“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).
For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Romans 12:3, NKJV)
Speaking God’s word in order to address the spiritual needs of men and women is an action of divine grace. And, that truth applies “to everyone who is among you” – divine truth knows no partiality. Therefore, we are warned against a conceited, arrogant frame of mind toward God’s truth. Arrogance prevents the wisdom of sound judgment. Truly, arrogance is an attribute of the fool, who prideful trusts in his own reasoning: “A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart” (Prov. 18:2). Faith produces humility toward God’s truth, not hubris. Faith does not argue against God’s truth; it accepts it. Faith does not elevate human reasoning; it submits to the infinitely superior will of God. The word “soberly” in today’s text means “to be in one’s right mind” (Thayer, 612-613). When a Christian is arrogant, he is not in his right mind. We must have the mind of Christ (humble and obedient) – not the conceited mind of the world (Phil. 2:5-8).
Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20, NKJV)
Do you know someone who seems to be an “expert” on just about every subject that comes up? Give him an opening, and he will be sure you know it! He will tell you the best car to buy, the best food to eat, the best place to live, the best…everything! And, the alternatives are always inferior – because he knows what is best! Except for the occasional renaissance man and woman, it is much wiser to be deliberate in choosing our words before we speak. People will soon tune out from listening to the person if they believe that person’s high opinion of himself drives most everything he says. Carefully choose your words, for it will be words “fitly spoken” that convey value and wisdom (Prov. 25:11). The fool is rash and rapid with his words, causing disruption and disturbance in his wake. By contrast, inspiration instructs us to “let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Col. 4:6).
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:25–26, NKJV)
Christians live in the Spirit, having escaped the condemnation of sin in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1-2). We walk in the Spirit, being led by the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:18). This divine guidance is not random or miraculous. Neither is it subjective or unique to each person. The Spirit leads us all by the word of the gospel He has revealed, confirmed and inspired (Eph. 5:17-18; Col. 3:16). Living by His truth, we bear the fruit of the Spirit and spurn the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-23). Today’s passage specifically charges us not to have false pride that looks down on others (conceit). It commands us not to be provocative, challenging and inciting strife. Neither are we to be envious of each other, resentful of another person’s advantages. Envy retards prevents thankfulness of heart. Conceit overvalues self and eliminates empathy for others. Stirring up strife causes turmoil and division. Make it a point to walk in the Spirit, following His teaching and bearing His fruit. By doing so we will refuse to bear sin’s rotten fruit.
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12, NKJV)
No human being is right all the time. Yet, conceit prevents us from seeing and admitting our errors and shortcomings. Relying upon self-affirming and self-elevating “wisdom” instead of God’s truth is beyond foolishness. Pride is self-defeating, elevating oneself above truth. A prideful heart rejects godly wisdom. Such a person has already made up his mind; He cannot be wrong. Let us not set and hold a high opinion of ourselves. Let us trust God and rely upon the wisdom He has revealed in His word.