Submission to Others

Romans 15:1-2, 5-7
We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification. . . . Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.

I want people around me to be spiritually strong, particularly if they are in authority over me and even more particularly if they claim to be Christians. The fact is, God doesn’t place people in authority based on their spiritual maturity, but based simply upon His plan. And it’s my duty, my responsibility, to live not to please myself. (No one said this life would be easy.)

I like the NRSV translation of verse 1: We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Not to put up with the FAILINGS. Well, those who are spiritually weak certainly having failings. I think it’s likely that many around me see as spiritually weak, as someone with a lot of failings. Personally, I like the idea of a hierarchy where those “above” me are spiritually stronger than I am, but I think that whole concept appeals to the lusts in my life. It’s much harder to submit to a superior who isn’t superior, someone who is over me but is less spiritually mature than I am. Submission takes on a whole new meaning when I’m working for someone who claims to be a Christian but who obviously doesn’t live like a Christian.

“We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.” I like pleasing myself. Life is much easier when things are going the way I think they should be going. It’s so hard to keep my mouth shut and submit. Much easier to blow forward like a tempest. (Often a tempest in a teapot, I’m thinking.)

“Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.” Edification, to build up, to improve the moral stance. What’s interesting about the Bible is that while the idea of tough love is taught, much more we see our obligation to submit.

1 Peter 2:11-17 (NKJV): Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation. Therefore submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake, whether to the king as supreme, or to governors, as to those who are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and for the praise of those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men–as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

It’s interesting that the apostle Peter puts two concepts right next to each other, as if one flows from the other. Put aside fleshly lusts and submit to authority. I see that in my life. There is a desire to control, to be seen as right, to war against what someone over me says or does or demands. And Peter calls that a fleshly lust . . . as he should. He knew from personal experience. There was probably no apostle as determine to plot the course of the Master’s life as Peter. And again and again, the Lord Jesus, often with a soft word, stopped Peter in his tracks. By the time Peter wrote this epistle, he understand the importance of submitting, of letting go.

Paul goes on, in Romans 13, to tell us to be “likeminded toward one another.” The NRSV translates it “to live in harmony with one another.” Again, how are we in harmony? Certainly not by demanding (or expecting) that others come into agreement with us, but rather when we submit to others. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3 NKJV). If we look at the Philippians verse, we see two concepts in opposition to each other: (1) doing things through selfish ambition or conceit, or (2) esteeming others better than ourselves.” The Greek word translated “better” also means “superior.” In other words, contrary to American culture, we Christians should consider ourselves as inferior to others and to consider them superior. When we do that, we put their issues, their desires, their ambitions before ours.

What’s wonderful about all this is that this kind of life brings glory to God. “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Christ received us by loving us while we were still sinners and in rebellion to Him (Romans 5:8). Can we love each other with that kind of love? Can we love while they are yet sinners? By doing so, we glorify God as He lives His love through us to them.

Sometimes the higher path takes us on the seemingly lower road of submission to those who don’t deserve either our respect or our love.