The word "submit" may be the most emotionally charged word in the Bible. And this emotional charge makes discussions of certain verses very difficult. It can be very easy to have a preconception of what a person is saying whenever there is a discussion around verses that have the word "submit" in them. I understood that this would be the case when looking at the authority in the church and the command to submit to our leaders found in Hebrews 13:17.
I think that Justin Taylor's summary of a John Piper sermon on submission is helpful. Dr. Piper's sermon is based on 1 Peter 3:1-7 and is specifically regarding submission between husband and wife. But Mr. Taylor's summary also applies when it comes to submitting to church leadership. Briefly the main points adapted for church leadership are:
- Submission does not mean agreeing with everything your Elders say.
- Submission does not mean leaving your brain or your will at the front door of the church.
- Submission does not mean you avoid holding your Elders accountable when necessary.
- Submission does not mean putting the will of the Elders before the will of Christ.
- Submission does not mean that you get your spiritual strength or faith from your Elders.
- Submission does not mean that you should fear your Elders.
Biblical submission is something that we are told to do willingly. Yes that seems like an oxymoron. How can we do something willingly if we are told to do it. But that is always the case with God. He allows us to choose between being obedient and being disobedient. Of course there are very different consequences for the two. Last week I shared some of the qualifications for an Elder. I also shared how the motivation for being a leader is important. Someone should never be an Elder for selfish gain but rather they should be willingly serving God. But what does that look like? What does it look like for an Elder to be willingly serving God?
Jesus gave us a great example in John 13. Jesus is eating what we now call the Last Supper and he knows that he is going to suffer and die on the cross for us. Even though Jesus was already on his way to paying the ultimate price for us, he paused and did something that his disciples thought was well beneath him:
"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, 'Lord, do you wash my feet?' Jesus answered him, 'What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.' Peter said to him, 'You shall never wash my feet.' Jesus answered him, 'If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.' Simon Peter said to him, 'Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!' Jesus said to him, 'The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, but not every one of you.' For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, 'Not all of you are clean.'
"When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, 'Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.'"
Jesus bending down and washing the feet of the disciples was an act of very humble service. While I am not saying that the Elders need to literally wash the feet of the church they should be very willing to perform other acts of service for the people of the church. If there is ever a need within the church the Elders are the ones that should be trying to figure out how best to take care of that need. But there is always the risk that we respond to the Elders the same way that Peter responded to Christ. The Elders are not there to serve our every need and desire.
Submitting to our Elders is a two way street. The Elders need to be people worthy of submitting to and congregation needs to be people that allow the Elders to serve joyfully.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.