Being Good Subjects

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Week 7, 2003
This week we continue our study with one of the more enigmatic verses in this great epistle, Ephesians 5:21:

and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.

The teachings of the Lord in such Scriptures as John 5:44, and Paul in Ephesians 1:10, make it clear that one of the most corruptive and destructive forces in the life of those who seek to serve the Lord is the fear of man. However, this week’s verse commands us to “be subject to one another.” How can we do this and not be subject to the fear of man?

The last part of our verse for this week tells us how. We submit ourselves to one another in the fear of the Lord, not the fear of man. Now this leads us to another question—how do we do that? How can we tell the difference between the fear of man and the fear of God, especially as we are making ourselves subject to other people? It is easy to tell the difference. If we are controlled by the fear of man we will get our encouragement or discouragement by how people feel about us. If we are living in the fear of God, our main concern will be to please Him in all that we do, and we will be neither very discouraged or encouraged by what people think of us.

There is a difference between being subject to people because we fear them, or doing this because we recognize them as delegated authorities and we honor the One who sent them. Even so, we must make no mistake about it—this verse declares that we should be subject to one another. If we are properly related to the Head we will be properly related to His body, the church, as well. Any part of the body that tries to function apart from the body, or grow without regard for the rest of the body, is cancerous.

There are some who seek to live free of the fear of man but do so more out of a spirit of rebellion and arrogance than the fear of the Lord, true faith, or the humility to which God gives His grace. This is where many sincere people who want to serve the Lord stumble. They will usually end up doing more damage to the purposes of the Lord than good, sowing division and rebellion instead of the true fear of God that should motivate us instead of the fear of man.

As we read in the first verse of Romans 13, the true fear of the Lord will also compel us to give the proper honor and respect to all who are in authority. Those who fall into the trap of trying to replace the fear of man with what is in fact rebellion usually do so because they fail to recognize the Lord’s authority in those He has delegated it to. The Lord does almost everything on the earth through His body. The leaders that He gives to His body are His leadership in His body. We submit to the Lord by submitting to them. Abuses of this in the past have caused many to swing to the opposite extreme so that they have a difficult time with any authority. Likewise, the rebellious and self-willed will interpret any exercise of authority as a control spirit. Nevertheless, the ultimate revelation of the kingdom of God on earth through the church will come through those who have a right understanding and relationship to authority—which is what a kingdom is.

Being subject to one another is especially difficult because none of His delegated authorities are Him. By this I mean that none are as good, true, perfect, righteous, just, or as powerful as He is. This is compounded by what James observed when he said, “For we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2). God’s greatest leaders make mistakes. Some of His greatest leaders actually made some of the greatest mistakes. Right after the Lord gave the keys to the kingdom to Peter He had to rebuke him by calling him “Satan!” Yet, the Lord did not take those keys away from Peter, and Peter used them on both the Day of Pentecost and by opening the door of faith to the Gentiles. Yet, even years after this the youngest of apostles still had to rebuke Peter for a major mistake that he was making (see Galatians 2:11-15).

The leaders that the Lord has delegated over His work on the earth, which represent Him, the perfect One, are not perfect, and do stumble in many ways. It therefore requires an even greater humility to be subject to them, which is an opportunity for the Lord to give us an even greater grace.

Think about the entire group of apostles that the Lord left in charge of His church after His ascension. They had just denied Him, and scattered from the Lord when He needed His friends the most. The people who were gathered to the Lord and built upon the apostles’ teaching were all very aware of this in their leaders, yet they trusted and submitted to them. Why? Because they were not just putting their trust in these men, but in the Holy Spirit who was with them. They were the ones that the Lord had given to them, so they must be the right ones—not perfect, just right for the job. The apostles, who were being humbled by their previous failures, were even more able to be the recipients of God’s grace and anointing.

Which one of us, who are so demanding of perfection in those we follow, are perfect enough to lead others? The very attitude that requires perfection in those we follow is the pride that comes before the fall. It is therefore the fear of the Lord that enables us to be subject to one another rightly. If we are wise we will learn to cover our brother and sister’s flaws, knowing that if we will sow grace we will reap the same.

If you really want to know how humble you are, think about how you reacted to the last person who offered you advice, or even correction, and perceived to be less spiritual than you are. One of the great attributes of King David was that, as he was fleeing from his rebellious son Absalom, he would not even stop a mad man from throwing stones at him until he had first determined that the Lord had not sent even a deranged man as a messenger. This would be a remarkable attitude for anyone, much less a king. It is true that after he had determined this was not from the Lord he had the man taken care of, which also had to be done for the sake of protecting the kingdom from madness and rebellion.

I have heard many people say that they love the Lord, but they just do not like the church. According to Scripture that is not possible, as we read in I John 4:20, “... the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This same principle is true with authority. We cannot be subject to God who we cannot see if we are not subject to His people who we can see.

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