Once again, I would like to welcome you to our continuing discussion on the ‘One Another’ sayings in the New Testament. This week we are looking at the fourteenth of the ‘One Another’ sayings in the New Testament “Submit to One Another” (Ephesians 5:21). Vance Havner says, “The church is not developing her recruits into disciplined soldiers. We are fighting the greatest battle of all time with the most untrained army on earth. If strict discipline is necessary in arts and athletics, how can we expect to be advanced Christians and stay in kindergarten?”
Apostle Paul compares this Christian life not to a playground but a battlefield (Eph.6: 10-12). We involved in spiritual warfare! God has called us to be part of His army. But unless we are submissive soldiers we cannot be used by God. Paul wrote earlier to these same believers, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
An army is only effective when its soldiers are submissive to the leadership. Insubordination is the death of an effective combat force. Victory is dependent on the team work of its soldiers. The strategy that is decided upon must be followed to its maximum. Insubordination will cause havoc and ultimately defeat.
Insubordination in the church of Jesus Christ is causing havoc and defeat. Many of the battles that we should be winning are being lost. And since we are not submissive to our captain, we are also not submissive to each other. We are independently trying to do the Lord’s work and we are not being successful.
James addressed this problem of insubordination. Evidently the Christians to whom he was writing were at war with each other over positions in the church, many of them wanting to be teachers and leaders. This is why James warned, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1).
James continues by drawing a contrast between earthly and heavenly (godly) wisdom (James 3:13-16). Earthly wisdom, says James, consists of “bitter envy and selfish ambition.” Heavenly wisdom, on the other hand, he says, manifests itself by a “good life by deeds done in… humility” (James 3:13b). Heavenly wisdom consists of an ethical and humble life.
Submission and humility are always tied together. The submissive person therefore is the one who realises that he/she does not have all the answers. He/she is a learner (which is the root meaning of the word “disciple”) ready to listen to others knowing that he/she does not possess a monopoly of all the truth. He/she respects the ideas and opinions of others.
James continues by pointing out that the wisdom “that comes from heaven” is also…pure; then peace loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:17, 18).
A submissive spirit, says James, is part of godly wisdom. The opposite of this is envy and selfish ambition. Therefore he goes on and commands these believers, “Submit yourselves, then, to God” (James 4:7). Submission to God is the basis of all submission. Unless we are first submitted to God, our submission to each other simply will not be real.
Yet the word “submission” (hypotassomen) has become a dirty word in our society. Self-assertion, not submission, is what is being preached in our society. In a day and age when everyone wants to do his/her “own thing” the message of submission finds violent opposition not only from the world in general, but even within the ranks of the Christian community. The whole concept of submission implies obedience. To be submissive is to obey. To be submissive is to surrender our wills, our ideas, our ways.
When Paul says that Christians are to be submissive to one another, I believe what he has in mind is something like an army where soldiers are subject to their officers. Once an individual becomes a part of an army, there is a real sense in which he/she no longer is an individual. He/she is now a part of a regiment which is subject to the commands and instructions of his officers.
When a person joins the army he is giving up his rights and freedoms of civilian life. He no longer has the right to determine his/her own life and activities. He/she cannot take a vacation when he/she likes, he/she cannot get up out of bed when he prefers, and he/she cannot even eat the food he wants. He/she is a person under authority. There are rules and regulations dictate what he/she is to do and when he/she is to do them.
Submission is the result of being filled with the Holy Spirit according to Paul. He commands the believers at Ephesus “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery, instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). “Be filled” is in the imperative mood. Therefore it is not a mere suggestion or an ideal, but an authoritative command. Paul does not leave this as an option; it is an obligation.
The command is also in the plural form which means that it is addressed to the entire Christian community. No one is to get drunk; all of us are to be filled with the Spirit of God. The fullness of the Spirit is not for a chosen few, for an enlist group of super Christians; it is available for all of God’s people. This command is also passive voice. This is why the New English Bible renders it, “Let the Holy Spirit fill you.” It is not a matter of our doing something but in allowing the Holy Spirit to fill us with Himself. This, of course, means that we must first empty, for you cannot fill something that is already full. We must be empty of self and not entertain anything that would grieve the Holy Spirit, so that He can invade our lives to the fullest.
Do you have a submissive spirit? Do you claim to be filled with the Holy Spirit? The two always go together. You cannot be controlled by the Holy Spirit and have a rebellious, independent, insubordinate spirit at the same time. It has to be one or the other.
By Rev. Eric D. Maefonea (SWIM)