“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).
14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:14–17, NKJV)
Nothing in the context of this text demands the conclusion that Jesus was instituting a foot-washing ceremony for today (John 13:1-17). Far from it. He was, however, setting an example of humble service that every disciple must follow in our treatment of each other. At this Passover meal, none of His apostles lowered themselves to the menial task of washing the dirty feet of their companions (or even to wash their Master’s feet). In fact, there had been an ongoing squabble among them about who would be greatest in the kingdom (Mk. 9:34-37; 10:35-45). Earlier, Jesus had taught them, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Jesus is great because Jesus served. And so, the Son of God sees greatness when we humbly serve each other (Matt. 20:27). Practicing humble service toward others is crucial. Jesus said the blessing comes when we actually follow His example and become a servant of others. We cannot say but not do, and expect to be blessed. By serving others we remove self-interest and give ourselves over to the welfare of others. That’s the example of Jesus we are called to follow.
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).
7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:7–9, NKJV)
We miss the point of this passage if we conclude God sent an ailment upon Paul to restrain his arrogance (John 9:1-3). His physical limitation was an opportunity for the grace of God to be magnified. Paul admitted he had been arrogant before his conversion, but also that he had been humbled by the mercy of God he received in Christ (1 Timothy 1:13-17). His thorn in the flesh was an occasion for the power of Christ to be glorified in him. And so, Paul trusted the Lord instead of his wisdom, strength, and accomplishments (Philippians 3:1-11). Most of us will face ailments and illnesses at some point in life. These are chronic for some and short-lived for others. But every one of them is our opportunity to learn to live with our limitations and to be strengthened in the Lord. His grace is sufficient for us to endure life’s temporary trials so we may live eternally with Him (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:16–17, NKJV)
Pride is a most deceptive, sinister sin. It lurks in the recesses of the heart, unwilling to expose itself to the light of truth. Its character is evil, yet it portrays itself to others as confident, self-assured, even boastfully content. In fact, pride threads its way through practically every sin we commit, because its nature is thoroughly selfish. Pride focuses on “me” and what “I” deserve. It is not a giver, but a taker. Pride serves self-interests first, ahead of others. It deceives us into thinking we are more important than we really are (Galatians 6:3). The difficulty of overcoming pride is admitting it. It is a great obstacle to loving God and doing His will. Since God “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble,” we must “submit to God” to truly be humble and receive God’s grace (James 4:6-7). Pride will pass away along with the other evils of the world. It is eternally better to humble yourself before God, repent of your pride, and draw near to God with pure hands and a clean heart, than it is to obstinately and pridefully lose your soul forever (James 4:8-10).
46 Then a dispute arose among them as to which of them would be greatest. 47 And Jesus, perceiving the thought of their heart, took a little child and set him by Him, 48 and said to them, “Whoever receives this little child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me receives Him who sent Me. For he who is least among you all will be great.” (Luke 9:46–48, NKJV)
One of the most notable aspects of the kingdom of God is its spiritual nature; It is not of this world (John 18:36). That nature is on full display in this passage, when a dispute erupted among His disciples about who would be greatest in the kingdom. With a child beside Him, Jesus explained the heart of those in His kingdom will not prompt personal promotion above others, but humble deference to others. Christians are to treat each other with humility, considering others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4). Oh, how many disputes in the church, in the home and with our neighbors could be avoided with such hearts within us! Unless we have humble hearts to receive one another, we cannot receive the Son or the Father who sent Him. Let us endeavor to love our brother (whom we have seen), so that we may love God whom we have not seen (1 John 4:20). Without question, “The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven. (Luke 10:20, NKJV)
We must remember to rejoice in the right things. Jesus had sent out seventy of His followers to the cities where He was about to go, giving them miraculous powers to accompany their preaching of the kingdom of God (Luke 10:1, 9). They returned with joy that “even the demons are subject to us in Your name” (Luke 10:17). Jesus rejoiced with them in seeing the power of Satan being overwhelmed by the power of God as they did His work (Luke 10:18-19). Then, He quickly turned their attention to why they should rejoice. By doing so, He turned their joy away from the potential of pride in themselves (“subject to us,” Luke 10:17) to the humble faith needed to do heaven’s work (“your names are written in heaven”). As you do the work of God and rejoice in the gospel’s power, remember you are not the source of your joy, God is. He is the One who makes your victory over Satan and sin possible. You do not write your name in heaven, God does that when you faithfully do the work He gives you to do (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 20:12, 15).
And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:12, NKJV)
Jesus gave a warning against the prideful religious display of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-12. This continues to be a trap into which we can too easily fall. In learning to be humble before God and men, we must be cautious against attitudes and actions that suggest we are so proud to be so humble (Luke 18:9-14). At the very moment we are convinced we have mastered the grace of humility, the sin of pride is lurking in the shadows. Those who take delight in asceticism or self-abasement as evidence of their spirituality have seemingly yielded to this temptation, for twice the Scriptures identify such “false humility” that has “no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:18, 23). Let us genuinely put on a heart of humility (Colossians 3:12). A heart of humility does not put on a show for others. It is not concerned with such things. Instead, it shows meekness, longsuffering, forbearance and forgiveness toward others as it lives among men and before God (Colossians 3:12-13). Humility serves, while pride expects to be served (1 Peter 5:5-6).
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).
15 Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 17 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Luke 18:15–17, NKJV)
In Luke’s narrative, Jesus had just told the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, exposing the sin of judgmental self-righteousness, while honoring the humble heart that pleases God (Lk. 18:9-14). A real-life illustration now follows, demonstrating the humility required to receive and enter the kingdom of God. His disciples were rebuking people who brought their small children, including infants, to Jesus to be blessed. Jesus was “greatly displeased” with the disciples’ conduct (Mark 10:13-14). The kingdom of God is composed of those with the innocent humility of children (Matthew 18:1-4; 19:13-14). Not only does this passage destroy the false doctrine of inheriting original sin, it also establishes the heart condition one must have to be saved. The Lord will not bless the arrogant, self-righteous person with redemption. Be careful with what heart you try to follow Jesus. It is the one with the heart of a child who receives the kingdom, and hence, the Lord’s eternal blessing.