“submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21, NKJV)
Submitting to one another in the church grows out of our fear of God. Submission means to “subordinate” or “subject oneself” to another. This requires yielding up our will to the will of the other person. Sometimes that is easy (when our wills agree). The challenge comes when we are called on to subordinate our will and our preferences to another person’s will and preferences. (Of course, we are discussing non-sinful things here. The Scriptures do not teach us to submit to sin and error, Gal. 2:4-5.) To successfully submit to one another requires that we fear God. Honoring and yielding to His desire and will must be paramount to us. When we fear God we are equipped to “be submissive to one another” and to “be clothed with humility” (1 Pet. 5:5). If we think of ourselves as better than others we are being driven by “selfish ambition or conceit” instead of humble love and the fear of God (Phil. 2:3-4). In today’s verse, “fear” is translated from phobos (“to be put in fear, alarm or fright,” Strong’s). As we revere and respect God, we dread displeasing Him because of its terrible result (Matt. 10:28). The fear of God compels us to respect one another and submit ourselves to each other in genuine efforts to seek each other’s salvation and spiritual blessings (cf. 1 Cor. 10:31-33).
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3–4, NKJV)
Combative mindsets and contentious conduct permeate society. The works of the flesh (“adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like”) are producing devastating results all around us (Galatians 5:19-21). Look at the contrast in today’s passage with the works of the flesh. Selfish ambition thrives in the arrogant heart that sees others as “less than” we are. Pride feeds the desire to look out for ourselves first – before others. When we estimate others to be better than ourselves it follows that we will not injure and harm them through the works of the flesh. (Look at that list again and see how often our sins invariably hurt others.) By developing hearts of humility we become servants of others instead of users and takers. Living for others instead of ourselves protects us from sin as it spreads the influence of righteousness. Be the salt of the earth by maintaining a humble heart that values others and becomes a blessing in their lives (Matthew 5:13).
42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:42–45, NKJV)
As it was in the days of Christ, so it is to this present hour. Worldly ambition drives many to exercise dominance and control over others, measuring their greatness by positions of power. Such is neither the measure nor the ambition of Christ’s disciples. When a dispute arose among His apostles over positions of prominence in the kingdom, Christ taught that importance and favor are measured by service and sacrifice, not subjugation (Mark 10:35-41). Jesus set the high bar of lowly greatness, serving and dying to save the lost. To be great and first in God’s sight is what matters. So, let us use His measurements of greatness, and serve others as He served us.
7 So He told a parable to those who were invited, when He noted how they chose the best places, saying to them: 8 “When you are invited by anyone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in the best place, lest one more honorable than you be invited by him; 9 and he who invited you and him come and say to you, ‘Give place to this man,’ and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place.” (Luke 14:7–9, NKJV)
Pride and ambition drives us to seek prominence and recognition before others. In vivid contrast to seeking the attention of others, Jesus taught us not to seek the place of honor before others. Instead, He said to “sit in the lowest place” (Luke 14:10). Eventually, your humility will be acknowledged and rewarded: “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). Don’t seek the honor and praise of me. Do your own work humbly, honestly, and without fanfare (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Whether or not men recognize you, the Lord sees and will reward your humble faith. “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).