved because God willed to save you! You’re not yours anymore. [Later, in chapter 6 Paul will say, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (6:19-20)] Neither one of us gets a choice about this. I’m obligated to tell you, you’re obligated to listen. I’m not allowed to make stuff up. I just get to write down what God wants me to say. And you don’t get to make stuff up either. You can’t just import new ideas from the temple down the street. You can’t just cut out parts you don’t like. You can’t do whatever you want. You can’t just decide to believe whatever is easiest. I’m an Apostle of God, you’re the Church of God, we are all accountable to Jesus, so let’s get back on track here.”
We Are Under God’s Word
That’s what we’re doing here too, and this must be the heart behind this entire study of Corinthians. As Hebrews 4:12-13 says,
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
Our study of 1st Corinthians isn’t just meant to be interesting, but life-changing. We, as we embark on our study of this book, are setting ourselves beneath the Bible. We are asking ourselves what God wants to say to us, teach us, encourage us, convict us with.
That’s why a lot of people don’t want to read the Bible – because it cuts them deeply, and they feel naked and exposed when they read it, and that’s uncomfortable. But I challenge you as we study 1st Corinthians to stand naked and exposed before God and allow Him to wield His sword in whatever way He deems fit.
God says through Paul in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 says,
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
That means that when we come before God’s word – whether on Sunday or in our private study – we come humbly, ready to gain something from reading and studying it. When we open this book, we are asking God’s Holy Spirit to teach us, admitting we lack knowledge. We are asking Him to reproof us (meaning show us where we’ve gone wrong) because we believe we are sinners. We are asking Him to correct us and tell us the way to live. And we are asking Him to train us in the right way to live life, because we believe that when we take control of our own life, we just mess it up. When we open up God’s Word, we are asking His Holy Spirit to speak to us through it because our thoughts are not enough. We are incomplete and He must complete us. We admit that we do not have everything we need to live in this world and require that He equip us for whatever good work He has planned in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).
When we come to God’s Word, whether it’s here or at home, we place ourselves under that Word. We are saying, “God, speak to me, tell me what I need to know, inform me of what I am ignorant, show me where I’m wrong, tell me how to do right, guide me and teach me. Use your Word, that double-edged sword, to split me in half and expose the darkness within me, and then put me back together so I can have your light inside me. I’m reading the words of your prophets and apostles, and I am your follower. Speak to me and I’ll do what you say.” Doing that requires humility, obedience and perseverance. My question today is, will you do that?
There are going to be some hard teachings in this book, and we need to prepare ourselves for them. We need to commit to ourselves that we are going to accept what God says here, and not dismiss it because we don’t like it. We need to commit that we are going to obey it even when it is difficult, and make the changes we need to make because God has said to do so. Are you prepared to do that? I am, and I hope you are too.
Divisions and Disorder
Next week I want to get into some of those important words in the address; words like “called, sanctified, saints, grace and peace”, but this week I want to simply show you an outline of the book so that when you read it again this week you can see the kinds of topics Paul is going to cover and prepare your heart for it.
This book is broken into two parts and they could easily be titled: Divisions and Disorder. The whole first part of the book is Paul telling the church they need to start working together because God desires unity among them. They figured out a bunch of ways to fight with one another because they had forgot the most important thing – the love of God found in Jesus Christ that they are supposed to be sharing together! Paul takes four chapters to try to explain how they need to come back together under the authority of the word of God and because of the love of Jesus Christ.
Paul then goes from Divisions to Disorder and gets into some of the ways that this church has gone sideways. He confronts their acceptance of sexual immorality in the church and the fact that a bunch of Christians were suing one another. He then talks about marriage, singleness, lust, divorce and how to live with an unbelieving spouse. He makes a call for people to be content with their place in life and to keep God’s mission at the forefront of their plans. He then talks about how Christians can have differences of opinion but still honour one another, and how to enjoy living in God’s world without becoming attached to it.
Then he covers some key teachings about how we are to conduct ourselves during our worship gatherings including how we should dress, pray, preach, talk, eat, participate in communion, serve, and get along even when we are so diverse in our outlook and abilities. Then, in one of the most beautiful passages in scripture, Paul explains love itself. He covers prophesying, speaking in tongues. And then, at the very end, he wraps it all up in a reminder about what our faith rests on: the destruction of death in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our future hope of being with Him forever!
As I said, we are going to cover a lot of ground as we study 1st Corinthians, but my hope, as I said before, is that as we study God’s Word together we will fulfill what God said in Ephesians 4:12-16: That His word will
“equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
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“And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.’
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?’ And they said to him, ‘We are able.’ And Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘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.’” (Mark 10:32-45)
Preparing For His Death
Jesus devoted much of his final time on earth to two important things He wanted to make sure His followers understood. The first thing was to prepare His disciples for His coming death and resurrection, which He knew they wouldn’t fully grasp, but He knew they needed teaching to look back on so they could understand. This happens a few times in scripture.
After Jesus clears the temple it says, “When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.” (John 2:22) And again during His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday it says, “His disciples did not understand these things at first, but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that these things had been written about him and had been done to him.” (John 12:16).
This was especially true when Jesus started talking about His death and resurrection. Just a few days before our passage today we read in Mark 9:31-32, “…he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill him. And when he is killed, after three days he will rise.’ But they did not understand the saying, and were afraid to ask him.”
The disciples prove over and over again that they simply can’t process the idea that Jesus was talking about because whenever Jesus starts talking about His death, they consistently start arguing about who is greatest. The next verse in Chapter 9 says, “And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you discussing on the way?’ But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:33-34) So it’s not like this only happened once! In the passage we’re looking at today, James and John show that they didn’t understand Jesus once again. They couldn’t process a suffering and dying saviour who has a kingdom of suffering and humble servants. They were convinced that Jesus was bringing about the great rise of the Kingdom of Israel, and they wanted to be rulers in it.
But Jesus kept on teaching them because they needed to be able to look back on His words later. He needed to keep teaching so they could remember all that He had said and done, and apply it to their lives and teaching after He was gone.
Have you ever finished a conversation, walked away, and then realized all the things you should have said – or shouldn’t have said? Imagine what that was like for the disciples! I can’t begin to imagine the amount of “aha!” and “eureka!” and “oh man, I can’t believe I said that” moments that Peter, James, John and the rest of the disciples had once Pentecost had come and they Holy Spirit was indwelling them. Days and days of repentance probably came pretty easily because every day they would be remembering things that Jesus had said and done, and were finally able to see them clearly.
Preparing for Life Without His Physical Presence
The other thing that Jesus spent His final days doing was preparing His disciples for life together without His physical presence. For example, He needed to teach them about how they would be able to talk to Him and listen to Him after He had left them. He would tell them later, as they sat around the table at the Last Supper,
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.’” (John 16:7-15)
The Holy Spirit would guide them, teach them, convict them, grow the church, make converts, discern truth, work miracles, and be a daily guide – and they (and we) need to be in connection to the Holy Spirit at all times. But it wasn’t just connections to Himself that they would need in the coming years, they would also need to be connected to each other. That’s why Jesus makes sure that He continually corrects them whenever they start talking about who is greater.
In Mark 9 (and Matthew 18) when they started arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus brought a child to them and said that the greatest people in His Kingdom would be the ones who were willing to care for and serve dishonoured, lowly, marginalized people, like children – people who would never be able to give anything back to you. He took the child onto His lap and told them that not only did they need to serve lowly people, but needed to be lowly people.
“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3-4)
In our passage today Jesus makes sure to correct their view of life in His Kingdom telling them that following Him means a life of humility, sacrifice and suffering. They wouldn’t be “rulers [and] lords… exercising authority” but live lives of submission as not only servants of the lowly, but “servants [and]… slaves of all”. They, like us, if we expect to be able to live as citizens of His Kingdom, would be expected to follow in their King’s footsteps – which was a life of humble self-sacrifice and submission.
Individualism and Crop-Tops
The command to “submit” usually makes people angry. It’s not a popular word, is it? It conjures up words like “doormat”, “spineless”, “pathetic”, “gutless”, “coward”, “weak”, “timid”, “taken for granted”. No one wants people using those words to describe them, right?
No, the gospel that we are hearing from the world’s is one of independence and individuality. We must assert yourself! Stand up for our rights! You can’t tell me what to do! Get an attorney and fight for your rights! Show your independence! Exercise your right to be who you are! You are the ultimate authority for your life and no one should be able to oppress you! Be your own highest authority! All authority is corrupt! You are your own god!”
That’s where it ultimately settles. Every individual is their own god and therefore gets to make their own rules. I am the master of my own destiny and can chart my own course. I am special and therefore my situation must be seen as a special case – you bend for me. I am unique and therefore an exception to any societal ramifications that may result from my actions.
In Canada, it seems, it is the individual’s choice that is of the highest value, and therefore no one can make choices for anyone else. You’ve heard this before: “I am always right when making decisions for myself, and therefore my decisions (even those made from a place of selfishness, pain and fear) are right for me.”
Individualism is rampant in Canada. It comes out in all sorts of ways from how we dress, to marriage, to whether we have children, to making the choice to end our own lives. “My decisions for me are always right for me, so you can’t tell me what to do.”
I was reminded about this this week as our culture was talking about a students freedom to choose to wear whatever they want to school. Now that it’s getting warmer, students – mostly young women, but not always – are bumping up against their school dress code. One 18 year old young lady, named Alexi Halket, from Etobikoke, ON made global news this week after getting in trouble at her school for wearing something the teacher and principal felt was inappropriate – basically showing up to school in a sports bra.
Her solution, driven by individualist thinking, wasn’t to submit to the authorities of the school, but to tell her teacher:
“No! I don’t think what I’m wearing is inappropriate. Why is it inappropriate? Why is my skin deemed inappropriate and oversexualized? No, I won’t cover up!”
She was taken to the principal who had a discussion with her. She walked out and decided to take her plight to social media and create something called “Crop Top Day” where “students around the globe wore crop tops to school in protest of dress codes that many feel… discriminate against women.”
This, of course, blew up all over the internet and literally thousand of teen girls, from countries all over the globe – including 500 students from her own school – chose to wear crop tops and bikini-tops to school – to, ironically, fight against being sexually objectified. When asked what she’s going to do now she said,
“I’m not going to back down…. This is about women’s rights and the objectification of our bodies.”
The world’s thinking, “You go, girl! It’s your body, your clothes, and no one can tell you what to do with it!” God’s way of thinking is very different. Let me explain what the Bible says and then we can decide how to respond to individualistic thinking.
God is very clear in scripture that a Christian is to live a life of submission, and is even quite clear as to who we are to live in submission to. Jesus says in our passage that we are to be “servants of all”, but he breaks it down throughout scripture to show us what groups we are to be submitting to.
1. Submit to God
First, and most obviously, the Bible teaches that we are to submit to God, His Word and His Son, Jesus Christ. This is all over the scriptures, including the 10 Commandments, but for a couple examples, James 4:7, “Submit yourselves therefore to God.” and Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him [“submit to him” – NIV], and he will make straight your paths.” God and His declared Word is the highest authority we have. Right now He’s giving us a choice to submit, but in the end every knee will bow (Philippians 2:9-11).
2. Submit to Governing Authorities
The second realm of authority we are to submit to is our governing authorities. Romans 13:1-2 says,
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”
Yes, there is a lot of corruption in the world, but keep in mind that at the time that Paul wrote this, the “governing authority” was Emperor Nero who’s favourite hobby was killing Christians in horribly creative ways.
Peter says the same thing in 1 Peter 2:13-14 when he says,
“Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good.” The emperor he was speaking of was either Emperor Nero or another cruel man named Emperor Domitian who kicked off some of the worst times of Christian persecution in history. His rule was, “…no Christian, once brought before the tribunal, should be exempted from punishment without renouncing his religion.” Domitian was almost certainly the one who had the Apostle John boiled in oil and exiled to Patmos.
And yet, we are told that we must submit ourselves to the governing authorities, out of reverence and respect for God. One could easily include the principal of the school as an example of a “governing authority”. Where scripture does not explicitly differ from the rule of the authority, Christians are to submit.
3. Submit to Church Leadership
The third group that Christians are commanded to submit to is church leaders. This one isn’t too popular today. There has been so much manipulation, corruption and failure among church leaders that Christians are, understandably, very hesitant to even consider submitting to the leadership of their church. Another reason people hesitate in this is because they misunderstand humility, thinking that a person cannot be both humble and in a position of authority, but that isn’t the case. Jesus is the most humble and most authoritative person ever. He’s in charge, His Word is the final authority, and Jesus’ plan was to raise up Apostles who would go through the world making coverts who would become local elders to guide, serve, and train other believers.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Church Leaders aren’t better than anyone else. They are just people who have been called into a different role than others. In fact, James 3:1 agrees with the warning in Hebrews that those in authority, especially teachers, will be held to a higher standard by God, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” (also see 1 Peter 5:1-4)
But it is to the Christian’s and the church’s detriment when they don’t willfully submit to the leadership that God has raised up in the church. They are not just rebelling against the human elders, but also rebelling against the God who put them there.
4. Submission of Wives to Husbands and Children to Parents
Here’s another unpopular one. The scripture teaches that just as there is a hierarchy of equals in the Trinity – the Son submits to the Father, and there is a hierarchy of equals in the church – the church submits to the God-appointed elders, so there is a hierarchy in the home – the wives submit to the husbands and the children to the parents.
Listen to how this is stated in Ephesians 5:22-6:4 and note that this is not about dignity, worth, ability, spiritual gifts, weaknesses and strengths, but of God’s design for how this world is meant to work – in a hierarchy of equals.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’ (this is the first commandment with a promise), ‘that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.’ Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. ”
I wish I had more time to talk about this, and will probably spend more time talking about this in next week, but let me just say that we need to remember that this isn’t about men being better or smarter than women, or women being more naïve or needing to be coddled by men. This is not about men being in control, but instead being Christ-like servants of their wives and families, doing all they can to help them be who God created them to be. This is a hierarchy of equals – equal in dignity, worth, ability, spiritual gifts, and access to God. Keep in mind that the husband is still in submission to God, God’s word, the Holy Spirit, the governing authorities and the church elders, so it’s not like he’s getting a free pass to do what he wants!
Culture will fight us on this every step of the way, but for a Christian and in God’s church, culture doesn’t get a vote – only God does.
5. Submission of Workers to Employers
There are two more areas of submission that we need to cover. Right after Paul addresses husbands, wives and children, he takes a step outside the home into the relationship between an employee and employer. He says:
“Bondservants, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.” (Ephesians 6:5-9)
Keep in mind that “slaves” and “bondservants” was much different than we think about it today. This isn’t condoning or reproving slavery, but dealing with a normal part of their everyday culture. For us, it very easily translates to our relationships with our employers. We should have truthful and sincere hearts, just as we would to Jesus. We are to do good work even when no one is looking, because Jesus is watching. We are to give good work, as we would to the Lord. We are to do it was a good will, as we would to God.
And then employers are reminded that even though they are in authority, that they don’t need to be jerks about it! Work as one working for Jesus, and treat your employee the way you want Jesus to treat you!
6. Mutual Submission
The final place that we are to submit is to one another. Everyone submits to God, God institutes Governing authorities and we submit to them. God also institutes church leaders and we submit to them. God gives a hierarchy of equals in the home where wives submit to husbands, and children to parents. Workers submit to employers as bosses submit to Jesus, and then finally, to make sure we cover all the bases, we remember what Jesus said to the disciples, “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.” (Mark 10:43-45)
The final place we are to submit is to one another. This is all over scripture. It’s almost like a catch-all that says, when in doubt, put yourself second. And, again, it’s tied to our submission to Jesus.
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, which we’ve read many times, 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.”
There is a lot to talk about this, so I’m going to cover a bunch of examples next week, but let’s just leave it at remembering that this is the pervading attitude of scripture, and it absolutely goes against the individualistic, independent mindset of our culture.
No one is an island. None of us are God. Only God is God. We are all part of a community, a family, and no matter how smart or important we think we are, we must realize that we simply do not have permission to usurp His authority or try to come up with a “better plan”.
Our task, mission, goal and purpose, is to serve others as Jesus did. God gave His Son, Jesus gave His life. He served us and continues to serve us today. Someone once called Jesus’ Kingdom, “The upside-down kingdom” because it all seems topsy-turvy to us. The way up is down on our knees, the way to lead others is to serve them, the way to rule is to be a slave-of-all. Just like Jesus.
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