Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord

Adrian Warnock's challenge posits an interesting task: take a series of verses, and discuss them, in order, so as to complete a picture. Not wanting to make this too easy (he says, guessing at Adrian's motives) the general theme is authority and submission. Crowd favorites, always, those two concepts - especially in this age of individualism and self-centric thinking. Naturally, I want to give this a try. Please let me know what you think in the comments section, and I'll warn you in advance this may be a bit verbose.

Let's start at the very beginning - Isaiah 66:2
All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.

It all starts with God. He made it all - He owns it all. The Master Artisan has sole rights to brag, to claim glory and honor. We creatures were formed by His hand; we have no right to pride. God sees good in us when we recognize this and are appropriately humble in the face of His sovereignty.

And Yet He Humbled Himself - Philippians 2:3-10
Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth

This God, though, Creator of the universe, found great value in humbling Himself for us. We have no right to pride, and God seeks our humility. Yet He gave up His own rights to humble Himself for our sake - that we mere creatures can have the greatest prize imaginable: a relationship with Him. He set forth the example for us. In the person of the Son, Jesus became God incarnate, submitting humbly to the authority of the Father. In Jesus was no pride, finding "equality with God" a thing not "to be grasped." As God seeks out the humble man, as Isaiah says above, God raised up the humblest of all men, Jesus Christ, to the supreme place in heaven. If God Himself found it good to be humble, how can we do otherwise?

The Greatest is the Least - Matthew 23:11-12
11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

It is counterintuitive in this age to believe that the least in society may be the greatest. Get ahead, work ahead, stay ahead...don't worry about those you step on while climbing the corporate ladder - just keep climbing. The greatest is the best athlete, the slickest politician, the most intellectual philosopher. That is not God's way though, only the folly of man. Jesus humbled Himself, and was exalted more than any other. He lived out His own instructions - that in order to be exalted, He first had to serve. And He served in everything.

A Serving Family - I Corinthians 11:3
3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

If Jesus could serve in everything, and set forth an example that directly proved His teachings, then it behooves us to follow it. We should submit to Jesus, the ultimate servant. And to us should our wives submit. The husband has been given authority in the family - and here I lose my audience. But authority as practiced by Jesus was of the serving kind. Husbands have the authority of servanthood, of humility and selfless love for their wives. Wives, likewise, have the humble role of submission within the family. Real authority is servanthood; real submission is too. In our families we need to emulate our Savior, and serve each other in the roles to which God has called us.

Serving the World, Serving the Lord - Colossians 3:18-24
18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. 20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. 21 Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. 22 Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.

Jesus served His earthly family, the Apostles. Having full authority over them, He washed their feet, cooked breakfast on the beach, and taught them the way of truth. So we need to serve our families, even from positions of authority. Wives are to serve their husbands in humility as if they were serving Jesus. Husbands are to love their wives, over whom they have authority, which as Jesus demonstrated meant serving their interests over selfish ones. Children are to submit to the authority of their parents, and fathers - both parents even - are to serve their children by raising them without provoking them. Workers are to submit to employers, even if (as in the case of slavery) the employer is not kind or fair. This rubs us the wrong way today. When our boss treats us poorly, we seek out the first lawyer we can find. That wasn't Jesus' example though. He loved those who mistreated Him, even asking the Father that they be forgiven for killing Him. We need to follow His example of authority/servanthood, pointing the way to the Savior through our submission. This is good in God's eyes. Submit to authorities and serve them as if you were serving God Himself - for really, you are.

But It's not Fair - I Timothy 2:11-14
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

It's not fair, though, we think. We are not given a choice in who should submit to whom. It wasn't through negotiations, or a coin flip, that anyone determined Adam would be created first, or that Eve would be given a role of submission. That nasty word. Sexist. Demeaning. Insulting. God isn't giving consideration to merit, which we don't like.

Tell that to Jesus. He submitted more than any wife is called to do. More than any employee, husband, child or slave. The authority given to husbands is, as we've seen, the authority to lead as a servant as Jesus did. Authority is not something to be grasped, but instead is something ordained by God. As we'll soon see, giving up authority leads to ruin, and rejecting submission causes trouble.

Submission, too, is a righteous calling. Otherwise, Jesus would not have been called to submit. God's ways are not ours, and we need to stop pretending we know better than He. That way is pride, and God looks to "he who is humble and contrite in spirit." God does not look, by implication, to those who would usurp authority not granted to him or her.

Teaching Others to Love - Titus 2:3-4
3 Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, 4 and so train the young women to love their husbands and children

Jesus is not to be our only example of submission, though He is obviously preeminent even there. Our elders are to teach us as well. Women need to mentor others how to submit as God requires, with love. Note, though, that this same parent who has authority over her children (see Col. 3 above) is to love them as she loves her husband. This involves submission and authority. But as we've also seen, the two are also one and the same thing. The exercise of authority is to submit one's own good for the others' benefit, and is a part of every role we can play.

Something else we miss, often, is that this mentoring is to be from woman to woman, and implied above, from man to man. A woman cannot understand what it is like to be a man, and a man cannot understand what it is like to be a woman.

Why Mentoring? - 2 Timothy 1:5
I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well.

By serving, we bring people to God. When an older woman teaches a younger woman how to love her family, she enables that younger woman to preach the Gospel through actions, and to bring her family with her to God. When a husband uses his authority to serve his wife, he leads her humbly to the Christ to whom he submits. Faith is passed down through authority and submission - from servant to served.

Submission Equals Authority? - Acts 18:26
He [Apollos] began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

But the Bible says, we claim, that women need to submit and shut up. Men are to take charge and dominate. Not so. Submission and authority go hand in hand. Priscilla has authority over Apollos, who humbly submits to her correction. Yet Priscilla was to recognize the authority of Aquila, and submit to him. Leaders are to submit to others, and servants are to teach their masters. This is a tricky thing for us, as we believe teaching means speaking and "leading." While that is a part of it, teaching also means acting as one should, or setting an example. The church is a partnership of submitters and authorities, as Priscilla and Aquila were a partnership as husband and wife. By submitting to others, Apollos set an example that should be followed - and was written down I suspect for that very reason. Yet Apollos was a man, one who (allegedly) should not have been taught by a woman, and he accepted correction from both a man and a woman. At the same time, Priscilla was called, as a wife, to submit to her husband.

Whence Comes Authority & Submission? - Genesis 1:27
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

God created both the husband and wife in His image. The authority and the submitter are both made in the Imago Dei. Neither is better or worse, more valued or less valued, than the other. Submission is not a relinquishing of value, and authority is not a claim on superiority. It is easy to think, with the current connotations of those words, that having authority means one is better than another, or that one who is selfless and gives up her own benefits for another is inferior. Nothing could be further from the truth. We all - men, women, children - are made in the image of God. Nothing could be of greater value than that.

The church is not for men only. The home is not a husband's roost to rule. God's image is in us all, and as we are to serve Christ, we need to serve each other. If we're serving God, we should certainly serve those He loved enough to make in His own image.

So Why is it so Hard? - Genesis 2:18, 20-21, 23, 3:1, 9, 16-17
Gen. 2:18 Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." ... 20 The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh...23 Then the man said,
"This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man."

Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?" ... 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, "Where are you?" ... 16 To the woman he said,
"I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you."
17 And to Adam he said,
"Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
'You shall not eat of it,'
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;"

Servanthood is a blessed calling, one humbly embraced by Jesus. Yet we seek to reject that calling and grasp authority instead. Selfishness replaces selflessness, and pride overtakes humility. Adam and Eve found the results of this rejection of God's design disastrous.

Adam had authority, yet he did not serve (by protecting) Eve. Eve therefore fell, and brought Adam with her. Instead of leading, Adam followed - right into sin. Instead of seeking her husband's counsel, Eve listened to another who did not have a heart of servanthood and her best interests. So she rebelled against God.

This led to the curse, and a result of the curse is our present mindset. The wife who refuses to submit, who rejects God's role for her (thinking herself wiser than He, rejecting equality of value for something less worthy of her) is succumbing to God's own punishment, laid out in Gen. 2:16. The husband who rules (thinking himself superior to his wife and seeking his own way) instead of leading with authority as a servant, is also affected by Adam and Eve's sin. Rejection of God's roles was the first sin (along with pride and disobedience.) Adam didn't lead his wife as her servant, and Eve did not submit to her husband. The earth and its people have not been the same since.

Today we still refuse to accept God's ordained way, that we should submit to others and seek humbly to place their good above our own. We reject the old-fashioned notion that husbands have authority at home, or that employees need to work as if God were their boss. This selfishness is at the heart of so many of our problems: divorce, spousal abuse, infidelity, fraud, lying, cheating, hatred - the list goes on.

The church needs to reclaim this message. God gave us each a role, and God wants humility and selflessness from all. Leaders are to do what's best for those who follow, and those who submit are to do so in order that they may follow the most perfect example of all, Jesus Christ.

God bless!


barbara curtis said...

This was a wonderful way to start my day! Thank you for such a clear ahd reader-friendly picture. Beautifully rendered.

R. Stewart said...

Thank you Barbara!