I met with a friend and mentor recently to begin a process of relational accountability and discipleship. Although I have only been in full-time ministry for 5 years, I have been in the church my entire life. I have seen the good and the bad of church, sometimes one has felt more prevalent than the other. I have experienced the pressures that congregations put on their pastors from two different angles: as a pastor and as the son of a pastor. I have had to remind myself on countless occasions that I am following Jesus, not any pastor, denomination, or church. I have learned that one of the most important things for us to do as Christians is to be in relational community with each other, submitting ourselves to each other in order that we may be an example of the Gospel to those who are walking in darkness.
I have also seen, both personally and in the media, the many who have fallen as they tried to maintain the appearance that everything was going “great” when all the time they were hiding an addiction, a relationship, or some other skeleton that lurked in their dark closet. Trying to live up to the expectations of people combined with the “I can handle this all by myself” attitude is a recipe for certain failure. When I see brothers or sisters in moral failure, I cannot say that I would never do that. As Paul reminds us in Romans 7, we are still influenced by our “flesh” and can be pulled in different ways if we are not careful.
It seems easy to say these things, but much more difficult to actually accomplish them. From the beginning, we have wanted things our own way; we have wanted to raise ourselves to the same plain as the God who created us. Our culture reinforces the sense of entitlement with which we already struggle within our flesh. We feel as if we deserve to be on the same plain as God. If we feel that we are worthy of being equal to God, why would we ever consider submitting ourselves to each other, fallible human beings?
Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that we are to submit ourselves to each other out of reverence for Christ. But what can be gained by this kind of submission? Frankly, I think that the word “submit” gets a bad rap. If you look it up in the dictionary, among the many definitions is this “to subject to some kind of treatment or influence.” Other than the obvious depravity that stretches to our very core from original sin, there is one reason why I believe we aren’t comfortable with the idea of submission: we are not willing to build vulnerable relationships.
Yes, we can all say that we have deep and intimate relationships with people, including our spouses, but how deep and intimate are they? We all still house secrets within us, things that we are unwilling to share, and why? Because we are afraid of getting burned, we are afraid that someone will breach our trust and reveal those secrets to the world. Everything that is contained within us will eventually come out; we can only contain it for so long. Wouldn’t it be better to let it come out with someone that we trust?
God did not create us to live alone. He specifically created Eve for Adam, not just for the propagation of humanity, but because He said that it was not good for man to live alone. While many have used that as the basis for the marriage covenant, it also means that we all need relationships that extend deeper than Facebook or Twitter. While all of our social networking resources are great for connecting, they cannot replace face to face or live conversation, they still leave us alone and by ourselves. Only in face to face or live conversations can we build meaningful relationships that will allow for the kind of accountability that Paul talks about.
So what happens when we build these kinds of relationships? We begin to see the picture of submission in a different way than oppressive or bound in chains. We instead see it as freedom, freedom to be ourselves, freedom from the bondage of loneliness, freedom from the bondage of the things that we are hiding deep down inside because we are afraid to share them. And we share because true relational submission is reciprocal, both are willing to share and be vulnerable. If it isn’t, then it is just a different form of slavery and we are in danger of being in bondage to something or someone else.
Like I said before, submission has gotten a bad rap. We can't allow words to be hijacked because of the way that they have been used, abused, and misused in the past. If we are going to show that submission is not a dirty word, the only way that we can do it is by living it out in our lives, submitting to one another. Only then will the world that we live in realize that there's something more to what we say than empty words and wind.
Coming soon: Submission, Part II