SUBMISSION AND OBEDIENCE
In the previous article I talked about how the Lord has shown me that I should never choose just any church or leadership to join and follow, but I have to look and see: what does the fruit of their life look like - because I can expect my life to look like theirs if I follow that same path. In this article, I want to talk about the fact that just because I have godly leaders though, it doesn’t mean I will automatically become like them. There is an absolutely crucial element that I need to do from my part: submission. If I want to have to have the same results they did, I have to submit to their authority and follow their guidance and example.
Let’s say I want to be healthy, and so I get a health coach to help me. But I find that my efforts are not working. I believe there can be either one of two problems: 1. Perhaps I have the wrong coach (a coach whose methods did not actually work for him – I talked about this in the previous article), or 2. I am not fully submitting to the method that helped my leader himself be healthy.
God gives us freedom to choose a local church fellowship where we feel they are following the Lord. But once we are there our duty is to submit to the authority God has established in that church.
Hebrews 13:17 “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”
AN EXAMPLE OF ATTENDING A CHURCH WITHOUT SUBMITTING
I was once part of a church and guilty of not fully submitting there for some years. The church had a primary burden than was different than what the Lord had put on my heart, even though the leaders were godly. For some time, I felt God leading me to have a burden for more emphasis on discipleship and to work on my inner sins, and so I disregarded much of the teaching I was getting at that church and would even just read my Bible during the sermons. Looking back, I believe my desire for that different burden was from the Lord and technically correct, but my actions and attitude while in that church were completely wrong. I should have been submitting to my leaders there and not totally disregarding what they were burdened for, counting it as worthless. Nobody is perfectly
balanced and I was having pride, feeling that I knew better. I had to repent of that, and appreciate and thank the leaders there for their diligence they put in for my spiritual good. Because of my lack of submission, I believe I didn’t grow as much as I could have at the time, and in those particular burdens God had for me. But praise God the Bible says He “Overlooks the times of ignorance” (Acts 17:30).
If I didn’t agree with the direction of my elders at the time, then I should have found a church that I felt I could be united with. The one thing I shouldn’t have done is what I did - stayed in the church without submitting to the burden and the teaching that was given to me by my leaders. That’s like sitting in a boat with oars but choosing not to row because I don’t like the direction they’re going – I’m hindering myself from going anywhere, and I’m also hindering the others in the boat with me from going where they want to go. So at that point in my life, I still couldn’t say I was submitting to leadership, as the Lord wants all of His people to do.
WHAT IS SUBMISSION
I’ve learned that submission means to take very seriously the directions and the guidance that my leaders are giving.
If the coach says ‘I think it’s best for you to run 5 miles each morning’ – I should do it. He’s there to help me! How can he help me reach the goal if I don’t do what he says?
I used to think ‘submission’ just meant that if an elder rebukes me in private, then I will accept the rebuke humbly without getting offended. That’s an important part of submission (and many people cannot even do that elementary act of humbling themselves), but in all reality, members in the church shouldn’t need to be rebuked very often. Words of rebuke are probably less than 1% of the words that people receive. In real practice (99% of the time), submission means: we take our leaders words seriously when they give us spiritual direction. Through their words and instructions, their burdens and their heart will come out – so I should be trying to grab a hold of those and obeying them. Their burdens come from what has changed their life and
brought them to where they are today, and if I want my life changed in the same way, I must have the same burden.
If they’re preaching a message, and I am holding on to an attitude of ‘Their word is ok… but I think I know better’, then I’m not submitting, and I’ll never grow from the leadership they give me.
It’s not that our submission to their teaching is a blind submission – it’s a submission based on the fact that these leader’s lives and teaching are in line with God’s Word, we see that they have a maturity in them that exceeds ours, and so we eagerly submit to follow their path and get closer to Jesus.
ANOTHER ISSUE - A LACK OF HUNGER AND EAGERNESS
Another issue which may be even more common is when a person doesn’t outright disagree with the words spoken, but they just don’t care enough to obey them. They have a lack of hunger. I’ve seen that I’ve needed to repent of this many times. I have to remind myself to take spiritual words from the leadership I submit to, as a Word from God Himself for me. It’s God’s Word for me – because He has specifically placed this leadership in my life. So I need to be eager to take it seriously, and receive and submit to it (as long as it agrees with the Scripture) because it will take me along the same path that it has taken them, which is the path of godliness and being closer to the Lord.
THE BEREANS – A NEW COVENANT EXAMPLE OF SUBMISSION
The Bereans were an outstanding example of people who did this:
Acts 17:10 The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.11 Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
The reason the Holy Spirit calls the Bereans “noble-minded” (and easily contrasted with the behavior Athenians later in the same chapter – Acts 17:18-21,32) is:
1) They received the words delivered by Paul with eagerness (not an attitude of suspicion or skepticism)
2) They confirmed that what Paul was saying, was backed up by Scripture. They didn’t discuss the accuracy of Paul’s teachings with each other using their human logic, but with the unchangeable Word of God (the Old Testament prophecies). Also, they did this hard work “daily”
3) They believed the message of Paul, which was that Jesus Christ was the Messiah
But all of this was because of Paul. Paul took the Bereans by the hand and led them to where they put their hands in Christ’s hands.
The Bereans believed and so they submitted, and one great evidence is that Paul had to send many epistles correcting and rebuking many churches, but he never had to send one to the Bereans! Because they received the teaching with eagerness, they were correcting themselves, faithfully following what they were taught. They were being built up – submitting to the teaching of Paul which agreed with the Scriptures, and following it.
FOLLOWING OUR LEADERS
Our leaders are there to help us, and giving words for our good – not seeking things for themselves. Why is it we can trust people who we pay money to in the world to do some services for us (like a doctor giving us medicine, for example), but we don’t take seriously godly leaders who are laboring for our good – for free, simply out of love? Why do we not eagerly take their spiritual medicine they are giving us? Maybe it’s that we fear the taste of that medicine (the rebukes, which don’t taste good to our flesh). But most of their medicine doesn’t taste bad, the vast majority of it is delicious – it’s encouragement and challenging exhortation! Either way though, we have to see that this is the medicine that is saving our lives.
So these godly men I submit to don’t ask for anything from me – they don’t take salaries, they don’t ask for gifts, nor even desire a ‘thank you’. They’re voluntarily and happily helping me to follow the Lord. They just want me to be walking with Jesus, and coming down the same path that has proven to bring them closer to the Lord.
That’s just like the apostle Paul:
1 Corinthians 11:1 “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”
1 Corinthians 4:16 “Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me.”
It’s like a man plowing through a jungle with a sword, getting closer to a treasure, and encouraging others to follow down that same path, which he’s proven himself to be fruitful and profitable. “The treasure is there, I can see it in the distance! We’re getting closer! Follow me!” Paul was further down the road of following Christ, and had proven fruit in his life, so he exhorted the Corinthians to walk down the same path behind him (the point was not so the Corinthians would be closer to Paul himself, but so they could also be closer to the treasure - Jesus, just as Paul himself was getting closer to the treasure of our Lord Jesus).
OUR BURDEN AS A CHURCH
May the Lord open many eyes today to the beauty of the local church, to godly leadership/authority, and what God has established to build up His people in Christ. It’s such a crucial and missing message in Christendom today. Our burden at NCCF is to be one of these local churches, showing that fruit in our lives, and to help others who may not have seen it have their eyes opened to the same things that have changed our lives.