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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Me? Submit??

We hate that word, "submit." Especially we 21st-century Americans. "Submit? Who, me?? Make me!" The response is common, if only just in our minds, even among Christians. I was talking to some regular church-going, Bible-believing, long-time Christians once about Romans 1 where Paul addresses them as "Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ ..." (Rom 1:1), and they stopped me, offended. "We're not slaves." "Submit? Who, me?! No way!"

So it is understandable that Paul's instructions to wives in his epistle to the church at Ephesus is so offensive to so many.
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. (Eph 5:22)
"Submit? Who, me?! To him?!! He doesn't even know enough to come in out of the rain!" So we either blatantly ignore the clear command or we come up with clever dodges to explain why it just isn't there. "Pay no attention to that verse behind 'submit'." They'll argue that it is no longer applicable today (without either the textual backing to do it or the recognition of the dangerous ramifications that follow that kind of thinking) or they'll argue that "It doesn't mean that at all; Paul is talking about mutual submission!" Now, try to put "mutual submission" into "submit to your own husbands as to the Lord" as if that would make sense. "Why, yes, of course! Because the Lord submits to me and I submit to Him." Nope, not making sense.

The truth is, however, that the text preceding verse 22 says, "submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." (Eph 5:21) "See? There it is! "Submitting to one another." Yes, there it is. But you will note that it isn't even a complete sentence. It is the end of a sentence that, in the ESV, began in verse 18. And, in fact, this sentence is in the context of a concept that began in verse 1 of that chapter.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. (Eph 5:1)
And any astute observer will note that that concept begins with a "therefore", which means that a larger concept precedes it. That concept is at the start of the 4th chapter:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called. (Eph 4:1)
And, of course, the "therefore" there is the first three chapters of Paul's letter to Ephesus which explains the magnitude of "the calling to which you have been called" to which we are to walk in a worthy manner. Big, big concepts. (I read not too long ago that we should never read a Bible verse. We should always include context. This passage illustrates the point.)

So, here we are, back at the question of submission. Let's follow it through the other way. Because of the magnitude of the calling, we should live in a worthy manner. That would largely include being imitators of God since we are His beloved children. Part of that imitation includes submission."

Wait ... how? Well, Paul told the Philippians, "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." (Phil 2:3-4) That's submission. He goes on to round that thought out with "Have this mind in you which is in Christ Jesus ..." and goes on to explain how Christ "humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death." (Phil 2:5-8) That looks a lot like God (the Son) submitting to God (the Father) just like Jesus said He did (John 14:28; Luke 22:27; John 6:38; John 7:16; 1 Cor 11:3; 1 Cor 15:28). And now we're looking at a huge "submission" issue, where God the Son is in submission while we say, "Me submit?! No way!"

Submission is a biblical concept commanded for all of us as a matter of godliness. We mistakenly think that "submit" means "lesser value" or "lesser power" or "less" somehow at all. Jesus was surely not "less" because He submitted to His Father. We mistakenly think that "submit" means "the same for everyone in every way." That's not right, either. Submission in the Bible is simply what Jesus did, elevating others over Himself in order to meet the needs of others. Christ submitted His equality with God and His own life in order to meet our need for salvation. A wife submits her control to her husband to meet his need for respect and support. A husband submits his personal preferences to his wife in order to love her "as Christ loved the church." None of this requires "less than," but all of it is required by God of us who believe. "Me, a slave?" I'd better be.


Craig said...

Just finished Piper’s book on how to read scripture and he talks about the concept of “arcing” when reading scripture. I’m not going to go in depth, but it’s an interesting strategy.

My favorite quote, “Paul wasn’t mining nuggets, he was forging chains.”

Stan said...

I've been aware of the "therefore" concept ("Those 'therefores' are there for a reason") and was stunned when I realized that the "therefore" of Rom 12:1 was linked to ... all the previous chapters in Romans. HUGE "therefore". Which is often missed when we look at verses instead of context -- "chains".

Craig said...

I’d been aware of the therefore concept, but arcing seems like an even broader approach.

Stan said...

Yes, it takes into account all the "therefore" kind of things -- "because", "for", "and", etc. My point wasn't that "therefore" was the same thing, but that arcing can get really, really big.

Craig said...

Which was my point as well. Ultimately some arcs can span an entire testament.