Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Christian Disciplines, Part III: Submission

This is Part 3 of a five-part series on the Christian Disciplines. It is a "how-to" manual, or "what mature Christianity looks like." It borrows heavily from Richard Foster's, "Celebration of Discipline" and I highly recommend it. A new post will be made each Wednesday. To view them all together, click on the "Series: Christian Disciplines" link on the right.



In the past two posts, we learned how to study Scripture and how to pray. Those are hopefully by now your daily rhythms of your life, and please do not abandon those. Today we will talk about the discipline of Submission, but before we do, let's stop for a moment and learn about a particularly important Biblical concept.

One of the key ideas in Scripture is the idea of shalom. Shalom is a Hebrew word which appears in the Old Testament over 200 times, and it is usually translated as “peace.” Shalom, however, has a much more deep meaning than this.

Shalom has the idea of wholeness or complete health. Medically, the term shalom implies that someone is of sound mind and body—there are no diseases or pains affecting him, he is “whole.” To be in shalom means to be in harmony with our design by God.

Ancient Jewish commentators on the Bible point out that the entire purpose of the Old Testament is to show the brokenness of peace and return us back to it: “All that is written in the Torah was written for the sake of shalom[1].” It is even part of the name Jerusalem (which literally means, “peace is found”). Proverbs 3:17 says that wisdom always leads to shalom.

The lack of shalom shows up in our marriages as divorce, in our families as abandoned children, in our politics as war, in our society as injustice toward the poor or other races, in our bodies as sickness and suffering, in our sexual relationships as adultery or homosexuality, in our relationships as hatred or mean-spirited talk, in nature as deadly disasters. All the suffering and sin we experience are the results of a world whose shalom is broken.

When God designed the world, all was in harmony with His will—until Genesis 3. At the Fall, we find that God’s shalom is broken. All our suffering, all our rebellion, only increases its brokenness. And we know that all of God’s creation is groaning, eagerly anticipating the day that Messiah will return and bring lasting shalom (Rom 8:19).

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.       (Matt 5:9)

Jesus called being a peace-maker a “beatitude” or supreme blessing, and said that these are the people who would be called the children of God. And Romans 8:19 tells us that “creation waits in eager anticipation for the children of God to be revealed.

So when Jesus blesses His followers who are peace-makers, or shalom-makers, He is speaking of us actively seeking to create shalom in the world: to actively seek to restore the earth to the position it was supposed to be.

You see then that peacemaking includes everything as widespread as healing broken marriages and restoring addicts and protecting the environment and preventing fighting and war. By using the word “peacemakers” in this passage, Jesus is directly stating that peace is something to be made—He is saying that those who have this worldview actively seek out opportunities to make peace, to bring reconciliation.

In fact, what is fascinating about Scripture is that if wronged someone, it is your responsibility to make things right…and if you were wronged, it is your responsibility to make it right. It is always your responsibility!  No matter what, a peacemaker always sees it is his or her responsibility to bring unit, no matter who “started it.” (Matt 5:23, Matt 18:22).

So if we are to learn to serve others and be Shalom-makers in our communities, how are we to accomplish this? All true service begins with a particular attitude—an attitude taught to us by Jesus Himself. It is called submission.

Submission is among the most powerful, and most abused, spiritual disciplines. The discipline of submission is the willing release of your power, your rights, and your interests and instead to focus on the power, rights, and interests of others.

It is perhaps most easily understood by those who have recently had a baby. From the moment that the baby is born, the parents make willing choices to change their entire lives—they put their own desires, schedules, needs, and rights on hold and instead serve willingly and passionately this small child who can do nothing to return the love. This is a great picture of submission, and it is this which we are supposed to exhibit to the rest of the world.

Christian submission is to hold others above ourselves, and to give away our interests. Jesus implies that this is the most noticeable outward trait of a Christian, saying that the very life of a believer is to give his own life away (Mark 8:35).

Do not underestimate the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching on submission; it is almost beyond question the most amazing and shocking thing He said, and He said it often. Jesus completely flips the power structure of the world upside down. He says that a believer understands that true power comes by giving away your power; true status is reserved for those who give away their status and privilege; Scripture says that you are at your best when you consider everyone else better than yourself (Phil 2:3)! And He applies this posture equally to all Christians: men and women, Jew and Gentile, slave and free.

Jesus lived a life of submission and therein defeated even death; if we wish truly to exhibit God’s power, we must submit and give away all the power and privilege that we have.  Unlike other religions, with their powerful priesthood, the elders and pastors were, according to Christianity, mere shepherds—servants doing the ‘dirty work’ to make the sheep’s lives better.

Submission is not popular in our society—it is the opposite of our society, in fact. Submission requires true humility: thinking of others before yourself, being willing to allow others to prosper even if it costs you everything. Submission means caring more about shalom than about your own personal rights and privileges.

Here are seven areas to focus on submission in your lives. Read and discuss each as a group.

1.       Submission to God. The first and key area of submission comes in submission to God. The very act of salvation, at its heart, is this step—the willingness to say that I am no longer going to seek to be my own god, but instead will follow the one True God. “Thy will be done,” is the basic foundation that is at the base of every believer’s heart.

2.       Submission to Scripture. The ordinary way that God speaks to us is through His written word. By submitting to Scripture we are willing to not only hear the word of God but also to do what He tells us to do. As we discussed in weeks 5-6, it is important that we are properly interpreting Scripture so that we are actually submitting to what it says and not what we wish it said.

3.       Submission to Family. Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-22 both discuss how to submit to each other in the household—and yes, it is submit to each other (Eph 5:21). To the readers of these texts, women, children, and slaves were required to submit by force of law; however, the Gospel freed them from these positions (Gal 3:28). The Gospel frees them from their earthly chains. Now, however, the Scriptures say—freely submit to one another, not because the law demands it, but because you love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Freely and graciously the family is to make allowance for each other and give each other love, respect, and everything that you have.

4.       Submission to Neighbors.  Human nature wants to stereotype and look down on those who are not part of our ‘in-group’; a Jesus-shaped spirituality sees everyone we meet as a neighbor and, like the Good Samaritan, we are willing to give everything and share everything to love them.

5.       Submission to the Church. We all are also part of a new family, a universal church, and we are to submit to each other. This might come in large ways such as serving as a missionary or giving sacrificially to support missionaries; or it may come in small trivial spontaneous acts of service like cutting the lawn at the church or emptying a trash can or giving a youth kid a ride home each week.

6.       Submission to the Despised. One of the best ways to judge your submissiveness is to ask yourself this question honestly—“What am I doing to help those who are invisible to society?” Our society makes the elderly, the orphan, the immigrant, the poor, and the prisoner (among others) invisible to “polite society.” People want to be able to ignore them by giving a bit more in taxes and letting the government handle them quietly, out of the way. This was not Jesus’ way. We are to seek them, submit our lives to them, and better them.

Submission to the World. We are not only to concern ourselves with those in our sphere of influence. All of humanity bears the image Deo, and is worthy of being a recipient of our love and submission. We are submit ourselves to all, even those who would kill us or harm us. This was Jesus’ way, and the foundation of all service and, therefore, the foundation of rebuilding shalom.

[1] Tanhuma Shofetim 18