“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come... Evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them,” 2 Timothy 3:1, 13-14 NASB
We see here that one of the things that will make the last days especially difficult is that deception will be rampant. Jesus Himself warned us strongly against this in Mark 13 and Matthew 24, indicating that there would be deceivers who come in His Name, proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ, but who we should guard ourselves against. And it struck me that, of all the conceivable protections that Paul might exhort Timothy to avail himself of, specifically mentions the weight of his personal example, encouraging Timothy to draw upon his experience of living and ministering with Paul.
What a blessing it is to “know from whom we have learned” Christ. I consider it one of the greatest privileges of my life that I have come to know Brother Zac Poonen, his son Sandeep Poonen, and Bobby McDonald. And I have personally discovered the wisdom of the Holy Spirit’s encouragement here: to seek protection from deception by carefully observing the lives of the various teachers that come across my path (through sermons on the Internet, books, blogs, etc), and to then select godly men from among them to whom I can joyfully submit. I have been saved from countless heartaches, needless condemnation, unconscious sinful attitudes, and many other snares through the protection of submission to godly leaders.
Submission to Godly Men is a Command
It seems to me that submission is one of the most neglected virtues in America today. In fact, most would argue that it’s not a virtue so much as a curse word! But submission was the secret of Jesus’s life and power (John 4:34, 6:38, 8:28, 12:49, 14:10), and it is the secret of ours as well (Luke 7:8-9). It is especially worth noting that submission was the Father’s appointed path of preparation for Jesus’ earthly ministry. In Luke 2:51, it says Jesus “continued in subjection” to Joseph and Mary, who were not only imperfect, but who also, even by His youth, didn’t have as much understanding, but who also, even by His youth, didn’t have as much understanding as He did (Luke 2:50); humbly accepting this God-appointed pathway of submission is how “Jesus kept increasing in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52)!
Many will say that we only need to submit to the Lord Jesus, without regard for any man, but I see that as a clear violation of Scripture (Hebrews 13:17 indicates plural), and of Jesus’ Own example for us. I want to take the same path of preparation that Jesus did. Plus, I want the positive benefit of having my soul be watched over!!
I realize that, in our hyper-rationalistic age, there are many who’d prefer to gather teachers unto themselves, weigh the collective “arguments” as they see them, and then settle on their own interpretation of the Scriptures. But the Bible itself warns against such thinking (2 Timothy 4:3, 2 Peter 1:20). God has given an anointed teaching ministry in favor of our own evaluation of the myriad of interpretations, we do so to the detriment of our growth in Christ (Ephesians 4:13-16). So the question, to me, is not whether to submit to a particular teacher, but rather, to whom should I submit?
How Do We Choose Which Men to Submit to and Obey?
It is here that Paul’s exhortation to Timothy (referenced at the beginning of the article, and to many other believers, who are referenced below) — to consider the one whom he knew, from whom he learned Christ — has been so helpful to me. I’ve been particularly touched by how Paul expressed the same burden to the church in Thessalonica:
“...Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5 NASB
What an amazing thing for a teacher to say: our gospel wasn’t only in word, but in power. This is the kind of teacher I want to follow, who not only proclaims the right doctrine in word, but whose daily life manifests the power of Christ. Which teacher’s gospel is more than “word only”? Which teacher will allow the fruit of their doctrinal seed to be “proven” among the people he teaches? This wasn’t some faraway observation; he says, “you know what kind of men we proved to be in your presence.” What a testimony! He’s saying, in essence, “examine what you’ve seen of our lives — lives that have been lived in close proximity to you, over time — and see whether they bear witness to the power of the gospel we proclaim.” What an opportunity to joyfully submit to someone who can say that in truth!
He describes his life a little later in the letter:
“But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” 1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 NASB
I can honestly say that I’ve experienced a little bit of that — I’ve tasted the fruit of that heavenly life — in the years I’ve been submitting to Brother Zac Poonen, and even as I submit to my fellow elders at NCCF, Sandeep Poonen and Bobby McDonald. I have personally experienced the protection and power that comes in the pathway of submission. That is not to say, by the way, that I continue to diminish or negate the precious principle of submission itself — and no matter what may happen with these brothers, I’ll seek to joyfully submit to whomever can lead me into greater devotion to Jesus for as long as I live. And as the Holy
Spirit continues to bear witness to His work in these brothers’ lives, bearing the fruit of the gospel they proclaim, I continue to submit joyfully (“God loves a cheerful giver,” 2 Corinthians 9:7).
<(“God loves a cheerful giver,” 2 Corinthians 9:7).
The Biblical appeal to a personal example isn’t a one-off exhortation to a special group, by the way. Besides Timothy and the Thessalonians, Paul exhorts the elders in Ephesus and the church in Philippi similarly:
“You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and ... how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house... night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.” Acts 20:18-20, 31 NASB
Submission Is Following Godly Examples, Not Merely Obeying Orders
“Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us... these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 3:17, 4:9 NASB
We see from many examples that Paul encouraged those whom he ministered to, to examine the life he lived among them, and to follow the practical example — of applying his theology in the midst of daily life — that he and his coworkers set by their lives. Indeed, the exhortation to the Thessalonians (at the beginning of this article) continues:
“...Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. You also became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much tribulation with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5-6 NASB
He encouraged the disciples whom he had lived with, who had seen the kind of men they had proved to be among them, to follow their example. He says the same thing to the church in Corinth, in 1 Corinthians 11:1, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”
And again, he appeals to his manner of life lived among them, “…I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I exhort you, be imitators of me” (1 Corinthians 4:15b-16).
What do I learn from these Biblical exhortations about the kind of teacher whom I should seek? One whose life I can imitate! One who imparts “not only the gospel, but also his very life” to the church he oversees. One whose gospel comes “not only in word, but also in power.” This is what I have seen in Brother Zac, and this is what I have seen in Sandeep and Bobby too. It’s why I feel I can so freely and joyfully submit to them. Submission isn’t very trendy, but it is a great protection to be under the authority of godly leaders. I’m beyond grateful to “know from whom I have learned” Christ, and to be able to make a careful study of lives lived to His glory, manifesting in practical daily life the mighty power that their gospel proclaims in theory. le="color:#26282A">The Outcome of Biblical Submission
I love how Paul’s greeting ends:
“...You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your I love how Paul’s greeting ends:
“...You became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.” 1 Thessalonians 1:7-8 NASB
It’s an amazing thing to consider that we are called not only to consider and follow the example of the godly brothers to whom we submit, but also to become a shining example to others ourselves! My own desire is that, as I submit to brothers who can say in sincerity and truth, “follow me as I follow Christ,” that I can increasingly say to those who have submitted to the elders at NCCF, “follow us as we follow Christ.” It is in this way that our own lives can likewise become “epistles of Christ, written with the Spirit of God” (2 Corinthians 3:3).
The upshot of what I have written, drawing from the life of Jesus and the consistent exhortation of the Apostle Paul is this:
1. Submitting to and obeying leaders we trust in the Lord is a biblical command. Jesus is our Example of obedience even in this! So we should treasure submission as a virtue no matter how it is viewed in America today.
2. The biblical criteria for choosing whom we submit to and follow, is to look for those whose lives have borne the fruit of the doctrine they preach
3. Such submission is the pathway to an exemplary Christian witness shining forth from our own lives.
Taking the weight of these three convictions seriously in my own life, I joyfully submit to Brother Zac Poonen and the elders of NCCF.